My Favorite Political Books

Introduction

As someone who is interested in politics, but also as someone who likes to read, I’ve collected and read quite a few books on politics over the years. I’ve got more than a hundred books about political subjects on my bookshelf at home, most of which I’ve read all the way through, and I enjoy it. Reading blogs and newspaper articles is okay, but you often can’t get the kind of education, perspective and breadth of information from those things like you can get from a book. I thought I’d share some of my favorites in this thread. They’re probably some unorthodox choices here, but then, I’ve always been an unorthodox person. For the record, I view myself as an independent voter, or a sort of left libertarian type person, so I’ve read books from both the left and the right side of the political spectrum, as well as the libertarian or independent side. Thus, I think, regardless of your own political orientation, you may find a book worth looking into in this hub.

General political books-

I would include in this category books that are about politics in general and not about a specific political topic. Here are some of my favorites from this area:

1. The Political Centrist by John Lawrence Hill (2009)

This is one of my personal favorites. The author is a professor of law and philosophy at Indiana university, and thus the book is quite in depth, well-researched, and dare I say “academic’ but don’t let that scare you off. It’s a quite fascinating and readable book. Written from a self described centrist political perspective (One of the few books to do so), this book delves into political philosophy, constitutional law, some economics, and various social issues from a centrist viewpoint. I’m not a centrist, per se, but much of the positions the author takes are really quite agreeable. Among the topics covered in the book are abortion, affirmative action, criminal justice, economics, and the intersection of religion and politics, separated by chapter. This is the kind of book that would bore someone senseless if they aren’t into politics, but people who are political nerds like me would find intellectually stimulating.

2. Libertarianism Today by Jacob H. Huebert (2010)

Despite leaning libertarian, I’ve often had a hard time finding libertarian literature that appeals to me, but this book is an exception. Even though it functions more as an introduction to the philosophy rather than a thorough treatise, this does cover some good depth on various issues. After defining and describing libertarianism in the first two chapters, he discusses the libertarian perspective on issues like drugs, guns, the economy, education, foreign policy and more, and then gives recommendations for further reading. Much better than most other libertarian literature I’ve come across.

3. Showdown: Confronting bias, lies, and the special interests that divide America by Larry Elder (2002, 2003)

Larry elder is a libertarian-leaning conservative talk radio host. The first edition of this book came out prior to the Iraq war, and he discusses many topics he discussed in his previous and first book (The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America), such as the welfare state, race, political correctness, education, and gun rights. As a talk radio host, he’s not the best writer, and his style comes off as a bit bombastic and unprofessional, but it’s an enjoyable enough read. Being libertarian-leaning, the author doesn’t include annoying diatribes against gay marriage and abortion, which is good for me, but he’s a bit of a hawk on national security, which he explains is the reason he changed his party affiliation to republican in the updated version of this book after the advent of the Iraq war. Still worth reading if you agree with most of the conservative positions libertarians tend to take.

4. The Dirty Dozen: How twelve Supreme Court cases radically expanded government and eroded freedom by Robert A. Levy & William Mellor (2008)

This is a constitutional law book written by two libertarian lawyers, cataloging the worst Supreme Court cases. This is the only book on this list that I admittedly didn’t read all the way through, because some of the information in the beginning chapters were extremely boring. Nevertheless, the book is worth picking up for its discussion of campaign finance issues, gun rights, affirmative action, and eminent domain. It’s not written in complicated lawyer language, but written in an understandable and rather simple way for the lay reader. Although the book has a mostly conservative lean, the author does take some liberal positions on national security, and police asset forfeiture, showing how the authors are actually more libertarian than conservative. Still, you will probably enjoy this more if you are a conservative than a liberal, mainly because of the issues it focuses on.

Specific subjects-

I deal in this area with books about specific political topics that are important to me and had an influence on my views.

Gun Rights:

1. Gun control on Trial: Inside the Supreme court battle over the Second Amendment by Brian Doherty (2008)

This deals in depth with the famous Heller V. District of Columbia Supreme Court case, which overturned DC’s ban on handguns. For those of you who are really interested in the Supreme Court, or in particular decisions like this one, you may like this. I think the Heller case was quite correct in its reasoning and result, and it was interesting to learn more about it, the issues and people involved in the case, and to appreciate how much of a close call it was. If you think the Heller decision was correct, and are interested in the Supreme Court, and/or the gun issue in general, I would recommend this. Doherty’s writing style isn’t the best, but the interesting subject matter is enough to overcome that for me.

2. The Bias Against Guns: Why almost everything you’ve heard about Gun control is wrong by John Lott (2003)

John Lott is the economist who wrote the famous pro-gun book called ‘more guns less crime’ in the 90’s, which sparked a lot of controversy. I have that book, but I never read it all the way through because it was pretty complicated at times with statistics and math has never been my strong suit. The bias against guns was an admitted attempt by the author to reach a broader audience and it is more readable. It does get a tad complicated, especially toward the end, but most of it is readable and interesting. It focuses on defensive gun uses, media bias on guns, other countries’ gun laws, and other topics relevant to the gun issue. The last few chapters deal with more statistics while discussing topics like public shootings, and locking or not locking guns in the home, but even if you’re a dummy like me who is a bit dense on numbers, the book is worth owning for the information, and it’s a bit of a “classic” in the pro-gun rights area.

The Death Penalty:

Grave Injustice: Unearthing Wrongful Executions by Richard A. Stack (2013)

As an opponent of the death penalty, I always thought the possibility of executing an innocent person was the most compelling and important reason to oppose it. If you agree or are interested in such an argument, I would recommend this book. Although it’s not the best organized in places, it does give several examples, separated by chapter, of prisoners who were executed when their guilt was in doubt. Not all of the discussed cases are entirely convincing, but much of the material should make a pro-death penalty reader pause, or make an anti-death penalty reader outraged.

Abortion:

Abortion: The clash of absolutes by Laurence H. Tribe (1990)

I’ve only read two books on abortion in my life, but this was the better one. The issue is tackled from a variety of angles, from constitutional law, history, other countries’ abortion policies, and moral questions. Granted, this book came out in the early 90’s, so much of it is outdated by now, but I don’t let the age of a book necessarily detract from my enjoyment of it. Warning: Although the title of the book may seem like the author is trying to find a middle ground on the abortion question, be forewarned Tribe is pretty adamantly pro-choice. As a pro-choice person myself, this was fine with me, but it may bother some who are looking for a more “moderate” or pro-life position. Tribe’s ending arguments do try to find a middle ground, but not like you’d expect. Recommended if you are into constitutional law and the abortion issue.

Freedom of speech:

1. Free speech for me, but not for thee: How the American left and right relentlessly censor each other by Nat Hentoff (1992)

This is a somewhat old book, coming out in the early 90’s, but some things never change, and I was attracted to the book’s spot on subtitle. The left and right really do like to censor each other, and only libertarians support free speech consistently. If you are close to a First Amendment absolutist like me, you will appreciate the author’s civil libertarian perspective. Much of the book’s material deals with college campus speech codes, which had not yet been ruled unconstitutional back in the early 90’s. But that does not make the book dated, because those codes are still around today and are just as ridiculous as ever, as anyone who follows the issue knows. The book also discusses issues like flag burning and restrictions on pornography and other “obscene’ speech, but much of it deals with free speech in colleges and schools. Very engaging.

2. You Can’t Say That! The growing threat to civil liberties from anti-discrimination laws by David Bernstein (2003)

This book mainly discusses and makes an argument against anti-discrimination laws to the extent such laws violate the right to free speech. Thus, you get chapters on violations of free speech in the workplace, attacks on the right to free association (for example, the boy scouts excluding gays), and campus speech codes, which often use the language of discrimination law to justify their assault on speech. The book concludes with a warning about the possibility of these assaults on free speech morphing into the hate speech laws in places like Canada, where people are actually arrested for “hateful” speech. Although I support anti-discrimination laws in employment and public accommodations, most of the examples the author discusses are absurd overreactions and do seem like a violation of free speech rights. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in the issue of campus speech codes, free association, and the censoring of politically incorrect speech in general. Even if you are a die-hard supporter of anti-discrimination laws, I imagine many readers will agree that most of the examples in this book, at the very least, involve free speech questions and not just combating actual sexual harassment.

Education:

Market Education: The Unknown History by Andrew J. Coulson (1999)

This book makes the most professional, scholarly, and interesting argument for a free market in education and the flaws in the public school system that I‘ve ever seen. If you were going to pick one book that would most effectively and engagingly argue against public education, this would be the one to pick, as many Amazon reviews of the book have attested. For the record, I don’t support the abolition of public education, but I do support vouchers and choice, and you don’t have to agree with the author’s admittedly radical position to enjoy this book. Although the book is intimidating at first glance (I ordered it from amazon without reading a preview, and when I received it in the mail and looked inside, I thought ‘holy shit this is going to be a tough read”), I actually found the book surprisingly fascinating. Don’t be intimidated by its size or breadth. It does deal with the history of education, focusing on a time when education was mostly private, but the bulk of the book also deals with current issues in education to make its case, such as curriculum requirements, teaching methods, vouchers, private schools and charters. It came out in 1999, so much of the “current” information is outdated, but the arguments used in the book still apply to the issue today, and the arguments are pretty well timeless at this point. But this book is the most effective one on this issue with the most effective arguments. It’s also of general interest to people who love or are fascinated by education in general.

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