People often ask me what books they ought to read in order to get quickly up to speed on economics, politics, and history. Here are some suggestions.
If you’re like me, you are annoyed by books that teach you three new things. My time is limited. I like books that are full of things I didn’t know, or ideas I’d never thought of.
The books I recommend below belong in that category. They teach you something new and unexpected on every page. And they are a perfect antidote to the propaganda fed to us in the ideological prison camps where most of us spent our formative years. I list them in no particular order.
The Revolution: A Manifesto, by Ron Paul. This is another good one for beginners. It has a good track record as a proselytizing device.
Democracy: The God that Failed, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Just read it. Trust me on this.
The Quest for Community, by Robert Nisbet. Here is a graduate course in political philosophy. Except in this one, the state is not the glorious summit of civilization and the indispensable source of human flourishing. As the new edition explains, “Nisbet argued that the rise of the powerful modern state had eroded the sources of community – the family, the neighborhood, the church, the guild. Alienation and loneliness inevitably resulted. But as the traditional ties that bind fell away, the human impulse toward community led people to turn even more to the government itself, allowing statism – even totalitarianism – to flourish.”
The Left, the Right, and the State, by Lew Rockwell. Lew (who of course runs the indispensable LewRockwell.com) did the world an incalculable service with the founding of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, but he is grossly underrated as a thinker in his own right. He has extended Rothbardian thought in numerous ways, and has influenced my own thinking more than almost anyone in the world.
The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle and Other Essays. Features essays by Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Gottfried Haberler, and Murray N. Rothbard. An effective introduction to the Austrian theory of the business cycle. You can read or listen to it online.
What Has Government Done to Our Money? by Murray N. Rothbard. An excellent little overview of the origin of money and its fate at the hands of government. You can listen to this book (along with The Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar) for free.
Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, by Murray N. Rothbard. The quality of the essays in this book is astounding. You will not think the same way ever again after reading “Anatomy of the State” and “War, Peace, and the State,” to name just two. You can read it online.
After you read these, I recommend the following:
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. This book blew me away when I first read it. Its title makes it sound dull. It is one of the most intellectually exciting books I have ever read.
Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles, by Murray N. Rothbard. This one, and the two that follow, are for the especially ambitious. This is a systematic exposition of Austrian economics. The sheer elegance of the Austrian system is on impressive display here. The entire text is available online. A study guide is available for purchase and online.
Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, by Ludwig von Mises. Available online, and as a free audiobook. See also the study guide, which can be purchased or read online. (Some disagree with me, but I favor beginning with Rothbard before moving on to Human Action.)
Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles, by Jesús Huerta de Soto. Here is the Austrian theory on money, banking, and business cycles, presented in systematic fashion, and compared with the Chicago and Keynesian alternatives. I have a friend who was so impressed by this book that he learned Spanish so he could pursue his Ph.D. under the author in Spain. It is also available in pdf.
I could name other books, naturally, but to my mind these are the absolutely indispensable ones.
One of the goals of my own books, for that matter, has been to get people up to speed on various topics as quickly and with as little exertion on their part as possible. Rollback, my most recent title, covers a very wide range of topics and replies to the most common objections to the free society. I was delighted to hear a student tell me just the other day, “I realized as I was reading this book that it would help me win debates.” That was part of the idea, for sure. I tried to do the same thing in some of my other titles, like The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, 33 Questions About American History, Meltdown [on the financial crisis], and Nullification.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr., a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is the creator of Tom Woods’s Liberty Classroom, a libertarian educational resource. He is the author of eleven books, including the New York Times bestsellers Meltdown (on the financial crisis; read Ron Paul’s foreword) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, and most recently Nullification and Rollback.