Here, readers, is the fourth annual book review issue, one of REASON's "special," extra-length issues. Far from being automatically continued, the book issue comes in for scrutiny. Do the readers find it of value? or would they be satisfied getting the regular book review or two per issue, foregoing this annual special? It's a tough question.
On the one hand, past reader response to the issue has ranged from low to nil. As book review editor, a few private communications have come my way, and they've been favorable. They have come, however, from people—academics—"suspected" of having a special interest in books! On the other hand, ranged against the readers' failure to evidence interest is the fact that out there in REASON-reader land a lot of books are "consumed." The recent survey shows that our subscribers, on average, purchase 16 hardcover and 27 paperback books each year. Although major book publishers have failed to be impressed enough to advertise in REASON, these figures are not to be sniffed at. So there would seem to be some value to devoting extra attention to books, to offering a special-length issue that can allow coverage both of more books and of some books in greater depth than usual.
Not all the books reviewed here were selected because REASON readers will enjoy them. There is a bit of exhortation in some selections—that is, readers should pay attention to some books! Nor were all the books reviewed because of some potential agreement with them. Given a commitment to individual liberty, some will be positively angering. But each takes up or touches upon issues of concern to those with such a commitment.
Take Nathan Glazer's Affirmative Discrimination, for example. Charles King reviews it along with a book of essays on the same subject. Glazer's one of those people at whose words the liberals' ears prick up. He brings out a book reputedly devastating one of their babies—governmental affirmative action to "balance" the incidence of races and sexes in hiring, in housing, and in the schools. This is one that REASON ought to pick up on. It turns out, upon review, that Glazer is not all that devastating. And, by King's account, his thesis is annoyingly devoid of any principled conclusions.
A similar book, in that readers will probably end up ambivalent about it, is Punishing Criminals. Another person paid attention to by the general media, Ernest van den Haag gets into the fray there with a topic of considerable importance to those concerned with liberty. Yet, concludes reviewer Roger Lee, he produces an interesting but ultimately disappointing book. In contrast, check out editor Robert Poole's review of James Q. Wilson's Thinking about Crime.
The books mentioned thus far are mainly concerned with the current state of political affairs. Others that fall into this category and are reviewed here are The Citizen and the State, National Suicide, and Race and Economics. Other books, however, get down to rock bottom, to fundamental discussions of individual liberty and a system based on it. Here we have reviewed senior editor Tibor Machan's Human Rights and Human Liberties and the book of essays Property in a Humane Economy.
Then, we have selected some books in the area of history, but of widely varying subject matter. William Marina, appropriately for 1976, reviews a number of books on the American Revolution, including the two most recent volumes of Murray Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty. Leonard Liggio highlights, and to some extent contrasts, two histories of different periods of the conservative movement in America. An entirely different area of history comes into play in Robert Hessen's biography of Charles Schwab, reviewed by Arthur Ekirch. Here is a delightful, smoothly written history of a businessman, and it is refreshing to encounter something other than the familiar unsympathetic attitude toward business and its leaders.
Hessen's book might well be recommended as a good piece of literature, an area we have not neglected. Included is John Hospers's review of The First Circle. Although Solzhenitsyn wrote and published it before Gulag Archipelago, the facts of the latter figure centrally in The First Circle, highly praised by Hospers. And William Stoddard, in a departure from a review format, surveys some American poets who have noticed that liberty is a nice thing. (Also, for lighter reading check out Machan's "Viewpoint" column.)
Finally, what better place than the book issue to present one self-publisher's hints on bringing out your own book. You may even come up with a bestseller, says author Ted Nicholas.
There are some interesting parallels and overlaps in the reviews included here. In Lee's we find that van den Haag says justice may be legitimately ignored or subverted to further other social goals; in King's review we learn that Glazer implies the same when he contends that it is not in principle wrong for government to pursue "reverse discrimination." Thomas Sowell's book covers Glazer's territory, so the King and Havender reviews make a pair. Locke on property turns up in Jeff Paul's review; Locke on equality, in King's. And equality again comes in for discussion by Marina. The Lee and Poole reviews are complementary, Lee taking up the more theoretical points offered by van den Haag and Poole covering the crime and punishment data.
A final note on the contents of this issue. It is true that not all the reviews here make for easy reading—nor do all the books reviewed. Some ideas, in being put forth, analyzed, criticized, defended, and the like, require attention, rereading, and patience on the readers' part. And if books covering such territory are to receive adequate and deserved reviews, they will be bound to make similar challenges. Clearly, however, REASON readers are up to it and, if time permits, welcome the opportunity.