Twenty Years of Books

Lynn Scarlett looks back on the bestsellers, and Clarence Thomas, Martha Bayles, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Alex Kozinski, James C. Miller, and others reflect on books that made a difference.

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In a famous M.C. Escher drawing, animals climb out of a book, appearing lifelike on the artist's desk, only to dissolve back into a flat image to return to the world of books. In the real world, as in Escher's art, ideas and illusions, fads and fashions, work their way into books to capture in print a moment of history, then reenter the real world as readers imbibe them.

Books provide both a feel for the past and a glimpse into debates of the future. Scanning two decades of The New York Times Book Review, 1968–1988, is like entering a time capsule fitted out with sandals for the '60s, Reeboks for the 70s, and Guccis for the '80s. The weightier ideas are there, but buried amidst the fads, surfacing occasionally in serious fiction and nonfiction.

An idea like liberty, for example, has waxed and waned, paralleling its fate in the big world beyond books. Take 1968, the apex of antiestablishment upheaval here and abroad. Egalitarianism claimed the minds of many politicians and far too many intellectuals. In China, the slogan "better red than expert," with its blatant egalitarian flavor, drove the Red Guard forward in China's Cultural Revolution. Disenchanted with our own "free world," some Americans bought into this egalitarian zeal. Mao's quotations—his proverbial Little Red Book—sold over 300,000 copies in the United States in 1968.

About the same time, Eldridge Cleaver stung the establishment in his biting attack on racist America. His Soul on Ice stayed aboard the bestseller list a whopping 55 weeks.

Soul on Ice was no aberration. The intensely angry Autobiography of Malcolm X hit the paperback bestseller list. And Frantz Fanon's appeal for Third World revolution, Wretched of the Earth, sold a hefty 155,000 copies.

But, unlike Mao's Little Red Book, these other works would mistakenly be remembered only for their antiestablishment tenor. And they are decidedly not egalitarian. Cleaver's book is, deep down, an appeal of an angry black man for self-help and liberty: "I decided that the only safe thing for me to do was go for myself. It became clear that it was possible for me to take the initiative; instead of simply reacting, I could act." Cleaver recites praises of Marx and Lenin—but they are largely empty chalices. What comes through with passion in Soul on Ice is a longing for individual freedom.

The days of rage in the '60s, whatever their superficial intellectual form, expressed at heart yearnings for freedom, yearnings whose cultural expression and scope far surpassed the pretentious whinings of a handful of red-diaper babies and New Left intellectuals. Rock music reflected this lust for liberty more than books, but the literary scene shot off a few rockets here and there. Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, with its account of hippiedom at its pinnacle, was a carouse for freedom—not equality, power, authority, or the collective, but freedom. Likewise, the wildly popular Whole Earth Catalog offered a hands-on guide to self-help, new tech, and old tech in a volume far more at home in individualistic America than collectivist Russia.

Antiestablishment, yes. Collectivist, no. This was an era that devoured the antiestablishment fiction of Gore Vidal. Washington, D.C., his trenchant critique of the inevitable human failures that always accompany political power, was followed by Burr with similar themes. Kurt Vonnegut's satire on government and war, Slaughterhouse Five, gained him a near cult following in this same epoch.

To be sure, many establishment intellectuals as well as long-time socialists like Old Left mouthpiece Michael Harrington pontificated on the benefits of more government, big government, and the welfare state. These guys found a receptive ear in the world of politicians, who after all make their living off government, the bigger the better. But these idea makers were out of touch. By the late '60s the appeal of big government was not on the rise, it was on the decline, even among starry-eyed youths who had cheered the Chairman in China.

Looking at books of the late '60s tells us something else about ideas and fashions. Grand movements are never so grand, nor so all-encompassing, nor so simple, as those caught up in them imagine. People carry on with their lives, eking out a living, nurturing their families, getting along okay without the idea makers, and—on occasion—seeking entertainment. So it is that the real bestsellers in the late '60s were spy thrillers like The Salzburg Connection, or books on the criminal underworld like The Godfather, or just plain entertaining potboilers like Airport. No grand social and political themes here.

And even if hippies were scorning materialism and turning to tatty jeans and rummage sales for their habiliments, others still saw the value of a dollar in hand. The Money Game by "Adam Smith" outpaced in sales any of the counterculture tomes or the high-falutin' egalitarian outpourings of intellectuals. Rich and the Super Rich was right up there, too. Parents still wondered what to do with their kids, so Dr. Spock's classic chalked up nearly a million sales and Haim Ginott's Between Parent and Child stayed on bestseller lists for over a year.

What really survived into the 70s from the turmoil of the '60s was not an egalitarian political ideology (though it found its way into our laws), but the more gut level quest for individualism that had sustained America's cultural revolution. What could be more personal, more centered on self, than sex. Sex, happiness, and self-fulfillment. O'Neill and O'Neill penned their popular Open Marriage; Thomas Harris, in what is a popularized expression of individualism, wrote I'm Okay, You're Okay; and Alex Comfort, soon after, came on the scene with the phenomenally successful Joy of Sex.

Though a few themes like feminism and environmentalism carried forward the political crusade of the '60s, the American public was generally more interested in other matters: to wit, themselves. With near-fanatic ardor we began to diet. Dr. Atkin's Diet Revolution took the book scene by storm and, just about ever since, we have gorged on diet tracts.

Then we began donning our Reeboks, or pouring ourselves into leotards and leg warmers. None other than Jane Fonda, pariah of the establishment a decade earlier, led the way.

The media, quick to label, dubbed the '70s the Me Generation. Robert Ringer's Looking Out for Number One and Winning Through Intimidation gave apparent confirmation to the designation. So, too, did books like Harry Browne's How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation. Here was a guy who would have us actually cash in on crisis, instead of remaking the world.

But, as the saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. The media, then as now, latched onto a superficial phenomenon and mistook it for the Weltanschauung of America. Underneath all this dieting and jogging, the '70s manifested a deep angst, a searching for values.

The politics of the '60s had sown some seeds of egalitarianism, but '60s popular culture had been intensely libertarian. The push and pull between equality and liberty gave '70s politics a more tentative flavor. Broad visions of revolution gave way to narrower agendas—saving whales or turning chairmen into chairpersons. We got neither revolution nor sweeping egalitarianism, but in particular pockets of policy the ideal of equality of results crept in to stay. Nowhere was this more evident than in politics about women and minorities.

The early '70s brought us Kate Millet's Sexual Politics and Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch, both quests for equality. On the political battlefield, the egalitarian urge translated into affirmative action.

Yet liberty held sway, too, more in the actions of women than in the realm of lawmaking. What women seemed to want was freedom of choice. By the late '70s we find Woman's Dress for Success Book and The Managerial Woman tapping these aspirations. Other women chose traditional roles, though often rather belatedly. And then in stepped Erma Bombeck, "worrying about getting into the Guinness Book of World Records under 'Pregnancy: Oldest Recorded Birth,'" poking fun at motherhood and kitchen sinks, yet somehow condoning that lifestyle as well, all to the dismay of radical feminists.

The '70s, a decade when feminism turned mainstream, also packaged environmentalism for mass consumption. What took off in the '60s as a cultural phenomenon in which nature, Indian feathers, and organic gardening featured prominently, turned into an intellectual and political movement. The Environmentalist was born.

The environmental movement, more than any other political drive of the '70s, sought the authority of the state to change the balance between man, industry, and nature. To stalwart capitalists, it was the nemesis of the '70s. Yet even the environmental movement has a grassroots side that gropes for enhancing, not limiting, our choices. For example, E.F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful, partly a product of environmentalism, is a caustic attack on big government and planners; it is above all an appeal for self-help, even if its economics is wrongheaded.

Underneath the skin of the Me Generation flourished an uneasiness, expressed in doomsday books like Alvin Toffler's Future Shock or Charles Reich's Greening of America and prophecies of economic collapse. Reich's book, in particular, was a collectivist quest for community. He fell prey to the view that individualism meant a lack of values, that only in self-sacrifice for the community can moral value be found. Though the forebodings of Toffler and Reich found an audience, not all were convinced as they groped for a worldview not satisfactorily answered by the collectivism of the communitarians nor the state capitalism so vivified by the dethroned Richard Nixon.

Exactly one decade after Students for a Democratic Society issued its petition for a new political order, former Treasury Secretary William Simon came forward with a different appeal for change. In A Time for Truth, he reclaimed Thomas Paine's vision that "government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one." Simon concluded his essay: "One of the clearest measures of the disastrous change that has taken place in this country is the fact that today one must intellectually justify a passion for individual liberty and for limited government, as though it were some bizarre new idea." Among the rulers, the idea was bizarre. Yet the very success of his book showed how alive the ideal of liberty was among many of the ruled. It was out there lurking among those who had watched big government grow but had quietly run their businesses, gone to work, read The Salzburg Connection and Joy of Sex in their spare time, and wondered if America was going to hell in a handbasket.

Robert Ringer's Restoring the American Dream tapped a desire to rekindle liberty. But the definitive intellectual reaffirmation that individual liberty is a good thing came from Milton and Rose Friedman. Their 1980 book Free to Choose, accompanied by the TV series, remained nearly a year on bestseller lists. Finally, it was okay to say that liberty includes, nay requires, free markets. The cultural libertarianism that had kept individualism alive in the '60s and '70s finally regained a foothold in our economic thinking.

Dieting, cycling, and aerobics persisted into the '80s. In there bouncing on the aerobics floor was a small but visible coterie of ambitious young people who dined well, dressed expensively, and had traded in the old VW bug for a new BMW. This crowd gave the media fuel for its new label for the decade, yuppies. But, like the Me Generation, yuppiedom was really only a media phenomenon. Underneath that yuppie veneer could be found a reinvigorated work ethic and spirit of enterprise. And thus, in the '80s, a wealth of new books on business, management, entrepreneurship, and investment, capped off with Tom Peters and Robert Waterman's big hit, In Search of Excellence.

Things lightened up a bit, too, in indirect proportion to the inflation rate. Instead of doomsday prophesies we began to find on the bestseller lists things like No Bad Dogs: The Woodhouse Way or A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney. Refreshing, light, simple. The prophecies also turned rosier, as in John Naisbitt's Megatrends. We even got a dose of long-absent patriotism in The Eagle Has Landed, Ken Follett's tale of a group of veterans, payrolled by business tycoon Ross Perot, freeing American hostages from Iran.

We still got plenty of spy thrillers, though some disgruntled antinukers sourly opined that these books bucked the new spirit of conciliation with the Soviet Union and should not be published, or at least not purchased. Hunt for the Red October, by Tom Clancy, was a blockbuster, showing that Americans of the '80s relish a gripping thriller with a good dose of technology. Some things never change.

And what about individual liberty? It is back on the political agenda, though mostly in rhetoric. Big government is bigger than ever. Don't look to the politicians for liberty. Look to our poets and artists, our musicians and writers, our entrepreneurial mavericks, our mothers and fathers, and to the corner grocer.

The halls of academia still harbor more than their fair share of collectivist scribblers. But collectivist idea makers are on the defensive. A new breed of thinkers has begun to carry the torch for individual liberty, though we mustn't forget the lonely crusaders—F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Henry Hazlitt, Thomas Szasz, Thomas Sowell, and a handful of others (some of whom we pay tribute to in the following comments) who persevered for liberty when so many intellectuals had given over to collectivist sentiments.

But let's also not forget that whatever the intellectuals are saying, ideas like liberty almost always find a home on less exalted planes—a poet's rhyme, a bluesman's drone, or a mother's lullaby. Ideas have consequences, but they don't reside merely, or even mostly, in scholarly books. And so, the most heartening sign may be that the all-time biggest bestseller of the past two decades was a wacky bunch of children's poems by Shel Silverstein. A Light in the Attic stayed on the New York Times Book Review bestseller list fully 146 weeks. And his poems aren't about individual freedom—they exude it.

And now a brief celebration of books, fiction and nonfiction, that have kept liberty alive over the past two decades.
—Lynn Scarlett

1974

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

John Hospers

Solzhenitsyn may not be in all respects a defender of human freedom, yet his Gulag Archipelago is as powerful a testament to freedom as has been written in our century, being a sustained and compelling expose of freedom's antithesis.

The reading of these three volumes (2,000 pages) is a shattering experience that filters into everything one reads and thinks thereafter. The cumulative impact of the countless details of human suffering and cruelty through slave labor, imposed by the Omnipotent State during the Stalin years, has an impact for which even the reading of Solzhenitsyn's works of fiction has left one unprepared.

Millions died in the Ukrainian genocide of the 1930s and millions more in the frozen wastes of Kolyma in the '40s and '50s, and—unlike the Nazis whose atrocities were headlined all over the world—the world took almost no notice of these decades of death. After Solzhenitsyn, there is no longer any excuse for remaining ignorant. Yet today hardly one of a hundred American undergraduates has read one word of Solzhenitsyn's work. If they escape the kind of fate he described, it will not be because they have become aware of the dangers of Omnipotent Government, or discerned any warning signals. For them it will be simply a matter of luck.

John Hospers, who reviewed movies for REASON from July 1977 through May 1984, teaches philosophy at the University of Southern California.

1984

Losing Ground, by Charles Murray

J.A. Parker

In 1979, 55 percent of all black children in the United States were born out of wedlock and into female-headed homes, compared with an estimated 15 percent in 1940. Many commentators have ignored the changes in our welfare system in recent years that have provided an incentive not to marry, to have children out of wedlock, and not to work. In Losing Ground, Charles Murray shows that the great proliferation of social programs and policies of the mid-'60s made it profitable for the poor to behave in the short term in ways that were destructive in the long term.

Murray comprehensively documents and analyzes the disturbing course of Great Society social programs. Challenging popular notions that Great Society programs marked the beginning of improvement in the situation of the poor, Murray shows substantial declines in poverty prior to 1964—but slower growth, no growth, and retreat from progress as public assistance programs skyrocketed.

If we truly want to improve the lot of the poor, Murray declares, we should look to equality of opportunity and to education and eliminate the transfer programs that benefit neither recipient nor donor. It is Charles Murray's hope that we will learn from the failures of the past and move in an entirely different direction in the future.

J.A. Parker is president of the Lincoln Institute in Washington, D.C.

1980

Ethnic America, by Thomas Sowell

Clarence Thomas

"There's another black guy out there who is as crazy as you are!" My friend's gibe was how I first learned of Tom Sowell's Race and Economics, which confirmed some of the "crazy" ideas I had about freedom and race and added dozens more. I eagerly read the book and sought him out, and now, over 10 years later, I cannot imagine what my life would be without his writing and his counsel.

In Ethnic America Sowell reflects on America as "the story of the human spirit in its many guises." His combination of scholarship and common sense shows how differing ethnic traits endure and disappear, as individuals come to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Supported by conscientious law enforcement, the crucial means for self-improvement in America is the wise use of our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Clarence Thomas, interviewed in REASON's November 1987 issue, is chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

1980

Free To Choose, by Milton and Rose Friedman

Michael McCarthy

In November 1980, I voted for Jimmy Carter for president and then went home and read Free to Choose. I started the book a Democrat and a standard-issue modern liberal. I finished it a libertarian.

Free to Choose is really a book for burnt-out liberals—burnt out by the failure of our generation's efforts to solve the intractable social problems of our times; for liberals who still care about the liberal agenda but are fed up with the liberal solution.

In Friedman's book I found hope for the future, grounded in something I still held dear: a decent respect for people as people. Discouraged by failure, I was electrified by this book's ideas for success. It gave me my first glimpse of libertarianism as a politics of hope, and that changed my life.

Thanks, Miltie.

Michael McCarthy is reviews editor of the computer weekly InfoWorld and chairman of the Reason Foundation's San Francisco Regional Advisory Council.

1974

Anarchy, State, and Utopia, by Robert Nozick

Tibor R. Machan

Robert Nozick's famous Anarchy, State, and Utopia is now a classic of 20th-century political philosophy. It is a model of philosophical pizzazz. Nozick's book is a dazzler—a philosophical virtuoso, an intellectual feast. It reestablished the academic significance of the laissez-faire alternative in political economy. The ripple effects are still being felt. Graduate students and young professors of philosophy, political science, and economics are everywhere studying Nozick's ideas and are also steered to the examination of the ideas of other libertarians.

I only regret that Nozick has refused to discuss his work further. He has replied to just one critic—Sheldon Wollin—in a letter to the editor to The New York Times Book Review. Better comments and criticisms—for example, by Thomas Nagel, Amartya Sen, Thomas Scanlon, Robert Wolff, and H.L.A. Hart—have gone unanswered by Nozick. Mostly critical, negative essays appear, and since they are aimed at Nozick, responses, especially from frameworks Nozick rejects, can be dismissed out of hand.

Senior Editor Tibor R. Machan, one of the partners who published REASON from 1971 to 1978, teaches philosophy at Auburn University.

1981

Wealth and Poverty, by George Gilder

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.

Wealth and Poverty served as a trove of useful information about the ecology of dollars over the past two decades. It reminded us of much that is true and vital about the economy vis-à-vis the state and vis-à-vis the individual. It did all this with the most elegant prose.

George Gilder is one of the finest minds of his generation, and so in this superb book he included something more important than all the above. He devised a way of thinking about capitalism that, if true, could make it defensible on yet another front. Beyond being effective at increasing wealth, it is, according to Gilder, virtuous. "Not taking and consuming, but giving, risking, and creating," says Gilder in Wealth and Poverty, "are the characteristic roles of the capitalist, the key producer of the wealth of nations."

For generations, that aspect of libertarianism that statists have opposed most resolutely has been its adherence to the free market. Statists think capitalism is selfish and morally flavorless. Gilder thinks it is altruistic. If he can succeed in making that case, the major barrier between libertarianism and American conventional thought might well collapse. This alone make his work invaluable.

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., is editor-in-chief of The American Spectator.

1968

Whole Earth Catalog

Jim Trotter

Any catalog that could contain information on edible fungi and how to build a log cabin and could draw fine distinctions between Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand has to be great. I read the first Whole Earth Catalog while living in a one-room cabin in the mountains. Already an anarchist, I was drawn to a reference about a school of thought that included "bushy-haired anarchists," "Ayn Rand freaks," and maybe the best economics around. From the accompanying list of libertarian publications I opted for The A Is A Directory, which turned out to be a key libertarian sourcebook that helped me complete my economic education. Here I found economic analysis to fit with my anarchist philosophy.

The current issue of the Whole Earth Catalog, with its greater formality, has become genteel and mainstream. But it still offers a cornucopia of information that underscores the many ways individualists express themselves.

Jim Trotter is a businessman. In 1968 he was a rioting student.

1970

Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, by Tom Wolfe

Thomas W. Hazlett

The 1960s were beautiful, man, because it was the time when the intelligent, compassionate, oh-so-right upscale crowd found poverty, racism, injustice—and especially their victims. It was a match made in Heaven, which is to say, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The '60s were righteous, you see, 'cause the good, loving, liberal New York elite got down with the bad—the revolutionary, no time for jive, in yo' face mo' fo', don't give me no sheeeeiiiiiit, brothers and sisters from "the people." It was ugly. But the existence of God was conclusively proven when he placed one little scrivener, Tom Wolfe, in the middle of that gala Black Panther fundraiser in the la-di-da duplex of Leonard and Felicia Bernstein circa January 1969.

It was the magic moment when both sides achieved climax. Never have two social classes so shamelessly fondled each other for (independent) mutual advantage; never has a writer been so savage, so word-picture perfect, so brilliantly illuminating in recording the double foul. Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Mayor Daley, General Hershey, George Wallace, and Curtis Lemay all tried and failed; it was the Truth's Eyewitness, Tom Wolfe, who brought the '60s to an end.

Contributing Editor Thomas W. Hazlett teaches economics at the University of California, Davis.

1975

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Michael Grossberg

Dune, voted "the greatest novel ever" in a 1975 science fiction reader's poll, put science fiction on the map. Frank Herbert's richly detailed world of power politics, millennial movements, and eco-crises—a world much like our own—was science fiction's first New York Times bestseller-list blockbuster.

Long before the Star Wars trilogy with its desert planet Tattoine modeled on Dune's Arrakis, Herbert's dense futurehistorical epic captured the imagination of a generation. Through its conspiracy-filled plot about a battle for control of a mind-expanding, life-extending drug, Dune tells a cautionary tale about the perils of power lust, the excesses of religious fanaticism, and the pitfalls of submission to messianic cults.

In some ways Dune's continuing popculture popularity is surprising—and promising. For Herbert's antiauthoritarian, antiegalitarian vision, with its wise emphasis on "the terrifying instability of all things human," makes all too rare distinctions between natural hierarchy and corrupt bureaucracy, between legitimate authority and coercive tyranny, and between freely chosen responsibility and collectivist duty. Viva la difference!

Michael Grossberg, founder of the Libertarian Futurist Society, reviews theater and film for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

1985

Takings, by Richard Epstein

Alex Kozinski

When does government regulation amount to a taking of private property for which "just compensation" is due? The answer to this question turns out to be extremely complicated under our case law, with the consequence that few whose property is devalued by governmental regulation are able to recover under the Constitution's takings clause. Richard Epstein presents a fundamental challenge to the current mode of analysis, much of which he views as naive or misguided. Using sophisticated economic and philosophical models, Epstein argues that much government regulation, such as zoning and rent control, does amount to a taking of private property for which compensation is due. It may be quite some time before Epstein's view becomes the law of the land, but his vigorous, articulate, and frequently compelling analysis cannot be ignored. Takings law will never be the same.

Alex Kozinski is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. He was featured in a REASON Spotlight in the August/September 1986 issue.

1971

The Psychology of Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden

Mariam Brillantes

On the threshold of my 27th year, I finally learned how to become visible to myself. Through Nathaniel Branden's book The Psychology of Self-Esteem, I realized that all my life, I had surrendered my identity to others, letting their standards dictate how I judged myself. They were rational, objective, confident; I was emotional, insecure, hungry for approval. Since I wasn't like them, I felt worthless, undeserving of love.

Branden taught me to break free. His philosophy that self-esteem must come from within, rather than from approval by others, enabled me to wipe the slate clean and begin to develop my own values and standards, trust my mind, celebrate my emotional intensity, and accept that I am different and good and worthy of happiness.

It took a long time to earn my self-respect, but the journey was worth it. I discovered that underneath the twisted ball of pain that I had become lay an indomitable self—a healthy, vibrant ego with an incredible capacity for living. Ayn Rand's heroine, Dagny Taggart, was alive in me, after all.

Mariam Brillantes is a free-lance writer in New York City.

1976

Roots, by Alex Haley

Martha Bayles

In his recent movie Raw, Eddie Murphy says he is fed up with aggressive American women and plans to get himself a compliant African wife whose idea of fun is to ride a zebra while wearing nothing but a bone in her nose. Partly, Murphy is parodying the stereotypes of Africa. But he is also mocking the new-fangled ignorance that accepts only reverently idealized images of Africa.

In other words, he is talking to the post Roots generation. For when Alex Haley's 1976 bestseller (followed by a blockbuster miniseries) traced Haley's family tree back to an idyllic village in Gambia, mainstream America's notion of the black past was forever altered.

Roots will never be canonized as literature—especially since Haley was accused of plagiarizing the Gambia passages—and there is no denying that it set the tone for much loud, false glorification of Africa. But to the degree that it also inspired much quiet, genuine curiosity about black origins previously shrouded in indifference or shame, Roots did contribute to individual liberty. At least, we can all laugh together at Murphy's double-edged joke.

Martha Bayles is the Wall Street Journal's TV critic and is writing a book about popular culture.

1975

Thinking About Crime, by James Q. Wilson

Steven R. Postrel

In the late 1960s, "serious" discussions about crime began and ended with "root causes"—racism, poverty, inequality. To the liberal policy elite, crime was proof of deeply rooted injustice and oppression, proof of the need for huge government programs to transform urban life. Punishment of criminals was futile, hardening hearts and breeding future offenses.

By the early 1970s, these certitudes were in disarray, as the rehabilitation nostrums and community-action programs proved expensive follies. They were completely routed with the publication of Thinking About Crime. Wilson's combination of cool scholarly analysis, down-to-earth common sense, and awareness of the limits of social policy simply annihilated the conventional wisdom. He showed that "root cause" theories are largely irrelevant for policy because government is incapable of affecting these root causes. And he informed the public that empirical research supports the ordinary view that criminals respond to incentives and that punishment serves a constructive purpose. Wilson's bottom line: "We have trifled with the wicked, made sport of the innocent, and encouraged the calculators. Justice suffers, and so do we all."

Steven R. Postrel teaches business strategy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

1981

Teach Your Own, by John Holt

1980

Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert

1980

Philosophy in the Classroom, by Matthew Lippman, Ann Sharp, and Frederick Oscanyan

Karl Hess

These three books concerning education could profoundly effect (and increase) individual liberty. Holt's book is a definitive argument for home schooling that, in turn, is a definitive form of individualism.

Papert's book, with its ringing credo of taking education away from the collective and returning it to the individual and the free market, is a "mindstorming" paean to the possibilities of the personal computer as a tool for the private, individual intellectual development of children. (Papert, at MIT, is developer of the computer language Logo, widely used by children and an increasing number of adults.)

Philosophy in the Classroom describes the material and practices developed at Montclair State University's Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, developments that, in my view, systematically encourage the questioning of authority and the development of self-esteem in ways so powerful that even a public school environment cannot crush them. Sample: one question children are encouraged to ask is why they are forced to be in school in the first place. The entire Pandora's box of force is thus opened, a concern so fundamental that adults widely prefer to avoid it. If their children face it head on, the future of liberty could be brighter than ever!

Karl Hess, a frequent contributor to REASON, is the author of Capitalism for Kids.

1975–1979

Law, Legislation, and Liberty, 3 vols., by F.A. Hayek

Douglas Den Uyl

I had the good fortune of reviewing all three volumes of Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty for REASON beginning in 1975, while I was still in graduate school, and ending in 1979, during the origins of a settled career path. Although each review contained critical comments, my own intellectual development benefited from these books in ways that can only be appreciated by looking back as I am doing now. In particular, the Hayek trilogy, more than anything else at the time, moved me off a strictly moralistic posture toward social and political questions and instilled a far greater sense of the manifold issues that sound social theory must address.

Some have argued that Hayek's Constitution of Liberty was his best work or that The Road to Serfdom has done and will do more for the cause of liberty than any other. Perhaps. But I believe that Law, Legislation, and Liberty has a significance all its own. This trilogy moved Hayek from the rank of economist to social philosopher. I may be prejudiced in believing that every theorist wants eventually to be thought of as some type of philosopher; but I know of no higher compliment, and I believe these volumes were decisive in placing Hayek's name among the list of significant social philosophers.

Douglas Den Uyl, a coeditor of The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, teaches phibsophy at Bellarmine College.

1971

Without Marx or Jesus, by Jean-François Revel

Stephen Schwartz

If I were asked to name the living writer who in the past 20 years has most influenced my political thinking, I would have to say the French essayist Jean-François Revel. In 1971, having thoroughly enjoyed his previous works, I was astonished and provoked by the appearance of Without Marx or Jesus.

Revel had been known as a perceptive critic of the left, from a leftist point of view. With the appearance of his book hailing the new American revolution, he was ostracized by most left-wing intellectuals. I myself, then wandering in the trackless waste of extreme leftism, was at first more irritated than stimulated by his book. His message was simple: the real transforming revolution of our epoch is a product not of Marxism nor of the Eastern and other religious philosophies so fashionable two decades ago, but of America—the powerhouse of free-market capitalism.

While utopian and other redemptionist political philosophy has produced madness and mass death, the American miracle continues to astonish the world with its tremendous capacity for social and technological innovation. Revel is therefore the recipient of the best of all honors: he is a prophet proven correct time and again.

Stephen Schwartz is a poet, historian, and critic.

1984

The Apocalyptics, by Edith Efron

Marty Zupan

To a generation raised on the common wisdom that we are suffering "an epidemic of cancer" stemming from our growing use of manmade toxic chemicals, Edith Efron's Apocalyptics: Cancer and the Big Lie offers a well-documented, myth-shattering look at the study of environmental cancer.

It is too early to tell whether The Apocalyptics will make a difference in the world of ideas, the world of science, and the world of regulation. It should make a difference. And it must make a difference in each of those realms if it is ever to make a difference in the lives of people outside the handful, relatively speaking, who operate in those worlds. But whether it will depends on the choices of an even smaller handful of people.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring seeped into the culture for 22 years before Edith Efron's Apocalyptics came around to possibly turn the tide. When REASON celebrates its 40th anniversary, we'll see.

Editor-in-Chief Marty Zupan stopped smoking, never did use muffin mix, and doesn't worry about Red Dye No. 2.

And one for good measure…

1962

The Calculus of Consent, by James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock

James C. Miller III

We include this book as an exception. Although published before the 20 years 1968–1988, it would have a major effect during those years.

The Calculus of Consent—the wellspring of the Virginia School of Economics—is a showcase of creative analysis. One of five seminal works in the discipline known as collective, or public, choice, this is a book that has launched 1,000-plus articles. Professors Buchanan and Tullock breathed life into the fading notion of "political economy" at a time when most of academia fancied the demarcation of economics and political science.

Two concepts in The Calculus of Consent are central to its impact. The first is methodological individualism. Individuals are fundamental units of analysis, and choices are driven by consistent behavioral motivations—in politics as in the market. The second is the emphasis on politics as process. Like the market process, political decisions are shaped by rules and institutions. Calculus focused analysis on the structure of the political process and how it determines the gains and costs of individual actions. Particular outcomes, public policies, are treated methodologically as responses to the structure of the institutional rules.

Applications of the framework developed in The Calculus of Consent are unbounded, and the "public choice perspective" is embedded in the thinking of academics and policymakers alike.

James C. Miller III is a former student of Buchanan and Tullock's and is now director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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