Feed His Head

Reason's presidential reading list


At press time, it's far from clear just who will win the presidential election. Only this much is certain: Whoever becomes the next chief executive is going to need help—lots of it—understanding what's going on, both with traditional public policy concerns and with other areas of activity. With that in mind, Reason asked various experts to identify a topic worthy of presidential attention and to recommend three must-read books on the issue. The only restrictions: One of the books must be a work of creative literature and one must have been written within the past decade.

Index of experts
Jodie Allen: Numbers Rackets
Joey Anuff: Stocks and Stones
Ronald Bailey: Really Long-Term Health Care
Ted Galen Carpenter: Humanitarian Non-Intervention
Tim Cavanaugh: Alt.cult Cults
Charles Paul Freund: Scandology
Joel Garreau: Techno-Upheaval
David B. Kopel: Second Amendment Ammo
Brink Lindsey: Global Views
Walter Olson: Legal Help
John J. Pitney Jr.: Leading Edge
Jonathan Rauch: Old Insights
Diane Ravitch: Looking-Glass Education
Nadine Strossen: Attaining Liberty

Numbers Rackets

By Jodie T. Allen

Charm and sensitivity may propel a man to the White House, but sooner or later a president will have to face the challenge of juggling numbers—means, percentages, and oh so much more. Stymieing one's critics won't be hard, because the public—office-holding and otherwise—isn't particularly numerate. But it will take some practice. Here are some books that can help the president spin his way around the bottom line.

A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (1995), by John Allen Paulos, is basically a "feel good" read for any president since the author blames reporters and editors for the misleading data and statistics that routinely appear in the media. A president will realize, of course, that the media are by and large merely unwitting, if gullible, conduits for the misinformation passed on to them by politicians, businessmen, and flacks, but you may pick up useful pointers on just what sort of lies sell best.

Darrell Huff's How to Lie With Statistics (1954) is the prototext for would-be manipulators of the public mind. The book was handily updated for 1993's paperback edition, with all the latest tips for shifting bases, truncating graphs, citing numbers when percents are more revealing (or vice versa), and a hundred other tips for authoritative dissembling. The tricks aren't new but they have stood the test of time.

Finally, there's Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979), by Douglas R. Hofstadter. Not exactly a novel, this Pulitzer Prize winner is surely one of the great flights of mathematical fancy. In fact, the paperback cover proclaims the work to be "a metaphorical fugue" done "in the spirit of Lewis Carroll." Why does a president need a fugue? Well, every leader needs a tome to keep by the bedside in case some prying reporter inquires as to his or her current reading matter. What is wanted is a book that will stand the test of time; i.e., that no normal person has ever truly finished. (A Brief History of Time and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance are obvious but overworked alternatives.) It is also essential that the subject matter be such that virtually no reporter or pundit can frame an intelligent question about its contents or the lessons you have drawn from it. Books about Dean Acheson are, for example, a poor choice in this regard; stick with fugues is my advice.

Jodie T. Allen is business and technology editor of U.S. News & World Report.

Stocks and Stones

By Joey Anuff

The next president ought to understand the stock market. Why? As Willie Sutton said in a slightly different context: Because that's where the money is.

Fred Schwed Jr.'s 1940 tome Where Are the Customers' Yachts? or A Good Hard Look at Wall Street is a good place to start. Schwed, who traded professionally during the stock market crash of 1929 and on through the Great Depression (and eventually became a children's book author) can be rightfully credited with having written the funniest book about the American stock market, mostly due to his expert ability to recognize the confluence of greed, ignorance, and pants-fouling terror that drives market speculation. Our nation's next CEO would be well-advised to familiarize himself with Schwed's useful maxim on the psychology of market disaster: "While hundreds of thousands are being plunged into poverty only the thoughtful ask, 'What is happening to us?' The popular cry is 'Who is doing this to us?' and its satisfying sequel—'Just let me get my hands on him!'" When Priceline. com gets delisted by the Nasdaq, staying attuned to this kind of thinking will guarantee an '04 reelection sweep.

Another useful reference work, for both the next POTUS and anyone angling toward a position of absolute power, is former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth's thoughtful autobiography, Crazy From the Heat (1998). Roth would be the last to claim for himself special insight into the woozy world of high finance—Van Halen's infamous $100,000-per-minute fee for the 1982 US festival notwithstanding. But like Sun Tzu mots in the boardroom, Roth's crotch-centric wisdom is as well-suited to the Oval Office as it is to the floor of the NYSE: "You've got to understand, rock 'n' roll is a lot like God took the map of the United States and tilted it, and everybody loose and unscrewed down rolled into my business." Substitute "the markets" for "rock 'n' roll" (hey, everybody else has) and you end up with as good an understanding of your role as figurehead for the U.S. economy as anything you'd find scrawled on the wall of the presidential bathroom stall.

Finally, I'd suggest an indiscriminate reading of just about any Batman comic book from the 1940s until the present. (The movies are OK, too.) Bruce Wayne is this guy with loads of money, a pre-Internet billionaire with a private jet and a personal cave. But he's not content simply to be a powerful influence on the economy. He cares about social issues, such as crime. But while Wayne is a great philanthropist, the past 60 years have taught him that it's not always enough to use his economic weight to rid the world of the problems he sees plaguing it. Sometimes other tools yield more effective—and more undeniably satisfying—results: tools like a batarang, for example, or his fist. Batman's long-lasting and continual cultural heft indicates that Americans admire, however wisely or unwisely, someone who recognizes the necessity of a swift kick to the nuts, in matters economic, social, and otherwise.

Joey Anuff ( is the co-founder and publisher of, and author, with Gary Wolf, of Dumb Money: Adventures of a Day Trader (Random House).

Really Long-Term Health Care

By Ronald Bailey

"I don't want to be immortal through my work. I want to be immortal through not dying," Woody Allen once quipped. The biomedical breakthroughs that might make Allen's wish more than an amusing aphorism are coming fast and furiously. They also raise a question worth pondering: What's more important, "saving" Social Security or increasing human lifespans, thus making such programs irrelevant and obsolete?

To understand how to nurture this coming biomedical revolution, the president should read From Alchemy to IPO: The Business of Biotechnology, by Cynthia Robbins-Roth (2000). If he really wants to cut the costs of medical treatments, the most important thing the president can do is let pharmaceutical and bio?tech companies continue their breakneck pace of research and innovation with as little interference as possible. Pandering to seniors by promising them cut-rate drugs today means that new, more effective, and perhaps even cheaper therapies will be delayed—if not stopped entirely tomorrow.

For ethical guidance on the new technologies, he should turn to H. Tristam Engelhardt's The Foundations of Bioethics (1986, revised 1996). Engelhardt's book is a bit recondite, but a central point is that in our pluralistic society there is no one set of values that can be applied to evaluating and using new technologies. The moral thing to do is to let each citizen and family decide for themselves whether and how to use new treatments involving stem cells, gene therapy, genetic diagnostics, pre-implantation embryo testing, and so forth.

For a look at the longer-term future, the president might put Ben Bova's Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Lifespan and Changing the World (1998) on his nightstand. "The first immortals are already living among us. You might be one of them," Bova audaciously declares. He argues that within the next 50 years, bio?tech researchers may well find the cure to aging. Who then will care whether Social Security is in a "lock box" or a paper shopping bag? And here's a novel the president can spend time with in his long retirement: Holy Fire (1996), by science fiction master Bruce Sterling. Holy Fire is a speculative and insightful story that explores how anti-aging technologies may affect scoiety.

Ronald Bailey ( is science correspondent for Reason.

Humanitarian Non-Intervention

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Absent a major international crisis (such as the Iranian hostage episode in 1980) or a failing war (Korea in 1952, Vietnam in 1968), foreign policy rarely plays a significant role in a presidential election. Yet the Constitution makes it clear that the president's principal job is to direct the nation's foreign policy. Moreover, the importance of the topic eclipses that of virtually any domestic issue. If a president blunders at home, tax dollars may be wasted and citizens may find their liberty constrained. If a president blunders in his foreign policy, innocent people may perish by the thousands or millions.  

The incoming chief executive would be wise to read David Chandler's Bosnia: Faking Democracy after Dayton (1999). Chandler's detailed account of the West's nation-building effort in Bosnia following the 1995 Dayton Accords confirms Lord Acton's observation that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. An army of foreign bureaucrats backed by NATO troops runs Bosnia as an international colony. Media outlets are heavily censored, candidates that U.N. or NATO officials deem uncooperative are barred from the ballot, and elected officials who dare defy the colonists' increasingly authoritarian policies are simply removed from office. Chandler's book is a powerful rebuttal to those who say the U.S. should embark on more "humanitarian" military interventions and nation-building missions.

The president should also read Doug Bandow's Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World (1996). Bandow's analysis shows that what Milton and Rose Friedman called the "tyranny of the status quo" is at work in foreign as well as domestic policy. America's military commitment to South Korea, established a half-century ago during the Korean War, persists despite vastly changed conditions in East Asia. Once weak, impoverished, and incapable of defending itself, South Korea now has twice the population of North Korea and an economy 30 times as large. Yet it remains a U.S. security dependent.

Finally, the new president should read a troubling novel, Dragon Strike, by Humphrey Hawksley and Simon Holberton (1997). Despite some all-too-trendy China-bashing, the book does a good job of showing how Washington's East Asian security commitments could easily embroil the United States in a major war against a nuclear-armed great power. Any occupant of the White House should ponder the wisdom of a policy that might lead to such a catastrophic outcome.

Ted Galen Carpenter ( is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and has written or edited many books on international affairs, with NATO Enters the 21st Century forthcoming from Frank Cass Publishers.

Alt.cult Cults

By Tim Cavanaugh

The next president should have some understanding of alternative media, a statement that conjures up dismaying visions of George W. or Albert Jr. leafing through some loser's zine about Italian splatter films. Further complicating matters is the ontological chestnut about whether forms of "alternative" media that haven't been "co-opted" by the "Culture Industry" can even exist. If Dubya digs into Motorbooty, the infamous Detroit-based pop-cult zine, can there be meaningful dissent? If Gore gets jiggy with the latest issue of the hip-hop magazine Vibe, is he making contact with a vibrant urban culture or aiding and abetting a bunch of corporate sellouts?

Why alternative media? The arguments and ideas put forth there are important precisely because they represent perspectives very much left out of mainstream thinking. As it happens, and for better or worse, the literature that can currently most believably lay claim to the "alternative" title is the growing crop of anti-globalization books, magazines, and Web sites. Here are three representative sources, from the left, the right, and the Great Beyond.

Whatever you may think of anti–World Trade Organization protests in the world's second cities, you've got to admire the organizational capacities of San Francisco–based Global Exchange. The human rights group takes up the cases of Zapatistas and Haitian progressives against the unelected elites they say are masterminding the New World Order of Trade. While the logic and rhetoric are frequently sub-Ciceronian, any of the reading materials to be found at—from Sandalista travelogues to anti-capitalist agitprop— will at least offer the president a wistful look back on dear college days.

It's a sign of, well, something that the new left's closest philosophical relatives can be found among America's most venerable right-wing kooks. Sure, you won't find many vegans fighting gun laws or trying to get the Panama Canal back, but when The New American, the official magazine of the John Birch Society, starts harping about those World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, the extremes come within sight of each other. To the extent that it can ever endorse the actions of long-haired freaks, The New American, available on the Web at, has actually been fairly sympathetic to this year's globoprotesters.

The Birchers, of course, see the WTO as merely one step in the long, slow march toward World Government, and as the magazine is fond of pointing out, the idea of global trade, regulation, and law has worked its way from fringe media to the mainstream. But when it's ABC or CNN doing the talking, none dare call it treason.

And did you know that Satanism is on the rise in Russia? That cross-dressing priests are among the masterminds of the tragedies in Bosnia and Kosovo? That the Vatican is ignoring an anti-Catholic holocaust in China? That Perestroika itself was all a trick to put us off our guards so that the You Know Whos can continue to call the shots from inside the Kremlin? You would if you had been reading The Fatima Crusader (, whose tissue of calls for the consecration of Russia and rants against the Godless United Nations bring together two great tastes—fringe Catholicism and religious anti-globalism. If nothing else, the news that Old Scratch is being worshiped in the Vatican should encourage even devout Catholics to re-examine the wisdom of taking marching orders from a Roman dictator.

Close observers may carp that the above selections do not contain a fiction selection. Those of us who are Catholic are bound by papal order to believe everything we read in The Fatima Crusader, so we'd argue that the utopian depictions of Cuban collective farms at Global Exchange and the vision of an idyllic pre-U.N. United States in The New American are sufficiently unrelated to reality to qualify as the very best in modern fiction. But the larger issues (if not the actual treatments) raised in all three publications—opposition to the erosion of individual rights, calls for greater local sovereignty, and attacks against rule by all forms of self-appointed experts—are some?thing that we hope our next president will take seriously when it comes time to act. Or even better, not to act.

Tim Cavanaugh ( is editor of the Web site


By Charles Paul Freund

Sooner or later, every president has a scandal on his hands. As it happens, there are a lot of books on the subject, though eight unremitting years of Bill Clinton have rendered the whole library obsolete. (Best quick study on Clinton's presidency: Christopher Hitchens' 1999 book No One Left to Lie To.) Still, it's a good idea to bring some perspective to the matter. Upon winning the White House, every president should have a staffer read the following and give a terse executive summary first thing in the morning.

An academic view of scandology is offered in The Politics of Scandal: Power and Process in Liberal Democracies (1988), edited by Andrei S. Markovits and Mark Silverstein. This work is not exactly Washington Babylon; rather, it's the sort of work that schematizes scandal abstractly. Figure 1.1, for example, offers an overlap of circles marked "The logic of power" and "The logic of due process." Locate yourself on that page, and you're ready to lead.

Prefer something more practical? Try Responses of the Presidents to Charges of Misconduct (1974). This genuinely fascinating work, covering every chief executive from George Washington to LBJ, was prepared at the behest of the House Judiciary Committee as its members pondered the impeachment case against Richard Nixon. Scandal is what presidents make of them; here's two centuries worth, and how they looked from Ground Zero. (This work was never intended to be commercially published, but never mind that now. Scandal begets scandal, even at this level.)

It makes sense to relax with an executive summary of a novel on the subject, too. Check out Treason in the White House (1994), by Torin K. Andrews and Judith A. Hruz. It deals with "a draft-dodging American student at Oxford" who becomes a president with a secret agenda, until he is found out and hanged on the Mall. This book is no Advise and Consent, but what it may lack in literary merit it makes up for as a cautionary artifact, along with—so far—Primary Colors and Wag the Dog. A president may be able to control his scandological problems, but his cultural legacy has a life of its own.

Charles Paul Freund ( is a REASON senior editor.


By Joel Garreau

If the president is interested in staying ahead of history's curve, he might pause to consider the social effects of technological change. The '90s may have been the Internet decade, but they were a real social snooze: peace, prosperity, and Monica. Maybe the decade just past is comparable to the 1920s and 1950s, periods of significant technological advance that also seemed socially and politically quiescent, but which were followed by decades of upheaval. If there's a lag time to the human consequences of technological change, the '00s could be an interesting time.

Our moment in history is supposedly driven by curved-line predictions, such as Moore's Law (which posits the doubling of computer firepower-per-dollar every 18 months) and Gilder's Law (bandwidth increases three times faster than the speed of computers). According to these curves, there is constant and overwhelming change as far as the eye can see.

But two recent works challenge the proposition that we will encounter either Malthusian damnation or transcendent salvation any time soon. A General Theory of Love, by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon (2000), and The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid (2000) both demonstrate that culture, values, and our internal wiring have the damnedest ways of shaping, stalling, confounding, or accelerating any future. They affirm once again the eternal truth that even the Zeitgeist is subject to certain immutable and unmistakably human delays.

On the other hand, Bruce Sterling's novel Holy Fire (1996) asks what would happen—in human terms—if one of these curved-line predictions came true. It posits a society in which biotechnology is growing at the pace at which computers are now developing. If you have money in such a world, then you are effectively immortal, so long as biotech is moving faster than you are aging. Of course, there's a human hitch, such as the woman who retains the memories and the mind of a 100-year-old, but with the glands of a 24-year old. That's what a cultural revolution feels like.

Joel Garreau, a Washington Post reporter, is the author of Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (Anchor).

Second Amendment Ammo

By David B. Kopel

Washington treats the gun issue as one of pure symbolism, passing ineffective laws such as the ban on (nonexistent) "plastic guns" to show that politicians are "doing something." In truth, though, protecting the Second Amendment is a matter of life or death. These books explain the public safety benefits of responsible gun laws— and the terrible consequences of repressive laws.

No book has ever had more of a dramatic influence on the gun policy debate than John Lott's More Guns, Less Crime (1998, revised 2000). This is the most thorough criminological study—with the most data and the most variables—of any subject, ever. Lott proves that laws which allow law-abiding citizens to carry handguns for lawful protection lead to a significant drop in violent crime, especially crimes against women. He also takes on other important topics: the facts about gun accidents, the harmful effects of the Brady Act (a statistically significant increase in rape and in assaults against women), the shameless dishonesty of the gun prohibition lobby, and more. Along the way, he teaches the reader multivariate statistical analysis—although you don't need a calculator to enjoy the book.

I edited and wrote part of Guns: Who Should Have Them?(1995), so of course I'm biased. But the book really does have the best analysis of such important topics as women and guns (by Skidmore women's studies professor Mary Stange), the racist roots of gun control (by Rutgers law professor Robert Cottrol), and the fraud that permeates the "public health" case against guns (by constitutional lawyer Don Kates and several medical professors), "assault weapons," and issues regarding children and guns.

Walter Edmonds' novel The Matchlock Gun won the Newberry Medal way back in 1942 as that year's best contribution to children's literature. It's based on a true story that took place in upstate New York in 1756. With his father gone to help the militia fight in the French and Indian War, a 10-year-old boy has to defend his family from Indian attack using an old Spanish matchlock gun, which is twice as large as he is. Will he be able to master the gun and protect his family? Thanks to the Newberry award, even the most politically correct librarians will have trouble refusing a donation of this book.

David B. Kopel ( is the research director of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado.

Global Views    

By Brink Lindsey

Globalization, defined both as increasing international economic integration and, more broadly, as the contested advance of market forces in the world economy, is a defining fact of our era. Figuring out what it means and whether it's a good thing or a bad thing is the central challenge of international economic policy, and our next president will face that challenge in everything from his dealings with other nations' economic policies to coping with demonstrators in the street opposed to what they think globalization means. He won't be able to get away from it. These books will help him understand the historical context of the current debate and guide him to a proper understanding of the issue.

A good place to begin would be Edward Bellamy's 1888 utopian novel, Looking Backward, which was set in the fall of 2000. It describes a future that never could come to pass—one based on the illusory promise of central planning, a world where all social problems are dispensed with by the supposed glories of top-down central management of all economic production. It was under this delusion that many of the world's economic structures were built, particularly ones that prevented the growth of the international division of labor in the communist bloc and most parts of the developing world. The discovery that Bellamy's, and their, vision was a hoax has led to the tottering and collapse of many of those structures, thereby allowing the reconnection of one part of the world to another through trade and investment. Globalization is really the aftermath of the collapse of the dream of central planning, an aftermath made messy and complicated by the wreckage left behind.

The story of how we got from that false dream to our current hangover is told in The Road From Serfdom: The Economic and Political Consequences of the End of Communism (1996), by Robert Skidelsky. He chronicles in a compact and readable but still analytically sophisticated way the rise and fall of the collectivist experiment.

More specifically illuminating on where we should go from here, and simple enough for even a politician to understand, is The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism, by Russell D. Roberts (1993). The fundamental choice today, as when Roberts' book first appeared, is between open markets and a return to closed and state-dominated economies. This book sets up that choice as a dialogue between the 19th century economist David Ricardo, best known for promulgating the theory of comparative advantage to explain how all nations can benefit from free international trade, and an industrialist drawn to protectionism. Ricardo must save his soul by returning to Earth and converting the industrialist to the cause of free trade. A wacky premise, yes, but in the book's digestible, easy-to-read way, it walks the reader through all of the major arguments in favor of protectionism and against open markets, and nicely demolishes the fallacies behind the protectionist temptation.

Contributing Editor Brink Lindsey ( is director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies.

Legal Help

By Walter Olson

Is the American legal system one that doesn't need any major overhaul? Or has it, among its many strengths, some serious flaws crying out for reform? One of George W. Bush's campaign themes has been that the civil litigation system is broken and needs fixing; and as supporters of capital punishment, both Bush and Gore have had to respond to mounting concerns about the reliability of the criminal justice system. Even if a president wanted to duck these issues, there'd still be the matter of what kind of attorney general to pick, whom to appoint to the bench, and whether to veto any legal reform bills Congress might pass.

On the continuing hot topic of lawsuit reform, Peter Huber's Liability: The Legal Revolution and Its Consequences (1988) is still the best book on how the American legal system invented the field of product liability more or less from scratch, what the predictable consequences were, and why we continue to suffer a hangover from it. Because it's historical and philosophical in its approach, it wears well.

The civil and criminal cases recounted in Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters' Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria (1994) will be examined for a very long time by those seeking to understand how bad therapy and bad law fed on each other to inflict on the courts the recovered-memory and day-care-abuse hysterias of the early 1990s. Future generations will marvel at the credulity and sentimentality that paralyzed the normal operations of skepticism, so that the most outlandish accusations were enough to send people to prison or put them through terrible ordeals.

A work of fiction that ought to be better known than it is, Heinrich von Kleist's 1810 novella "Michael Kohlhaas" (available in The Marquise of O— and Other Stories) is the story of a man who suffers an injustice and appeals to a series of authorities for a remedy without getting the satisfaction he deserves. By the end, people are being slaughtered, towns burned, and regimes threatened with collapse, and Kohlhaas still doesn't have his justice. An inspiration for E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime (1975), the work raises such questions as whether rectifying old injustices is worth the risk of creating new ones, whether having a just cause entitles you to require third parties to help you attain it, and to what extent it's the system's fault that it can drive people to such extremities.

Contributing Editor Walter Olson ( is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and edits

Leading Edge

By John J. Pitney Jr.

As this year's presidential campaign wound down, a casual TV viewer might think the presidency's main qualification is looking good on Oprah. It's about more than that, most specifically leadership, which comes not from being mediagenic but from thinking hard about the consequences of actions.

So I think our new president needs to read the most recent edition of Army Field Manual 22-100, issued in August 1999. It's titled Army Leadership. You might not think an army field manual would be terribly deep or profound reading for a political leader, but this one is. It makes the point that leadership extends far beyond the battlefield. It reminds us that leadership consists of what leaders must be, know, and do—that leadership is a matter of character, competence, and conduct.

Our next president would also do well to understand The Godfather, both the 1972 movie and the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo. One of its central themes is what a leader has to do to maintain the loyalty of followers. One reason Vito Corleone was so successful is that he took care of his people. The Godfather is also useful in reminding us how pervasive betrayal and disloyalty can be. More broadly, it's a healthy, subtle reminder of the unanticipated results of government regulation. Government made Vito Corleone possible through Prohibition and various other regulations.

But our president also needs to understand that government is not simply a matter of putting in a coin and getting what you want. The Mild Voice of Reason: Deliberative Democracy in American National Government by Joseph M. Bessette (1994) reminds us that government is a matter of deliberative reasoning on the merits of public policy. It doesn't work that way as often as it should, but it can and does happen. Ideally, a president should help ensure it happens more often.

John J. Pitney Jr. ( is associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of The Art of Political Warfare (University of Oklahoma Press).

Old Insights

By Jonathan Rauch

A president needs to know two things. The first is that we have a lot of new problems. The second is that most of our new problems are at least 100 years old. There's nothing like a bit of history and a bit of theory to temper a politician's natural tendency toward urgency and haste.

The first thing a new president should read is Charles Dickens' Bleak House (1853). The novel not only contains some of the most sonorous prose in the English language and some of Dickens' most imaginative feats, but also describes how lawyers prolong a lawsuit until they are rich and everyone else is bankrupt. "This scarecrow of a suit has, in the course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means," Dickens writes. "Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why." Or, if you prefer, read Dickens' 1857 masterpiece Little Dorrit, whose Circumlocution Office ("Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart") and senior Circumlocution official (Mr. Tite Barnacle) are creatures that any modern government reinventor would do well to study and understand.

The second book is Mancur Olson's The Rise and Decline of Nations (1982). There's nothing new about interest groups or about the depredations they cause. Any president who hopes to deal with them needs to understand why shallow, short-term measures like campaign finance reform only scratch the surface. Olson's masterly book explains the dynamic of interest groups more powerfully and broadly than anything else to date.

The third book is Ron Chernow's Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998). Rockefeller was ruthless, self-righteous, brilliant, innovative, and completely ignorant of politics—not a good combination. Reading Chernow's excellent biography shows how there's nothing new about politicians attacking business and that, somehow, both politics and business survive. In fact, Al Gore on HMOs and drug companies looks pretty soft-spoken next to the politicians that Rockefeller dealt with, but we still managed to make the economy bigger and the country stronger.

Jonathan Rauch is a columnist for National Journal and author of Government's End: Why Washington Stopped Working (Public Affairs).

Looking-Glass Education

By Diane Ravitch

The president is not supposed to be the superintendent of schools, but he should have an understanding of what makes good schools good, why education reforms so seldom work, and what ideas permeate the education establishment.

The president will find an excellent summary of the last century of research between the covers of Jeanne S. Chall's The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? (2000). He will also find that education has been plagued time and again by failed innovation. There is this romantic strain within education that looks for the easy way to learn, the fun way, the way that involves no effort. And it turns out that teaching and learning are not easy.

To successfully understand education debates, one has to understand alternate realities. To help him make the shift between the world most Americans live in and the one that surrounds federal education policies, I recommend he read Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This would give him a wonderful perspective on many federal education programs.

For instance, a couple of years ago, writing about Head Start, I complained about the lack of evidence for its educational effectiveness. I later got a call inviting me to come to the Department of Health and Human Services and learn about the latest evaluations of Head Start. So I read the evaluations and met with the person in charge. The studies said that kids are happy, kids are getting medical care, kids are getting nutrition, and their parents are getting jobs. There was one study of what kids were learning that said they weren't learning anything. They enter Head Start knowing zero letters and by the end of the year they learn one or two letters. The reason they don't learn any letters is that no one is attempting to teach them any letters. I was absolutely enraged. The original purpose of the Head Start Program was to get kids a head start in education, so they might be able to catch up with middle class kids. Middle class kids are learning all their letters, at home and in real preschools.

If I were putting together the president's bedside reading, I would have him read W.H. Auden's Collected Poems (1991). It would tell the president a great deal about the concise use of language. It might even give him some wonderful allusions he could use in his speeches.

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her latest book is Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (Simon & Schuster).

Attaining Liberty

By Nadine Strossen

The new president should read about civil liberties to renew his commitment to our nation's founding ideals of "liberty and justice for all." Eighteenth-century American reality was far from those ideals, and we still have not attained them.

Rights are especially embattled in the criminal justice system, thanks largely to the War on Drugs. The U.S. incarcerates and executes far more of its citizens than any other developed country. Our prisons are overcrowded with individuals who committed nonviolent, consensual drug offenses. Moreover, the record-breaking populations of our prisons and death rows are disproportionately members of racial minorities, reflecting pervasive discrimination. Too many politicians pander on these issues, afraid of being labeled "soft on crime." We deserve a president who has both the information and the political courage to promote reform of our criminal justice and drug policies, finally repudiating the demagogic rhetoric that has driven these policies for decades.

In Race to Incarcerate(1999), Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, offers a devastating critique of our current crime policies and suggests constructive alternatives.

Standing up for constitutional rights is often politically unpopular, so John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage presents fitting role models for a president committed to protecting civil liberties. Published in 1956, Profiles is a classic work that merits regular re-reading. It celebrates a diverse range of past leaders who led their peers and the public by remaining true to their principles, not opinion polls.

Given the long tenure of Supreme Court justices, a president's most lasting impact on our civil liberties is through his appointments to the Court. That subject is explored in Protect and Defend(2000), the latest novel by best-selling author Richard North Patterson. As he struggles to appoint a justice who honors even the most controversial constitutional rights, the book's fictional president, Kerry Kilcannon, is a splendid exemplar for any actual head of state. (The ideologically diverse legal and political experts whom Patterson consulted while writing the book included our two most recent presidents.) This gripping novel thoughtfully examines the issues with which a principled president must grapple in honoring his oath to "protect and defend" our Constitution, including its promise "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

Nadine Strossen (, a professor at the New York Law School, is president of the American Civil Liberties Union.