Best Libertarian Books of the Decade?


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The Atlas Economic Research Foundation asked a handful of libertarian thinkers and activists to pick the top ten pro-liberty books of the decade. The results are in and it's definitely a strong list. In addition to a well-deserved second place for Brian Doherty's indispensable history of libertarianism, Radicals for Capitalism, it's great to see historian David Beito's superb From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, which chronicles the vast network of fraternal societies and voluntary associations that provided health and life insurance, hospitals, and much more to numerous Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Obviously any such list will have its omissions, but I'd like to nominate one additional book that deserves real attention: legal historian David Bernstein's excellent Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, & the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal. Bernstein meticulously documents the ways that Progressive and New Deal economic regulations, including labor laws, occupational licensing laws, and prevailing wage laws, directly harmed African Americans. In contrast, on those occasions when state and federal courts actively protected economic liberty against this state abuse, blacks were among the prime beneficiaries, a process that the New Deal takeover of the Supreme Court brought to a disastrous end.

So that's my vote for a book that should have made the cut. Please feel free to suggest your own in the comments. And keep an eye peeled later this week for Reason's best books of 2009.


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  1. I’d add ‘The Capitalist Manifesto’ by Andrew Bernstein, but then I’m not that cultured, haven’t read anything on that list (sorry Brian!)

    1. You should — Brian’s book is a great read. It’s also full of facts and stuff like that.

      PS I am not a sockpuppet, I am a human being!

      1. I saw the book on TV when he was on CSPAN.

  2. The books I know on that list are good and deserve a plug, but, except for Doherty’s book, it’s a dorkfest, and I don’t think any of them meet the list’s own standard (except again maybe Doherty’s). The only new book a lot of people read this decade that seems to have made a bunch of them think more like libertarians was Liberal Fascism.

    It’s also an exceptionally good book, judged by its genre: pop history. I was bored and bitchy with it, but I’m supposed to be, because I’m a dork. Meanwhile, It put impious thoughts in the minds of many, many thousands of random bastards, at what looks like just the right time. That’s rare.

    1. Indeed, but Jonah Goldberg’s icky.

      Or so I’ve been told.

      1. Doherty’s book is awesome, though.

  3. I’m not buying a book whose cover looks like a bearer bond. What if I lost it?

    1. Deduct it from your income taxes as a catestrophic loss and buy another.

  4. Damon,

    The massive flood of traffic from Reason is causing a 500 server error for the link you sent.

    How am I supposed to know which Star Trek/Wars books made the list now?

    1. The novelizations for Serenity and The Incredibles are tied for third on the list.

      1. And I am still getting a server error! What sort of massive Leftwing conspiracy is this?

      2. with a special chapter about the romance between Summer Glau and Elastagirl

  5. The Libertarian Illusion: Ideology, Public Policy and the Assault on the Common Good by William E. Hudson

    1. Your title is Amazon-ranked at # 651,513.

      Other titles mentioned in the thread?

      The Hoppe book: #197,602
      The Doherty book: #296,763
      The Beito book: #627,435
      The Paul book: #379(!)

      It looks as if you’re losing…

      1. Matt, not when it takes nearly 3 hours to notice.

  6. Doesn’t belong in the top 10, but Shales’s The Forgotten Man deserves an honorable mention.

  7. HHH’s Democracy: The God That Failed

    1. please tell me that’s by the wrestler and not some academic with three H’s in his name.

      1. I wish. Hans Herman-Hoppe, german born anarcho-capitalist.
        The wrestler would be way cooler, though.

        1. At least it’s not Hubert H. Humphrey.

        2. I saw the transcripts of him telling his son that the guy his son put into a coma deserved his fate for not being right with God.

          Hogan can get decapitated in a motorcycle accident involving a transfer truck swerving out straight razors as far as I am concerned.

    2. I thought Democracy was brilliant, but uneven.

      The book excelled in describing the past and the present, but I didn’t think much of it’s prescriptions for the future. It sounded like a build-your-own-dystopia kit to me.

  8. Did any libertarian book sell more copies in the decade than “Atlas Shrugged?”

  9. It’s not explicitly libertarian, but in terms of understanding how the spontaneous order of the market works, I’d recommend Paul Seabright’s *In the Company of Strangers*. Give it an honorable mention.

    And a “I second that” for McCloskey’s *Bourgeois Virtues*.

  10. End The Fed by Dr. Ron Paul, and a second for Hoppe’s Democracy.

  11. Woops – just checked, and “Democracy: The God That Failed” came out in ’01. I confused it with “Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe” (his festschrift) that came out this year.

  12. Has anyone read “From Mutual Aid…”? I’m currently reading Bowling Alone which is about the decline of voluntary social networks. Just wondering if the two might be good to read consecutively.

    1. Beito’s book is excellent. And it would make a terrific follow up to Putnam.

      1. Thanks for the heads up.

  13. Doherty’s book just arrived in my mailbox (signed!). Looking forward to reading it.

  14. Another vote here for hoppe and ron paul.

  15. No love for “The Conscience of a Libertarian” by Wayne Allyn Root?

  16. A little surprised that Randy Barnett’s “The Structure of Liberty” didn’t make the list.

  17. It seems that these are academic oriented otherwise Representative Paul’s #1 New York Times Bestseller The Revolution: A Manifesto being left off the think tankers’ lists as it placed #1 several weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list would be a glaring error.

  18. Its great to see the link to


    a libertarian site up in Portuguese.

    I lived in Portugal for a few years, I met alot of people who seemed to hold ideas that had a strong libertarian streak, but the philosophy definately hasn’t crossed the language barrier.
    I spend a lot of time in lisbon’s bookshops and never once found a libertarian book in a philosophy section.
    So its great to see the link
    I’ll be trying to post some comments in my crappy pidgen portugeese!

  19. Some other suggestions: NYT bestseller Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods, Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression by Robert P. Murphy (which the author states he wrote“to extend Rothbard”)

    Some foreign policy oriented books that I thought were important for the libertarian debate: Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer and Dying to Win by Robert Pape. I haven’t read Bacevich’s books but he’s pretty influential in the debate.

    You should consider doing a “best libertarian moments” of the decade. I’d nominate the world famous “Peter Schiff was Right” video, and Ron Paul outraising all Repubs for the 4th quarter ’07 (or the R3volution as a whole)

  20. It isn’t the end of the decade until December, 2010.

  21. It isn’t the end of the decade until December, 2010.

    “The” decade? You think there’s only one? A decade is any 10-year period, and it’s the end of the 10-year period most people care about right now (2000-2009) in two days.

    1. Zing! I like your defense against this pedantry that always surfaces around these times.

  22. The Revolution: A Manifesto and End The Fed both by Ron Paul definitely got libertarian ideas out there and were fairly popular.

    1. there was also his 2007 book A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship but that one wasn’t as popular as The Revolution and End the Fed.

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