Libertarian History/Philosophy

Andrea Rich, RIP

The longtime operator of Laissez Faire Books was one of America's most tireless and effective promoters of libertarian thought.


Andrea Rich, for decades the skilled and indefatigible operator of the vitally important libertarian bookselling service Laissez Faire Books, has died.

Her career in the libertarian movement was long and varied. Among other things, she was national vice chair for the Libertarian Party in the mid-1970s, worked with the Center for Libertarian Studies in its early years, helped craft a successful national TV ad campaign for Ed Clark's 1980 Libertarian presidential run, and served on the boards of directors of the Foundation for Economic Education (the first modern libertarian promotional organization), the Atlas Network (which helps free-market institutes around the world), and the Institute for Humane Studies (which trains and supports academics in libertarian thought). She also founded the libertarian book publishing imprint Fox & Wilkes and managed the Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties (which, disclosure, I won in 2011). And her Center for Independent Thought distributed John Stossel's highly influential market-themed videos to classrooms across America.

In the pre-Amazon age, Laissez Faire Books was often the only way for a far-flung national audience of libertarians to learn of books of interest to them. Its existence, and Andrea's tough negotiating, made the publication of many libertarian books possible and access to them affordable.

Reason's Nick Gillespie eulogized Andrea on Facebook, summing up well the importance of Laissez Faire Books in the pre-Web days:

Every issue of the catalogue was crammed with squibs about books by and about Milton and Rose Friedman, Hayek, Rand, Mises, Rothbard, Rose Wilder Lane (the daughter of Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder), Lysander Spooner, Voltairine de Cleyre, Tom Szasz, you name it, all held together by mind-blowing essays by Roy Childs and other contributors.

Even more than magazines, catalogues captivated me as a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey….Catalogues offered up endless possibilities, each entry a window into a different world I could imagine living in for a few minutes or hours.

More than any other, the [Laissez Faire Books] catalogue gave me a sense of the world that I would eventually live in for my professional life. At a time when the nearest real bookstore (a tiny Waldenbooks in a mall) was miles away, it gave me tons to look at and think about, broadening my world and options.

David Nott, president of the Reason Foundation (which publishes this magazine) hit on two of Andrea's prominent qualities in a letter he wrote to her on her retirement. One was her honest but winning ability to have "busted my chops when it has been necessary, speaking truth in a polite way." The other was her enduring and tolerant "love of the quirky and eccentric characters that make up this movement." The "networks you have forged," he wrote, "continue to change the world."

On a personal note, Andrea and I were on the first-name basis I adopt in this note ever since she agreed back in the mid-1990s to take a chance on this tyro libertarian journalist who'd never written anything longer than a few thousand words. She provided funding via the Roy Childs Memorial Scholars Fund (after an introduction from Chris Whitten, who first convinced me I could write such a thing) for some of the research expenses associated with my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

Her hard-earned and universally good relationships with nearly everyone else in the libertarian world is what likely inclined the vast majority of my over 100 interview subjects to agree to speak to me on the record. Andrea put up with a process that took a lot longer than she anticipated (12 years from her decision to back the book until its publication in 2007) with grace and continued help and encouragement.

Her tireless work, dedication to libertarian thought, and buoyant personality were key to that book working at all, and I am forever in her debt. Any libertarian who bought from Laissez Faire or had his or her education buoyed by the authors she sold and promoted, or any of the work of the many libertarian institutions she supported and guided, are as well.

Andrea is survived by her husband Howard Rich, her longtime partner in supporting libertarian causes.

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  1. I’m sorry for your loss.
    We are made poorer by her absence.

  2. Looks like she and Gillespie are… cut from the same cloth…

    Or should that be… calf?

    1. The Jacket has had many hosts throughout its eternal lifetime.

      1. I’ll not post it ’cause I’m too lazy to google again, but the full picture posted on the story has Nick Gillespie standing next to her with… a leather jacket on. Let’s just say there’s more leather in that picture than a Tom of Finland sketchbook.

  3. Cant find anything on her.

    It does seem interesting that things like the Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties seems to be Gillespie’s version of Libertarianism. It seems like media back-patting bullshit.

    I guess someone has to discuss stuff Gillespie likes in public so we can see what Libertarians are not.

    1. You might look her up as Andrea Millen.

      1. To clarify, most of her best-known activism was done before she married Howie Rich, so that’s how you might find it.

        1. Thanks. I still didnt find much but she piled on the names: Andrea Millen Rich.

        2. Andrea became the proprietor of Laissez Faire Books after she had married Howie, and Laissez Faire Books is certainly one of her best-known efforts to promote the ideas of liberty.

  4. I read your book, Doherty. Much thicker than I first thought it would be when I bought it. A real fascinating read. And very fair, in the sense that it’s devoid of the petty infighting that colors perceptions of these different characters for some.

    1. Haven’t read that yet, need to fix that.

      Have read his Gun Control on Trial which I recommend unreservedly, a great read. I learnt a great deal, not just of the Heller case but the history of the Second Amendment.

    2. I will second that, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement is an excellent book. On the odd chance there is someone genuinely interested in libertarianism lurking on these boards from time to time, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

  5. She sold us the books of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. She became a giant herself. Rest in Peace.

  6. Liberty has lost one of its greatest friends and allies.

    My bookshelves are filled with many books bought from Laissez Faire Books.

  7. Ms. Rich contributed greatly to the spread of intellectual libertarianism. She also recognized the tremendous importance of Thomas Szasz’s ideas, which most libertarians do not. Her loss is a reminder of the sad condition of libertarianism today.

    1. I am not a fan of Thomas Szasz’s ideas, but I completely agree with you on what you describe as ‘intellectual libertarianism’. I’m not sure if it has disappeared, or if it just has been crowded out by purely agenda driven ‘establishment libertarianism. There is so much money to be made with the latter, that the former has either been abandoned, or simply lost in the deluge.

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