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.