Book Report, 2011

Along with my lists from 2009 and 2010, I logged 101 books over the past three years.  Here’s the list from 2011:

  1. Real Education, by Charles Murray.  It’s become commonplace in the conversation about education to sigh about how there are no easy answers.  This is probably as much because we are only prepared to accept answers that comport with certain preconditions utterly at odds with reality, insisting on the same results for every American kid, and thus guaranteeing failure.
  2. A Fierce Discontent, by Michael McGerr.  An excellent book about the Progressive Era, which I reviewed earlier this year (part 1; part 2).
  3. The Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen.  A quick and interesting read.  I discussed it a bit here.
  4. A Long Way From Home, by Tom Brokaw.  Brokaw has a vivid and detailed memory, and is a fine biographer of the Boomer experience.  While their parents rinsed and reused paper towels, Boomers proceeded to make themselves sick on the excesses of the 80s.  Rebels indeed! 
  5. What Hath God Wrought, by Daniel Walker Howe. A very well done account of the forgottenest era of American history.
  6. Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, by William Voegeli.  I reviewed this book here.
  7. The Liberal Mind, by Kenneth Minogue.  I also made references to this book in my review of Never Enough.
  8. The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman.  I reviewed this book here.
  9. Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, by Greg Bahnsen.
  10. The American Political Tradition, by Richard Hofstadter.  A preeminent work by a preeminent U.S. historian.  Highly recommended.
  11. By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today, by Greg Bahnsen.
  12. The Affluent Society, by John Kenneth Galbraith. Thoughts on this important work on liberal economics here.
  13. War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life, by Wendell Cox.  Founder of Demographia, Cox is a leading scholar demonstrating how New Urbanists’ policies actually work against them as well as everyone else.
  14. After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, by Mark Steyn.  Some thoughts here
  15. Manliness, by Harvey Mansfield. A discourse on an increasingly outdated topic.
  16. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein. TANSTAAFL!
  17. The Gated City, by Ryan Avent.  The unintended consequences of urban planning and hyperactive land use regulations.
  18. The Truth About Obamacare, by Sally C. Pipes.  A survey of what Obamacare does, and some of its expected consequences.  Not a lot here you didn’t hear about in op-eds leading up to its passage, but it’s a decent digest.
  19. Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character, by Claude S. Fischer.  Despite off-handed accounts to the contrary, the American debt-culture is not a new phenomenon.  As production increased and transportation costs decreased from the 18th century onward, the notion that everyday Americans “deserved” certain commodities—whether tea, umbrellas, or high-speed internet—took hold. (One wonders whether such high sentiment is driven by financiers and industrialists, who enjoy the profits of the new credit accounts and increased sales it generates.)  What is new under the sun are the incredible advances in health care and the unique pressures the growing elderly population are bringing to bear.  Economically comfortable and politically powerful, these Americans tend toward a post-materialism in which, “[s]ecure in body, they now focus on the soul—on higher personal goals, such as self-improvement, and higher social goals, such as saving the environment.”  While Boomers hold onto their property and power and write laws that eliminate the economic opportunities they enjoyed, successor generations are left to pay the tab for their forebears’ entitlements and high-minded social goals.  This, not consumer debt or wealth inequality or crony capitalism or international turmoil, is the truly unprecedented challenge 21st century America faces.
  20. Baby Boomer Bust, by Roger Chiocchi. Mostly anecdotes from poll data taken by the author.
  21. One Nation Under AARP, by Frederick Lynch. Some interesting data here, which I will discuss in a longer piece hopefully later this month.
  22. The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, by James C. Humes.
  23. Popper’s Tort Reform, by Andrew F. Popper.  Persuasively makes the case that tort reform is too complicated an issue to fire-off as a campaign one-liner.
  24. Republic, Lost, by Lawrence Lessig.  Highly recommended; reviewed and analyzed here.
  25. The Conscience of a Conservative, by Barry Goldwater.
  26. A Disquisition on Government, by John C. Calhoun. A flawed but important contributor to 19th century American politics.
  27. Experiments in Government and the Essentials of the Constitution, by Elihu Root. Published in 1913 between the second industrial revolution and the New Deal’s reinvention of American government, Root captures the modern role of government.  No longer insulated in small, organic economic communities, Americans were both enriched by and involuntarily swept into a national economy fueled by instant communication and efficient transportation.  Government, then, must “do something more than merely keep the peace—to regulate the machinery of production and distribution and safeguard it from interference so that it shall continue to work.”  And yet “The utmost that government can do is measurably to protect men, not against the wrong they do themselves but against wrong done by others and to promote the long, slow process of educating mind and character to a better knowledge and nobler standards of life and conduct. We know all this, but when we see how much misery there is in the world and instinctively cry out against it, and when we see some things that government may do to mitigate it, we are apt to forget how little after all it is possible for any government to do, and to hold the particular government of the time and place to a standard of responsibility which no government can possibly meet.”
  28. Utopia, by Sir Saint Thomas More.
  29. The Housing Boom and Bust, by Thomas Sowell.  Sowell provides data and analysis further explaining the particular hell the Boomers have wrought on their successors with respect to the housing market and, as a result, the credit market. More to come in a longer post later this month.
  30. Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, by Luigi Zingales and Raghuram Rajan. As much blame as we heap on the finance sector, we ought to consider the powerful role credit markets have played in reducing poverty and creating opportunities for the have-nots.  In countries with greater government intervention, crony capitalism is a feature, not a bug.  It yields stability—a premium for fledgling or rebuilding nations—at the expense of full and fair opportunity to all. 
  31. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
  32. Throw Them All Out, by Peter Schweizer.  Also discussed in a recent post.
  33. Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, by Louis Brandeis. Justice Brandeis displayed a more intimate familiarity with how bankers and corporatists worked than perhaps any other Supreme Court justice. 
  34. Inside American Education, by Thomas Sowell. Spending more money on education and inflating our kids’ grades and test scores, predictably, have not improved American education.  Even class size appears to be a red herring, as America is outperformed by Japan and its high student-teacher ratio.  And higher education is a racket—see Claude Fischer’s quote regarding the premium on “higher social goals,” which have spurred policymakers to push Americans to take on more and more debt, purportedly with the goal of sending very kid to college.  This greater demand put pressure on the supply of higher education, driving up its cost, the consequence of this “higher social goal.”  Unintended though this consequence may have been, it could have been unexpected by someone wholly illiterate in basic economics. 
  35. NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education, by Samuel Blumenfeld.  A conspiracy theory, for sure, but somewhat entertaining with some useful history of the national education unions.  I hesitate to call them “teachers’ unions,” since the NEA was started by administrators and textbook publishers. 
  36. Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky.  At a general level, much about Alinsky’s teachings about community organizing apply to Obama’s great success as a campaigner and failure as a president.  Alinsky treated people as foot soldiers to accomplish his own agenda, and told them what they needed to hear to mobilize them.  Because political issues have a shelf life, it’s necessary to keep finding new outrages to keep people engaged.  Community organizing is a Ponzi scheme that way: as people tire of political protest, they need ever more and greater reasons to keep them from just going home and getting back to their lives.  People might give an Alynskyite one election; they’ll be too worn out to give him a second.

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at


  1. Very much enjoyed this list, and there are several on here I plan to check out. Thank you.

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