World book day


It's World Book Day, and I've been thinking about the books that I would recommend folk to read. Friedman's Free to Choose might be a good place to start, or maybe even Capitalism and Freedom. I don't know that there is much Hayek that is easily accessible to most people, but I suppose The Road to Serfdom, skipping the first few chapters, might suffice. Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson does what it says on the cover, and I have a soft spot for a forgotten short classic, Ernest Benn's Why Freedom Works. Frederick Bastiat's The Law has something going for it, as does Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. For light reading one might choose Ayn Rand's political novel The Fountainhead, rather more convincing than her Atlas Shrugged, though with the same cardboard characters and stilted, long speeches. In fact, if you want to get to the core of Ayn Rand, you can't do better than her short, pungent Playboy interview.

Equally, though, there are some books I would not recommend. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, for example, is a really tedious read today (a tenth of it, eighty pages or so, is a 'dirgression' on the price of silver, and there are equally rambling asides on nearly every subject under the sun. As the author of Adam Smith – A Primer, you don't need to ask what I would recommend instead.

And there are quite a number of books that should, simply, be burned. Before you accuse me of philistinism or even nazism, let me interject that even the great David Hume, one of the most enlightened and cultured people on the planet, came to the same conclusion. There would be many books that the world would be better without. After explaining the power of fact and reason to banish misconception and superstition, he wrote:

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.