In between the family gatherings last week, I found time to do a little reading. I took home with me three books that I hoped to finish, but didn’t manage to finish any of them, unfortunately.
First up on the bookpile was Bruce Gagnon’s Organizing Stories, which (sorry, Bruce) I purchased used through Amazon. I started to read it while waiting for my plane at DIA, but didn’t much past the second chapter. The first few chapters seem to be biographical material — Bruce’s attempt to explain why he has the outlook that he does — and are revealing both for what he says and (even more) for what he implies but leaves unstated. I’ll be sure to provide a review if and when I can force myself to slog through the rest of the book, but fisking it chapter by chapter as I had intended to do when I purchased the book would require much more time and effort than it really merits.
Once I got up to Michigan, I switched from Organizing Stories to the Friedmans’ Free to Choose…an abrupt change that resulted in a severe case of philosophical whiplash from which I am still recovering. FtC was a fascinating read, not least because it is twenty-five years old and aside from references to Jimmy Carter as President reads like it could have been published yesterday. The book is a great distillation of a number of core elements of conservative/libertarian economic philosophy, expressed in the context of a handful of real-world matters such as school vouchers, labor relations, consumer protection, and price and wage controls. The Friedmans don’t just praise the virtues of the free market, they explain why the free market works and dismantle the traditional arguments made against it by socialists, marxists and other opponents of free market capitalism, and explain why market freedom is required for political and social freedom. I wish I had read this book prior to responding to Ryan Zelnio’s proposal for an international lunar development scheme, as many of the Friedmans’ arguments regarding the efficacy of government programs versus the operation of the free market and the behavior of government bureaucracies apply to the arrangements he suggests. It was also amusing to recall Greg Klerkx’ account of NASA’s anti-commercial antics in the 1980s and 1990s in the same context. A worthwhile book that I highly recommend (even though I haven’t quite finished it yet myself).
The one book that I didn’t get to at all was Bastiat’s The Law, which had I finished would have reduced the current bookpile to The Lunar Men, a historical account of the Lunar Society of Birmingham (an influential intellectual club that included toymaker Matthew Boulton, steam engine developer James Watt, potter Josiah Wedgwood, multi-talented Erasmus Darwin, and chemist Joseph Priestley, whose cross-pollenization kick-started the Industrial Revolution in England), and Lost Discoveries, a history of science that purports to show how many of the fundamental elements of modern science and technology were discovered (and then lost) centuries or millennia before they were “discovered” in the conventional timeline (which sounds a bit kooky in a David Hatcher Childress kind of way, but looks to actually be kooky in a PC/multi-culti way judging from the reader reviews).
Added to the bookpile thanks to Christmas gifts is Everest: Summit of Achievement, a big and very pretty coffee-table book from the Royal Geographical Society, documenting the exploration of Mt. Everest in the 20th Century.