Notes From Babel

2010 Book Report

with 6 comments

Following my 2009 list, here are the books I logged in 2010:

  1. The Land Question, Henry George.  I continued this year to indulge my curiosity into the oddity of early Progressive/socialist thought.  Some musings on George here.
  2. Cornerstone of Liberty, Timothy Sandefur. A nice intellectual and legal history of property rights and the abuses of eminent domain in the United States.
  3. Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver.  One of my favorite reads of the year, and which I quoted often in this space, e.g., here, here, here, and here.
  4. Life After Death, Dinesh D’Souza.  This is kind of a fun, accessible theology-oriented book.  Not anywhere as good as What’s So Great About Christianity.
  5. The City, Joel Kotkin.  Kotkin is an indispensible contributor in field of urban planning and demography.  His blog is wonderful.  This book did not flesh out his theses as deeply as I had hoped, however.
  6. Plunder!, Steve Greenhut.  A very good primer on the havoc that public employee unions are wreaking on nearly every state and local government in the nation.
  7. The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America, Larry Elder.  Larry Elder is fantastic, so when I found this at a used bookstore, I plowed through it in short order.
  8. Don’t Call It Sprawl, William Bogart.  One of several books I read early this year on the subject of the new urbanism movement.  I’m still working to complete a longish paper on the subject, though that project has been caught in perpetual limbo.
  9. The Next 100 Million, Joel Kotkin.  Kotkin describes the likely shape America will take as it swells to 400 million inhabitants.
  10. The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler.  The book that Kunstler is best known for.  Quite a lot of provocative ideas coming from the new urbanist movement—many of them good, even!
  11. Best Laid Plans, Randall O’Toole.  Contra Kunstler, O’Toole comes at urban planning and demography from the libertarian perspective.  Not as fun a read as Kunstler, but I’d say it would be hard to take either side seriously without considering the other.
  12. Threshold, Thom Hartmann.  The allure of Progressivist thought is not for nothing.  There are quite a few bewitching ideas in this book about what’s wrong with the modern world and why, and it took me several days to find my way back to sanity.  I wrote a post about this book here.
  13. The New American Economy, Bruce Bartlett.  I feel about economics like I do about music:  I have an appreciation for it.  And I think I have some aptitude for it.  But it’s slow-going and I become immediately impatient.  I wrote a short post about Bartlett’s book here.
  14. Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens.  A very fine autobiography with lots of historical depth and anecdotes tracking political and intellectual thought through the past four decades.  Hitchens never fails to throw in a gratuitous jab at religion, however, and I couldn’t resist mentioning it.
  15. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs.  At about a hundred pages in, I didn’t really get what was supposed to be so acclaimed about this work.  Upon completion, I still didn’t.  Maybe it’s like how people don’t get why The Beatles were so revolutionary because, by the time one discovers The Beatles, one has already heard their influence in every pop act that’s come around since, so it all sounds quite familiar.  Except, that is, The Beatles are still quite worth listening to.
  16. Rethinking Federal Housing Policy, Glaeser and Gyourko.
  17. The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk.  One of my other favorite reads of the year.  An excerpt here.
  18. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis.  I hadn’t re-read this in a while.  It’s such a disarmingly insightful book.  Though I must say The Great Divorce is my favorite work by Lewis.
  19. The Path of the Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes.  “The reason why it is a profession, why people will pay lawyers to argue for them or to advise them, is that in societies like ours the command of the public force is intrusted to the judges in certain cases, and the whole power of the state will be put forth, if necessary to carry out their judgments and decrees.  People want to know under what circumstances and how far they will run the risk of coming against what is so much stronger than themselves, and hence it becomes a business to find out when this danger is to be feared.  The object of our study, then, is prediction, the prediction of the incidence of the public force through the instrumentality of the courts.”
  20. The History and Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, Herta Meyer.  It is becoming more and more quaint to look seriously at the meaning of the words in our Constitution, as that document has in large part been replaced by the small-c constitutionalism advanced by liberal judges and goaded on by the professoriate.
  21. The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, Willmore Kendall, George Carey.  I read this in law school too quickly, but not so quickly I couldn’t recognize there were some important ideas going on.  Among those ideas are:
    • that we, as a nation, perhaps do not understand our true political tradition because the academy only looks to the Declaration and the Constitution, and even there only finds what it likes;
    • that, as advanced by Eric Voegelin, political analysis begins with scrutinizing a people’s attempt at self-understanding, self-interpretation, and to discern its relationship to the transcendent;
    • that as early as the Mayflower Compact, our political tradition has recognized that the process of lawmaking—to enact laws “thought most meet and convenient for the general good”—concerns a continuing process of discovering the natural law, and that no expression of individual rights has been made to compete with the task of effecting laws “thought” to be meet and convenient to the public welfare.
  22. John Marshall and the Constitution, Edward Samuel Corwin.  This was just a free Kindle download.
  23. Gov. Jerry Brown’s Destruction of the California Judiciary, Barnett et al. I wrote an op-ed and gave a radio interview on Jerry Brown in October, and, once in the habit, continued to criticize the man thereafter.  This book provided some helpful background information from Brown’s first romp through the Governor’s mansion.
  24. The New Science of Politics, Eric Voegelin.  Voegelin’s work provided the intellectual foundation to Kendall and Carey’s Basic Symbols, above.  I wrote a short post referencing Voegelin here.  Among the many important ideas in this work are:
    • the modern approach to social science takes method to be subordinate to theoretical relevance—i.e., that science is measured and defined by the efficacy of its results, and method is merely a means to that end; thus, it has come to pass that “all facts are created equal,” resulting in oceans of irrelevant facts;
    • this problem of amassing endless data with no appreciable purpose has been created by villainizing “value judgments,” thus unmooring science from human ends, ushering in relativism, and destroying our ability to build upon the past;
    • that empires regard themselves as representatives of a transcendent order, and thus a standard or template for truth;
    • that society reflects the type of men of whom it is comprised;
    • that God, the universal transcendence, is necessary to a universal conception of man and truth;
    • that the Aristotelian pursuit of the common, ordered summum bonum has been replaced by a Hobbesian pursuit of individual desire in competition with others, or avoidance of death—the summum malum.
  25. The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis.  So long as I was on the topic of declension and relativism, I revisited this, another old favorite.
  26. Common Sense, Thomas Paine.
  27. The Conservative Assault on the Constitution, Erwin Chemerinsky.  I kept pretty thoroughgoing notes as I worked through this book, intending to write up a detailed review.  I may still do so, but in the meantime, I got to the heart of the problem with Chemerinsky’s general point of view here and here.
  28. William Tell Told Again, Wodehouse.  Another free one on the Kindle.
  29. Notes From the Underground, Dostoyevsky.  Still one of my favorite books.  An excerpt here.
  30. Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington.  I have to say this was my favorite book I read this year.  To anyone else who has let this book languish on his list of should-reads, I encourage you to put it off no longer.
  31. Philosophy of Style, Herbert Spencer.  Another free Kindle book with quite a few good ideas for clearer writing.
  32. The Right to Earn a Living, Timothy Sandefur.  Thoughtful and deeply researched.  I would say incredibly well-researched given the number and range of sources, but being familiar with Sandefur, there is no imposition on my credulity.  That such a basic right as economic liberty has been so nearly eradicated by those who doff the title “liberal,” and with so little benefit in return, makes the mind reel.
  33. Restoring the Lost Constitution, Randy Barnett.  It’s an elegant and beautifully defended theory, but I just don’t buy it, for reasons I’ll get around to articulating sometime soon.  In short, the theory depends on the entire structure and purpose of the Constitution being upturned by the 80 words of section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.  That simply cannot have been the purpose, nor could it have been believed by reasonable men that such a drastic undertaking could be effected by words to few in number, cryptic in meaning, and clumsy in arrangement.
  34. The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, Lysander Spooner.  Barnett references this work as kind of an intellectual predecessor to the theory advanced in Restoring the Lost Constitution.  It’s an interesting and important notion that, under our founding documents which express a foundation upon natural rights, certain things might be unconstitutional that were subjectively thought to be the law of the land.
  35. Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887, Edward Bellamy.  Another bit of socialist self-indulgence whose plot device is quite similar to that in Robert Heinlein’s For Us, The Living.  A man is hypnotized but waken up not in hours or days, but over a century later.  In this hoped-for year 2000, Bellamy’s man finds a sparkling utopia where money, private enterprise, and property rights no longer exist; in which the government coordinates all human labor and all product of such labor is the property of the state; and in which every human being has, as a common right of humanity, an equal license irrespective of effort or ability to those goods held forth by the state.  “No man any more has any care for the morrow, either for himself or his children, for the nation guarantees the nurture, education, and comfortable maintenance of every citizen from the cradle to the grave.”  If this, the early notion of Progressive socialism, is still the latent end of modern liberals, it begins to make sense that they would advance the ridiculous economic policies like those described in Sandefur’s book:  They can see as well as the rest of us that squelching competition and barring entry to lawful productive enterprise does not help our economy.  It is the destruction of the market, not its regulation, that Progressives have in mind, to clear the way for a regime in which the fate of man will rest with “a board of fairly sensible men.”

6 Responses

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  1. I read the Weaver as part of a course in contemporary rhetoric I took during my Ph.D. study. It’s amazing, isn’t it? His theories on the morality of different types of argumentation are fascinating as well.


    January 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    • I put post it notes in all my books so I can revisit key passages. I think I flagged more pages than not in Ideas Have Consequences. I’m looking forward to reading The Ethics of Rhetoric.

      Tim Kowal

      January 3, 2011 at 10:20 am

  2. […] like Bellamy’s Heinlein’s and E.D.’s suggest that our future holds a world in which the middle class is guaranteed comfort, stability, and reasonably […]

  3. […] Edward Bellamy had a similar vision a half century earlier in Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887 (see my book report for a synopsis).  But these are both early versions of “you didn’t build that,” it seems to me.  They do […]

  4. […] year, I tried to keep up with my book list as a consolation.  Past book reports are here:  2011; 2010; and […]

    Book Report 2012

    January 2, 2013 at 1:02 am

  5. […] join Aristotle in history’s dustbin. Past book reports can be found here:  2012; 2011; 2010; and 2009. You’ll forgive the lack of hyperlinks — they’re all on Amazon […]

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