Over thirty years ago, Allan Bloom fired the first shots of the Canon Wars when he published his best-selling book The Closing of the American Mind. In it, he details the noxious effect of the University’s turn away from great books and the relativity that ungirds this movement. Rather than achieving their goal of ‘open minds,’ this decision by educators closed them.
At the heart of his argument, is Matthew Arnold’s oft-quoted aphorism “the best of what has been thought and said.” Through reading good books, we experience the greatest arguments ever composed, moving stories, psychological complexity, genuine diversity, and the very foundation of Western culture. They challenge our presuppositions, press our worldviews, and expose us to new ideas. As such, the path to an open mind isn’t through relativity but closing our minds upon weighty ideas to then wrestle with others.
With this ideal in mind, Lone Conservative’s columnist team has compiled a list of the books that have most influenced us. Admittedly, to collate an exhaustive list of great books is a Sisyphean task and so many are lacking here. However, we hold dear to the idea that some books truly are great. Here are 18 that we consider so.
The Signal and the Noise
My profession as an actuary breeds a penchant for books of statistics. However, one does not need to be ensconced in data to find value in understanding it. Numbers inundate the political world and attached to them are decisions to be made about public policy. Thus, the ability to discern the validity of each presented statistic is a vital skill in this realm. Silver, though he leans left, is a veteran data scientist who correctly predicted 49 of the 50 states’ outcomes in the 2008 presidential election prior to voting day. His resume shows through in this book and is a useful read for anyone who desires to understand data and its impact on our political world.
Discrimination and Disparities
One can not say enough about the lasting impression Sowell has made on American politics. Discrimination and Disparities, though one of his shorter reads, stays true to his typical excellence. In many ways, this book feels like a cumulation of Sowell’s previous works as it discusses both race and statistics together. If one desired a look into the origins and current standing of race relations in America, this book should be sought out.
Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau was an established essayist whose perfection bears the name Civil Disobedience. Though an essay amongst books mentioned herein, it does not downplay its importance. What does the good American do when he/she feels a law is unjust? What effect would be had should an American disobey any given law? Thoreau answers each question in brutal honesty further cementing American libertarianism as anti-slavery, anti-oppression, and above all else pro-liberty.
The Fountainhead conveys the absolute sanctity of the individual and his rights. Howard Roark, the protagonist, refuses to compromise on his values despite how others view him. Through the story, Roark doesn’t feel the need to justify who he is and rejects the idea that others have a right to his life. The book entertained me but also challenged me as it is as much a work of philosophy as it is fiction. Reading The Fountainhead gave me peace of mind because it reminded me that my existence isn’t justified by other people’s approval of me.
Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans
Have you ever had an argument turn to name-calling? Have you voiced your opinion in class only to have the professor or other students demonize you? Ben dissects the tactics of the radical left and exposes them for what they are in Bullies. In the left’s worldview, you aren’t just wrong for supporting things like lower taxes or individual freedom; you’re a bad person. If you want to know how to fight back, then look no further than Ben’s book Bullies.
The Count of Monte Cristo
A true sensation of literature, Dumas’ thriller gives readers everything they could want in a novel: deception, redemption, and murder. It’s rich in quality storytelling, moral investigation, and manipulation. Isn’t it time you read a novel for adults, and not some garbage like 50 Shades of Grey? This is a classic that fits the bill of a worthwhile read—the comeback story they’re all based on. It even inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. Riches await in this class novel.
To Kill A Mockingbird
A quintessential part of the American canon, To Kill A Mockingbird explores the complex relationship between blacks and whites in the Jim Crow south. Atticus Finch, the archetype lawyer dedicated to pursuing truth in law, unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man accused of raping a white girl. Although unsuccessful in the courtroom, Finch’s efforts illuminate the devastating consequences of America’s original sin and inspire others to rise above tribal instinct.
The Road to Serfdom
Both sides of the capitalism/socialism debate argue that socialism has historically failed. Through eloquent prose and detailed arguments, Hayek makes the case that planned economies inevitably lead to totalitarianism because they are planned. Though slogans like “Socialism Sucks” have gained mass appeal, to obtain a firm intellectual basis for your opposition to socialism, Hayek’s masterwork is the place to start.
Foreign policy is complicated. Striking a balance between pursuing the national American interest and promoting liberty is a near-impossible task. It is the duty of capable men and women to draw on history and philosophy to inform their decisions as statesmen. Perhaps no other statesman has contributed to the study of war and diplomacy more than former U.S. Secretary of State and scholar Henry Kissinger. In Diplomacy, Kissinger walks readers through centuries of foreign policy history, offering invaluable insight and analysis along the way. A dense read (836 pages), Diplomacy is an essential text for any aspiring leader.
My job as a high school teacher necessitates that I read young adult fiction. My review? It’s bad. The themes are simple, plot contrived, characters stereotypical, and language uninspired. I compare that to even Shakespeare’s weakest plays where he composes long passages in perfect iambic pentameter, entire conversations carry multiple meanings, his critiques are scathing, and his imagery beautiful. He presents to us the world in all of its beautiful, unpleasant reality, and leaves it to us to decide what to think.
Alfred North Whitehead once wrote that “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Anything I could add would be a subtraction to that commentary.
Written at the decline of the industrial revolution, this book tells the struggle of mankind in the time of the french revolution. Any reader can connect with the love, lust, loss, victories in the novel or the protagonist Jean Valjean who struggles to do right even when the world is against him. The book can be summed up with the line “the future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible; for the fainthearted, it is unknown; but for the valiant, it is ideal.”
Lord of the Flies
When an airplane of British schoolboys is shot down in the pacific, the rules and norms of society fall apart and this novel begins. This survival tale begins with orderly meetings and respect but soon descends into chaos as the boys devolve into animals. Characters are murdered as the killers look on without remorse. The author forces you to ask: what really binds us together? how close are we to a societal crash are we? Are we any different than those who hunted and lived in caves?
The Meaning of Marriage
This book is not reserved for married couples. Rather, it carries insight for any committed relationship—married or otherwise. Keller covers why God created marriage, what He expects from us in a relationship, what mindset you should have going into a relationship, and how to act while we are in a committed relationship. This book does not only help you understand your partner, but it also helps you understand God’s role in your life. God has a plan for you before you get into a relationship and after you are in one. If you want to understand how God should shape your relationship and understand your partner more, this is the perfect book.
The book is Ferguson at his finest. It explores the rise of Western dominance over the East, often termed by economic historians as “the great divergence” through six killer apps–competition, science, medicine, consumption, property, and work ethic. The book is apt for our times for two reasons: Ferguson’s defense of the western ideal is refreshing when the woke academia presents an affront to it and, more importantly, Western decline in an era where great power competition has returned is worrisome. As an ascendant China and ever-assertive Russia threaten the ideas of liberal democracy, Ferguson contemplates how the West must reposition itself and continue striving for these ideals.
Reflections on a Revolution in France
Reflections on a Revolution in France is the magnum opus of conservatism’s godfather. Published in 1790, Burke finely elucidates his thoughts on the events in neighboring France which later lays the foundation for conservative thought and to date presents a compelling argument against collectivism, mob-rule, and social upheaval.
Read the book that started some of the greatest adventures of all time. Truly excellent writing takes the form of the hero’s journey with a bar that has never been set higher. Leap into the brilliant world-building from an author that wasn’t afraid to tackle the ideas that plagued the 20th century. Each and everything in Tolkien’s world is built upon The Hobbit. I know Karen told you that the Lord of the Rings starts with Fellowship; she’s wrong. Enjoy losing yourself in Middle Earth.
Motivational books are… interesting. Most authors build their advice on small tricks and innocuous habits. Conversely, Rhinoceros Success is a book that demands you take a look at your life and measure it up to the dedication of a wild rhinoceros. How are you doing in your drive to get up each morning? How do you present yourself when on the job? What defines success for you? Will you do what it takes to achieve it? I have yet to find a book like this; it forced me to reconcile my actions with my attitude as no other book has. Oh, and it’s Dave Ramsey approved.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.