Christmas Gift Book Ideas

From the October/November issue of CEI UpDate


Tis the Season to have to shop for all your friends and loved ones. So why not spread the good word about the virtues of freedom and free markets? The following are a number of relatively recent books highly recommended by CEI as worthy gifts for someone you care about. There are omissions, of course; many other books we also recommend. Anything by Milton Friedman (or David, for that matter), certainly, as well as FA Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. And don’t forget other tomes which have received favorable reviews in previous issues of UpDate: Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, for instance, and Jude Wanniski’s The Way the World Works. All the books mentioned here can be ordered from Laissez Faire Books at


What It Means to be a Libertarian, by Charles Murray, Broadway

A wonderfully acessible and cogent explanation of the political outlook of one of our most innovative social thinkers. What It Means to be a Libertarian shows in clear and simple terms how the vision of the American Founders can have practical application in our day and age. This is not a work of abstract theory. Rather, it is a reasoned elucidation of how placing individual freedom as the organizing principle of human affairs can have immense practical benefits. A common, if tired, criticism of libertarianism is that it ignores the reality that man, as Aristotle noted, is a social animal. Murray affirms this very point, and shows why an emphasis on individual freedom, rather than bal-kanizing us into an archipelago where every man is an island, will lead to social cohesion and improved communities.


The Heroic Enterprise: Business and the Common Good, by John Hood, Free Press

Is there a fundamental contradiction between seeking a profit and being socially responsible? John Hood, who runs the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina, details the longtime campaign to demonize the “corporation” as a soulless, amoral entity which, by its very definition, seeks to enrich itself at the expense of society. Hood’s lively work updates Adam Smith and shows how companies seeking economic rewards have vastly improved our lives and contributed to the social welfare.


The New, New Thing, by Michael Lewis, Norton

Lewis chronicles the amazing exploits of Jim Clark, the entrepeneur behind billion-dollar companies Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon (not to mention the feds’ antitrust investigation into Microsoft). More broadly, Lewis paints a portrait of market economics at work in the midst of an economic revolution. It is not about Clark as much as it is about the fabulous technological change that Clark and others like him are spearheading. The New, New Thing  opens the curtains on the dynamism of this new era. As UpDate wrote last December: “To read the jacket copy is to get the mistaken impression that the economy is singularly driven and directed by Great Men like Clark and Bill Gates. But to read the book is to understand that even in an era of fantastic and often tenuous change, the direction of things is really determined by consumers rather than by Great Men, and certainly not by government lawyers and bureaucrats.”


The Nudist on the Late Shift, by Po Bronson, Broadway

Like Lewis, Bronson sets out to chronicle an age of dynamic change so broad and sweeping and all-encompassing that it is easy for one not to realize it is even taking place. Unlike Lewis, who follows a general like Jim Clark, Bronson tells the stories of the foot soldiers in the campaign to find the new, new thing. Wonderfully written, The Nudist on the Late Shift shows Bronson to be a writer with a deft touch and a keen eye for capturing the zeitgeist of revolutionary times.


Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life, by Michael Novak, Free Press

Similar to John Hood’s The Heroic Enterprise, but with a slightly different hook. Novak, one of the nation’s most esteemed thelogians, demonstrates why capitalism is not just good for society, but is spiritually rewarding and personally edifying for the capitalist himself. It could almost be described as a self-help book, though Novak is hardly the type to be lumped with est types and self-help twits like John Gray and Jack Canfield.


The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence, by Dinesh D’Souza, Free Press

D’Souza argues that our fabulous and unprecedented economy, while delivering untold wealth and affluence, has also brought about a spiritual and social crisis, with new ethical questions and concerns. Like Bronson and Lewis, D’Souza is attempting to get his arms around an amazing era that is defining and redefining itself every day. Is D’Souza correct about this “new” crisis? Does he succeed at capturing the new economy? We are not totally convinced on either point, but D’Souza makes numerous compelling arguments and is worth listening to.


Investment Biker: On the Road with Jim Rogers, by Jim Rogers, Random House

Jim Rogers helped found the Quantum Fund with George Soros. Unlike Soros, arbitrager extraordinaire and expert in  the financial markets,  Rogers actually knows something about free markets and the basic elements of human behavior. Much of what he knows has been learned on trips such as the one chronicled here–an around-the-world journey by motorcycle.  Rogers provides a marvelous firsthand account of statism in nearly every form, and leaves readers with no question that societies holding freedom as the central organizing principle are best for their citizens.


The Seven Fat Years: And How to Do It Again, by Robert Bartley, Free Press

Wanna know just what happened in the 1980s? Read this book. Bartley, Editor of the Wall Street Journal, provides the best assessment to date of the unprecendented economic miracle that stretched from late 1982 until the middle of 1990: continued peacetime economic growth never before seen in the history of the world. As important, Bartley explains why things were so wrong in the decades leading up to the extraordinary circumstances that found Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1981. Bartley chronicles how Keynesianism and central planning were revealed as hollow, leading the free world to an economic precipice. He shows how adherence to a handful of basic principles–sound money, low personal tax rates, and a minimum of government regulations–allowed Reagan to reverse the course of poisonous malaise and open up the economy to the vibrant potential of the American people. The technological revolution that has fueled so much of the prosperity of recent years was kicked off during the 1980s, thanks to Reagan, Paul Volcker, Jack Kemp (now a CEI Distinguished Fellow), Michael Milken (yes, Michael Milken), and a number of others. The book was first published in 1992, but only the title needs to be updated. The Seventeen Fat Years would be more appropriate.


The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, by Hernando de Soto, Basic Books

In his 1998 book Eat the Rich, PJ O’Rourke set out to answer this question: Why do some places prosper, and others just suck? Hernando de Soto asks basically the same question, albeit in a more elegant fashion. “The hour of capitalism’s greatest triumph,” he writes, “is, in the eyes of five-sixths of humanity, its hour of crisis.” Communism has failed, capitalism has won, so why are so many nations impoverished, destitute, and seemingly bereft of hope? Why do underdeveloped nations seem almost fated to stay that way? DeSoto’s astoundingly prescient look into the nature of successful economies should be read and reread by every member of Congress, every bureaucrat at USAID, the World Bank, and the IMF, and every head of state and legislator in every underdeveloped nation on earth.