The suggested list of books for a high school government class

Rear view of class raising handsIf you’re wondering why the younger generation blindly supported Obama through two elections; why they are reflexively hostile to conservatives and Republicans; and why, even though Obama has dismally failed them, they are incapable of considering another, less intrusive, approach to governance, just contemplate the list of books a local high school Government teacher recommended for the class’s mandatory reading requirement:



I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking most (or all) of those books hew Left, way, way, way Left.

Since the list is supposed to consist of suggestions only, I’m trying to think of a few counter suggestions.  I need books that present conservative approaches to government and economics. Moreover, to the extent that a high schooler is going to be reading the book, I think my counter suggestion should be eminently readable and entertaining.  Of course, since I’m trying desperately to think of something quickly, before the weekend is over, I’m pulling a big, fat blank.

Still, keeping my requirements in mind (accessible, entertaining, easy-to-read), my top choice for a suggestion is Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, which I think is one of the most readable political books out there. Goldberg has an incredibly deft touch. He makes his points lightly, often humorously, without ever resorting to browbeating.

What do you guys think?

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  • Robert Arvanitis

    What, no Howard Zinn? Most on the list are intellectually debased and corrupt.

    Not all are bad.

    “Think Fast” is a sound review of characteristics of human thought; in many ways our Paleolithic brains are unsuited to modern needs, especially our instinctive risk-assessment processes.

    There is nothing really wrong with the Michael Lewis oeuvre. His fault is stopping short, not recognizing that the folly of Wall Street is merely the rational response to irrational government distortions of markets. When water finds the hole in the bucket, don’t blame the water.

    And “Freakonomics” is a romp through seeming economic paradoxes, which end up amenable to explanation.

  • Navy Bob

    I recommend anything by Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams

  • terrapin

    It is safe to conclude that this is not a typical curriculum and that you are using an isolated instance to try to show a liberal bias in education. Youth supported Obama, not because of nonexistent brainwaehing, but because the GOP offer no ideas that appealed to them. The ideas offered were anathema to them.

    • Charles Martel

      terrapin, in this room it’s always wise to back up one’s assertions. Also, to be a bit more rigorous in making them: “Youth supported Obama” would have been better rendered as “many youths supported Obama” (notwithstanding the presumptuousness of claiming to speak for the amorphous group known as “youth”).

      You might also take a stab at naming the GOP ideas that were “anathema” to youth, and then explaining what made them so and why. Since you seem to have a sure grasp on youthful thinking, this would be very helpful to us troglodytes.

  • Mike Devx

    Including “The Wisdom of Crowds” in the curriculim was a terrible mistake by somebody!

    That book explains why you do NOT want to put a small cadre of (liberal) intellectual elites in charge of ruling and running the lives of 350 million people. That small group of oh-so-very-enlightened bureaucrats CAN’T get it right, WON’T get it right, and are guaranteed to produce epic failures. The book explains why.

    SO, yes, someone clearly screwed up on that one!

    • Robert Arvanitis

      Agree 97% with the principle of aggregating diffuse knowledge via “Wisdom of Crowds.”

      That is exactly why we trust the information signals of prices (economy), votes (politics) and juries (legal system).

      I reserve 3% for the backstop against superstitions and panics.

      On the Internet, there are sites like “Snopes” which try to cofirm or debunk popular misunderstandings. (Ironic, isn’t it, a website to check websites…?)

      In science we keep standard weights and measures for reference.

      In agriculture, there is a storehouse of seeds in Norway, to preserve the DNA.

      And likewise in the culture, we have institutions like libraries, museums, and (when they are not corrupted) universities. These institutions are (or should be) a critical counterbalance to hysteria and folly.
      It is important that we are able to validate facts, vet information, and establish provenance.

  • Blick4343

    The Law by Bastiat
    Rise of the West by Wm McNeil
    Anything by Steven Covey, Dave Ramsey (his daughter, Rachel Cruz, has HS and college materials)
    Getting to Yes
    Anything by Friedman
    Language in Thought and Action by Hayakawa

    • Mike Devx

      Be careful there, Blick!
      “Anything by Friedman”…

      Someone might mistakenly believe you mean, “Anything by Thomas Friedman” (who is on that mostly-horrible High School List with his “The World Is Flat”), when I suspect you really meant, anything by Milton Friedman…

      • Blick4343

        Yes Milton who I meant. Does Thomas even exist outside his own imagination? Thank you for the correction.

  • JudithL

    Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions is an unbiased explanation of the basic assumptions underlying political conflicts. It is essential for understanding political disagreements.

  • JKB

    ‘The Most Powerful Idea in the World’ by William Rosen
    —The book traces the invention of steam power but travels through law, secure property rights, as the powerful idea is patents and how they encouraged people to work because they’d be able to profit from their ideas.

    The Big Change, America Transforms Itself 1900-1950, by Frederick Lewis Allen
    —and older book but Allen keeps the readers interest as he describes how America move from horse and buggy, agrarian society to the automobile/industry of 1950. He doesn’t linger on details but just describes how the Depression and the wars prompted changes.

  • JKB

    I’ve only read an excerpt from this book but I’ve meant to read it. Just now, checking it out, I like the opening.

    Civil Government of the United States (1890) by John Fiske

    Of course, even as it opens to explain taxes, the kids would need to adapt the story to the government as nanny.

    • JKB

      I’ve just read a bit more before retiring. I really have to recommend this book. It has explained a lot about how things came to be set up as they are with towns and parishes, etc.

      Fair warning, however. The first chapter appears to have been written by a Tea Partier who travelled back in time.

  • biancaneve

    Who Really Cares, by Arthur C Brooks

  • biancaneve

    I haven’t read this, but it was written in response to Nickeled and Dimed:
    Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream, by Adam Shepherd.

    And how about Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, by John McWhorter?

  • Kathy from Kansas

    The Law, by Frédéric Bastiat (The simple, direct prose and the clear-as-crystal logic make this classic as fresh and readable now as it was when it was first published. If I had to choose only ONE political book for every American to read, it would be this one.)

    Shakedown Socialism, by Oleg Atbashian (Funny, irreverent, quick read, with great graphics, by a former Soviet propagandist who saw the light, moved to America, and now finds his adopted country going down the path he thought he’d left behind!)

    America Alone, by Mark Steyn (Does ANYONE better combine sober, eye-opening reality with laugh-out-loud humor on every page?)

    Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colors, by James Delingpole (Delingpole gives Steyn a run for the money in the dead-serious-but-fun-to-read department.)

    Right to Exist, by Yaacov Lozowick (This book is not just about Israel, but about the more general issue of making moral choices in a fallen world: Evil is a reality, some things are more evil than others, and mature people are required to choose sides, even though neither side is perfect. The author, a former Peace Now activist, has learned lessons the hard way; like David Horowitz, he’s made a moral and political journey. A personal story with universal implications.)

    Marked for Death, by Geert Wilders (The media stereotype of Wilders is 180 degrees opposite of the real man, who is decent, life-loving, and a consummate humanist — in the very best sense of the word. In this marvelously written book, he interweaves his personal story with a calm, passionate but well-reasoned explanation of the political system that is Islam.)

  • Danny Lemieux

    I agree, not all on that list are bad (e.g. Democracy in America), but so many are by such intellectual lightweights who have been shown to be so wrong, wrong, wrong by history. For example, Obama, Lester Thurow, Thomas Frank, Thomas Friedman, Robert Reich….really? Since these books include sociology and history, here’s my list (with some already mentioned by others):

    Daniel Hannan’s “Inventing Freedom”
    Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose”
    Amity Schlaes’ “The Forgotton Man”
    Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals and Society”, “Intellectuals and Race”, “Affirmative Action Around the World”, “Visions of the Anointed”
    Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism”
    P.J. O’Rourke’s “Parliament of Whores”
    Doris Kearns Goodwin “Team of Rivals” (I know, I know!)
    Edmund Morris “Theodore Rex”
    William Easterly’s “The Tyranny of Experts”
    John O’Sullivan’s “The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister”
    James Webb’s “Born Fighting”
    Henry Kissinger’s “Years of Upheaval”
    Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People”
    Michael Lewis “The Big Short” and “Liar’s Poker”
    Mark Steyn “America Alone”

  • lookingforlissa

    Eat The Rich by PJ O’Rourke!!!! If you haven’t read it go buy it right now. I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this book.

  • Jose

    I will also endorse Michael Lewis. The Big Short showcases the value of thinking outside the box and not accepting the consensus viewpoint.

    Freakonomics tends to lean a bit left. I prefer The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford.

    Red Horizons by Ion Mihai Pacepa showcases the corruption and oppression of the communist governement of Romania in the 1970s. It also shows how they played Jimmy Carter like a cheap fiddle in diplomacy.

    And although I haven’t read it, Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer looks a good choice to me.

  • phillips1938

    Bobos in Paradise is a good book and fun.
    I would recommend two that are easy to read and 100% mind altering: The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley,
    Animal Farm, George Orwell

  • Charles Martel

    I’d suggest “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers to show young people what happens when you throw in with a philosophy that will stop at nothing to rule men; “Reflections on a Ravaged Century” by Robert Conquest, which traces the political and social disasters that eventually led us to an abomination like Obama; “Lost in the Cosmos,” a speculation by Walker Percy on the human fascination with disaster (or bringing it on, as exemplified by the left and Islam); “The De-moralization of Society” by Gertrude Himmelfarb, a purty good defense of the Victorians and their superior moral intelligence compared to ours; and “Revolt of the Elites” by Christopher Lasch, which exposes the arrogance and contrivances of our elites and their hatred of the West and the common man.

    • biancaneve

      I’ll second Himmelfarb’s The De-moralization of Society – a very good book.

  • Mike Devx

    Thank you all for the book recommendations. Especially I’d like to thank Danny L for his list. I purchased a few of em, and put some others on my Amazon Wish List.

    I want to recommend ;Inventing Freedom’ by Daniel Hannan, as Danny L did, and explain why. It is not a fun read – if you want “fun”, read “America Alone” by Mark Steyn, which is perhaps my favorite conservative book of the last ten years, with gallows humor that is sidesplittingly funny on practically every page, alongside critical and well-made serious points.

    But “Inventing Freedom” has been invaluable to me, showing me my vast ignorance of the roots of American Liberty. We need to understand that our Founding Fathers weren’t birthed by, oh, 100 years of liberty philosophy. There are EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS of the struggle in England that led eventually to our Founding Fathers and our Declaration of Independence and The Constitution, and Daniel Hannan explains those 800 years brilliantly (if drily). It wasn’t just the Magna Carta and then, hey, let’s skip 600 years to Mr. George Washington! The struggle was long, intense, there were victories and setbacks for liberty and representative rule.

    Eight hundred years of the fight to establish the ideas behind our Liberty! It took us centuries. Once you absorb all the history, you understand why George W. Bush’s attempt to introduce representative democracy into the Middle East was guaranteed to be such a spectacular failure. Where, in their tribalism, is their own 800-year struggle to establish the foundations of liberty? They’re going to have to go through their own loooooooong struggle, just as our forbears, the English did.

    We think we invented America with just a 100-year history of, say, ideas from Locke, Paine, and a few others. We couldn’t be more wrong. I was so incredibly ignorant of the history behind the development of all the ideas that led to our Constitution, and Mr. Hannan’s book has opened my eyes.

    • phillips1938

      You might want to read the history of Holland, which is where our democracy and commerce actually come from. Just compare the Dutch and English treatment of Jews, of the Reformation and freedom of the press. Also note: Holland conquered England in 1688 and installed its own government.

  • Charles Martel

    Mike, Book and I had the honor of hearing Mr. Hannan speak in San Francisco a few weeks ago. His admiration for the American concept of liberty, which we are now pissing away like a drunken sailor, was palpable.

    An aside: Hannan was born in Peru, and the few words I got him to speak in Spanish were as beautiful as I hoped they’d be. The Peruvians, to my ear, speak the clearest, most bird-like Spanish in the Western Hemisphere. When I went to see the wretched love fest for the mass murdering Che Guevara, “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a Peruvian Indian trudging up the Andes (Oh, the toiling masses!) spoke Spanish I could actually understand. Don’t get me started on the Argentines and Chileans.

    • Michael Adams

      Systems of Survival, by the late Jane Jacobs, provides a very useful framework or, at least, nomenclature, for analysis of our present predicament. Hammer and Danny have read it, although it clearly did not make as deep an impression on them as it did on me. She encompasses some of Bastiat and Oakeshott. in her thought, and offers a plausible explanation for why her two Syndromes think the ways that they do.

  • Tara S

    I read Linda R. Monk’s “The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution” when I was in high school, and I remember it as being unbiased, clearly written, and easy to understand. It’s laid out very nicely, too, and has relevant quotes, clarifications, etc. scattered throughout the pages, so there’s little danger of young readers being turned off by walls of text.

    Aside from that–well, it would probably be cheating to add your own two books to the list, huh? :)

  • Charles Martel

    Tara, add ’em!

  • Ymarsakar

    The public lacks awareness and understanding of a few key fundamental points. And they are not the intellectual academics of Constitution and Law either.

    It’s Deception.
    Psychological warfare.
    Art of War.

    If people do not understand those topics, whatever non fiction they may read is of little to no worth against the Leftist alliance.

  • erisguy

    Difficult to say what would be an appropriate book for a HS “government” class. That isn’t to say that I don’t a suggestion:

    Reflections on a Ravaged Century, Robert Conquest

  • dahozho

    Is it just me, or does this list seem to be more economics oriented than what I would consider a reading list for a ‘government’ class. It does seem that the teacher does not seem to be interested in giving students a firm, basic background in U.S. Gov’t.
    I would certainly suggest going back to the ‘classics’ for this subject– have the kids read Madison, Jefferson, the Adams (founding) family, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and other thinkers of the Enlightenment. I’ve found students today simply do not have the grounding in the founding documents and development of our tripartite Federal system to understand how/why things happen as they do. The way textbooks have been rewritten since my student day, I do not feel the textbooks are focusing at all on the basics of our gov’t system. If gov’t-economy interaction is what the class is studying, then “Uncle Sam Can’t Count: A History of Failed Government Investments, from Beaver Pelts to Green Energy” by Burt Folsom would be a good choice to introduce student to the poor track record of Federal interference in free enterprise, always to the detriment of a robust economy. (The gov’t’s attempt to hold a monopoly on the fur trade in the early 19th century was a disaster for Indian economies and American small business traders, and almost a pure blueprint for what happens when market forces are not allowed to work.)
    The list you have certainly exposes one of the problems rampant in U.S. public education. I had gov’t & economics classes from both a conservative and a liberal, but the texts were *never* this biased.

    • March Hare

      dahozho: I agree, although in California, U.S. Government is one semester and Economics is the other. Both are required for graduation from HS.

      I also agree that more time should be spent in understanding where the ideas for the Constitution came from. Assuming most students have learned about the mechanics of the U.S. Government in 8th Grade (a BIG assumption), then in high school, the focus should be on the history–where did the ideas comes from, especially “enlightened self-interest” as the basis for self-government?

      Back in the day, our required reading included a two books that covered the Federalist papers and some of the writings of the other Founders. I’m an admitted history buff, so I was fascinated by the different visions Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had for the new nation, very much a product of their upbringing.

      “Nicked and Dimed” and “Fast Food Nation” should only be used as examples of modern “yellow” journalism, and as exercises in using multiple sources to verify (or not) the truth of the assertions made.

  • Robert Arvanitis

    Good observation.
    If schools actually taught US government it would lead to awkward questions about “separation of power,” and “limited government, and even “Constitutionality.”
    Those are all despised by academia, and the Left (but I repeat myself,).

    • JKB

      I agree totally with your assessment. A fair coverage of government in the US would not support the Progressive mindset.

      I’ve just completed the book I cited above, Civil Government in the United States. Even though it was last updated in 1902, I can’t think of a clearer, more thorough treatment of the topic I’ve read. He starts with the New England Township and builds up to the federal government (although an earlier simple federal bureaucracy).

      Now, my impression of the book is that it is really an educational manual for the Tea Party. Fiske is very circumspect but this academic treatment of civil government is very much aligned with those evil Tea Partiers.

      It has put me to wondering if there is a way to fund having this book published and distributed cheaply.

      • Ron19

        Civil Government in the United States Considered with Some Reference to Its Origins by John Fiske (Mar 24, 2011) – Kindle eBook

        $9.99 Print Price
        $0.00 Kindle Edition

        Cheaply enough?

        • JKB

          when I searched Amazon, I didn’t find that one. I did find old editions at $75 and a print for $26.95

          The latter led me to a site

          Which could be dangerous for a book lover.

          But actually, I love to be able to give them out free as an attempt to spread the gospel no longer taught in our schools.

  • Murray Lawrence

    The Puritan Heritage: America’s Roots in the Bible, by Joseph Gaer and Ben Siegel – a 1964 Mentor paperback. It’s a slim volume, the writing is clear and direct, and it’s an eye-opener on America’s colonial fascination with the political implications of the Hebrew Bible, particularly Exodus and Judges and the many Puritan sermons against the divine right of kings.

  • GingerB

    Amity Schlaes wrote two entertaining books The Hidden Hand, and The Forgotten Man that I thought explained why Liberal/Progressive “solutions” are actually counterproductive. I thought I was a Liberal until my mid-thirties when I began reading William Buckley and National Review. Also, I had been working at DFCS and had personal experience in how destructive those solutions could be to actual people. As somebody who wanted to “help people,” I don’t think I had ever been exposed to any explanation of “why” big government is harmful.

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