What Are Your Top Five Books Every Conservative Should Read?

 

The Conservative Book Club periodically publishes lists of the best books for conservatives provided by prominent conservatives. Recently, the club published Ben Shapiro’s top 5 conservative books.

  • The Federalist Papers
  • The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis
  • The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell
  • Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlett
  • The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

All are excellent choices. I must admit that I’ve not read Haidt’s book, but know enough about it (including owning a copy) to acknowledge that it’s a worthy addition to the conservative canon. There’s nothing more foundational to American conservatives than the Federalist Papers. Anything by Thomas Sowell could make the list (I doubt he’s ever written a sentence that is unworthy of our careful review). Hazlett’s short book on economics is brilliant. And there’s no greater defense of object truth than the Abolition of Man.

Following are my nominees:

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis (1943). I can’t leave this book, which I re-read every couple of years, off my list. It’s an inoculation against the infection of relativism and other viruses of progressive thought. Lewis is a great Christian apologist, but this book (which can be read in less than two hours) is one of the truly essential books on politics.

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (1790). The older I get the more Burke resonates with me. This long essay on the perils of revolution and collectivism was written before the Terror—but it predicted it perfectly. Burke had the talent to describe fundamental truths of politics. If only our movement could rediscover some of its Burkean roots.

Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver (1948). Written by a professor at the University of Chicago, this short book ignores the political issues of the day, and focuses on the bigger issues, not least Weaver’s dismantling of the kind of mindless egalitarianism of the post-WW II world.

Our Culture, Or What’s Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple (2005). Dalrymple (real name: Anthony Daniels) is an English doctor who knows more about the perils of the welfare state (including socialize medicine) than any one person should be required to know. This book is a series of essays on political and cultural issues. Dalrymple’s writing is accessible and entertaining, and no contemporary writer lays more wood on the pompous idiocy of progressive thought than Dalrymple.

The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell (1995). This, more than any other book, taught me how to recognize the fundamental differences between conservative (“constrained”) and progressive (“unconstrained”) thought.

What books do you believe to be essential reading for thoughtful conservatives (or for those who wish to become more thoughtful about their political beliefs). Why?

P.S. Conservatives are blessed with a wealth of great books because conservatism is based on principles. Liberalism doesn’t seem to have basic texts. Am I right?

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 81 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    TR, lists are fine, and bonny; but they rest on a beloved Conservative fiction that ideas can stand alone and speak for themselves powerfully enough to convince. Sadly, we can’t rely on the shared foundation of classical liberalism that formed a foundation on which to build – even for those who disagreed with its premises. We need to model this as a way of being, not merely discuss it as a way of thinking…(I do have my favorites, but I won’t burden the comments with retreads…).

    Granted, Nanda, but this is where good fiction can come into play. “Harrison Bergeron” and Starship Troopers make their arguments without dry recitations of facts and philosophy; instead, they rely on showing Progressive premises for the evils they are and conservative values for the virtues they are.

    I’d also like to put in a vote for the “Graphic Guide to Conservatism,” though I don’t have a link handy.

    Fair enough, Amy…I bow to your familiarity with the cohort in question…I just don’t think we can rely on: “The ideas speak for themselves.” alone – regardless of the format.  Dependency and “identity” – as distinct from self-motivation and responsibility [individual and communal] – is so heavily ingrained.  We’re not a country, really, we’re individuals living in the same geographic construct at the same time.  Sorry if this makes me a pessimist-curmudgeon, but it’s where I am…Surprise! :-)

    • #31
  2. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    I would add the following to the books already mentioned:

    1. The Discourses by Machiavelli-  He makes the case in favor of republics at a time when republics were few and far between.

    2. 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell- great portrayals of leftist politics

    3. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – real world results of leftist politics.

     

    • #32
  3. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Miffed White Male

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    TR, lists are fine, and bonny; but they rest on a beloved Conservative fiction that ideas can stand alone and speak for themselves powerfully enough to convince. Sadly, we can’t rely on the shared foundation of classical liberalism that formed a foundation on which to build – even for those who disagreed with its premises. We need to model this as a way of being, not merely discuss it as a way of thinking…(I do have my favorites, but I won’t burden the comments with retreads…).

    That’s why I listed fiction.

    Here is how SSM happened. Writers wrote stories where g(a)ys [?] were lovable and sympathetic. That changed peoples’ minds. It was never a rational argument going back to Aristotle.

    Unless one’s perceptions are so topsy-turvy, vinegar has *become* honey…

    • #33
  4. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    In the First Circle – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

    I agree with Solzhenitsyn but think it should be The Gulag Archipelago.

    Yes our kids know nothing about the Soviet Union and they’ll  learn only by literature and good stories the way we all learned about the holocaust from stories, movies, photographs and nobody else is telling the story.

    • #34
  5. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    The Law by Bastiat

    The Conservative Mind by Kirk

    God & Man at Yale by Buckley

    The Constitution of Liberty by Hayek

    Modern Times by Johnson

    That leaves off so many books and authors: Sowell, Burke, Friedman…can I have 10?

     

    • #35
  6. GroovinDrJarvis Inactive
    GroovinDrJarvis
    @GroovinDrJarvis

    The Conservative Heart by Arthur Brooks should be up there I think.  I really appreciate Brooks’ work and ideas.

    • #36
  7. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Since conservatives’ only platform for generating positive outcomes is the GOP, the GOP that acts like whipped dogs whether minority or majority, I only have one nomination.

    Alinsky was a piker.

    • #37
  8. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    I’d put Sowell’s “Conflict of Visions” it doesn’t use words like conservative or liberal so it can slip the stiletto of clear thought in before they have a chance to close their minds. Of course remove the authors name.

    I was deeply impressed by how non-partisan the book was. It is a great example of how a partisan can write in a non-partisan way. For my money it’s his best book but what Thomas Sowell clearly communicates is that different cultures create different results so we better pay attention to our culture.

    I agree. Conflict of Visions is the best of Sowell’s books.

    • #38
  9. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I would recommend “Wealth and Poverty” by George Gilder.

    • #39
  10. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    I’d also suggest that everyone should read this short column:

    Crunchiness

    It explains not only why the free market is superior to any managed system, but also why big companies are just as terrible at making good decisions as big governments.

    That is a great essay. “Reagan is crunchy with a soft center. Munchy, perhaps.”

    • #40
  11. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    In the First Circle – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

    I agree with Solzhenitsyn but think it should be The Gulag Archipelago.

    Yes our kids know nothing about the Soviet Union and they’ll learn only by literature and good stories the way we all learned about the holocaust from stories, movies, photographs and nobody else is telling the story.

    Gulag is in a category of its own.  In the First Circle (the unexpurgated version) is superb.  A book that deserves greater attention is Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, which I consider one of the greatest books of the last century.

    • #41
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

     

    Here is how SSM happened. Writers wrote stories where guys were lovable and sympathetic. That changed peoples’ minds. It was never a rational argument going back to Aristo

    “Glee” accomplished more social change than 6 years of republican control of the house

    • #42
  13. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    “Glee” accomplished more social change than 6 years of republican control of the house

    And on purpose, at that.

    • #43
  14. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Since conservatives’ only platform for generating positive outcomes is the GOP

     

    That’s the one belief that gives McConnell and Graham et al their power.     And it is untrue.     Conservativism doesn’t need big government and once we realize that we’ll ditch either McConnell and Graham et al or the GOP with them in it.

    • #44
  15. ibn Abu Member
    ibn Abu
    @ibnAbu

    “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler

    “Reflections on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke

    “History of the English-Speaking Peoples” by Winston Churchill

     

    • #45
  16. Drusus Inactive
    Drusus
    @Drusus

    Is anyone aware of a good Conservative Reader? A survey book that samples the best of classical liberalism from the past few hundred years?

    • #46
  17. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    Modern Times by Johnson

    One of my favorites and I thought about it.  Do we call it “conservative” though, or just “history”?  Or is Johnson just inherently conservative?

     

    • #47
  18. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    I don’t know exactly what my top 5 are but I thought I’d a couple books into the mix that haven’t been mentioned yet;

    The Black Book of Communism by Stephane Courtois, Mark Kramer et al

    Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville

     

    • #48
  19. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    Modern Times by Johnson

    One of my favorites and I thought about it. Do we call it “conservative” though, or just “history”? Or is Johnson just inherently conservative?

    Johnson is a well known conservative historian. I mean is Howard Zinn just “history”?

    • #49
  20. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    TR, lists are fine, and bonny; but they rest on a beloved Conservative fiction that ideas can stand alone and speak for themselves powerfully enough to convince. Sadly, we can’t rely on the shared foundation of classical liberalism that formed a foundation on which to build – even for those who disagreed with its premises.

    Fair point, but I took the title of the list to mean “books for people who are already conservative to enrich their knowledge of the tradition.”

    A list of books to persuade the unconvinced would be a completely different list.

    • #50
  21. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    The Law, Frédéric Bastiat

    The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, George H. Nash

    Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis

    Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke

    The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater

    • #51
  22. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    TR, lists are fine, and bonny; but they rest on a beloved Conservative fiction that ideas can stand alone and speak for themselves powerfully enough to convince. Sadly, we can’t rely on the shared foundation of classical liberalism that formed a foundation on which to build – even for those who disagreed with its premises.

    Fair point, but I took the title of the list to mean “books for people who are already conservative to enrich their knowledge of the tradition.”

    A list of books to persuade the unconvinced would be a completely different list.

    Fair enough…I suppose my take here reflects a real concern that classical liberalism is becoming rather a museum-piece, in its emphasis on the ‘rightness’ of things, their beauty in se – rather than on their usefulness and practicality.

    • #52
  23. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    Modern Times by Johnson

    One of my favorites and I thought about it. Do we call it “conservative” though, or just “history”? Or is Johnson just inherently conservative?

    Johnson is a well known conservative historian. I mean is Howard Zinn just “history”?

    This is likely engaging in hairsplitting, but my perspective is that Johnson is simply a historian whose “conservative” history is defined more by what it isn’t–leftist.  Zinn, on the other hand, is a polemicist, not a historian.

     

    • #53
  24. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Nicomachean Ethics

    Centesimus Annus

    The Book of Common Prayer

    After Virtue

    On Human Conduct

    • #54
  25. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    C S Lewis, That Hideous Strength, which is sort of a continuation of the The Abolition of Man in the form of a novel.  I reviewed it here.

    • #55
  26. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    it can slip the stiletto of clear thought in before they have a chance to close their minds.

    Fair warning … I’m stealing that line. No footnote or anything. A thing of beauty.

    Too long for a T-shirt, though. Dang.

    • #56
  27. ToryWarWriter Reagan
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Taxation the Peoples Business by Andrew Mellon

     

    Everything a citizen needs to know about how Taxes should work.

     

    Gorgias by Plato

     

    Is a Tyrant actually happy? Philosophy, questions and discussions that will make you think.

     

    Republic and Empire by Jerry E Pournelle

     

    Trying to nail down one single book to read is hard. But the essays and stories in his anthologies are why I am a conservative today.

     

    The Red Orchestra by Gilles Perrault

     

    This book on the Soviet Spy ring operating behind the lines in occupied France, will show you all the stupidity of bureaucracy at its finest. From both the Nazis and Soviets.

     

    Robert a Heinlein Take Back Your Government

     

    Best book I have found on how political parties actually work and how to electioneer.

    • #57
  28. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton
    @CrabbyAppleton
    1.  Roots Of American Order, Russell Kirk
    2.  The Road to Serfdom, F. A. Hayek
    3.  American Babylon: Notes Of A Christian Exile, Fr Richard Neuhaus
    4.  Last Exit To Utopia, Jean-Francois Revel
    5.  Ratification, Pauline Maier
    • #58
  29. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    For those interested, there is a group about the Federalist Papers on Ricochet.

    • #59
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I’m gonna try to list books which have not already been mentioned.  As such, I’m not saying my five should be at the very top of the list. They’re just really, really, really, phenomenally, I mean really you just wouldn’t believe how much, good suggestions.

    1. Eat The Rich by P.J. O’Rourke
    2. Life At The Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple
    3. The Complete Yes Minister and The Complete Yes Prime Minister by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
    4. We The Living by Ayn Rand
    5. Animal Farm by George Orwell
    • #60
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.