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?

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  1. TooShy Coolidge
    TooShy
    @TooShy

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    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 don’t know about this. I just read the 7th Harry Potter book out loud to the son of a friend and it seems clear to me that there are some very strong conservative values underlying the book.

    For example, there is a strong emphasis on personal morality, and about rising above a difficult childhood. There really is good and evil in her book, and even those coming from abusive backgrounds have real moral choices to make, and having had a bad upbringing is not an excuse.

    The government in the book (The Ministry of Magic) is bureaucratic, ineffective, and overly intrusive into private life.

    There is even a deep suspicion of those who wish to improve society by imposing the will of experts on the masses “for the greater good”.

    But that doesn’t prevent J K Rowling herself being on the left, and probably the vast majority of her fans. Presumably they simply don’t notice or see the conservative values running through the books.

    The left also seem to think that “1984” is somehow about Trump. Apparently, they have never stopped to think why Orwell called the government ideology Ingsoc.

    So fiction, somehow, isn’t enough. They read the books, but see them through left-tinted spectacles.

    • #61
  2. Damocles Inactive
    Damocles
    @Damocles

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke

     

    +1 for this, although you run the risk of becoming a libertarian after you read the chapter “Would you kill your grandmother to save I-95?”

    It’s also fun to show it to your SoCons friends and see them react in horror to the third word!

    • #62
  3. Isaiah's Job Inactive
    Isaiah's Job
    @IsaiahsJob

    As for me, I believe Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man is a must read for any conservative, libertarian, or simply anyone who isn’t a member of the hard left. It presents his political, economic, and social thought in the form of a rambling travelogue/autobiography that’s both entertaining and rather beautiful, from a stylistic standpoint.

    • #63
  4. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Damocles (View Comment):

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke

    +1 for this, although you run the risk of becoming a libertarian after you read the chapter “Would you kill your grandmother to save I-95?”

    It’s also fun to show it to your SoCons friends and see them react in horror to the third word!

    My personal favorite is the section headed (from memory) “Our government:  What the [redacted] do they do all day and why does it cost so [redacted] much money?”

    • #64
  5. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Re: # 55

    David Foster,

    Off the subject, but your review of That Hideous Strength is fantastic. I’m going to give it to a couple along with a copy of the book. (In fact, I just ordered the book because I now know I have your review to give them too. It really helps people, running after toddlers, to have a good overview of anything longer than a few pages that they try to read at the end of the day.)

    Do you happen to know from what poem about the Tower of Babel story the title of the book was taken?

    • #65
  6. jvanpatt Inactive
    jvanpatt
    @jvanpatt

    Many excellent suggestions, so I will only add to the list.

    Michael Shaara, Killer Angels.  Extraordinary account, partly fictional, of the battle of Gettysburg.  The speech of Chamberlain to the Maine deserters and the speech by Kilrain (a fictional character) on why he is fighting are two of the finest short statements about the Civil War.  The battle for control of Little Round Top is the pivot point in American history.

    Harry Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided.  The best book on the meaning of the Civil War, as illustrated through analysis of the respective views of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.  The Civil War remains, to this day, the most important event for understanding America.  Jaffa’s A New Birth of Freedom involves an extended discussion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The focus in the sequel shifts from the “soft” view of modernity in the voice of Stephen Douglas to the “hard” view of modernity in the voice of John Calhoun.  Both books are essential to understanding contemporary America politics.

    Richard Grenier, Capturing the Culture.  A collection essays, mostly from Commentary magazine.  Simply the best movie reviews from a conservative perspective.  If you do not know these gems, you are in for a treat.

    For other works from authors already mentioned, consider:

    C.S. Lewis.  One should not omit from consideration The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and, especially, The Great Divorce (remains greatly underrated).

    Paul Johnson, Intellectuals.  Shows that many of the heroes of the Left are moral monsters.  You can continue this study through reading, for example, Collier & Horowitz’s biography of The Kennedys or Robert Caro’s extended biography of Lyndon Johnson, or, for that, any honest biography of the Clintons (a yet uncompleted project).  For an extended treatment of another moral monster, see Jung Chang, Mao:  The Unknown Story.  By contrast, William Manchester’s extended biography of Winston Churchill (especially volume two) shows what conservative heroes are made of.

    Whittaker Chambers.  In addition to Witness, which is on my top five list, there is Cold Friday, a collection of essays, and Odyssey of a Friend, a collection of letters to William F. Buckley, both beautifully written.

    Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Dictatorships and Double Standards, a classic by a courageous woman who evolved away from the academic Left.  Also David  Horowitz, Radical Son (an autobiographical account of the movement away from the Left).

    Finally, essential for a deeper understanding of the debate about modernity are Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, and the writings of George Anastaplo, especially Human Being and Citizen, and The American Moralist.

    • #66
  7. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):

    1. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

    Now there’s one you don’t see every day.  I like it.

     

    • #67
  8. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    aardo vozz (View Comment): …3. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – real world results of leftist politics.

    I cannot argue with this, although I have only completed Volume 1.   Along the same lines, I could add The Great Terror (A Reassessment) by Robert Conquest and/or a novel that covers very similar ground: The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge. (Also, a more recent offering that hits those same “real world results of leftist politics” in novel form: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith.)

     

    • #68
  9. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    I cannot argue with the several mentions of The Road to Serfdom but I will also mention The Fatal Conceit (The Errors of Socialism) by Hayek.

    See also The Case for Democracy (The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror) by Natan Sharansky. The concept of moral clarity writ large.

    Finally, I will toss in The Ruling Class (How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It) by Angelo Codevilla.

    (OK…two more bonus shorts from my favorites list: The Power of the Powerless by Vaclav Havel and The Farmer Refuted by Alexander Hamilton.)

    • #69
  10. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    tabula rasa (View Comment):

    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.

    You guys are leaving off A Day in the Life of…

    That probably does more to explain what living under socialism is all about better than any other, although you can’t go wrong with any of the others.

    • #70
  11. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Drusus (View Comment):
    Is anyone aware of a good Conservative Reader? A survey book that samples the best of classical liberalism from the past few hundred years?

    The Essential Calhoun by Prof Clyde Wilson. You won’t find a better book on a whole host of conservative theory regarding everything from party politics to foreign policy.

    • #71
  12. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    jvanpatt (View Comment):
    Many excellent suggestions, so I will only add to the list.

    Michael Shaara, Killer Angels. Extraordinary account, partly fictional, of the battle of Gettysburg. The speech of Chamberlain to the Maine deserters and the speech by Kilrain (a fictional character) on why he is fighting are two of the finest short statements about the Civil War. The battle for control of Little Round Top is the pivot point in American history.

    Harry Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided. The best book on the meaning of the Civil War, as illustrated through analysis of the respective views of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. The Civil War remains, to this day, the most important event for understanding America. Jaffa’s A New Birth of Freedom involves an extended discussion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The focus in the sequel shifts from the “soft” view of modernity in the voice of Stephen Douglas to the “hard” view of modernity in the voice of John Calhoun. Both books are essential to understanding contemporary America politics.

    Richard Grenier, Capturing the Culture. A collection essays, mostly from Commentary magazine. Simply the best movie reviews from a conservative perspective. If you do not know these gems, you are in for a treat.

    For other works from authors already mentioned, consider:

    C.S. Lewis. One should not omit from consideration The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and, especially, The Great Divorce (remains greatly underrated).

    Paul Johnson, Intellectuals. Shows that many of the heroes of the Left are moral monsters. You can continue this study through reading, for example, Collier & Horowitz’s biography of The Kennedys or Robert Caro’s extended biography of Lyndon Johnson, or, for that, any honest biography of the Clintons (a yet uncompleted project). For an extended treatment of another moral monster, see Jung Chang, Mao: The Unknown Story. By contrast, William Manchester’s extended biography of Winston Churchill (especially volume two) shows what conservative heroes are made of.

    Whittaker Chambers. In addition to Witness, which is on my top five list, there is Cold Friday, a collection of essays, and Odyssey of a Friend, a collection of letters to William F. Buckley, both beautifully written.

    Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Dictatorships and Double Standards, a classic by a courageous woman who evolved away from the academic Left. Also David Horowitz, Radical Son (an autobiographical account of the movement away from the Left).

    Finally, essential for a deeper understanding of the debate about modernity are Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, and the writings of George Anastaplo, especially Human Being and Citizen, and The American Moralist.

    Jaffa? You want real history try Tom DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln.

    • #72
  13. Lazy_Millennial Inactive
    Lazy_Millennial
    @LazyMillennial

    Not one of his well-known works, but C.S. Lewis’s essay Willing Slaves of the Welfare State is excellent, accurately assessing the problems of government post-industrial-revolution:

    I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind’. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer? Admittedly, when man was untamed, such liberty belonged only to the few. I know. Hence the horrible suspicion that our only choice is between societies with few freemen and societies with none.

    • #73
  14. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Lazy_Millennial (View Comment):
    Not one of his well-known works, but C.S. Lewis’s essay Willing Slaves of the Welfare State is excellent, accurately assessing the problems of government post-industrial-revolution:

    I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind’. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer? Admittedly, when man was untamed, such liberty belonged only to the few. I know. Hence the horrible suspicion that our only choice is between societies with few freemen and societies with none.

    Thanks, LM, for valuable research assistance!

    • #74
  15. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Isaiah's Job (View Comment):
    As for me, I believe Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man is a must read for any conservative, libertarian, or simply anyone who isn’t a member of the hard left. It presents his political, economic, and social thought in the form of a rambling travelogue/autobiography that’s both entertaining and rather beautiful, from a stylistic standpoint.

    Thanks for that suggestion. It’s on my Amazon wish list.

    • #75
  16. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Re # 75

    I took a 2.99 gamble and got it on kindle. I’ll begin it eventually. But l wish someone here who read it and liked it ( or didn’t like it) would say more about why.

     

    • #76
  17. ToryWarWriter Reagan
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Its not a book but Dennis Wheatleys Letter to Posterity is a good read.

    Written in 1947 and buried in a time capsule it advises people to resist the coming of the socialist state.  I will post a link when I get home.

    http://www.denniswheatley.info/sams_books/lettertoposterity2.htm

    “Therefore, if when this document is discovered, the people of Britain are bound to a state machine, my message to posterity is REBEL.  All men are not equal.  Some have imagination and abilities far above others.  It is their province and their right to take upon themselves the responsibility of leading and protecting the less gifted.

    We are sent into this world to develop our own personality – to use such gifts as we have been given and to set an example to others by our courage, fortitude, sympathy, generosity and self-reliance.  Any state which controls the lives of the people and dictates where they shall live, what work they shall do, what they shall see, say, hear, read and think, thwarts the free development of personality, and is therefore EVIL.

    It will be immensely difficult to break the stranglehold of the machine, but it can be done, little by little; the first step being the formation of secret groups of friends for free discussion.  Then numbers of people can begin systematically to break small regulations, and so to larger ones with passive resistance by groups of people pledged to stand together – and eventually the boycotting, or ambushing and killing of unjust tyrannous officials.”

     

    • #77
  18. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Question: What does anyone here think of The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, by James Burnham ?

    • #78
  19. Sleepywhiner Inactive
    Sleepywhiner
    @Sleepywhiner

    thanks so much for the timely post! My daughter is going to law school this Fall, and while she has a strong Christian Faith, I feel less secure in her conservatism (since I don’t think her social views are fully formed, and Law Schools tend to be bastions of liberalism, so…).

    I appreciate greatly the CS Lewis suggestions, as I have already ordered The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, and The Law for her, as well as a copy of The Federalist Papers for her to have. I’ll have to give up my copy of some of these others, but, that’s the way it goes.

    Since we’re going to be spending a lot of time together in a month touring Bryce and Zion and GC national parks, we have a lot of driving time for reading!

    • #79
  20. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    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.

    Me too, but I wasn’t planning on a warning.

    • #80
  21. Archie Campbell Member
    Archie Campbell
    @ArchieCampbell

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):

    Jaffa? You want real history try Tom DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln.

    Is it inaccurate, or too harsh to ask if you think Lincoln was a murderous tyrant?

    • #81
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