Category Archives: Book Reviews

A Review of ‘Little Brother’ by Cory Doctorow

The always thought provoking Cory Doctorow has a new book out, Little Brother.  I highly recommend it, even though I think he is very wrong on numerous points.  You can download it for free at the link above.

It is very difficult to write a political novel.  I should know, I’ve started 3 or 4 of them, and they all turned out badly.  When the author is convinced that he is right, the protagonists tend to preach at each other, and the antagonists tend to sound like evil simpletons.  In Little Brother, Mr Doctorow has managed to avoid the former pitfall, while falling deeply into the latter.    While the central theme of the book is interesting, there are several improbable plot twists, a deficiency of analysis, and a deus ex machina ending.  Thus, while I think everyone should read this book, and will actually enjoy it, it will not be the classic that, say 1984 would be.  I will, however, be giving it to my children when they are old enough to understand it.

What follows is chock full of spoilers.  Please stop reading here if you wish to keep the ending a surprise. » Read more

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Happy Anti-Federalist Day!

So, today is Constitution Day, a day to celebrate the ratification of the Constitution. Aptly, then, I’ve been reading John Ferling’s A Leap In The Dark, a history of the American Revolutionary period beginning in the 1750’s and ending with the peaceful transfer of power to Jefferson in the 1800 election. Over the last few days, I’ve been through the chapters on the battle to create and ratify the Constitution.

The book, which I recommend heartily, gives a strong human feel to the Revolution. Contemporary high-school history classes teach the Revolution as if it were a foregone conclusion, a natural progression of the transgressions by King George III on the colonies. In reality, it was always in doubt, and divergent factions within the colonies could have scuttled the Revolution at any point between the Stamp Act in 1765 and Yorktown.

Enter figures such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, two true radicals committed to independence. Adams in particular was masterful during the days of 1770-1773– a time with little new development from the Crown to cause popular outrage– when he worked to keep the situation simmering. His leadership in the Boston Tea Party directly forced the British hand into the Coercive Acts, likely the point of no return for both sides. Henry entered the national scene thereafter as a Virginian delegate to the First Continental Congress, and his alliance with Samuel & John Adams helped to win his fellow colonists towards independence rather than reconciliation.

The American Revolution was a truly incredible feat, both for having defeated the British and for having ushered in a society unlike any of those in old Europe. Gone were the days of imperial government, of a titular nobility, and of subservience to faraway central governments who could rule with a heavy hand over the individual colonies’ (now States’) matters. Under the Articles of Confederation, thirteen independent States worked to decide matters of importance to all, but with the ever-present assumption that each was– and ought to be– independent of the others.

But although commerce was booming, and the life of the average American in their respective States was improving, not all was well. The Congress (and several States) had racked up enormous debt to fight the war and were vulnerable to outside attack by the powers of Europe. The nature of a one-State-one-vote Confederation between northern mercantilists and southern agrarian planters allowed those European powers to divide-and-conquer to get what they wanted from our national policy.

Several people, such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, recognized that the Articles of Confederation were not working and needed to be revised. They understood that the American States were in jeopardy and would have trouble banding together against regional invasion if a change was not made. They were not, however, looking for a new central government with widespread power.

Enter James Madison, and his ideological cohort, Alexander Hamilton. “The Father Of The American Constitution” was sent as a delegate from Virginia to revise the Articles of Confederation, but he had other designs in mind. He wanted a national, centralized, sovereign government that would supercede the States, binding them into a singular entity. The “United States of America”, per his plan, would be more aptly described as the “United State of America”. He found himself with many like-minded souls at the convention (such as Hamilton) to “amend” the Articles. They moved far beyond the proposed revision of the Articles, and a completely new Constitution was written.

The battles between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was joined. The Federalists suggested that without a new Constitution, the States would become client-states of Europe, severely limited and unable to protect their own interests from the European monarch’s divide-and-conquer tactics. The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, saw the birth of a new government that would have the same sort of arbitrary and remote power against which they had just fought a war of Independence. Hamilton wanted a European-style government, destruction or complete subservience of the States, and widespread national powers. Patrick Henry disagreed:

If we admit this Consolidated Government it will be because we like a great splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things.

When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different.

Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object. We are descended from a people whose Government was founded on liberty.

Our glorious forefathers of Great-Britain, made liberty the foundation of every thing. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their Government is strong and energetic; but, Sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation.

We drew the spirit of liberty from our British ancestors; by that spirit we have triumphed over every difficulty.

But now, Sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country to a powerful and mighty empire.

If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your Government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together.

Such a Government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism.

The Liberty Papers bills itself as written by the heirs of Patrick Henry. Each contributor to this blog, of course, would have to determine for himself how much that description applies, but it is rather clear that the end result of the American republic was Hamiltonian, not what Henry would have wanted.

Much like Frost’s The Road Not Taken, the American Revolution was driven by radical men, blazing the path less traveled. The ratification of the Constitution was the true point at which the more conservative “governmental” members of the movement regained control and put it down the path well worn.

Today is a day to officially cheer the Madisonian/Hamiltonian vision of a great American empire, a vision today fulfilled by men like John McCain and the Washington set. Instead, I suggest you pause and ask yourself whether the Splendid government those men have produced is worth it. Ask yourself whether you would rather follow the path of Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, or of a man like Hamilton who worked tirelessly to enhance and increase the power of the central government. Today, I will be cheering the Anti-Federalists.

The Revolution: A Book Review

About half way thought Ron Paul’s The Revolution: A Manifesto, I found myself thinking that he should have written this book before he ran for President, not afterwards, and that his campaign should have handed out as many copies of the book as they could, because it does a far better job of explaining and defending libertarian values and ideas than the candidate himself ever did on the campaign trail.

There’s not really anything original in the book itself; as other reviewers have pointed out, these are ideas that others have written about before and they are, in fact, older than the American Republic itself. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t important or worth reading, however; as Paul’s campaign and recent polls independent of the Presidential race have demonstrated, there still exists an audience that is quite receptive to the ideas like individual liberty, economic freedom, and the idea that things have gone terribly wrong in this country.

In seven relatively short easy to read chapters, Paul touches on issues ranging from economic freedom, to the assaults on civil liberties and personal property that we’ve seen over the past two decades, to monetary policy, and, of course, foreign policy. If you’re looking for a discussion of what’s wrong in America today from a philosophy that focuses on individual liberty, The Revolution is an excellent place to start.

For someone such as myself who has been immersed in libertarian ideas from the day I picked up a copy of Capitalism & Freedom and then moved on to spend the summer after my freshman year in college digesting everything from Atlas Shrugged to John Locke’s Second Treatise Of Government, the ideas that Paul talks about will be entirely familiar, and there will be more than one moment of head-nodding in agreement as you read along. The sad truth, though, is that we don’t live in a country where the majority of the public can really be said to be familiar with the ideas that our nation was founded upon and our Constitution was based upon. And the political leadership isn’t any better; beyond parroting the words of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July or saluting the flag, politicians on both sides of the political aisle pay little more than lip service to the ideas of the Founding Fathers, especially when they inconveniently interfere with whatever it is they want to achieve, whether that’s health care “reform” or campaign finance “reform.”

But that, I think, is what makes Paul’s book so good. I don’t necessarily think that the American people have given up on the ideals of the Founders, it’s just that they haven’t been presented with a political leaders who even come close to living up to them. That, I think, is why Ron Paul, his faults notwithstanding, attracted the vocal, if small, following that he did during the campaign.

There are some disagreements, of course.

I agree with Paul that our foreign policy has gotten too far out of whack, and that the interventionist and pre-emptive war ideas advocated by the intellectuals who got us into Iraq is both unwise and dangerous. That doesn’t mean, however, that I agree with his suggestion that we merely need to look to the foreign policy advocated by the Founding Fathers in the early years of the Republic to tell us how to manage the affairs of a continent-wide nation existing in a world where destruction can come from the skies in a matter of minutes.

The early Founders, and specifically Presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson were concerned primarily with the survival of a small, weak nation on the coast of a continent that sat across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, where the two most powerful nations on the planet were engaged in a seemingly endless struggle that dated back to the French and Indian Wars. That conflict didn’t end until Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and America was constantly under pressure to take sides, especially in the years after the French Revolution. Keeping America neutral was in our interests because either nation, England or France, could have destroyed the new Republic merely by imposing a blockade on shipping. We simply don’t know what policy Washington, Jefferson, or Adams would advocate in today’s world; they clearly wouldn’t support foolhardly adventures to make the Middle East “safe for democracy”, but I doubt that they’d also adopt the idea that America’s vital national interests end at the shoreline, which often seems to be what Paul suggests.

The other weakness in the book is also one that existed in the campaign itself; a lack of specifics. Paul admits that most of the changes he proposes, many of which are clearly necessary, can only be achieved if Congress supports them. That isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, and it would have been nice if the book had touched even a little on how to get there from here.

On the whole, though, this is a solid introduction to the philosophy of freedom, and far better reading than yet another devotional to “hope” and “change.”

The Revolution: Reviewed

Glenn Reynolds reviews Ron Paul’s The Revolution: A Manifesto:

The main shortcoming in Paul’s book, as with his candidacy, is in the follow through, the transition from critique to action. Although he does include a chapter entitled “The Revolution,” about reducing the size of government, it’s a pretty skimpy plan. Were we to see a Ron Paul Administration, with a House and Senate made up of, well, Ron Pauls, it might have a chance of succeeding, though even so he’s a bit timid in places – proposing a freeze on the budgets of cabinet departments instead of their outright abolition, for example, despite noting that only State, Defense, and Justice have clear constitutional mandates. But given the unlikelihood of a Paul Administration, and the even greater unlikelihood of a Paul Congress, his policy prescriptions aren’t likely to bear fruit. But those who want to see liberty progress right here and right now will look in vain for suggestions on what they might do, right here and right now, to make progress.

Rome didn’t fall in a day, and today’s monster government didn’t spring up overnight. It was the result of incremental expansion. Given that we’re not likely to see an opportunity to downsize the federal government overnight, or even in a single Presidential term, those of libertarian inclinations might well look to incremental approaches to reining in Big Government. They will be well advised, however, to look elsewhere than Revolution: A Manifesto. Still, if Fabian Libertarianism is to have a future, it will owe much to the consciousness-raising of the Paul campaign. Socialist candidate Eugene Debs, after all, never got elected President either, but within a few decades much of his platform was adopted by the Democratic Party. May Paul enjoy similar influence on the future of national politics.

Reynolds also points out the difference between Paul and those libertarian Republicans who did not rally to his cause:

Paul and I are both libertarians, but of different varieties. Paul is an old-fashioned Rothbardian. I’m more of a Heinleinian libertarian and we, like the Randian libertarians, tend to view national defense as more important than the Rothbardians do. Paul’s view, essentially, is that if we quit sending troops abroad, other people and countries would quit wanting to kill us. I’m not particularly persuaded by this. First, even during the minimal-government era of Thomas Jefferson we wound up at war with the Barbary Pirates (in many ways, the spiritual antecedents of today’s Islamic terrorists). And second, Paul is not an isolationist – he favors much more commercial and cultural engagement with foreign countries, something which, if experience is any guide, is as likely to anger Islamic fundamentalists and other varieties of terrorists and tyrants as is the establishment of foreign bases.

All in all, though, it is a fairly positive review, even though I probably agree more with Reynolds on foreign policy than I do with Paul.

I’ve got my own copy on the way from Amazon at some point this month — thanks to an apparent “book bomb” by his supporters, Paul’s book is currently on back order — and I’ll have a review of my own up after I’ve read it.

Barbara Branden Speaks On Ayn Rand & Atlas Shrugged

Barbara Branden is one of the few people who was part of Ayn Rand’s inner circle during the years that she was writing Atlas Shrugged who is both still alive and willing to speak outside of “official” Objectivist circles. Back in October she spoke at a conference sponsored by The Atlas Society marking the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication — her former husband Nathanial Branden also speaks briefly.

The most interesting part of Branden’s talk is her description of what the negative reviews the book first received, and the failure of people who supported the book to come to her defense against things such as Whittaker Chambers’ scurrilous review, did to Rand as a person.

Here’s Part One:

And Part Two:

Radicals For Capitalism: A Book Review

When the 20th Century was still young, things didn’t look good at all for the ideas of individual liberty and self-government that had been the spark that lit the American and French Revolutions. Intellectually and politically, collectivism, of both the right and the left, was on the march. In Europe and most of the rest of the world it manifested itself in either the dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Franco, or the supposed freedom of “social democracy.” In the United States, it manifested itself in a boring New Deal consensus that seemed to accept as inevitable the idea that the state would become more and more involved in the daily lives of it’s citizens.

And god help you if you happened to dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy. Academically and politically, advocates of ideas that used to be the prevailing philosophy of the nation were treated as if they were troglodytes. And, as World War II dawned, the prospects for freedom seemed dim indeed.

That, roughly, is where the story begins in Brian Doherty’s Radicals For Capitalism, a massive 700 page history of the libertarian movement in the United States. As would be expected, Doherty gives plenty of coverage to the intellectual giants of libertarian thought whose names should be familiar to most contemporary libertarians — Hayek, Mises, Rand, and Rothbard — as well as plenty of the lesser-known names who have contributed to the growth of libertarian ideas and the libertarian movement. Since most of us weren’t around during those days, it’s valuable to learn how we got to where we are today.

As with any good history, Doherty’s book also teaches a lesson or two.

First, as he points out in the concluding chapter of his book, there is tendency among libertarians to believe in the worst of all possible outcomes, and a failure to recognize just how much progress toward human liberty has been made in the past 50 years or so. Before the libertarian movement came into it’s own, American males were drafted into the armed forces when the turned 18, marginal tax rates exceeded 70 percent, Americans were legally forbidden from owning gold in any form other than jewelry, airline travel was heavily regulated by the FAA to the point where consumer choice was virtually non-existent, and socialism in one form or another was on the march throughout the world.

All that’s gone now, in part thanks to the ideas put forward and the world done by libertarians. Are things perfect ? Of course not, but they’re better than they have been, and they’re better here than most other places in the world.

Instead of recognizing progress, though, libertarians seem to wallow in gloom-and-doom and seem especially susceptible to some of the far-right scams that suggest people who disagree with libertarian ideas aren’t just adversaries, they are enemies out to enslave us, and that the day of gulags in the southwestern desert is just around the corner. More often than not, that leads to rhetoric and policy ideas that, to the average American, sounds just a little nutty — which is part of the reason that something beyond the waterted-down libertarianism of “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” that, I would submit, most people outside the movement mean when they refer to themselves as libertarian, isn’t likely to succeed in the United States in the short term.

If you doubt me, and as Doherty points out, then tell one of these newly-professed libertarians that their philosophy also requires them to advocate legalizing all drugs, legalizing prostitution, closing the public schools, and privatizing the roads and see how long they keep calling themselves libetarians.

The second lesson that can be drawn from Doherty’s history is that, partially because of the personalities that have populated the movement and partially because of the philosophy itself, libertarians have always seemed to have a tendency toward infighting and, for lack of a better word, tribalism. Two of the movements greatest philosophers — Ayn Rand and Murry Rothbard — were both guilty of banishing people for insufficient orthodoxy, often in a mean-spirited manner. While that may have been a function of two very strong personalities, it’s also evident elsewhere in Doherty’s book — for example, there’s been almost as much purging and infighting in the Libertarian Party in its 35 years of existence as one would expect to see from a bunch of communists.

And, it’s something we still see today.

Libertarians who dissent from what someone perceives to be the accepted orthodoxy on a given issue have been written out of the movement, or subjected to personal attacks, or simply just marginalized even when they’re on the same side of an issue. For example, and this is probably an oversimplification, the guys at Lew Rockwell don’t like the guys at Cato, even though they’re on the same side of the Iraq War issue. Here at The Liberty Papers, a post questioning the effectiveness of Ron Paul’s Presidential campaign, challenging his ideas or pointing out that someone else happens to be in the lead, draws comments that border on personal attacks, which draw comments in response that border on the same — all of which accomplishes nothing.

Just as the gloom and doom is unwarranted given that America circa 2007 is indisputably a freer country than America circa 1960 was, the advance of freedom around the world, all of this infighting is ironic considering that libertarians are still, decidedly, a minority in the political system.

Doherty concludes his book with a quote from Murray Rothbard, and, while I generally don’t agree with most of Rothbard’s political conclusions, this quote is one I think we can all agree with:

“[Libertarians] should remain of good cheer. The eventual victory of liberty is inevitable, because only liberty is functional for modern man. There is no need, therefore to thirst maniacally for Instant Action and Instant Victory, and then to fall into bleak despair when that Instant Victory is not forthcoming. Reality, and therefore history, is on our side.”

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Not A Suicide Pact: A Book Review

Federal Appeals Court Judge Richard A. Posner is known for being both prolific and controversial. In addition to authoring one of the most important academic treatises in the field of law and economics, he is also known for writing on more controversial topics ranging from the 2000 Presidential election to sex. And it’s when he writes on these topics, covering areas that are both controversial and likely to be the subject of high-profile Constitutional case law, that he’s often at his most interesting, even when you don’t agree with him.

In Not A Suicide Pact: The Constitution In A Time Of National Emergency, Posner examines the questions and conflicts that have arisen between national security and individual liberty in the wake of the War on Terror and asks the question of just how far Courts should go in either protecting liberty or granting leeway to the state to deal with a perceived emergency.

Posner’s entire thesis with respect to the roles that liberty and safety should play in Constitutional jurisprudence can be summed up in the paragraph that opens the conclusion to the book:

Constitutional rights are largely created by the Supreme Court, by loose interpretation of the constitutional text. Created as they are in response to the felt needs and conditions of the time, they can be and frequently are modified by the Court in response to changes in those needs and conditions. A constitutional right should be modified when changed circumstances indicate that the right no loner strikes a sensible balance between competing constitutional values, such as personal liberty and public safety. A national emergency, such as a war, creates a disequilibrium in the existing system of constitutional rights. Concerns for public safety now weigh more heavily than liberties in recognition that the relative weights of the competing interests have changed in favor of safety. That is the pragmatic response, and pragmatism is a dominant feature not only of American culture at large but also of the American judicial culture.

If you’re someone like myself who views individual liberty and the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights as immutable, a paragraph like that is bound to make your blood boil. And, I will admit that there were several times when I found myself wanting to argue with Posner over one obscure point or another (which I imagine would be a fascinating intellectual experience in itself).

Posner’s approach, however, is entirely understandable for two reasons. First, it is entirely consistent with his broader adherence to law and economics, which is all about balancing, and pragmatism, and finding efficient outcomes, as a legal philosophy. Second, he’s a Federal Judge and, with rare exceptions, the approach that he suggests in this book is entirely consistent with the way that most Federal Judges seem to view questions of the proper line to draw between individual liberty and public safety.

That doesn’t mean that Posner is correct, though.

First, there’s his view of individual/constitutional rights as something that are strictly judge made, rather than something that exist independent of the whim of the judiciary. Because of what Posner contends to be the inherent vaguenesss of the Constitutional text, it is up to Judges to determine the boundaries of constitutional liberty. The problems with this approach are replete and exist throughout the 200+ years that the Supreme Court has existed. All too frequently, judges have interpreted portions of the Constitution too narrowly, or too broadly, or just ignored it entirely and ruled based on how that though the case should be decided. Leaving the definition of civil liberties strictly and exclusively in the hands of an unelected judiciary is, in the end, a recipe for disaster.

Given Posner’s views on the malleability of constitutional rights, it isn’t entirely surprising where he comes down on the debate over when and how much individual liberty should be sacrificed in the name of public safety at a time of supposed national emergency, such as that represented by the War on Terror. With very few, though very interesting exceptions, Posner would give more power to the state to fight the threat posed by terrorism — notwithstanding the fact that, except for September 11th, there hasn’t been evidence of a single foreign terrorist plot on American soil in over five years — at the expense of individual liberty and privacy.

Another area which Posner brushes over is the fact that national emergencies have, in the past, served as the justification for increases in the size, scope, and power of government. Posner briefly addresses this issue by citing examples from the Post-WW2 and Cold War eras of government regulation that has since abated. In reality, of course, the end of each of these supposed emergencies still resulted in a Federal Government that exerted more control than it did at the time the “crisis” started.

Of course, much of that is explained by the fact that local incumbents in law enforcement find it in their interest to point out how bad things would be under a second term.

There are some points one which I must admit that Judge Posner is right. There is a distinct difference between law enforcement and intelligence gathering. And there seem to be far fewer Constitutional limitations on intelligence gathering, which logically must be considered part of the Article II power of the Executive Branch, than on law enforcement, which finds itself limited by the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, just to name a few.

And maybe that makes sense.

The purpose of intelligence gathering is, or at least, should be, preventing attacks on the homeland, whether from terrorists or foreign nations, from happening. Law enforcement steps in only after an attack has occurred. In the case of terrorism, law enforcement is an admittedly ineffective tool.There’s no point in filing criminal charges against the 19 men who hijacked planes on September 11th, but if we’d been able to break up that conspiracy on September 9th……..well, that wouldn’t have been a bad thing after all.

In the end, as Posner points out, and as reluctant as I may be willing to admit, it may well be true that there is a trade-off between liberty and security that we all will have to make a decision on in the near future.

On each side, there’s an extreme that is entirely unpleasant. Too little government vigilance in the face of a real terrorist threat could lead to the deaths of millions. Too severe a restriction on individual liberty could lead to a free reign for destruction.

The pro-freedom lessons in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Devil Wears Prada”, you should. Tonight. It’s on HBO, I believe. It has some interesting lessons regarding freedom.

The movie follows the adventures of Andrea, a serious, intellectual, hot, young woman who wants to be a journalist, as she works for a difficult editor of a fashion magazine. This woman, Miranda Priestly, played perfectly by Meryl Streep, is the ultimate gatekeeper who defines what is hot and what is not. She has the power to make or break careers in the fashion industry, and she wields it ruthlessly. She dictates what food her staff eats, and the clothes they wear. She delights in making impossible demands, for example giving her assistant 6 hours to get two copies of the next unpublished Harry Potter novel, or demanding that they find a plane to fly her out of Miami despite the hurricane pummeling the city.

Andrea, who turned down a scholarship at Stanford law, is the antithesis of most of her coworkers. She is slender rather than anorexic. She wants to be a journalist. She views the industry as being shallow, and rather beneath her. She merely puts up with Miranda due to the doors that working on this magazine will open for her. Initially, she eschews designer clothes, and sticks out like a sore thumb in the crowd of people working at the magazine whom she calls “clackers”, describing the sounds their stiletto heels make on the reception floors. Warning spoilers ahead » Read more

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

1776: The Year Liberty Stood In The Balance

Today, we celebrate 1776, and more specifically the 4th of July as the birthday of American freedom, the day that the American colonists courageously stood up to the most powerful monarch on the planet and declared the independence of the thirteen British colonies on the Eastern seaboard of North America.

The truth of the matter is that, even on that hot Philadephia day in July, the future of freedom in America was far from secure. The American Revolution had barely started and, only ten months before King George III had vowed before Parliament that the colonies would remain in the British Empire, and had dispatched the world’s most powerful Navy and Army, backed up by some well-paid Hessians, to make sure that his will would be followed.

In 1776, David McCullough tells the story of that year and of a military campaign that, but for fortunate leadership and even more fortunate luck, could very easily have ended in disaster and snuffed the infant nation in it’s sleep.

The year started out well enough. The Continental Army, newly under the command of George Washington, had stood down the British in Boston and forced them to retreat from the city. That victory, though, came without a decisive battle and was merely a prelude to the confrontation that would come in New York.

For a time, New York was secure but that proved to be quickly short-lived when the British Army and Navy appear off the coast and quickly land on Long Island. What follows is a tale of what can only be called ineptness at times. The Americans were always outmanned and outgunned by the British but, on more than one occasion, the defeat they would suffer would be the result of bad decisions, even bad decisions by Washington himself.

In the end, Washington was forced to retreat. First out of New York, and then clear across New Jersey and the Delaware River. It was only thanks to an attack on Trenton that combined equal degrees of bravery and audacity that the Americans were able to end the year on a high note, even if the war itself didn’t end for another six years.

As with everything else McCullough has written, 1776 is both informative and enjoyable. Someone once said that history is a story, and McCullough does a great job of telling this one in a way that makes you want to keep reading on, even though we all know how the story ultimately ends. If nothing else, the book will make you appreciate just how brave the men who fought for American freedom were, and just how lucky we are they that they were successful.

Book Review: The Multiplex Man, James P. Hogan

I teased this one in my bookaholic post, so I figured I might as well get around to reviewing it. The book is The Multiplex Man, by James P. Hogan. I’m not even sure where I first heard about this one (a libertarian blog somewhere, probably), but I picked it up used from Amazon for a very nice price, so there wasn’t a lot of risk in trying it.

The book describes a time in the not-so-distant future. The Western powers (US and Europe), driven by the environmentalists, have begun to clamp down on capitalism as a waste of resources, while the remnants of the old Soviet Union have embraced unbridled capitalism and are rapidly expanding (even into space). The governments of the West have built up enormous propaganda about the dangers of those capitalist nations to control their own citizens, and the people fear that capitalism in the East will collapse, leading to an attack by the East on the West. Thus, they rule their people through fear of an unlikely enemy.

In this world you find Richard Jarrow, a government history teacher who’s bought the lie— hook, line, and sinker. But one day something strange happens. He goes to the doctor, is put to sleep for some routine tests, and then suddenly wakes up 6 months later, 1000 miles away from his home, in a strange hotel room. And in a different body. Furthermore, he tries to head back to his home, only to find out that Richard Jarrow died a mere month after his last memory. Confused and disoriented, particularly by the fact that he has gained incredible fighting ability, he goes on a search to find out exactly what’s going on. He soon determines exactly whose body he’s inhabiting, and starts to see that there are forces of the Eastern capitalist countries who want to use him to further their own ends. Not to mention that the former fiancee’ of the body he’s inhabiting wants the original inhabitant’s personality back. As he starts down the eventual road to the climax of the story, you see how various personalities inside him all start to meld together and fall apart, and you watch as his own psyche starts shorting out.

To go any farther would give too much of the plot away, so I’m not going to do that. The book itself reminded me of a suspense-thriller much like Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. You have a man who isn’t quite sure who he is or why he’s capable of doing what he can do, unsure who to trust and how to survive his situation. It’s a bit more sci-fi than the Bourne series, though, and again to get into the details would give away too much of the plot. Last, for the libertarians in the bunch, it’s certainly got a dystopian vision that is distrustful of state control, sees the government as the enemy, and views unbridled free-market anarchist capitalism as the driving force of prosperity.

As a suspense-thriller novel, it is a bit formulaic at times. You have the protagonist, trying to figure out exactly what is going on in a world that seems to threaten him from every direction. You have the supportive female, who distrusts him at first but grows to push him to his destiny. You’ve got shadowy government figures all around, and you’re never sure which of them is working to help the protagonist and which is not. However, to call it formulaic doesn’t make it a bad book. Hogan throws in twists and turns in places that I hadn’t seen coming, and in general it’s an engaging read.

I’d say that if you’re looking for a new author to check out, and you’re into the suspense-thriller genre, it’s certainly worth a look. If you like the Bourne series from Ludlum, and you’re a libertarian, I think you’ll like this quite a bit. This is a decent novel with libertarian themes, but not to the extent that it beats you over the head with it. As I’ve said with a few other books, this one won’t win any awards, but it’s definitely a nice book to while a few hours away.

Book Review — Mean Martin Manning, by Scott Stein

Some of you have probably notice me link the Scott Stein a few times in the past. I found him a while back, when he was looking for examples of humorous writing for a class he was teaching. In fact, I even got him to give me a literary critique of The Search For The Beast, which was quite helpful, and I hope to incorporate into future writing.

So I decided to pick up his new book, Mean Martin Manning. I actually paid for it, because his publisher apparently doesn’t give review copies to unknown bloggers with limited readership, but that’s alright, it was worth it (partly because it comes with little “extras” in the package, which is nice).

The book is a novel describing an exciting episode the normally uneventful life of Martin Manning, an elderly man who has spent 30 years shut off from the world. Surviving on cold-cuts, television, a collection of clocks and porcelain frogs, and ordering everything he needs from the internet, he’s quite happy to live without any human interaction whatsoever. But one day, in order to comply with a new government “Life Improvement” program, social worker Alice Pitney shows up. And all hell breaks loose.

Armed with the full force and power of the state government, Pitney is determined to help a man who wants no help. He’s forced into the improvement program, where he’s expected to eat healthy foods, interact with all sorts of crazy characters, and the self-sufficient shut-in is treated like a child to be trained in how to be a better person. In his first group therapy session, Manning says it best:

“You poor saps can go for Pitney’s bullshit if you like— I won’t hold it against you. I just want to give you fair warning. It might not look like it, but as we speak, I’m in an epic struggle with Caseworker Pitney for my very soul.”

Immovable force meets a nanny-statist who won’t take no for an answer, and all sorts of hilarity ensues. Oh, did I mention that Stein is funny? This book doesn’t read like Atlas Shrugged, it pops with it’s collection of smart-assed narration and just-cartoonish-enough characters. The book has an air of the fantastic about it, but then again, when you hear about some of the things going on in Britain, it almost seems like it will be here shortly.

As for the politics, I can’t see many libertarians not liking the book, or not cheering on Martin Manning as he fights against those who want to control him for his own good. It gives a face and a name to the insidious nature of the nanny state. It reminds you that you should stand extra guard when they try to come after you for your own good, as C.S. Lewis once said:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Overall, the book gets a hearty recommendation. It clicks in at just over 200 pages, so it’s a quick read, but long enough to develop the characters, put together a cohesive plot, and make it all interesting. As for distribution, I think you may need to go to the publisher directly on this one, though, unfortunately it’s not up on Amazon. Either way, check it out.

Book Review: P.J. O’Rourke — On The Wealth Of Nations

I’ll admit a cardinal sin. I’ve never read The Wealth Of Nations. It’s always been on my “to read” list, as it is one of the most revolutionary books in economics history, and routinely quoted by many of the libertarians I admire. I actually bought a copy last year, and took a look at it. I realized it was 900+ pages of dry economics text, written in the style of an 18th-century Scotsman. I put it on my shelf, in order to get to it later. The shelf collapsed under the weight, so I rebuilt [and reinforced] it, put the book back up there, and there it has sat ever since. My guess is that many of those aforementioned libertarians I admire haven’t read it either, so a little book is making it easier on all of us.

I was a bit excited when I found out P.J. O’Rourke was releasing a book on Adam Smith’s revolutionary tome. The humorist which has supplied libertarians with countless quotes about the inefficiency, inadequacy, and impropriety of government was going to bring Adam Smith to the masses. And he hasn’t disappointed, in his book On The Wealth Of Nations.

The book is a bit of a Cliff’s Notes for The Wealth Of Nations, with humor added. Of course, it’s a rare Cliff’s Notes that is 196 pages, but not many 900+ page economics books get Cliff’s Notes. In fact, most of the summary of the original book takes up only about 130 pages of O’Rourke’s book, with a lot of added background on Smith himself (whose life was rather un-extraordinary), and on the impact that the book has had on the world. If you’re looking for a readable summary of The Wealth of Nations, with a little of the historical background thrown in, this is your book.
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Somebody’s Gotta Say It (Book Review)

(Cross posted here at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds)

As a regular listener of The Neal Boortz Show, I find this book every bit as hard-hitting, insensitive, informative, and entertaining as his show. The High Priest of the Painful Truth pulls no punches in his assault on ignorance whether from the Right, the Left, or Center. The Libertarian Party (the party that most closely reflects his views) is even skewered on a number of fronts.

It’s difficult to know how people who do not listen to his show will respond. You will likely find this book near books with a conservative political bent but conservatives who expect to find yet another book which relentlessly attacks the Left while keeping their sacred cows protected will be sorely disappointed. While Boortz dedicates a significant portion of the book to the lunacy of the Left, the Right is criticized for pushing their religious anti-science agenda on the American public (especially in government schools), their homophobia, and their continuous chipping away at the limited government platform they claim to embrace.

Boortz has many targets in this book but none receive more of his ire than government schools. Teacher’s unions exist solely to keep mediocre to incompetent teachers in a job; they will fight tooth and nail to prevent any kind of competition from private schools. But government schools are even more harmful that what we can see on the surface. Want to know why the American public has lost its love for freedom in exchange for security from an ever expanding government? According to Boortz, government schools are to blame. Government schools teach school children from a very young age that government is good and is the solution to every problem. There is even a chapter dedicated to how school children learn their first lesson in communism. Have you ever taken your child to the store and bought school supplies on a list only to have the teacher take those supplies away from your child to be donated to the class? If you don’t believe this to be a big deal consider the lesson your child is learning: he or she must give up his or her private property (school supplies in this case) for “the greater good” of the whole society (the classroom in this case).

Is it any coincidence that most Americans erroneously believe that America’s government is a democracy rather than a constitutional representative republic? Is it any coincidence that most Americans don’t know the difference or know why this distinction is important? Boortz contends that this is not by accident but by design. The purpose of government schools is not to educate students but to indoctrinate them into obedient citizens subjects.

Eventually, these school children grow up to be voters (Did I mention that the author finds no constitutional guarantee to the right to vote? Sounds crazy but once you read his arguments and consult the U.S. Constitution, he makes a compelling case). After thirteen years of government indoctrination, many of these adults see no problem with wealth redistribution, the welfare state, the nanny state, and have no genuine appreciation for liberty. This makes it very easy for politicians to pander to the American public to meet all of these needs which far too many people believe to be birthrights. Those who believe this the most tend to vote Democrat which leads me to his chapter “The Democrats’ Secret Plan for America.”

Boortz mockingly calls the Democrat plan a “secret plan” because of how Democrats typically scare various constituencies about Republican secret plans to kick old people into the street, burn black churches, and starve babies. Much of the secret plan is no secret at all however. So what do the Democrats have in store for America should they retain congress and win the presidency? According to the author we can expect the entire tax burden to be shifted to the wealthy, imputed income (which would put most all home owners in a higher tax bracket), place caps on income for those who “make too much,” add taxes to 401k and other investment vehicles which are not currently taxed, womb to the tomb universal government healthcare, the reinstatement of the “fairness doctrine” (which would effectively put an end to talk radio), the repeal of the Second Amendment, and several other such wet dreams of the far Left. If you don’t read any other chapter in this book, read this chapter.

Certainly, this book isn’t one which will leave the reader thinking “Its morning in America” but it does offer a fair amount of humor, positive solutions (such as what should be taught in government schools; provides his own citizenship test), and an inside peek of the talk radio business. Boortz opens the book by introducing himself, his interests and how he got into talk radio (under rather tragic circumstances). Even in the chapters that contain a discouraging outlook have a healthy dose of humor. But if you are overly outraged after reading the chapter about government funded art or the Democrat Party’s war on the individual, skip to “Chasing Cats” or “Terrorizing the Mailroom.” I won’t give away what these chapters are about but I assure you that you are in for a good belly laugh (that Boortz is quite the prankster).

Somebody’s Gotta Say It is a refreshingly honest, sober view of the body politic, American culture, and state of our world. Boortz presents a variety of original controversial ideas on a variety of issues. Such proposals would certainly make the political debate more productive if not more interesting (a number of these proposals can be found toward the end of the book in a chapter entitled “No Way in Hell.”). I highly recommend this book for anyone who is not easily offended. Anyone who is easily offended should skip this book in favor of a selection from the Oprah Book Club.

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