Summer Reading: Part II

Thomas Sowell
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Posted: Jul 13, 2003 12:00 AM

In an era when so many uninformed people act as if they know it all, it is refreshing to get requests from people who want to educate themselves on particular subjects or just to get the basic education that they feel they missed when they were in school or college. Many of these people are middle aged or older.

These days, it is very easy to go through college without getting an education. A recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni revealed that not one of the top 50 colleges in the country requires a course in American history and only 10 percent require any history course at all.

One of the best histories of the United States is A History of the American People by Paul Johnson. If you want a history focussed on social developments, then The Americans by Daniel Boorstin is a very readable three-volume treasure.

For histories of particular groups within the United States who originated in different parts of Britain, there is Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer. For histories of other ethnic groups, there is my own Ethnic America.

Anyone wanting a sober and informed look at today's racial problems by scholars who have spent years studying the issues can read Beyond the Color Line, edited by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom. It is almost a mini-encyclopedia, written in plain English.

If you want a general introduction to the history of the rise of various civilizations around the world, A History of Civilizations by Fernand Braudel is a very readable account. A more detailed account is William McNeill's The Rise of the West, which is about more than the West and in fact begins with the earliest known civilizations in the Middle East.

For those interested in the economic problems of less developed countries, there is Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion by Professor Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics. He spent years living in poor countries and more years trying to talk sense to the foreign aid establishment in Western nations.

Once dismissed as someone outside the mainstream, Peter Bauer was part of the mainstream by the time of his death last year. He hadn't changed. The mainstream had moved over to where he was, after decades of bitter experience had proved him right.

One of the reasons for the many disappointments of foreign aid programs has been that some cultures do and some do not promote the kind of behavior that produces economic development. This is particularly apparent in a book on Latin America by Lawrence Harrison titled, Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind.

Institutions -- or lack of institutions -- can also hold back development. The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto explores why capitalism works in Western nations but not in most non-Western countries.

The non-judgmental notion that "all cultures are equal" is unlikely to survive reading The Character of Nations by Professor Angelo Codevilla of Boston University. It is a grown-up's demolition of childish ideas that have become fashionable in our times.

Parents may be especially interested in books exposing the problems and frauds of our public schools and of the whole educational establishment in general, including schools of education, which are at the heart of the problem.

Ed School Follies by Rita Kramer is an eye-witness account of what goes on in schools of education across the country. Once you understand the silly fads with which future educators are indoctrinated, it becomes easier to understand why the education provided in our schools leaves our children so far behind those in other countries.

The ideas behind the failures, going all the way back to John Dewey in the early 20th century, are spelled out in Left Back by Diane Ravitch. Today's counterproductive notions and practices have a long pedigree and a paper trail leading back to books written decades ago.

A painfully enlightening account of what is wrong in today's public schools can be found in Breaking Free  by Sol Stern <read Townhall review>. This book turns over some rocks and shows what is crawling underneath.