How long would it take us to recover from the collapse of Western civilization today -- if we ever recovered?
The kinds of books most readers seem to have in mind when they ask for my recommendations are books that go to the heart of a particular subject, books that open the eyes of the reader in a mind-changing way.
You will never look at the Third World the same way again after reading Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion by Peter Bauer. It demolishes many myths about the causes of poverty in the Third World -- and about "foreign aid" as a way of relieving that poverty.
You will never look at crime the same way after reading Crime and Human Behavior by Richard J. Herrnstein and James Q. Wilson. It is a strong dose of hard facts that shatter the illusions of the intelligentsia and the mushy rhetoric of "root causes" and the like.
Edward Banfield's 1960s classic, The Unheavenly City, likewise cuts right through the pious cant about urban problems and confronts some inescapable realities. You will never look at urban issues the same way again.
Frankly, Knowledge and Decisions is not an easy book to read and it was not an easy book to write. But it goes to the heart of why certain kinds of decisions are better made in particular kinds of places -- whether economic, political, or other institutions, or in informal settings like the family. Unfortunately, those decisions are often made in places that don't do as good a job.
A Conflict of Visions is my own favorite among my books but it too is not for everyone. It traces the underlying assumptions behind opposing ideologies that have dominated the Western world over the past two centuries and are still going strong today.
The most readable of these four books is Basic Economics, which may also be the most needed, given widespread economic illiteracy.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals challenges much that has been said and accepted, not only about blacks but also about Jews, Germans, white Southerners and others.