Christmas Books

Thomas Sowell

12/14/2010 12:01:00 AM - Thomas Sowell
It is hard to come up with Christmas gifts for people who already seem to have everything. But there are few-- if any-- people who can keep up with the flood of books coming off the presses. Books can be good gifts for such people.

Among the books I read this year, the one that made the biggest impact on me was "New Deal or Raw Deal" by Burton Folsom, Jr., a professor at Hillsdale College. It was that rare kind of book, one thoroughly researched by a scholar and yet written in plain language, readily understood by anyone.

So many myths and legends glorifying Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal administration have become part of folklore that a dose of cold facts is very much needed.

The next time someone repeats one of the many myths about FDR, or tries to use the New Deal as a model of how we should try to solve current economic problems, whoever reads this book will have the hard, documented facts with which to shoot down such claims.

Another book by the same author was published this year-- the 6th edition of "The Myth of the Robber Barons." When I have asked people, "Just whom did the robber barons rob?" I have never gotten an answer. This book shows why.

Apparently the real sin of the so-called "robber barons," like that of Wal-Mart today, is that they charged lower prices than their competitors, many of whom went out of business because they were not efficient enough to be able to bring down their prices.

A book more focused on our contemporary culture is "Spoilt Rotten!" by Theodore Dalrymple. Its subtitle gives its theme: "The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality." Dr. Dalrymple sees sentimentality as not just a silly foible but as a serious danger to government policy-making, as well as a corruption of personal relations.

A new book on the New York Times by award-winning journalist William McGowan is titled "Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America."

The New York Times is not just another newspaper. It has long been a major influence on the rest of the media and on public opinion, so its degeneration into a propaganda publication in recent years is a national tragedy. McGowan spells it all out in plain words and with numerous examples.

The fact that the New York Times has lost both circulation and credibility is its problem. The fact that America has lost a once reliable source of news is a national problem.

I don't usually read autobiographical books but two very good ones came out this year. My favorite is "Up from the Projects" by economist, columnist and personal friend Walter Williams. It is a small book with a big punch. Once you start reading it, it is hard to put down.

"Up from the Projects" is not only a remarkable story of a remarkable man's life, it is the story of both progress and retrogression in the black community. Everyone wants to take credit for the progress but nobody wants to take the blame for the retrogression.

An even smaller book by a very different man in very different circumstances is "Inside the Nixon Administration"-- subtitled "The Secret Diary of Arthur Burns, 1969-1974." Distinguished economist Arthur F. Burns was chairman of the Federal Reserve System in those years, and these posthumous excerpts from his diary paint a chilling picture of the irresponsibility, vanity, dishonesty and incompetence in the Nixon White House.

This book is not just about the Nixon administration, however. It is about the ugly realities of politics behind the pious talk of "public service." And it is about what it means to have a very strange man as President of the United States-- something that is all too relevant to our own times.

My own new books this year are "Intellectuals and Society," an account of another strange and dangerous group of people, and the 4th edition of "Basic Economics," which is more than twice as large as the first edition. It has been putting on weight over the years, like its author, but the weight is muscle in the case of the book.

"Basic Economics" has sold more copies than any other book of mine and has been translated into more foreign languages. Apparently there are a lot of people who want to understand economics without having to wade through graphs and equations.