August Reading Suggestions

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Recommendation of the month: If you want to learn about both black history and current opportunities for progress, read Black Liberation Through the Marketplace: Hope, Heartbreak, and the Promise of America (Emancipation Books, 2022). Authors Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher cover the free market tradition in Black America and the racist tradition that Jim Crow laws encapsulated.

There’s no need for you to read Ferguson’s and Witcher’s work if you already know about the Colfax Massacre of 1873, the Wilmington coup of 1898, and the Tulsa atrocities of 1921, or about convict leasing, vagrancy laws, pig laws, and laws that required employer permission to change jobs. Of course, you might want to learn about the harm eminent domain and zoning laws brought, and the way labor unions and well-intentioned minimum wage laws held back black progress.

Black Liberation Through the Marketplace shows how the federal government ghettoized African Americans and built highways that destroyed their economic centers. It also offers hope, along with fifteen lessons in classical liberalism. Brave Blacks like Ida B. Wells and T.R.M. Howard pushed back. Civil society institutions, including many churches, patched up the wounded. Bold entrepreneurs and hard workers ran the race in the face of racist hatred.

If you’re looking for novels, first the bad news: Daniel Silva’s The Collector (HarperCollins, 2023), #23 in the mostly-terrific Gabriel Allon series of spy novels, continues the slump that began with #20, The Order. But here’s good news: Dennis Lehane’s fifteenth novel, Small Mercies (HarperCollins, 2023), is a gripping story with vivid South Boston characters (who sometimes use bad language) during a 1974 racial conflict.

Bird-lovers will relish Christopher Leahy’s Birdpedia: A Brief Compendium of Avian Lore (Princeton University Press, 2023). The “lore” includes how birds hear and navigate, and how musicians have cribbed from them. Princeton has also published this year three other worthwhile bird books, including The Bird Name Book by Susan Myers, which has an alphabetical listing of bird names and their derivations. The Footsteps of Audubon is a coffee table book that combines evocative watercolors of birds and places, along with text describing the journeys of John James Audubon and author Denis Clavreul. All About Birds: Texas and Oklahoma is part of a large series that even includes Birds of Mongolia.

Some writers about current race relations suggest that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, or at least a birdbrain. Urban Apologetics, edited by Eric Mason (Zondervan, 2021), is different, as the titles of chapters by Anthony Bradley (“Understanding Black Liberal Theology”) and Brandon Washington (“Evaluating Critical Race Theory”) indicate. Instead of responding to arguments with either adoration or hellfire, we can use more “understanding” and “evaluating.”

In every profession we also need more humility. Edward Morgan’s The Patient’s Survival Guide (Beaufort Books, 2022) will help readers avoid medical misadventures. Morgan shows how hospital errors cause many deaths and overtreating based on borderline test numbers results in more. Costica Bradatan’s In Praise of Failure: Four Lessons in Humility (Harvard University Press, 2023) shows through profiles of Gandhi and three others that “failure always humbles… that which can destroy you can also cure you. The serpent’s venom is both poison and medicine.”

Do birds of a feather flock together? Hyrum and Verlan Lewis argue in The Myth of Left and Right (Oxford University Press, 2023) that most Americans think in tribalistic rather than ideological ways, and join political factions because leaders and neighbors lead them to do so. They then find reasons to justify their allegiance. One prime example: “During the Clinton years, conservatives were nearly unanimous in believing that the personal character of a politician is crucial to his or her performance in office… but as soon as Trump assumed leadership of the right, conservatives reversed course.”

Maybe, but the Lewises go on from there to suggest that left and right have no meaning. True, the placement of Josef Stalin on the left and Adolf Hitler on the right is a common example of silliness. But if we relate the spectrum to the issue of centralizing power, we can place the two tyrants together and decentralists at the opposite end—and the difference between the two camps is huge.

Finally, Harrison Scott Key’s memoir, How to Stay Married (Avid, 2023) has an accurate subtitle: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told. I may give the book to people contemplating divorce, particularly because it features laughing-out-loud lines like, “‘You’re SELFISH,’ Lauren said to me often, as when I tried to stop at Wendy’s for a spicy chicken sandwich while she sat in the passenger seat in labor with our third child.”

Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.