Summer is such a great time to catch up on the piles of books waiting for us to read. I would like to tell you that I lounge by the pool with an iced coffee and read idyllically on the weekends, but I have small children so I usually read during their reading time or in the early morning.
Here is a list of books that I am excited about reading this summer and want to share with you.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
This is a big book, so it’s great for the summer. It also offers valuable insights, so much so that I’ve incorporated it into the summer class I teach.
Written by two MIT economists, it is very accessible for non-economists. Acemoglu and Robinson tackle the age-old question, raised by Adam Smith, of why we see vast prosperity and desperate poverty in the world today.
They take you through a rich historical understanding of different parts of the globe, and time after time they see that whether societies flourish really depends on their political and economic environments. Do such environments support productive institutions, or do they encourage plunder? The answer makes all the difference. Changing these environments is no easy task. It does not depend on international aid as much as an organic, bottom-up transformation in the way societies are ordered.
We the Living, by Ayn Rand
This is the first novel I ever read by Rand, and it is the one that I come back to time and again.
Through the life of Kira Argounova, the protagonist, Rand describes the absence of flourishing and human creativity and the moment-to-moment desperation of life under dictatorial central planning. I traveled to the former Soviet Union when I was young, and this book particularly resonates with me because it reminds me of what I saw: a gray, cold, drab city that seemed lifeless.
This book reminds me of how our humanity is stripped and our dignity destroyed when dictators take control. Authoritarianism breeds more control, and our God-given creativity cannot thrive under such circumstances. When I think of what Venezuela is experiencing today, this book is on my list as a reminder that ordinary people are the ones who suffer so violently under oppressive regimes.
Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, by Dierdre McCloskey
I haven’t read this yet, but I can’t wait to start. It’s the third book in McCloskey’s trilogy on what spurred the global growth of trade and economic growth.
Economists have debated this since the birth of modern economics, and McCloskey has a unique insight: ideas matter for everything that we do. You can’t just take out dictators and hope good leaders will make everything better. At the individual level, people must value things like work, prudence, thrift, saving, and industry. Our ideas about what is good drive our choices, and from that institutions follow.
Bourgeois Equality argues that unleashing global human creativity, which began several hundred years ago, is what will increase equality. Capitalism begets equality far better than any government or policy every could. It affords luxuries to ordinary citizens, acting as a social emancipator.
I, Pencil, by Leonard E. Read
I, Pencil is more like a booklet, but it is so rich. I have read it upwards of fifty times and use it in every class that I teach, whether I am teaching high school or graduate students.
So why is it on my list this summer? I will be reading it with my six-year-old son, Parker. He is learning to read, and we are starting to read chapter books together. There is no better time for him to learn this sweet and simple story about how market economies work.
This is a quite sophisticated story about how a pencil is made, told by the pencil itself. It talks about all the hundreds of thousands of dispersed people all over the world who come together, whether they chop the wood in the forest, mix paint, cultivate the lead or grow the coffee the loggers drink. It takes all of these people, who each serve a small role, their God-given role, and play a part in a much bigger story.
When we each pursue our unique gifts, we are able to both serve others and be served by them. This process is so complex that no one can possibly be in control of it. This book is a great way to learn how market economies work and how we each play a unique role in helping others.
The Commanding Heights, by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw
The Commanding Heights details the historical battle over the world’s economy. If you don’t have time for a fifth economics book, I encourage you to “cheat” and watch the three-part PBS documentary. It was filmed in the early 2000s and has great interviews from Margaret Thatcher, F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and others.
This book captures the reality that ideas are at the core of flourishing (or lack thereof). Societies that allow people to unleash their human creativity flourish more. Those that don’t make ordinary people suffer. Whether you read the book or watch the movie as a family, you will be swept up in the powerful storyline of the global battle for the world’s commanding heights over the past century.
I plan to spend some quality time both alone and with my family digging into these materials this summer, and I hope you do as well!