It's been quite a while since I've shared my recommended (if non-exhaustive) reading list intended for people who want to understand how the world works.
I should probably add a few titles from the past year that would likewise be helpful, but I'm taking the kids out of town for the weekend and I'm in a bit of haste, so this will have to do. (I would certainly add Paul Johnson's Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties. Incidentally, his updated edition that extends through the nineties involves a defense of George H.W. Bush's foreign policy and is unsatisfying.)
Before you ask me, Woods, why haven't you included Amazon links to these books, the answer is that strictly speaking sending Amazon links in an email is a violation of the terms of their Associates program. No way am I taking chances with that. So at the very end I'll give you a link to a page on my website that does have the links, for your convenience.
Here's my short list of books I would recommend to someone who is interested in the ideas I write and speak about and wants to learn more. If you read and absorb these books you will never look at the world the same way again.
If you're like me, you are annoyed by books that teach you three new things. My time is limited. I like books that are full of things I didn't know, or ideas I'd never thought of.
The books I recommend below belong in that category. They teach you something new and unexpected on every page. And they are a perfect antidote to the propaganda fed to us in the ideological prison camps where most of us spent our formative years. I list them in no particular order.
Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. Important for beginners. Also useful for beginners is Peter Schiff's book How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes.
The Revolution: A Manifesto, by Ron Paul. This is another good one for beginners. It has a good track record as a proselytizing device.
Democracy: The God that Failed, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Just read it. Trust me on this.
The Quest for Community, by Robert Nisbet. Here is a graduate course in political philosophy. Except in this one, the state is not the glorious summit of civilization and the indispensable source of human flourishing. As the new edition explains, "Nisbet argued that the rise of the powerful modern state had eroded the sources of community—the family, the neighborhood, the church, the guild. Alienation and loneliness inevitably resulted. But as the traditional ties that bind fell away, the human impulse toward community led people to turn even more to the government itself, allowing statism — even totalitarianism — to flourish."
The Left, the Right, and the State, by Lew Rockwell. Lew (who of course runs the indispensable LewRockwell.com) did the world an incalculable service with the founding of the Mises Institute, but he is grossly underrated as a thinker in his own right. He has extended Rothbardian thought in numerous ways, and has influenced my own thinking more than almost anyone in the world.
The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle and Other Essays. Features essays by Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Gottfried Haberler, and Murray N. Rothbard. An effective introduction to the Austrian theory of the business cycle, which anyone who wants to understand the real causes behind boom and bust must know.
What Has Government Done to Our Money? by Murray N. Rothbard. An excellent little overview of the origin of money and its fate at the hands of government.
Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, by Murray N. Rothbard. The quality of the essays in this book is astounding. You will not think the same way ever again after reading "Anatomy of the State" and "War, Peace, and the State," to name just two.
After you read these, I recommend the following:
A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Hoppe's books put everything together for me.
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. This book blew me away when I first read it. Its title makes it sound dull. It is one of the most intellectually exciting books I have ever read.
Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles, by Murray N. Rothbard. This one, and the two that follow, are for the especially ambitious. This is a systematic exposition of Austrian economics. The sheer elegance of the Austrian system is on impressive display here.
Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, by Ludwig von Mises. (Some disagree with me, but I favor beginning with Rothbard before moving on to Human Action.)
Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles, by Jesús Huerta de Soto. Here is the Austrian theory on money, banking, and business cycles, presented in systematic fashion, and compared with the Chicago and Keynesian alternatives. I have a friend who was so impressed by this book that he learned Spanish so he could pursue his Ph.D. under the author in Spain.
I could name other books, naturally, but to my mind these are the absolutely indispensable ones.
One of the goals of my own books, for that matter, has been to get people up to speed on various topics as quickly and with as little exertion on their part as possible. Rollback, from 2011, covers a very wide range of topics and replies to the most common objections to the free society. I was delighted to hear a student tell me just the other day, "I realized as I was reading this book that it would help me win debates." That was part of the idea, for sure. I tried to do the same thing in some of my other titles, like The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, 33 Questions About American History, Meltdown [on the financial crisis], and Nullification.
For a version of this list with links, plus how you can get some of these books free online, click here:
(1) Students: there's still time to apply for the academic event of the year: the Mises Institute's week-long Mises University summer program. Info here.
(2) Via my entrepreneurship site: the replay of the webinar with Steve Clayton (guest on episode #1070), who has helped my listeners earn small fortunes via eCommerce, will be up only until tomorrow (Sunday) night at 6pm Eastern, so all you folks looking for a side hustle, you know what to do: http://www.tomwoods.com/ecomreplay