The Twenty Books that Belong on Everyone’s Reading List

My friend, Brian Kennedy, President of the Claremont Institute, recently reminded me of Clarence Thomas’s claim in his autobiography that he essentially had to teach himself conservatism via book-reading after he had completed college. For Thomas, he had been denied access to the masters in his “higher” education, and after years of reading the Claremont Review of Books, Thomas took it upon himself to read, and read, and read. The Supreme Court does not have a more Constitutionally thoughtful jurist as a result.

I am blessed to call Andrew Sandlin, Jeffery Ventrella, and Brian Mattson dear friends. All four of us are very involved with the Center for Cultural Leadership, Andrew as its founder and President. The four of us are known to read a few books every now and then, and I recently asked them to put together their list of “most recommended” books should someone ask the question, “What do you think I just have to read?” From economics, to culture, to theology, to philosophy, our respective lists cover a lot of ground, but I have to say that if more young people would tackle these twenty books, we’d have a lot of Clarence Thomas’s on our hand!

Brian Mattson’s List

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness: Ten Years of the Claremont Review of Books, Charles Kesler and John B. Kienker, eds. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012)

This is an anthology of some of the finest essays from the finest conservative minds of our generation. It is outstanding in its cultural breadth and depth.

Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves
, James Le Fanu (Vintage, 2009)

Arguably the most important book on science in decades, Le Fanu demonstrates how Neo-Darwinism has and continues to collapse on its own terms, by its own research, and in its own words. Science has, in essence, rediscovered that human beings are more than the sum of their biological parts.

The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, Steven D. Smith (Harvard, 2010)

Smith engagingly explodes the myths of Enlightenment “secular” discourse, demonstrating that all its most treasured concepts are empty linguistic devices that are filled with pre-critical, arbitrary, ideological content. This is an academic and scholarly version of what Jonah Goldberg accomplishes more popularly in his Tyranny of Clichés.

The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark (Random House, 2006)

This tour de force unapologetically documents the distinctly Christian ideas that shaped Western Civilization and, in a breath of fresh air, concludes that this is a good thing.

Science, Politics, & Gnosticism, Eric Voegelin (ISI, 2004)

This intellectually challenging read, a published version of Voegelin’s 1959 Munich lectures, is a masterpiece that explores the religiously Gnostic underpinnings of all the great “mass ideological movements” of the 20th century. The take-downs of Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx are worth their weight in gold.

P. Andrew Sandlin’s List

Christopher Dawson, The Historic Reality of Christian Culture

A short but incisive delineation of how Christianity has influenced Western civilization, by the foremost scholar of Christian culture in the 20th century, a Roman Catholic, but eminently fair to the Protestant Reformation.

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism

Former prime minister of the Netherlands and towering, creative Reformed theologian shows how distinctively Reformed ideas shaped northern European and North American culture, and why these ideas are superior to all alternatives.

Thomas Molnar, Utopia: The Perennial Heresy

It should come as no surprise that the earliest heresy to assault Christianity, Gnosticism, is also the most persistent political heresy in the West. A worship of decontexualized knowledge inhering in an elite whose moral and intellectual superiority (or so they suppose) grants them warrant to reengineer society has given us almost every political dystopia, starting with the French Revolution.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future

How does one describe Rosenstock-Huessy? I’m not sure in anybody can describe him adequately, but he was a Christian existentialist who understood that only changed people — Christian people — change societies. This books shows why — and how.

Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind

Leave it to a California New Age philosopher and social critic to write one of the most engaging books on the history of ideas in the last 50 years. He treats Christianity with the greatest respect and shows how the modern world undermined its salutary influence. If you love ideas, you will relish this book.

Jeffery Ventrella’s List

Idols for Destruction: Hebert Schlossberg

Dr. Schlossberg demonstrates that civilizations do not simply “rise and fall,” but rather, their success of failure follows from the Lord’s providential governing of history; He judges idolatry and blesses faithfulness

The Abolition of Man: C.S. Lewis

This classic demonstrates how atheism dehumanizes man; the famous “men without chests” passage warrants prayerful meditation

In Defense of Christian Activism: John M. Frame

Far too often, many in the church think that engaging the public square should not be a priority, or is somehow even unchristian. In this irenic article, Dr. Frame sets forth a cogent apologetic for pressing Christ’s claims to all of creation, including the public square

We Still Hold These Truths: Matthew Spalding

This book identifies and examines the critical underpinnings that actuate the American experiment, and shows why recovering an intentionality in pressing these truths is so vital to the continued experience of the “blessings of liberty.”

Architects of the Culture of Death
: Donald DeMarco & Benjamin Wiker

Ideas have consequences, and as Solomon notes, “[h]e who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” (Pr. 8:36). This book biographically chronicles “architects” of death, such as Sanger, Singer, and Kinsey. Fostering a culture of life requires identifying and refuting the ideas that foster death, and replacing them with the “word of life.”

David Bahnsen’s List

The Road to Serfdom – F.A. Hayek

Rarely does a book get more and more relevant with each passing year. Hayek’s defining work is nearly flawless in its defense of a price system as foundational not just to sound economics, but a free society.

Intellectuals and Society – Thomas Sowell

We have few left as capable of dissecting the flaws in leftist ideology as Sowell. Like his masterpiece, A Conflict of Visions, Sowell powerfully demonstrates the folly that the intelligentsia holds most dear – that they, and they alone, can usher in utopia, and rid society of its imperfections.

God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World – Walter Russell Mead

After reading this nearly perfect book the answer to the question “Was it America’s religious heritage or economic heritage that made her great?” will always and forever be, “Yes!”

Economics in One Lesson – Henry Hazlitt

Read this book either before you go to college so you already have a sound economic foundation before they attempt to undo it, or read it after you go to college so the entirely false foundation of economics they gave you can be fixed.

Losing Ground – Charles Murray

I can not imagine a more important commentary about that which ills public society in the here and now than Murray’s 2012 gem. To divorce an understanding of culture from what is happening in the economy is to insure that one will never understand the culture or the economy.