Semester Reading List

1 10 2010

Mark Twain’s infamous (and apocryphal) proclamation that “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” has been so frequently abused by teenagers more interested in getting stoned and listening to progressive rock albums than in actually going to class that I hesitate to use it here.

Still, from my own personal experience, it seems to hold true.  A laser focus on school tends to prevent individuals from gaining any real perspective or learning the things they really desire to learn.

Why is that I have to read textbook after textbook of quickly forgotten information to pass my classes while the pile of books that I actually want to read gets taller and taller?  Moreover, why I am I paying tremendous amounts of money for the privilege of learning things I don’t really want to learn?  Couldn’t I just sit back with my stack of books and a bunch of prog rock albums and educate myself?

There’s really only one way to find out.

Because of my incredibly open schedule this semester, I have the rare opportunity to do a lot of reading.  Unfortunately, that means I have the opportunity to completely burn all of my free time as well.  Self-directed learning, like most worthwhile things, requires a lot of discipline.  Discipline is something college guys tend to lack.

So I’m posting my curriculum online.  Someone once told me that declaring one’s intentions publicly is a great way to hold oneself accountable, and it seems like it’s worth a shot.  Here’s what I’m looking to read over the next few months, in no particular order:

•  Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods: I read this during the first week of school.  Good explanation of the causes of our current financial woes; I’ll do a review soon.

•  Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau: I’m reading this now for a Michigan Review series I’m trying to start called Books You Hated in High School.  I read excerpts of Walden in (I think) 10th grade and found it pretty dull.  We’ll see if I pick up anything new this time around.

•  Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville:  Every American politician and political hack since this work’s publication has somehow found a way to twist Tocqueville’s words to suit their meaning.  It’s about time I learned to do the same.

•  Realizing Freedom by Tom G. Palmer: Seems like a pretty broad work covering the theory, history, and principles behind the libertarian movement.  I’ll see what I can get out of it.

•  The Same Man by David Lebedoff:  Recommended by the Wall Street Journal and my dad.  Compares British professional alcoholics and authors George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh.  I expect the author to find them to be very similar.

•  Animal Farm by George Orwell: I read this book when I was way too young to appreciate it mostly because we had the illustrated version lying around the house.  Of course, the illustrations were by Ralph Steadman, best known for his association with Hunter S. Thompson.  My dreams were full of horrific images of pigs ordering the slaughter of other farm animals for the common good.

Animal Farm? This is going to be like Charlotte's Web, right? Right?

•  Human Action by Ludwig von Mises: One of the books I’ve wanted to read for two years or so, but haven’t had the chance to.  It’s a brick, though.  Probably the most challenging work I hope to tackle.

•  Principles of Economics by Carl Menger:  Because I really need wrap my head around the concept of subjective value.  Actually, this was recommended to me by Professor Veryser two summers ago and I have had it lying around ever since.

•  Crises and Cycles by Wilhelm Röepke: I have a basic understanding of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory, but I find I have trouble explaining it in simple terms.  Plus I like Röepke’s writing style; that, or I’ve just been lucky to read some really entertaining translations up to this point.

•  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky:  I had to buy this for my Russian Lit class and never bothered reading it.  I have the book, so what the hell, I may as well read it.  It can’t be any worse than War and Peace, can it?

Like everything else, reading gets better with practice, so the coming months shouldn’t be a terrible uphill slog.  That I want to read the material before me is encouraging as well.  Look for progress reports/commentary as the weeks go by.

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