Here are a few things I’ve read (and re-read) recently:
1. Charles Murray, American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History. This is a short and useful tract–it’s 50 pages and pocket-sized–on what made the US unique, what continues to make it unique, and what we’re losing. While Murray mentions some of the exceptions to American exceptionalism–the most obvious ones being slavery and the outright oppression of Native Americans–he doesn’t go into much detail.
2. Russell Wigginton, The Strange Career of the Black Athlete. Wigginton was a colleague at Rhodes College. This doesn’t go into the detail I would have liked on athletics and social movements (EDIT, 8/23/13: this probably isn’t surprising given that it’s a 100-page book). I read this for a future post on some questions I have about “sports as a way out” of urban or rural poverty, and it doesn’t really say much about college athletics. It does, however, offer a series of powerful discussions of pioneers like Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and Doug Williams as well as a discussion of sports in which African-Americans were pioneers even under explicitly racist conditions (horse racing, for example). The book does an excellent job of showing how, in many eyes, “black athletes” were “black” first and “athletes” second, and it strengthened my admiration for people like Frank Robinson and Curt Flood: the mental and moral discipline required to excel in such hostile and degrading environments is truly exceptional.
3. Michael Adams, Letters to a Young Progressive: How to Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don’t Understand. I saw this on the bookshelf at a local Barnes & Noble and did the ultimate 21st century thing: I bought the (much cheaper) Kindle edition. Adams brings a passion to his chapters that make the book difficult to put down, and he makes the case that the conservative position on important issues (abortion, guns, and so on) deserves serious and thoughtful consideration rather than immediate and unreflective rejection.
4. F.A. Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, The Road to Serfdom, and The Constitution of Liberty. These were among the readings for a weeklong Liberty Fund seminar on Hayek I attended last week. His prose is difficult, and I agree with other libertarians (Murray Rothbard, for example) that he opens the libertarian position to the “even Hayek” problem: even Hayek thought a minimum income was OK, even Hayek thought monetary policy was necessary, even Hayek thought…and so on. From the week’s discussion, I concluded that he’s offering a much more nuanced story than “liberty with the following exceptions.” The key point in Hayek comes in his chapter on “the catallaxy” in the second volume of Law, Legislation, and Liberty: societies don’t have their own hierarchies of ends. Rather, “societies” are settings that either facilitate or frustrate individuals choosing their own means to achieve their own ends.