A few months back, at the request of several readers, I put together a list of history books. This week I’d like to broaden that a bit and list a number of books that are not terribly well-known, but which are important.
There is a wide variety of books on this list, but they are all unique and well-worth reading.
Listen Little Man!, by Wilhelm Reich. The next time you have a nasty day and want to shake the world by the lapels and scream into its face to Wake up!, read this book. Wilhelm Reich was a really smart psycho-analyst who had been done wrong lots of times… and who really knew how to be pissed-off effectively. Once you’re done with the book, of course, you should let go of the anger; it’s not good for you. But for that occasional time when you’d like to see someone give the idiots their due, this is your book.
The Murder of Christ, by Wilhelm Reich. (The title notwithstanding, this is not about religion.) There’s something about this book. Not that I agree with all of it, of course. Reich’s answer to most everything is sex, and that’s just not correct… and there are other things in this book that I think are incorrect. Still, this book touches on things that I’ve seldom, if ever, seen anywhere else. It can be hard to find (the US government actually burned them in 1956!), but reprints are available. It’s an experience.
Legitimating Identities: The Self-Presentations of Rulers and Subjects, by Rodney Barker. Great coverage of one of the most important, but least known, factors in human civilization: legitimacy. Without legitimacy, governance fails, quickly and inevitably.
Psycho-Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz. This is one of those books that serious people just end up reading. The book is old (published in 1960), but if you find successful people of a certain age, the odds are very good that they’ve read this book.
The Strangest Secret, by Earl Nightingale. This is a transcript of his original speech of 1956. Like Psycho-Cybernetics, this old book – and the other works of Earl Nightingale – affected a great number of people, and very positively.
Coming Back to Life: The After-Effects of the Near-Death Experience, by P.M.H. Atwater. This is one of the first and best near-death-experience books. There is a lot to think about in this book, but more important than the life-after-death aspects are the psychological insights into an adult who experiences a very deep and clear restart to her life.
The God of the Machine, by Isabel Patterson. Way ahead of its time. This book from 1943 covers a wide swath of important and interesting material.
The Market for Liberty, by Morris and Linda Tannehill. As far as I know, this is the first book of its kind, covering in detail what life without state looks like for the modern world. And it does it very well.
For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, by Murray Rothbard. This book covers most of the same material as Market for Liberty, but Rothbard, as always, does it in his own unique way. If you like either one of these two books, get the other.
The Origins of Totalitarianism, by Hannah Arendt. Arendt was a unique and brilliant analyst who worked hard at her craft. This book is probably her finest, though I would also recommend that you get The Hannah Arendt Reader. Spend some time with Hannah Arendt; you’ll be the better for it.
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis. It’s rather amazing that Lewis wrote this in the 1950s. This is a superb deconstruction of one of the most evil sets of philosophies in our time: postmodernism and its cousins. The chapter “Men Without Chests” alone is worth more than you’ll pay for the book.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin Abbott. You’d be surprised how many times people say, “That book was really important to me.” It’s about geometry, but the way the characters explain new things to the other characters is something that discoverers of all types encounter in all ages.
No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman, by Christopher Sykes. Great coverage of one of my heroes: Richard Feynman.
The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek. I wouldn’t normally include this in a list of books that are “not terribly well-known,” but the recent turn toward centralization in the West makes me think that this book has been forgotten. First published in 1944, it explains not only why centralization does not work, but why it cannot work.
I, Pencil, by Leonard Read. This is a classic, simple, short book on economics. Suitable even for adolescents.
What Ever Happened to Justice, by Richard Maybury. An excellent look at law, in simple but accurate terms.
The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, by Bruce Benson. An excellent analysis of the provision of justice, showing that its provision by states is by no means the best or most efficient method of delivery.
The Story of Law, by John Maxcy Zane. This old book is an excellent coverage of the history and development of law.
The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein: The Mighty Atom, by Ed Spielman. The journey of the last of the old-time strongmen. This book is full of fascinating stories and insights. You won’t want to put it down.
Black Borneo, by C.C. Miller. A fun and very funny account of adventure travel, back when there were still dozens of unexplored places to investigate.
Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. As with Road to Serfdom, I get the impression that younger people have missed this one. If so, please get a copy; this one is unique.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Okay, if they make feature films about a book, it isn’t really little-known. But, I can’t resist. Buy the complete five-book trilogy (yes, that’s what it’s called) and enjoy. Read it to your kids when they’re the right age.
The Life of Jesus, by Ernest Renan. A very interesting coverage of Jesus, the man.
I know I have to be missing a lot, but this list should make for some very fine reading.