Reading Rainbow

Glen Whitman sent me this book blog meme a while back, and I finally have enough time now to respond to it:

1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned. I brought the majority of my book collection with me to DC for the summer, and it's now occupying the majority of our pantry area for lack of bookshelves. I count three shelves of about 25 books each, so I'd say I own less than 100 books total. Not very impressive, I know, but it's all about quality, not quantity. With an embarrassingly short attention span, I prefer articles to books anyway, and the interweb has those for free. If you want an assload of books, go visit Julian Sanchez's house. That kid deserves a reading medal.

2. Last Book I Bought. IHS just gave us David Boaz' Libertarian Reader and Beito, Gordon, and Tabarrok's Voluntary City. But those don't count as books that I purchased myself. I think the last book I bought was either Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons or Robert Axelrod's The Evolution of Cooperation, neither of which I've finished reading yet.

3. Last Book I Read. Does this mean the last book I've finished reading completely or last book I read a portion of? I tend to read a chapter here and there from dozens of books; I rarely read books straight through. Required reading for last week's IHS seminar was Richard Epstein's Free Markets Under Siege. Before that, I was reading Seinfeld and Philosophy. The last book I finished completely was A.J. Jacobs The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, an Esquire editor who decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

4. Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me.

(1) David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom. More than any other book, Machinery completely changed my approach from focusing on moral rights to focusing on economic consequences. And like Don Boudreaux, this is what turned me into a cautious anarchist.

(2) Ira Levin's This Perfect Day. Forget Ayn Rand; this is where it's at for distopian libertarian fiction. Think Brave New World meets Harrison Bergeron. And unlike other distopian political novelists, Levin charitably portrays that which he critiques: the totalizing, benevolent socialist welfare state.

(3) Jan Narveson's The Libertarian Idea. Narveson's contractarianism is an attractive middle ground between strict utilitarianism and natural rights theory. Borrowing from David Gauthier, Narveson sketches a moral theory that takes consequences into account while still respecting people as individual agents and ends in themselves. The book wanders towards the end, where he responds to his academic critics and gives a muddled defense of Canada's socialized health care system. Debi Chakrabarty, a student of Narveson, informs me that he has reversed his position on this issue since publication.

(4) Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. While Cryptonomicon is a better book overall, with a more satisfying ending and tighter story arc, you can't get much better than Snow Crash when it comes to visions of a cyberpunk anarcho-capitalist non-utopia.

(5) Randy Barnett's The Structure of Liberty. The problems of knowledge, interest, and power lead Barnett to argue for a system of polycentric law (a term borrowed from Tom Bell). Especially important to me is the introduction, where Barnett sketches his theory of natural rights as a set of "engineering principles" for a free, prosperous, civil society. For those without a copy of the book, you can get a taste of this theory from A Law Professor's Guide to Natural Law and Natural Rights, 20 HARVARD JOURNAL OF LAW AND PUBLIC POLICY 655 (1997)

5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog. I'll direct this one to my fellow Koch bloggers: Dave, my suite-mate; Clara Magram at the Columbia College Libertarians Blog; Debi and Anastasia, once they get their blogs up and running; and Drunk Bill, whose blog is as hard to find as his pants.

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I would never had known that

I would never had known that we had such a similar perspective on some of the libertarian greats. I regard Narveson's work to be among the best. And Structure of Liberty is a really good book -- although I loathe the "engineering" metaphor. I think it's because I'm an engineer.

Boaz's anthology is great. For those seeking a short summary of what's found in Axelrod, go to RW Grant's The Incredible Bread Machine. The second edition was published in 1999.

I found a copy in my local

I found a copy in my local library. Used Amazon purchases are pretty reliable. They have a reputation system just like eBay.

According to Amazon, Ira

According to Amazon, Ira Levin's This Perfect Day is no longer in print. The only way to get it is used... I've never done used purchases through Amazon, anyone have experience with it? I checked at the local used bookstore today, couldn't find it there either.

I've been Jonesin' for good dystopian fiction for a long time, so I've got to find this one soon!

I just posted a review of

I just posted a review of Narveson's books on libertarianism here: http://www.dailyapology.com/2005/06/belated-book-review-narvesons.html

-gil