It is the responsibility of every individual engaged in politics to be thoroughly familiar with their own ideology, as well as the ideas of opposing ideologies. Perhaps an issue with politics in general is that libertarians are reading a bit about libertarianism, conservatives are reading about conservatism, and liberals are reading about liberalism.
Therefore, for libertarians with plans to read more in 2020, this list should be helpful in providing sources to better understand their own views as well as the views of others. It is by no means a definitive list of the twenty greatest books ever written, and it intentionally excludes any book (like Economics in One Lesson) that is already recommended on nearly every other reading list.
Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action, by Robert Murphy. This is highly recommended for beginners interested in economics, and acts as a simplified breakdown of Mises’s Human Action.
The Great Austrian Economists, edited by Randall G. Holcombe. This (free!) book is a collection of short biographies of influential Austrian economists, from Juan de Mariana to Murray Rothbard (both featured on this list). For those interested in the Austrian school of economics, this book offers an overview of its major thinkers you should be looking into.
An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, by Murray Rothbard. Another free book thanks to the Mises Institute, this text views the history of economic thought from a unique lens, devoting an entire volume to economic thought before Adam Smith. Once familiar with basic economics, this two-volume series is the next step.
A Treatise on the Alteration of Money, by Juan de Mariana. This is the first and most hard-hitting condemnation of government inflation and debasement of money. It earned a spot on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books) for its criticism of debasement as inherently evil.
The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy, by Tom Woods. One does not need to be Catholic, or even Christian, to benefit from understanding the market from this perspective, especially considering the Church’s influence on Western thought in general. Those already familiar with Tom Woods are aware that anything written by him (even his emails) are worth reading.
Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, by Charles Murray. For those interested in the welfare state and its failures, this is easily a must-read, and can be read in three different ways. Readers can either go through it like a normal book, or they might only wish to read the convenient chapter summary at the end. Or, they can go further in depth by reading the notes as well, which include loads of additional points.
America’s Great Depression, by Murray Rothbard. Although there are other easier-to-read books on the Great Depression (like Murphy’s Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression), Rothbard’s is the most thorough, and a necessary book for defenders of the Austrian school. Like all of Rothbard’s books on history, this includes many additional and important minor details that make it unique from other historical analyses.
33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, by Tom Woods. A great book that will make you reconsider what you thought you knew about several moments in American history, and should act as a first step in looking further into many of these topics.
The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Possibly the most depressing book ever written, the complete version is over two-thousand pages of story after story of terrible events around the Soviet gulags.
Cicero. This recommendation is not any specific work of Cicero, but rather his writings in general. His writings have been read by many Western thinkers throughout history, and should definitely be read today.
Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics, by Alejandro Chafuen. Late scholastic economic thought can be found in four of the five books in the economics section of this list, but this book (despite the title) takes a step further and includes more of their political thought as well.
The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk. This book is rightfully celebrated as an important and rather thorough history of major conservative thinkers. Starting with Burke, it covers many different conservative thinkers, including John Adams, Tocqueville, Randolph, Disraeli, and many others. Regardless of one’s own political ideology, it is necessary to be familiar with these thinkers.
A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell. Sowell rethinks political ideology by offering a new way of defining each “side.” He formulates the constrained and unconstrained visions, and uses these to better refit and understand political thought across this new spectrum.
Getting Libertarianism Right, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. One of the most controversial libertarians of the present day, it would be unfair to ignore and dismiss him. Whether you accept his view of libertarianism or not, this short book is definitely worth taking the time to read and understand.
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, by Steven Pinker. Pinker accurately addressed and refuted many problems with the modern “social justice” movement a decade before they became a more mainstream talking point. And it remains one of the most productively thorough psychological rebuttals of this movement and the Blank Slate theory.
The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics, by Michael Malice. For those who have had trouble understanding the loosely-knit collection of anti-left ideologies, Malice covers it in a way that is very enjoyable to read.
Igniting Liberty: Voices for Freedom Around the World, edited by Adam Barsouk and Martin van Staden. A fantastic series of essays from a variety of different libertarian perspectives, this is a great introduction to modern libertarian thought. It shows what unites libertarians, but also highlights points of disagreement.
Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality, by Thomas Sowell. Sowell is an expert at compiling huge amounts of research on discrimination, disparities, and the politics of group differences. This book is shorter than his others, but is in no way lacking in arguments and data, and is a great introduction to his other works on disparities.
Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism, edited by Lawrence Reed. This is a series of small articles that is by no means a comprehensive coverage of any specific issue, but acts as a quick reference book for opposing arguments against various progressive points.
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. The only fiction book on this list, it is uniquely valuable. It is written in a non-linear way that works to emphasize the overall point of this book. It is short and easily read.