by Thomas Sowell
July 10, 2003

>From time to time, parents write to ask how they can counter all the steady diet of slanted political correctness their children are getting in the schools and colleges. The summer vacation is probably as good a time as any to get them something to read to let them know that there is another side of the story, other than the one that classroom propagandists keep forcing down their throats.

There is probably no subject on which the facts are so twisted by the schools, the media and academia as racial issues. If you want to find something rational that you or your youngster can read on this subject, one of the best and most lively books is The Myths that Divide Us by John Perazzo. Its sub-title is "How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations." This book demolishes a whole spectrum of cant. Anyone who reads it will definitely be educated on the subject of racial issues in America. They may also be saddened, if not outraged, at how political rhetoric and media spin have distorted reality beyond recognition -- and in the process created huge and unnecessary racial polarization and strife. But -- most important -- any reader of this book will be a lot less susceptible to rhetoric and spin in the future.

If you want to find out about the history of the United States, without getting politically correct rhetoric about "dead white males" and the like, then A History of the American People by British historian Paul Johnson is the book to read. His rounded treatment of American history is in sharp contrast with those historians who seem to think that the only thing interesting about American history are the things that went wrong and those who protested.

A writer both popular and profound, Paul Johnson has also written a very readable and insightful book on world history in the 20th century called Modern Times. Our schools and colleges do such a poor job of letting young people know what happened in the world before they were born that Modern Times should be must reading. Economics is another important subject on which there is widespread ignorance and misinformation, despite many brilliant books by economists -- books which even graduate students often have trouble reading. Writing a readable book about economics is not easy -- as I discovered when I wrote Basic Economics, an introduction to the subject without graphs, equations, tables, or jargon.

Obviously, I am not the most objective judge of how good or how readable Basic Economics is. However, it has sold well and has been translated into Japanese and Polish, so apparently some people like it.

For a more philosophical -- but also very readable -- discussion of free market capitalism, you cannot do better than Free to Choose by Rose and Milton Friedman. Reading this book can undo years of collectivist indoctrination in the schools and colleges.

The desire for a collectivist world in which government controls more of our lives has survived many disastrous attempts to create such a world. Heaven on Earth by Joshua Muravchik is a lively and dramatic history of these disasters -- and of the good intentions that led to them.

One book that every American ought to read is The Federalist, also known as "The Federalist Papers," since it is a collection of popular 18th century essays written to explain to the general public why the government of the United States was being created the way it was in the Constitution. It is a gem.

One of the most important things for young people to understand, early on, is how much hostility there is to this country and its values by the intelligentsia in the media and in educational institutions. Useful Idiots by Mona Charen spells it out in plain English with unmistakable examples.

A landmark experience is reading Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple, about the effect of the welfare state on poor people and the social degeneracy to which it has led in Britain. A Brief History of Crime by Peter Hitchens tells the same story as regards crime in Britain, where leftish fads have gone even further than in the United States, with even more disastrous results.

by Thomas Sowell
July 13, 2003

In an era when so many uninformed people act as if they know it all, it is refreshing to get requests from people who want to educate themselves on particular subjects or just to get the basic education that they feel they missed when they were in school or college. Many of these people are middle aged or older.

These days, it is very easy to go through college without getting an education. A recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni revealed that not one of the top 50 colleges in the country requires a course in American history and only 10 percent require any history course at all.

One of the best histories of the United States is A History of the American People by Paul Johnson. If you want a history focussed on social developments, then The Americans by Daniel Boorstin is a very readable three-volume treasure.

For histories of particular groups within the United States who originated in different parts of Britain, there is Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer. For histories of other ethnic groups, there is my own Ethnic America.

Anyone wanting a sober and informed look at today's racial problems by scholars who have spent years studying the issues can read Beyond the Color Line, edited by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom. It is almost a mini-encyclopedia, written in plain English.

If you want a general introduction to the history of the rise of various civilizations around the world, A History of Civilizations by Fernand Braudel is a very readable account. A more detailed account is William McNeill's The Rise of the West, which is about more than the West and in fact begins with the earliest known civilizations in the Middle East.

For those interested in the economic problems of less developed countries, there is Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion by Professor Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics. He spent years living in poor countries and more years trying to talk sense to the foreign aid establishment in Western nations.

Once dismissed as someone outside the mainstream, Peter Bauer was part of the mainstream by the time of his death last year. He hadn't changed. The mainstream had moved over to where he was, after decades of bitter experience had proved him right.

One of the reasons for the many disappointments of foreign aid programs has been that some cultures do and some do not promote the kind of behavior that produces economic development. This is particularly apparent in a book on Latin America by Lawrence Harrison titled, Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind.

Institutions -- or lack of institutions -- can also hold back development. The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto explores why capitalism works in Western nations but not in most non-Western countries.

The non-judgmental notion that "all cultures are equal" is unlikely to survive reading The Character of Nations by Professor Angelo Codevilla of Boston University. It is a grown-up's demolition of childish ideas that have become fashionable in our times.

Parents may be especially interested in books exposing the problems and frauds of our public schools and of the whole educational establishment in general, including schools of education, which are at the heart of the problem.

Ed School Follies by Rita Kramer is an eye-witness account of what goes on in schools of education across the country. Once you understand the silly fads with which future educators are indoctrinated, it becomes easier to understand why the education provided in our schools leaves our children so far behind those in other countries.

The ideas behind the failures, going all the way back to John Dewey in the early 20th century, are spelled out in Left Back by Diane Ravitch. Today's counterproductive notions and practices have a long pedigree and a paper trail leading back to books written decades ago.

A painfully enlightening account of what is wrong in today's public schools can be found in Breaking Free by Sol Stern. This book turns over some rocks and shows what is crawling underneath.