Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Good books for conservatives not on the usual lists?

How about some recommendations?  And non-obvious ones at that!  Let’s limit it to three submissions per person so that “you make them count.”  Here are my heterodox submissions: The Blank Slate, The Iliad and The Elements.


  • Andrew T. · December 3, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things, Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. That gets you skepticism, evolution, and pessimistic libertarianism all in one fell swoop. I tried to think of a non-polemical work that highlights skepticism but couldn’t come up with one. Maybe watch a Mythbusters marathon while you’re at it, I don’t know.

    I have strong libertarian sympathies. But I wish my libertarian friends (and particularly the Randians) would read Heinlein’s Moon a couple of times and pick up on the backstory. There’s a critical question there: if you’ve got a government that is both libertarian and democratic, how do you resolve the tension between the two? More regulations??)

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    No Two Alike
    Uncommon Sense
    The Selfish Gene (30th Anniversary Edition)

  • vic · December 3, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Marx’s Revenge– Sir Meghnath Desai
    Stormship Troopers— Heinlein
    Not a suicide pact: the constitution in a time of national emergency: Richard Posner

  • Matt Springer · December 3, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Cryptonomicon – Neil Stevenson

    That’s really all you need.

  • Blode0322 · December 4, 2008 at 12:19 am

    I’m not sure if these are on the usual lists:
    Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics
    Erich Voegelin, Modernity Without Restraint

  • blah · December 4, 2008 at 12:58 am

    1) Timor Kuran

    “Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification ”

    2) Ian Deary
    “Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction”

    3) Steven Pinker
    “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”

  • Neuroskeptic · December 4, 2008 at 1:23 am

    The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers – Carl Becker.

  • Sebastian Flyte · December 4, 2008 at 3:34 am

    – Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Astonishing literature: extreme, dancing ideas. Individualist, artistocratic… Conservative? Well, far from the vanilla fields of crunchydom! Not a bad thing.

    – L’etranger. On being a man. Emotionless, unperturbed, together.

    – Oxford Book Of Death.

  • matoko_chan · December 4, 2008 at 4:00 am

    The Blind Watchmaker– Dawkins
    Anathem– Neal Stephenson
    Religion Expalined– Pascal Boyer

  • matoko_chan · December 4, 2008 at 4:50 am

    I’m adding one more, Fraa Hume.
    I was n’er much of a rule follower.

    Black Man by Richard Morgan.
    That is the Brit title. Guess they thought it wouldn’t sell in ol’ racist ‘Merica. lol, with Obama as presidentelect, the jokes on those british snobs!
    The tile for American sales is Thirteen.
    The book incorporates a verite noir vision of the future of the Republican party.

  • Mrs. du Toit · December 4, 2008 at 5:54 am

    Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Albert Jay Nock.

    As Scott Lahti so brilliantly summarized of Nock’s autobiography:

    As we pass, via Nock’s MEMOIRS, through the vanished world of his late-Victorian youth and classical education, and see through his eyes the deep tidal evolution of our countrymen away from their earlier rootedness in stout yeoman independence, and towards the accelerating conformity induced by the Faustian bargain we have struck with mass-market materialist democracy, dominated by the gangsterish brutality of the modern centralized state, we find to our unceasing delight that Nock has left untouched no significant dimension of life: manners, morals, religion, culture, literature, politics, history, marriage, and, toward the end, even death itself – each is thrown in turn into the sharpest and most surprising relief by a mind so accustomed to viewing all questions “sub specie aeternitatis” (under the aspect of eternity), that no reader can come from even an initial absorption by this book without emerging with a view of the world forever cleansed and purified of everything not essential to living the humane life.


    And you will leave your first astonished reading of Nock with a silent question, addressed to every teacher and writer to whom you have hitherto entrusted the fertilization of your mind: “Where (or why) have you been hiding Albert Jay Nock all my life?”

    The Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics of American Culture, 1900-1945, by Robert Crunden

    The latter is a primer for anyone seeking an overview of conservative thought.

  • Xyz · December 4, 2008 at 6:01 am

    The Black Swan, by Taleb
    Anything by Bruce Schneier (though probably not Applied Cryptography, unless you are into that) or even his blog:

  • Polichinello · December 4, 2008 at 7:21 am

    Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. A biting social satire of early 19th century life, including a number of spot-on observations about religious motivation.

    Atheism: The Case Against God by George Smith. A “New Atheist” book published well before new atheism was cool. Still, IMO, the best argued polemic out there after 35 years. The author’s a libertarian, too, albeit a randroid.

    The Machine that Changed the World by James Womack, et al. You can’t understand the trends in manufacturing without this book about the car industry. Even 18 years after its publication, it’s still valid.

  • Raymund · December 4, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. Moments of purpose and belonging (e.g. reflecting on his love for his missing wife and thinking about the post-war lecture he would give on the psychology of the concentration camp) kept Frankl alive through Auschwitz. If Frankl had strong religious beliefs, they don’t show in this book.

    The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. The flip side of Frankl–people without meaning in their lives will attach to any huckster with a smooth patter. Religious conversatives may note with approval Hoffer’s statements that the secularization of Jews after their 19th-century emancipation made them susceptible to Hitler.

    Influence by Robert Cialdini. Cialdini identifies and explores seven tendencies in human cognition that can be exploited by advertisers and opinion leaders to sell products, ideologies, etc. The chapter on the desire for social proof has an anecdote on the transition of a 1960’s Chicago UFO cult from a secretive, insular cult to a proselytizing one after its central premise was invalidated. (That’s right, invalidated). I will leave a comparison of that anecdote to Matthew 28:16-20 as an exercise for the reader.

  • DarwinCatholic · December 4, 2008 at 8:51 am

    I don’t know if these qualify as being on the usual lists or not, but I would submit:

    Polybius’ History of the Roman Republic
    Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things
    Boswell’s Life of Doctor Samuel Johnson

    And a very short piece:
    Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society

    Perhaps a hard sell here, though I think it serves to underscore the sense in which the progressive ideology is simply warmed over religion:

    Dawson’s Progress and Religion, An Historical Inquery

  • Sean O'Hara · December 4, 2008 at 8:54 am

    The Space Viking by H. Beam Piper — Piper was a libertarian, but the theme of this novel (“Every society rests on a barbarian base. The people who don’t understand civilization, and wouldn’t like it if they did. The hitchhikers. The people who create nothing, and who don’t appreciate what others have created for them, and who think civilization is something that just exists and that all they need to do is enjoy what they can understand of it—luxuries, a high living standard, and easy work for high pay. Responsibilities? Phooey! What do they have a government for?”) is the sort of libertarianism that conservatives agree with.

    It’s in the public domain, and there’s a very good free audiobook from Librivox:

  • ossicle · December 4, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Matt: Love your blog, but boy I can’t stand Stephenson. He either works for one or he doesn’t, it seems…

  • JM Hanes · December 4, 2008 at 11:09 am

    The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790 (Rhys Isaac, 1982).

    This eye gouging, flag waving terrain is not your father’s colonial Virginia! Isaacs’ scholarly, fascinating historical work is also a lively treatise on the rooting of American culture itself.

    American Scripture (Pauline Maier, 1998).

    Given the prominence of the Declaration of Independence in the “Christian Nation” school of thought, this one is a must. Maier does a terrific job of tracking the Declaration — from the background and controversy over its stated casus belli and its subsequent stint in political purgatory, to its electric effect on morale during the Civil War (unalienable American rights worth fighting for!) and its current “sacred” status as a foundational American document. Indeed, unless things have changed, the Declaration may still be literally enshrined above the Constitution at the National Archives.

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn, 1962).

    While technically belonging to the History of Science, Kuhn couuld easily have called it the structure of change itself, in everything from science to private life. It’s a compelling, accessible classic that seems particularly apropos on a site devoted to shifting a political paradigm! If your bookshelf is suddenly leaving you pressed for space and time, you can read Chapter IX, “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions,” online.

  • JM Hanes · December 4, 2008 at 11:24 am

    It was Kuhn who first persuaded me to give the flat landers a fair shake, a thought which has ironically become a running theme in my posts on the subject of politics and religion.

  • Daniel Dare · December 4, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Just one book: Probability The Logic Of Science by Edwin T. Jaynes
    If the reader can handle the math it will show you how Bayes Theory supports reason. You will never doubt the absolute validity of the scientific method again.

  • Daniel Dare · December 4, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Whoops, that’s “Probability Theory: The Logic Of Science” by Edwin T. Jaynes

  • Donna B. · December 4, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    This is a very welcome list with Christmas coming up. I was surprised to find out how many I already have, as I never set out to collect “good for conservatives” books.

    Two books on my shelf that I find myself returning to often (the ones decorated with sticky notes are Albion’s Seed, David Hackett Fischer and From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun.

  • TrueNorth · December 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Three oldies but goodies:

    “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes.

    “The Emperor’s New Mind” by Roger Penrose.

    “The Physics of Immortality” by Frank J. Tipler.

    All are quite controversial (especially the last one!) and I remain unconvinced, though intrigued, by their arguments. However,they are very entertaining reads if you like this kind of thing.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · December 4, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Here are my suggestions:
    “Truth: A Guide” by Simon Blackburn

    “The Ruins, or Meditation on Revolutions of Empires” by C.F. Volney

    “Apes or Angels: Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race” by
    Cornelius J. Troost

    Forgive my immodesty but Razib, Sailer, and Derbyshire wrote admiring comments about my otherwise fully taboo synthesis.It is at for those with curiosity.

  • Inductivist · December 4, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    How about taboo race stuff? “g Factor” by Arthur Jensen, “Race, Evolution, and Behavior” by JP Rushton, and “Why Race Matters” by Michael Levin. Those and “The Bell Curve” knocked the liberal out of me.



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