Jay Reding.com

Reading Conservatively

Five Books, a great and very interesting bookblog has a list of the five best conservative books as rated by some luminaries of the conservative movement. The list is what you’d expect—F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom came out as number one, followed closely by Whittaker Chambers’ Witness and De Toqueville’s Democracy in America.

But this got me thinking—a dangerous thing indeed! What would be my top five list of the best conservative books of all time?

So here are my rankings for the top five books on conservatism. Of course, some of them are part of the classic canon of conservative thought, but others a little more modern and accessible. After all, as important as Edmund Burke’s political and social thought is to the principles of conservatism, it’s not exactly the sort of thing you’d load onto your Kindle for a long weekend.

  1. The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk

    This is not easy weekend reading, but Russell Kirk’s book is one of the most important works for those wanting to understand modern American conservatism. It brings together some of the biggest luminaries like Edmund Burke and John Adams as well as some brilliant but obscure thinkers and weaves them into the foundation of a lasting ideology.

    If you are a conservative, you need to read this book to understand what the basic principles of conservatism really are. If you are not a conservative, this book is essential to understanding what conservatism is actually about. It is a seminal work. This, along with William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, are the foundational works of modern American conservatism. It is a master’s class in conservative political thought in one volume, and well worth reading and digesting.

  2. Parliament of Whores by P.J. O’Rourke

    This is one of my favorite books, one of the books I’d take with me to a hypothetical desert island, a book that I could read again and again. It is a trenchant and uproariously funny satire of American politics, and even though it dates from the early days of the Clinton Administration, it’s still relevant to today’s politics. If you were going to give one book to a friend to try to convert them to conservatism, this would be the book. It’s accessible, funny, and does a great job of explaining why conservatives believe what they do.

  3. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton and Rose Friedman

    Another classic, and also very accessible. Milton Friedman, of course, is a giant among conservative economists, and this is a very rare work&madsh;a book about economics that’s easy to read and easy to understand. Milton Friedman ties the concepts of individual liberty and economic liberty together and makes a persuasive case for why they are truly the same thing.

  4. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by Michael Novak

    But what about the poor? What is the moral case for free markets? This book is the Theory of Moral Sentiments to Friedman’s Wealth of Nations. So many critics of conservatism accuse conservatives of not caring about the poor, of not caring about others, etc. But this book explains why these arguments miss the mark. Michael Novak is a theologian, and he approaches the topic of capitalism from a Christian perspective, but his moral insights are universal. Conservatives believe in economic freedom because a state that respects human rights will inevitably be capitalist—because democratic capitalism is the only system of government and economics that truly respect human rights. If that argument seems bizarre to you, then you need to read this book.

  5. Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

    I had to include at least one novel, and this is a largely-forgotten classic. So many political potboilers owe their existence to this book. It’s a tautly-written thriller that explores the inner workings of the U.S. Senate in the days before JFK. So many novels owe their existence to Drury—he is the forerunner of thriller writers like Tom Clancy and Dan Brown. Advise and Consent is the story of a President who nominates a Communist agent as Secretary of State, a conflicted gay Senator, and plenty of backroom wheeling and dealing in the Senate. It’s a book that’s over 50 years old, but still holds up quite well—perhaps even better now than in 1959.

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