For some things Harvard suffices; this blog is for the rest.

My 10 Favorite Books of 2022

I recently shared a photo of my favorite books of 2022 on Twitter:

In this post, I wanted to offer some thoughts on these books. If you’re interested, you can find a list of my favorite books from previous years on my website. Just a quick note: it’s purely coincidental that I happened to select 10 books, and they are listed in no particular order.

Sadly, Porn

Edward Teach MD (aka The Last Psychiatrist) (2021)

The book is written by the now-defunct blogger known as The Last Psychiatrist. If you enjoyed his blog, you will likely enjoy the book as well. If you are unfamiliar with his blog, I recommend checking it out before buying the book to see if you can tolerate his condescending style.

While the book does start with a porn story, it is not primarily focused on pornography. It goes into the motivations behind why people behave the way they do and the narratives we tell ourselves about those actions. The book identifies two rather grim motivations: envy and denying others satisfaction.

The book is somewhat disorganized and all over the place and therefore very difficult, if not impossible, to summarize. I agree with Rob Henderson, who wrote a great review of the book:

Here is how the twentieth-century Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin described the experience of reading the seventeenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico:

“The reader tends to be buffeted, bewildered and exhausted; no idea is properly presented or developed or organised into a coherent structure. It is a very punishing style.”

Still, Berlin acknowledged that Vico’s ideas were brilliant and full of “turbulent vitality.”

That was what came to mind as I read Sadly, Porn.

The Myth of Mental Illness

Thomas S. Szasz (1961)

A book by a psychiatrist who argues that we should do away with the category of mental illnesses. In his perspective, mental illnesses do not truly exist. As he puts it in the book:

It is customary to define psychiatry as a medical specialty concerned with the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses. This is a worthless and misleading definition. Mental illness is a myth. Psychiatrists are not concerned with mental illnesses and their treatments. In actual practice they deal with personal, social, and ethical problems in living.

I have argued that, today, the notion of a person "having a mental illness" is scientifically crippling. It provides professional assent to a popular rationalization—namely, that problems in living experienced and expressed in terms of so-called psychiatric symptoms are basically similar to bodily diseases.

Moreover, the concept of mental illness also undermines the principle of personal responsibility, the ground on which all free political institutions rest. For the individual, the notion of mental illness precludes an inquiring attitude toward his conflicts which his "symptoms" at once conceal and reveal. For a society, it precludes regarding individuals as responsible persons and invites, instead, treating them as irresponsible patients.

While some may see the author’s perspective as extreme, it is worth noting that the book was published in 1961 and the situation has only worsened since then. Whatever we are currently doing appears ineffective, so perhaps it’s time to consider some new and unconventional ideas.

The Gray Lady Winked

Ashley Rindsberg (2021)

Rindsberg’s research shows that the New York Times got many of the important historical events of the 20th century wrong. As previously mentioned in FTX & SBF: Ordinarily Dishonest Journalism, the newspaper published Nazi propaganda claiming that Poland had invaded Germany and also covered up Holodomor, the starvation in Ukraine that resulted in the deaths of approximately 4 million people. For both, they even received the Pulitzer prize. The book delves into numerous other examples of the newspaper’s flawed reporting and involvement in the 20th century.

The book also includes engaging anecdotes that bring history to life in a way that is often lacking in mainstream accounts. One particularly memorable story is about NYT reporter Walter Duranty, who is responsible for covering up Holodomor:

The journalist Eugene Lyons, who was the first American correspondent to get an interview with Stalin (though he got the interview b hanging outside of Stalin's office for days on end and was not ceremoniously invited, as Duranty had been), recounted in his book Assignment in Utopia that he once had dinner with his wife Billy, the New York Times correspondent Anne 'Hare McCormick, and Walter Duranty. When the conversation turned to the famine and its toll, Duranty offered an estimate on the number of people who had been killed. Duranty's own estimate far outstripped any other estimate at that time. The other journalists, who were familiar with Duranty's famine-denying stories in the New York Times, were shocked. Anne 'Hare McCormick asked incredulously if Duranty had meant what he said literally. According to Lyons, Duranty, in response to Lyons's interjection on Duranty's behalf that the reporter had not meant it literally, shot back, "Hell, I don't.. I'm being conservative,' he replied, and as if by way of consolation he added his famous truism: "But ther're only Russians."

Lyons later wrote in a memorandum to the prominent journalist Malcolm Muggeridge that the number Duranty mentioned that evening was seven million deaths due to starvation. An estimate, Duranty informed the journalists with whom he was dining, he had formulated on the basis of visits to the affected areas he had made between 1932 and 1933.

As an aside: If anyone has an extra copy of the above-mentioned book Assignment in Utopia by Eugene Lyons, I would love to buy it. It’s so far proven impossible for me to get my hands on one of these rare copies.

The Three Apologies

G.K. Chesterton

The collection consists of three books: Heretics (1905), Orthodoxy (1908), and The Everlasting Man (1925), all of which explore Chesterton’s Christian worldview. His writing style is characterized by simplicity, elegance, and a touch of humor. In case you’re new to Chesterton, I recommend starting with the collection of essays titled In Defense of Sanity. If you don’t find an essay in there that speaks to you, I can’t help you.

Overall, I believe Chesterton’s religious and common sense thinking is a valuable antidote to the zeitgeist. As C.S. Lewis put it:

It was here that I first read a volume of Chesterton's essays. I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. It might have been expected that my pessimism, my atheism, and my hatred of sentiment would have made him to me the least congenial of all authors. It would almost seem that providence, or some "second cause" of a very obscure kind, quite over-rules our previous tastes when it decides to bring two minds together. liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love.

I was by now a sufficiently experienced reader to distinguish liking from agreement. I did not need to accept what Chesterton said in order to enjoy it.

His humour was of the kind I like best - not "jokes" imbedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humour which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the "bloom" on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or "paradoxical" I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question.

Similar to Lewis, I found that my atheism did not prevent me from appreciating Chesterton’s work. However, if you are particularly opposed to religion, you may want to start with In Defense of Sanity instead of The Three Apologies. It’s also worth noting that Chesterton arrived at his worldview first and only afterward realized what it was:

No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne. I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it. I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths. And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom. It may be, Heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion. The man from the yacht thought he was the first to find England; I thought I was the first to find Europe. I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

A Mathematician’s Apology

G. H. Hardy (1940)

In this short book, the number theorist G. H. Hardy explores the beauty of mathematics and defends pure mathematics as an art form similar to painting and poetry:

The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s must be beautiful; the ideas like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.

The Anatomy of the State

Murray N. Rothbard (1965)

Rothbard, an anarcho-capitalist and Austrian economist, discusses in this short work the nature of the state. I was particularly delighted to find that he accurately described the relationship between intellectuals and the state, as well as the issues that arise from this relationship. I recommend it to anyone interested in economics and libertarian political philosophy.

Democracy: The God That Failed

Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001)

Hoppe analyzes three different forms of government: Monarchy, Democracy, and Anarchy, which he refers to as “natural order.” Ultimately, he argues that Anarchy is the most desirable of the three options.

However, the book is perhaps more widely known for Hoppe’s argument that, if a government must be established, Monarchy is a much better choice than Democracy. To support this claim, Hoppe examines the history of the Western world and discusses the changes that have occurred as a result of the transition from Monarchy to Democracy:

“With a [democratic] government anyone in principle can become a member of the ruling class or even the supreme power. The distinction between the rulers and the ruled as well as the class consciousness of the ruled become blurred. The illusion even arises that the distinction no longer exists: that with a public government no one is ruled by anyone, but everyone instead rules himself. Accordingly, public resistance against government power is systematically weakened. While exploitation and expropriation before might have appeared plainly oppressive and evil to the public, they seem much less so, mankind being what it is, once anyone may freely enter the ranks of those who are at the receiving end. Consequently, [exploitation will increase], whether openly in the form of higher taxes or discretely as increased governmental money “creation” (inflation) or legislative regulation.”

The Captive Mind

Czeslaw Milosz (1953)

With the help of examples, Milosz examines how the rise of Stalinism in postwar Poland influenced artists and intellectuals. I have frequently referenced this book, including in my piece The Truth Will Cost You Dearly. It is an excellent resource for understanding the impact of power and fashion on intellectuals. In the book, you can find numerous examples that are still relevant today, such as the concept of Ketman:

National Ketman, the practice of publicly carrying Russian books and humming Russian songs while privately believing "Socialism-yes, Russia-no." Miłosz described this form of Ketman as extremely widespread among Polish intellectuals who sprang from working-class families. Such beliefs, however, were considered Titoism by the Polish government and therefore were kept hidden

Nietzsche: Eine Abhandlung über aristokratischen Radikalismus

Georg Brandes (1889)

Georg Brandes is considered the discoverer of Nietzsche; he introduced him to the world. The essay printed in this book, whose title translates as “An essay on the aristocratic radicalism of Friedrich Nietzsche,” is, in my opinion, the best introduction to Nietzsche.

Sämtliche Scholien zu einem inbegriffenen Text

Nicolás Gómez Dávila

The book is the German translation of a collection of more than 10,000 aphorisms that the Columbian philosopher Dávila wrote. Because of his lack of interest in promoting or publishing his works, he remained largely unknown until German translations of his writings were published in the 1990s. The preface of the German collection reads (my rough translation):

He had not cared about the dissemination of his work, which at that time was hard to find even in Bogotá. In the meantime, we were able to organize the publication of his aphorisms in several languages. Don Nicólas was not interested in material results of his authorship, although he was a wealthy, idle, but successful businessman on the side: Before my visit to Colombia, he had explored the economic situation of our house through his bank; he had appreciated our intellectual position anyway.

“He was a wealthy, idle, but successful businessman on the side” is still one of my favorite introductions of an author. Moreover, Wikipedia informs us (again, my translation):

Dávila lived in extreme seclusion as a private scholar in a villa on the outskirts of Bogotá. He considered his library, which at the end of his life numbered about 30,000 volumes in almost all occidental languages, his true home.

I would add a surfboard and a chessboard, but besides that, it sounds like a dream.

While I can’t speak to the quality of any English translations, this website does offer English versions of his aphorisms for those interested in exploring Dávila’s work.