Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2003 / 14 Kislev, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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My holiday book picks | When the joy of the holidays starts turning to the desperation of trying to find the right gift, that is the time to turn to that old standby — books. (To purchase, click on the titles. Sales help fund JWR!)

You don't have to know someone's measurements to buy a book, nor does it have to match their current wardrobe or fit in with the decor of their home. One size may not fit all but there is a right book for everybody from two years old to ninety-two.

This year has had a large crop of outstanding new books, so you ought to be able to find something for almost everyone.

If you want to conduct a demolition derby on popular liberal notions, there is "Are Cops Racist?" by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, "FDR's Folly" by Jim Powell of the Cato Institute and "No Excuses" by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, of the Manhattan Institute and Harvard University, respectively.

What these new books all have in common is that they subject fashionable notions — about the police, about the role of the New Deal during the Great Depression and about the education of minority children today — to hard facts and cold logic.

If you have heard that the police are engaging in racial profiling, take a look at the evidence cited by those promoting that conclusion — and discover how flimsy and misleading that evidence is. When you finish reading "Are Cops Racist?" you may have your own question: Are the people who keep making that charge dishonest?

If you think President Franklin D. Roosevelt got us out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, read "FDR's Folly". Some economists have said for years that FDR actually made the Depression longer and worse than it would have been if he had done nothing. Even a liberal icon like J. M. Keynes said at the time that some of FDR's policies were actually hindering economic recovery. But this is the first time that it is all spelled out in plain English for people who are not economists.

The Thernstroms' new book, "No Excuses", shoots holes in the cant and propaganda that dominate discussions of American education today — especially the education of minority children. They accept no excuses from teachers, students, or "experts" for the dismal failure of our public schools.

While the schools come in for heavy criticism, there is plenty of blame to go around. "No Excuses" does not pull its punches when showing that negative attitudes among black students and their parents are a big part of the problem as well.

The net result is a situation where the average black high school graduate has a level of knowledge that is four years behind that of white high school graduates. Yet there are also particular examples of outstanding academic performances by schools with low-income and minority students.

These outstanding results are almost always achieved by methods directly the opposite of those that are fashionable in education circles today. What these successful schools show is that there is no excuse for the pervasive educational disasters among black students in general.

If you like big, blockbuster books on broad themes, then "Human Accomplishment" by Charles Murray is the book to read on that long trip or in installments at home. It shows how landmark performances in many fields tend to cluster at particular times and places and among particular groups. This book is a landmark performance itself.

If you like take-no-prisoners attacks against the political left, three new books of this sort are "Treason" by Ann Coulter, "Scam" by Jesse Lee Peterson and "When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country" by G. Gordon Liddy. These are books with devastating facts and penetrating analysis, as well as verbal fireworks.

The books by Ann Coulter and G. Gordon Liddy are attacks on the counter-cultural left in general, both in the media and in politics. Jesse Lee Peterson's book zeroes in on black "leaders" like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Louis Farrakhan.

My own new book this year — "Applied Economics" — takes a hard look at popular beliefs that just will not stand up when it comes to the economics of housing, medical care, discrimination, labor and Third World countries.

Happy holidays.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)


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