Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2001 / 29 Kislev, 5762

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

Holiday book picks --- must reads! -- THE easiest way to avoid having to wring your hands over what Christmas presents to give, as well as the best way to avoid the mobs of shoppers at the malls, is to give books as presents. Even well-read people cannot keep up with all the new books that are coming out, so books are an especially good way to get something new for the proverbial man who has everything. Moreover, this has been a banner year for outstanding books.

One of the most important new books this year is Life at the Bottom" " by Theodore Dalrymple. It details the life of the underclass in a predominantly white slum in Britain, which is remarkably similar to the life of the black underclass in American ghettos. However, the absence of the racial element may enable some Americans to open their minds to realities that they may have been reluctant to discuss, or even think about, over here for fear of seeming to be "racist."

"Life at the Bottom" is an eyewitness account by a doctor who works in an underclass neighborhood and in a hospital and a prison nearby. This is not dry theory, but living realities -- often painfully real and painfully clear examples of the disasters created for people at the bottom, and for the society around them, by half-baked social theories, supported by welfare state programs. If you read just five books in your lifetime, this should be one of those five.

Midge Decter's memoirs, titled An Old Wife's Tale," " is more than just a memoir. It is also a devastating critique of fashionable ideas, especially the ideas of radical feminists, which have had a poisonous effect on both sexes, as well as a devastating effect on children. This is a biography of our times, as well as a biography of a remarkable woman.

A more upbeat book is "India Unbound" by Indian entrepreneur Gurcharan Das. It is a vivid account of India's belated emergence from decades of suffocating government control of its economy and the benefits created by energies unleashed from the control of corrupt bureaucrats. It is a heart-warming story about India's economic rise, as well as a cautionary tale for those Americans who seem to want to create the kind of government-dominated economy from which India has just begun to escape.

If you are sick and tired of hearing about how everything imaginable is going to kill you, if the government doesn't step in to save you, then Junk Science Judo is the book for you -- or for someone on your Christmas list. The book's subtitle is "Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams." It carefully takes apart and exposes fraud after fraud that have been spread mindlessly by the media.

From Alar and Agent Orange to breast implants and DDT, this study by Steven J. Milloy of the Cato Institute shows how unfounded assumptions and unsubstantiated charges have scared the daylights out of the public and led to multi-million-dollar lawsuits that have turned our courtrooms into lotteries, with big payoffs for lawyers and nothing but trouble for everyone else.

The sacred cow of "campaign finance reform" gets a very careful and thorough de-bunking in "Unfree Speech" by law professor Bradley A. Smith. Virtually every argument used to promote campaign finance reform turns out to be a house of cards. Since the media love campaign finance reform, you are unlikely to hear any sustained arguments against it unless you read this book.

Yours truly has published a couple of very different books this year. One is "Basic Economics," which covers everything from prices to international trade, without a single graph or equation or any jaw-breaking jargon. The other book is titled "The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late." Any parent of such a child will welcome such a gift, which can help them defend themselves and their child against the armies of "experts" who try to shunt such children off into programs that can do them more harm than good.

One of the golden oldies that every American should read is "The Federalist," sometimes titled "The Federalist Papers." It consists of short but brilliant and profound essays, written for the general public, in order to try to persuade them to support creating a constitution for the United States that will protect the people from the inevitable abuses that power leads to. Though more than two centuries old, it remains a timely gem and would make a great gift for some young person going off to college.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate