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Jewish World Review Dec. 9,1999 /30 Kislev, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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My holiday book picks -- WHILE PEOPLE RAISED with heavy doses of "self-esteem" in our schools are often enormously confident on subjects on which they are also enormously ignorant, there are still people around who feel a need to learn a lot more.

From time to time, mail comes in from such people, asking for suggestions of books that can help them to better understand the big issues of our time.

A lot depends on which issues you consider big, but here are some classics. Maybe some would make good presents.

Perhaps no book in our lifetime has shot down more nonsense about social issues than "The Unheavenly City"by Edward Banfield. Written three decades ago, it is more up to date than today's headlines. The urban woes which provoke so much psychobabble and political cant are incisively traced to the people whose behavior causes these woes to themselves and others around them.

One chapter title epitomizes Banfield's general rejection of contemporary rhetoric: "Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit." The notion that urban riots are uprisings of the opposed does not stand up to the evidence, as "The Unheavenly City" demonstrates, with a bracing dose of logic and insight to go with the data. You will never be the same after reading this book, which is the mark of its greatness.

Perhaps the most controversial book of our time is "The Bell Curve" -- an exhaustive study of intelligence tests and their wider social implications. Some of the bitterest critics of this book have obviously not read it. The idea that this is a book about race would be laughable if this charge were not such a painful sign of the rampant dishonesty of our times.

"The Bell Curve" is an education in itself about what intelligence tests can and cannot do. It is also a masterpiece as a demonstration of what clear writing can do to make a complex and technical subject quite readable for laymen. Its hundreds of pages of hard evidence demolish many fashionable notions about social issues in general. Here again, you will never be as susceptible to the prevailing assumptions and rhetoric after reading this book.

There are few subjects on which the public has been so systematically misinformed as gun control. The dogma that banning guns reduces lethal violence has been repeated so often and so unquestioningly that it will come as a complete surprise to many people to learn that the evidence is overwhelming that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns has reduced violence, time and time again.

It has especially reduced violence against women and minorities. Yet no inkling of this reaches the public through the mainstream media.
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The landmark book in this field is "More Guns, Less Crime" by John Lott. It will not only inform you on this issue, it may also make you wonder what else the media has completely misled you about.

The idea that disarmament will deter aggression has been tried internationally as well -- and has been an even bigger disaster there, ultimately costing millions of lives. The tragic history of disarmament agreements and mollification of belligerent nations in the period leading up to World War II is spelled out in gripping and graphic detail in Winston Churchill's great classic, "The Gathering Storm."

Churchill's gift for words makes this real-life Greek tragedy a fascinating story of self-deception by Western leaders who imagined that they were creating "peace in our time" when in fact they were blundering into the greatest carnage in the history of the human race.

When it comes to crime, almost any book by James Q. Wilson can be a complete education on the subject. "Crime and Human Nature," which he co-authored with the late Richard J. Herrnstein, carefully examines the subject, destroying many glib assumptions in the process.

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Similarly, almost any book about the Third World by Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics is an education on that subject. My favorite is "Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion." Once you have read it, you are likely to wonder why you ever believed the nonsense that has been spread by the "foreign aid" establishment.

Among my own books, Race and Culture : A World View best sums up the results of 15 years of research, including two trips going completely around the world, to try to understand cultural patterns that apply to our own society, as well as to many others.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate