Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

Review by Steven DiFiore, LPMeck Chair


Published in 1870, a time when Ironclads were new technology and the seas were as mysterious a realm as the depths of space are to us today, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea burst onto bookshelves and into libraries the world over. 

Written by French novelist and playwright Jules Verne, this novel has gone on to become one of the most widely translated works in history and is a staple of the science fiction adventure genre. It tells a tale of the mysterious Captain Nemo, his crew, and a marvel of technology, "The Nautilus." The story is more than just one of madness, obsession, and the dangers of unchecked technology, though it is all those things as well. 

Written in the first person with Pierre Aronnax as the narrator, Verne writes an epic adventure as Aronnax and fellow travelers Conseil and Ned Land are rescued, then taken prisoner, by Captain Nemo. A great many themes are explored in its pages while enthralling the reader with a story of high adventure and fantastical locations. The Nautilus, a super science machine of the 19th century, roams the oceans far beyond the reach of any of the world's governments and themes of freedom and oppression are peppered throughout. Captain Nemo and his crew are all men from oppressed nations and seek a life of freedom far from their would-be oppressor's clutches. In this the narrator observes that Nemo champions the downtrodden and persecuted. In one chapter, after rescuing an Indian pearl diver the man is gifted a bag of pearls, representing a lifetime of work and Nemo remarks that the pearl diver "lives in the land of the oppressed."

Nemo is no saint however, and his crusade against the oppressive governments of the world cost a great many seamen their lives as he destroys naval warships of every flag wherever he can. Indeed, a main point of contention between the protagonists and antagonists is the very fact that Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned are themselves prisoners who wish to be free in spite of the wonders the Nautilus and the world of the deep sea have to offer. 

These themes of freedom, liberty, and self-determination often get missed among the adventure and science fiction aspects but they are integral to the tale and weave a complex tapestry of characters and motivations that add to the depths of story telling to be enjoyed by the reader. I encourage everyone to read this grand classic at least once, and then re-visit it again a few years later. After all, there is a reason why Verne is considered among the greatest authors of western literature.

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The Law, by Frederic Bastiat

Review by Eric Rowell

ubmanReading Bastiat was my "red pill" moment. I wasn't introduced to him in K-12, or in my macro econ class at NCSU, or in law school; it was only while listening to the great Dr. Walter Williams on a podcast while performing menial legal work around a decade ago that I learned for the first time about one of the most important political economists of the 19th Century. Bastiat changes the way a person thinks. After reading Bastiat you won't be able to read a news story or listen to a politician speak without seeing how the law is being perverted to serve injustice in one way or another.

Whether it's a story about government giving away money to nonprofits (forced charity), or about government giving business incentives (opportunity costs), or about any number of stories calling for the government to "do something" by spending other people's money (legal plunder); his clear, concise, and always entertaining style of writing demonstrates the fallacies inherent in all of these myths used by government to justify itself.

The Law is arguably Bastiat's most important work. Written just a few months before his death in 1850, it is a slim volume and can be read over a weekend - or even listened to in about 2 hours. It explores the role and purpose of law in society, and argues that law should protect individual rights and property, not be used to oppress and plunder. I don't have the space here to go into his arguments in depth, but I cannot encourage Libertarian readers of this newsletter strongly enough to familiarize yourself with Bastiat and The Law.

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Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence, by Vivek Ramaswamy

Review by Rob Yates

ubmanVivek Ramaswamy follows his excellent book, "Woke, Inc." with another solid offering. Ramaswamy has a true American story, with roots in India through a high-end education leading to him founding and eventually exiting a company. From that experience, he now uses his platform to highlight the beauty and brilliance of the American opportunity and the degrading impact that victimhood culture, identity politics, and the associated virtue signaling has had on all the successes of the free market.

His prior book looked in much more detail at corporate hypocrisy, where massive companies champion whatever the catch phrase of the day is while supporting terrorist massacres in other countries or facing huge lawsuits for unchecked pollution of rivers right here in the United States, for example. In this book, he spends more time looking at the effect of the cultural shift from excellence to blame has had on our productivity and way of life. He shows how much opportunity is missed and how corporations and the politicians they have bought and sold are incentivized to perpetuate this paradigm. Then he offers some solutions.

Nation of Victims is well researched with compelling arguments, and balances a deadly serious tone regarding the direction of our country with a playful sense of humor as Ramaswamy reflects on his personal experiences. I can't say I agree with every proposal he makes, but I certainly recommend the book, and I commend him for acknowledging the problem and attempting to make serious suggestions on how to fix it.

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Paper Belt on Fire, by Michael Gibson

Review by Rob Yates

ubman"Our community of hackers tells me I have a garage-sale writing style. Odds and ends, bits of memoir, bursts of photography, shards of scholarship, vignettes, reportage, untranslatable words, history, shifting points of view... I turn to poems as often as economics. And if I digress at times, and weave multiple story arcs, I beg you to hold on tight"

Gibson gives readers this caveat in the foreword, but it is impossible to describe how simultaneously appropriate and understated this is. Never have I been more certain that someone could beat me in chess, fix my car, cook a gourmet meal, recommend a hostel in Thailand, and talk punk rock all night.

Paper Belt on Fire is part epic poem, part philosophy, part self-help manual, and part social commentary, all wrapped up in an autobiography that would qualify Gibson as Dos Equis next Most Interesting Man in the World. His writing style is as captivating and frantic as the stories he tells; the people and places feel honest as they weave together, buoyed by philisophical musings, with some genuinely funny parts as well.

The book follows Gibson, starting with his CIA interview, into his work for Peter Thiel, and through the foundation of the 1517 Fund with Danielle Strachman. At every turn, Gibson puts established orthodoxies to the test, defying broadly accepted predictors of success and ridiculing the importance given to institutional certificates as credentials.

The 1517 Fund is named for the year Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, railing against the absolute bureaucratic authority of the indulgences the Church afforded to anyone who could afford them. Similarly, Gibson disavows contemporary attitudes giving deference to people who possess certain meaningless certificates with the right name on them. From New England Ivy League schools down to D.C. strongholds, dubbed the "Paper Belt," elitist institutions gatekeep their club, reserving entry for those who embrace piece-of-paper meritocracy, bestowed exclusively by those same gatekeepers.

Paper Belt on Fire thoroughly dismantles the paper paradigm's validity, while also explaining how truly dangerous the stagnation created by this mindset is for the advancement of humanity. Gibson then gives reason for hope, detailing some ways out of this mess, and what to look for next.

It is impossible to properly celebrate this book in a brief review, but I highly recommend it, five out of five stars, two thumbs up. Definitely worth your time.

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Industrial Society and Its Future, by Ted Kaczynki

Review by Steven J. DiFiore II (authors note, "I took this journey into the mind of a madman so you don't have to")

ubman"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race"

The opening sentence of an essay by mathematician turned murderer, Ted Kaczynski, is a bold one and sets the tone for what is certainly one of the most interesting essays I've read in quite a while. Generally one would recoil at the mention of the "Unabomber," yet despite this, Industrial Society and Its Future, at 35,000 words, is a surprisingly easy read due to its plain language and a disarming idiosyncratic flair. Kaczynski outlines the fundamentals of a social-political ideology unlike anything in the current zeitgeist. His homily to Neo-Luddism is observant, well researched, and even prescient in some regards. His even-keel delivery is made all the more shocking as it belies the heinous crimes for which he is now imprisoned. The essay is a reflection of a man who personifies the blurry line between genius and madness.

Kaczynski's contention with modernity centers around something he terms "The Power Process" and the ways in which the industrial-technological system and modern society disrupts this process. While his concept of the power process seems a bit contrived, it is nonetheless an interesting perspective. Kaczynki's theory is certainly NOT libertarian. However, neither is it liberal, nor conservative, nor leftist, nor even right-wing. It's altogether different and singular in its focus. With a wide menu of topics, observations, and conclusions, there is certainly a lot to digest with this essay, particularly in the wider context of the times in which it was written. However, don't mistake fascination with advocacy. In his philosophy the author advocates for violence and in his life, he committed wicked acts of violence in a twisted effort to further said philosophy. With that clarification in place, I would certainly recommend reading it, especially if discussions of political philosophies, controversial ideas, and sad ironies are something that appeal to you.

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The Bitcoin Standard, by Saifedean Ammous

Review by Olivia Broadway, Queen City Freedom Fellowship

Many consider bitcoin standardThe Bitcoin Standard to be the "Bible" for Bitcoin, and I can see why. The majority of the book is actually focused on the history of money and what makes money valuable, which is really important to understand if you are going to understand the case for Bitcoin. Ammous' writing style is engaging, and his love of Austrian Economics comes through loud and clear, which I appreciated. He takes aim at both Keynesians and Monetarists, since both see a role for the State in regulating the money supply, albeit to different degrees. As I read, I realized how little I actually knew about the history of money; such things as sea shells, glass beads, and heavy stones had been used in various civilizations, which had subsequently suffered economic catastrophes with the inflation of their money supplies when someone figured out how to easily make/find more of the "money."

The book doesn't get into the tactics of how to actually buy and store Bitcoin, but it does present a compelling case for Bitcoin as the best money we have, particularly from the "store of value" perspective. A money's "store of value" is largely based on its stock to flow ratio (stock = existing supply; flow = new amount created). The harder it is to create new amounts of the money, the higher the stock to flow ratio, and the more likely the money will be a good store of value. This is how gold became the standard across the globe for millennia. And this is why Ammous argues that Bitcoin could be "the best store of value humanity has ever invented."

This was a fantastic book that I found to be an easy read, explaining concepts in layman’s terms, while not losing the substance of the argument. I highly recommend this book for both the interesting history as well as the introduction to the case for Bitcoin.

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Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt

Review by Olivia Broadway, Queen City Freedom Fellowship

economics in one lessonEconomics in One Lesson is a libertarian classic. Though the title may lead you to believe it to be a dry book of economic theory, the book is anything but that. Hazlitt begins the book by presenting the reader with "the lesson" in chapter 1, and he spends the rest of the book explaining how the lesson applies to real situations. He does this in layman’s terms, using examples most of us can relate to, without jargon or complicated graphs, so it is easy to read and understand.

What is this lesson? The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups. Hazlitt encourages us to think longer term and more broadly about the downstream impact of our decisions. For example, who really benefits from tariffs? Sure, the protected company or industry benefit in the short term, but what about everyone else? Hazlitt points out that tariffs hurt our exporters, and they make "the industries in which we are comparatively inefficient larger, and the industries in which we are comparatively efficient smaller…In the long run, [a tariff] always reduces real wages, because it reduces efficiency, production and wealth." The chapter on inflation also stood out as a timely reminder of the disastrous effects of an increase in the supply of money.

Economics in One Lesson was originally penned in 1961 and updated in 1978. The effects of our economic policy decisions were predicted decades, if not centuries, ago. Indeed, there seems to be nothing new under the sun. I highly recommend this book to anyone trying to understand what is going on in our economy. This lesson is still as true today as it was in 1961.

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