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TAC Bookshelf: You Can’t Make a Pizza Without a Free Market

Here's what our writers and editors are reading this week.

W. James Antle III, editor-in-chief: Looking for a way to spend those gift cards accumulated over the Christmas holiday? It might be worth expanding your reading list, getting the new year off to the right start with some selections that could please the whole family.

Julie Borowski has been a YouTube sensation since the heady days of the Ron Paul presidential campaigns. A somewhat conservative libertarian, she’s been skewering statists and humorless cultural scolds alike. Now she’s made it to the printed page with I, Pizza, a children’s book modeled after Leonard Read’s classic free-market essay “I, Pencil.”

The slim, illustrated volume comes at a time when conservatives are debating anew whether there is any middle ground between central planning and spontaneous order, productive public-private partnerships and corrosive crony capitalism. But even the most traditionalist pizzeria needs the best ingredients for their pies to be uncommonly good! Like the Read original, Borowski’s tale shows all that goes into making a pizza without any centralized mastermind involved in simple enough language for an elementary school reader who has not yet taken Econ 101 or accumulated massive student loan debt. Send a copy to AOC.

If you are looking for something completely different, there is reporter and radio personality Todd Zwillich’s audiobook from last summer, The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon. Zwillich tells the story of John Houbolt, an airplane engineer from Illinois he considers an unsung hero of the moon landing. He had the general idea to take a big spacecraft into orbit but detaching a lighter weight vehicle of sorts to land on the moon surface itself.

In an interview with a local public broadcaster, Zwillich compared it to traveling the ocean in a big ship but going onshore in a smaller rowboat so you don’t get wrecked by the rocks and waves. Houbolt helped NASA apply these ideas to space travel. If you want a lunar orbit rendezvous with destiny, give this book a listen.

Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglin teamed up with author Craig Osten to write American Restoration. While many of its arguments will be familiar to social and religious conservatives, the book arrived amid a renewed focus on national identity. What do we owe God versus Caesar? Goeglin and Osten tackle this question here, much as Rusty Reno of First Things did in his well-received Return of the Strong Gods, which Jim Pinkerton wrote about for TAC.

Grayson Quay, contributor: Lately, I’ve been trying to read more of what I might call classics of pulp literature. By this, I mean the books that dominated popular culture during the Golden Age of the Paperback in the ’70s and ’80s (a time when my father, during his cross-country hauls, would read truck stop paperbacks line by line in between glances at the empty Western highway). I’m not the one to suggest an authoritative canon of such works, but if you put a gun to my head, I’d probably name Stephen King, Leon Uris, Zane Grey, Tom Clancy, Raymond Chandler, and Isaac Asimov, though I’m aware that my list skews toward male authors and target audiences.

I recently finished the first book (and started the second) in Asimov’s much-lauded Foundation series, which in 1966 was, perhaps a bit prematurely, voted the best science fiction series of all time. It’s interesting. The first book opens on a far-future Galactic Empire that covers the entire galaxy and has stood for 12,000 years. To the eyes of most imperial subjects, the Empire is doing great, but psychohistorian Hari Seldon has discovered that the Empire is slipping inevitably into a spiral of decline that will produce a 30,000-year galaxy-wide dark age.

What’s a psychohistorian, you ask? Asimov defines psychohistory as a “science of mobs” that could “forecast reactions to stimuli with something of the accuracy that a lesser science could bring to the forecast of a rebound of a billiard ball.” Seldon’s calculations show him the coming dark age, but they also reveal that it can be shortened from 30,000 years to 1,000 if a specific group of people can be gathered in a particular place (the Foundation) and respond correctly to a series of inevitable crises.

It’s here that Asimov starts to scare me. His writing style is unoffensive if bland, consisting almost entirely of expositional dialogue. Every few chapters, he skips forward a generation or two to the next Seldon Crisis and introduces a new cast of characters. It’s his ideas that are truly disturbing.

Seldon’s psychohistory begins with determinism and takes it to its logical conclusion: social engineering. In fact, he allows the science of psychohistory to die with him so that future inhabitants of the Foundation will be unable to foresee and deviate from the course that he’s set for them. His “dead hand” will move the next thousand years of history. C.S. Lewis had a term for that: the abolition of man.

Seldon bases his hubristic program on the overly simplistic assumption that he knows exactly what the good society looks like and therefore has the right to implement it. This naïve viewpoint is almost universal among scientistic, atheistic secular humanists like Asimov and has largely infiltrated the American foreign policy establishment. It’s no surprise that Christopher Hitchens wanted to bomb the hell out of the Middle East.

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