What’s a summer without a reading list? And what’s a think tank without ideas? So, we just couldn’t help ourselves and came up with the list below compiled from PRI’s staff. Lest you stop reading now because you think that all the books are wonky — not true. To my surprise, there were four books on the American West, one on true crime, another on the intrigues of a posh international hotel, one on the wonders of libraries, and finally, the story of perhaps the greatest political upset of our time. And since great minds think alike, I was pleased to learn that I had read four of the books my colleagues recommended, and one of them at least a half-dozen times (Kerry Jackson’s book). Enjoy!
Sally Pipes, President and CEO
Living in Fear in California: How Well-Meaning Policy Mistakes are Undermining Safe Communities and What Can Be Done to Restore Public Safety by Kerry Jackson (Pacific Research Institute, May 2019).
Well, I’ve got to go with Team PRI – especially since I wrote the foreword. We just published PRI fellow Kerry Jackson’s new book – and his first – Living in Fear in California. California was once a national leader in enacting tough-on-crime laws, but in recent years there’s been a radical shift in policy that seems to be favoring criminals rather than crime victims. Using government data and real-life anecdotes, Kerry paints a portrait of the crime problems in cities, rural areas, and even schools. While this isn’t light reading, it’s important for reading for all of us who believe that crime is rising in our neighborhoods and communities.
Ben Smithwick, Vice President of Development
Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story by Wilfred McClay (Encounter Books, May 2019)
There are few history books that tell the true (and inspiring) history of America. In this newly released text, historian Wilfred McClay seeks to correct this by offering a balanced and accurate account of the events that shaped our nation’s history. McClay’s emphasis on the “story” of America makes this an easy yet compelling read and a great gift for high school and college students.
Henry Miller, Senior Fellow, Center for Health Care Reform
The March of Unreason, by Dick Taverne (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Taverne expresses his concern that irrationality is on the rise in Western society and argues that public opinion is increasingly dominated by mindless prejudice and an unwillingness to engage with factual evidence. It includes topics such as genetically modified crops and foods, organic farming, the MMR vaccine, environmentalism, the precautionary principle, and the new anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements.
Tim Anaya, Director of Communications
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, May 2019)
There are few authors for whom I religiously buy their new book as soon as they come out. One is Robert Caro (his new book Working is also on my summer reading list, but I still can’t wait for the last volume on LBJ) and the other is David McCullough. I just bought his latest book, which describes the story of the brave pioneers who settled the Northwest Territory soon after America won independence. This includes modern-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin – four out of five of which today we know as Trump Country.
Lance Izumi, PRI Senior Director, Center for Education Reform
The Case for Trump by Victor Davis Hanson (Basic Books, March 2019)
My recommendation of this book isn’t an endorsement of Donald Trump for 2020, but to recognize a truly outstanding book that perceptively analyzes the political climate that gave way to the election of Donald Trump. Unlike previous books on the president by politicos, historian Victor Davis Hanson, who has spoken at a number of PRI events, uses his great academic knowledge to show not only why Donald Trump defeated his Republican and Democrat rivals in 2016, but how he was the only person with the energy to fight the coastal elites, the “ancient regime” (Hanson’s term), and the Left. Unlike the Left’s caricature of Trump supporters as modern-day Know-Nothings, Hanson makes a persuasive intellectual case for the president, explaining his successes and putting his battles and victories in a larger historical context of the war over America’s future.
Dana Beigel, Creative Consultant
The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster)
Full of interesting facts and colorful characters, The Library Book reads like a novel. This book, which focuses primarily on the Los Angeles City Library, does a great job of creating the magic of libraries and the special space they can be. It explains the complicated behind the scenes day-to-day inner workings of a library and the people who provide a tremendous service to our communities.
Kerry Jackson, PRI Fellow, Center for California Reform
The Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Pickett is a Wyoming game warden who is no one’s idea of a hero. Yet he somehow finds himself in the middle of dangerous and often deadly situations that threaten his district and other parts of the state, and resolves them, typically in spectacular fashion, after things “get Western.” Over the course of 19 books, Wyoming native Box keeps Pickett neutral politically, but he often writes about federal meddling in state and local matters, environmental policies’ effects on energy production and jobs, and hunters’ rights as well as their responsibilities in a balanced way. His 13th book Breaking Point was inspired by the EPA’s malicious treatment under the Clean Water Act of the Sackett family of Idaho. Maybe Box and Picketts’ greatest contribution is showing that the folks in flyover country who hunt, fish, work hard, pray, and generally mind their own business are not the backward rubes the coastal elitists believe they are but real people deserving of respect.
Laura Dannerbeck, PRI Events Consultant
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Penguin Books, March 2019)
The book is a 30-year saga of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is placed under house arrest inside the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922 when the Bolsheviks spare him from death or Siberia because of his 1913 revolutionary poem. While the book and character are entirely fictional, I was impressed by the numerous political intricacies and how the character navigated through daily life and the personal relationships he forged along the way. Under house arrest, the character managed to maintain his dignity, morals, rules of etiquette, and insightful philosophy with people throughout his life, both past and present. He reflected on his every interaction and circumstance with wisdom and grace. The Count’s aristocracy and freedom were taken from him for his poem, yet he accepted this fate with courage and diplomacy, knowing that he did not have the power nor the interest to recant his words. The book is especially relevant to the current debate of free speech and expression. While it’s a right we take for granted, historically it brought punishment, imprisonment, and even execution.
Rowena Itchon, Senior Vice President
Prairie Fires: The America Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (Metropolitan Books, November 2017)
I first became acquainted with the Little House books in the third grade. In my school, the rule was that we had to have checked out a book by the end of the library period. Time was running out and I was still without a book. My teacher, Ms. Amestoy, spotted me wandering around aimlessly and led me to the shelf with the Little House series. She told me that these were wonderful books and I should consider them. I checked out the first book Little House in the Big Woods and I was hooked. A few years ago, I re-read all the books and decided to write to Ms. Amestoy to thank her for introducing them to me and she actually wrote me back! Earlier this year, I discovered Prairie Fires, a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. While the Little House series is said to be autobiographical, the story of her life had not been told until now. Fraser draws on letters, unpublished manuscripts, diaries, even land and financial records to write of Laura’s joys, sorrows (and there were many), and triumphs. And truth be told, the life of real Laura is every bit as heroic as that of the little girl on the prairie
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.