On this episode, Connor and Brittany discuss a list of books that are considered to be “controversial classics.” But why are these books considered “controversial” and why does that make it all the more important for individuals to read them?
- Civil Disobedience
- The Law
- White Rose Society pamphlets
- Animal Farm
- “Uncle Eric” Series
- Anatomy of the State by Murray Rothbard
Here is the transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: So I taught a class a few years ago for our homeschool co-op called Controversial Classics, and I think at some point I’ve shared this PDF with some of our Tuttle Twins readers, basically a compilation of some books for people who are interested in learning a little bit more about Liberty that I’ve really enjoyed. So I thought it’d be fun. You and I have looked over the list. We’re each gonna talk about half of these books and why they’re so interesting and so important. These are books that or, teens can read, or maybe the younger kids could be read to, but certainly, I’d say for ages 10 or 11 and up can start to understand some of these ideas, especially if a parent is reading along and helping. And so I’ll start first maybe with one that we’ve talked a little bit about, which is civil disobedience.
That’s a good one. And we’ve talked before about that issue. I know on a previous episode with taxation, we talked about Henry David Thoreau and about his experience by way of summary, since we’ve talked about it before, he was asked or ordered to pay a tax for a war with the Mexican government that he disagreed with. He thought it was wrong, so he refused to pay the tax and was thrown in jail. He only spent a night there. But he wrote about his experience about when it’s okay to stand up for your rights when it’s okay to resist when you’re kind of morally justified. And then people like Martin Luther King Jr. And Gandhi and others who have done civil disobedience have looked to Henry David Thoreau for his thinking and for a lot of the stuff that he’s really thought through. It’s not about being a rebel, it’s not about fighting the man and just not doing whatever you’re told. It’s about what’s that balance. What does it look like, when is it appropriate to stand up for yourself and say, No It’s a very kind of engaging booklet? You can find it online if you wanna buy it, It’s super cheap. Or you can find the whole essay for free online. Doesn’t take long to read. But that’s one that I think is certainly a controversial classic because it really speaks to when is it okay to resist something you’re told to do by your own government. So what’s next on your list, Brittany?
Brittany: Yeah, well comment on that. That’s actually, I credit that book to being the kind of what shaped my political beliefs. Civil disobedience in high school. Yeah, very early on. So one of my favorites too. So the next one is one of my favorites, Anthem by Ayn Rand. And there are a couple of reasons. This is my favorite one because it is the shortest Ayn Rand Book. And for anyone you’re familiar with her, she writes a lot of words. So I have to admit that I’ve never even finished Atlas Shrugged, which is her most popular one because it’s so long. Anthem is 60 pages and it gets right to the point. And so I think it’s really good for younger readers too. As you said, the 10 to 12 range, maybe a little older. But this book to me, really sums up why individualism is so important.
And the book is written, we’ve talked about the word dystopia before or dystopian, And this book is very dystopian. It’s kind of got 1984 vibes if you ever read that one, where it’s a very controlled, centralized system and individualism means nothing. You know, wake up in the morning and you do the work the government tells you to do, and you talk to who the government tells you to talk to. And that’s it. That’s your life. And in this the main character, I don’t think has a name. I feel like the main character doesn’t have a name in this book, but I know that he goes off and kind of realizes like, Wait for a second, I’m not part of this bigger herd, or I am one person. And it really hits on the importance of individualism. And there’s one line, I think she said something like it’s the most beautiful word in the whole language. And she’s talking about the word ego, which means a lot of different things. But in this case, it just means the power of the individual. And when I was first getting into all this, that really struck me. So anthem to me, just summing up why individuals are so important. This one is my number one.
Connor: That’s Cool. Another one that our readers will certainly be familiar with is The Law by Frederick Bastiat. So I won’t need to spend a lot of time on it. We based our first book, The Tuttle Twins Learned About the Law on this pamphlet. It was written in 1850 by a French economist named Frederick Bastiat, I guess is how you pronounce his name
Brittany: technically. But
Connor: Yeah, a lot of us Americans say it in our own way. He was a member of Parliament he thought a lot. He was a thinker. He would read a lot, he wrote a lot of stuff. This was a very concise essay. And what a lot of people like about Frederick Bastiat’s booklet, his essay, The Law, which you can also find for free online, or you can buy copies as well. We sell it at tuttletwins.com/products if you wanna buy a dollar copy there. And usually, people will buy a bunch to then give away cuz they’re so cheap. But a lot of people like what he wrote because he was very witty. He was very sarcastic. He wasn’t just this dry economist talking about free markets, blah, blah, blah. He’d kind of poke fun at people a little bit like French Socialists. He’s like, Did they think we’re crazy?
We don’t want people to actually eat just because we don’t want the government in charge of making bread. He’d poke at ’em a little bit and you can sense a very kind of witty personality. Obviously, it was translated from French and it was written over a century and a half ago, but it remains so relevant because the things that he talked about in there were very much the founding fathers, especially folks like Thomas Jefferson really talking about those John Locke’s ideas, Life, liberty property, the foundations of good government. But Bastiat wrote in a way that’s very succinct. We can read a lot of stuff from the founding fathers or the Federalist papers or whatever.
Brittany: That Sounds a little boring sometimes.
Connor: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And long-winded. They’re saying a lot of stuff. Frederick Bastiat gets a lot more to the point. It’s very cohesive. In other words, very kind of Its good writing, good writing. So that’s one that I consider a must-read for every teenager, certainly, every adult would correct a lot of the problems in our society. What’s next for you?
Brittany: So a book called Propaganda by Edward Bernays. And this was important to me. So when I was in college for two years, I dedicated two years to just studying propaganda and specifically World War II propaganda. And so during that time I got to read a lot of books on it. Now, propaganda, we’ve talked about it before, is a tool or a method that governments or people in power can use to tell you what to think. It’s literally teaching you what to think without you even knowing it’s happening sometimes. So that could be through commercials or advertisements or even in this book. One of my favorite parts about it is the author talks about, and it’s kind of evil, that given three months he can make everybody in the whole world buy a certain fabric. And he kind of details, I can do this. Step one, convince you that there’s an enemy that doesn’t want you to buy it.
Step two tells you how great it is. And he just goes down the line or the list of how people in power and governments convince us what to believe or even maybe convince us to turn against somebody right? maybe during the war, that they need us on their side. So for this to really understand how government operates, and how those in power operate, this book is not only great, but it’s also pretty scary. I’m sure you’ve read at Connor, you can test this too, but you’re kind of getting the inner workings of how people trying to control your thinking and how they think about you. So I think this is definitely a good one for, again, maybe some older kids. And also every adult should read this book.
Connor: Yeah, it is extremely eye-opening. That one. When I read through that with this class that I talked about, it was a bunch of teenagers, and when we spent time showing some of the quotes from that book talking about how oh, people think that voters are in charge, but actually the public is manipulated by the decisions of a small handful of people, they form the invisible government that is truly the ruling class of society. And I read that, I just paraphrase it, but I was like, oh my gosh, it gets terrifying. Borderline is like conspiratorial. And yet here is someone who was involved in all of those things saying, Oh, here’s how we did it.
Brittany: This Is how we do it, this is just how we operate
Connor: And you’re like, okay, this was in 1910 and now it’s 2020. How much worse is it today? Very eye-opening book. So I’m glad you picked that one.
Brittany: 1928 I think. 1928, right?
Connor: Oh, you’re right. Right
Brittany: After World War I.
Connor: You’re Right. Thank you for correcting me. So about a century. That’s right. Okay, so the next one I wanna share is Animal Farm by George Orwell. A lot of people know about Orwell because of his book 1984, which is also relevant to reading, perhaps a little relevant to today. But Animal Farm is super interesting. So this was written in 1945, and this is dystopian fiction. We’ve talked a little bit about this before. So utopian is like, Oh, perfect world. And then dystopian is not so perfect. Things are horrible. And how did they get so horrible? So this was a dystopian novel. It is a kind of response to what was happening in the Soviet Union at the time. So for the kids listening can ask your parents about the Soviet Union and Communism and Russia and what was happening back then. And so George Orwell was kind of in the middle of it at the time, and he wrote this book as a way to respond to Stalin and the Soviet Union.
He didn’t like how controlling the government was. And so he wrote this book specifically to try and respond to some of the political issues of the day. Now, of course, a book like that is still very relevant today, even though the Soviet Union fell and communism has people say it’s mostly been eradicated. I question that couple of countries but it’s still a lot of people still wanna take us back there. So this book describes literally an animal farm, a bunch of animals on a farm, and they’re, the really big word is kind of anthropomorphized. But what that means is they’re kinda like humans. They can talk to one another and stuff like that. But you have all these animals on the farm and this democracy gets formed by the animals to try and improve the community. And there are these really smart pigs and they soon discover that they can consolidate power, they can kind of control the other animals, they can have their way their decisions are the ones that are implemented rather than a true democracy.
And so of course, as might be expected the morale on the farm starts to decline. Animals aren’t too excited about working anymore. And so he’s talking about how when you have this kind of thug rise to power like Stalin when you have some animals who are more powerful than others than the ones who are being controlled are not as productive, they’re not as motivated to work. And so this was very much his attempt to try and describe how communism, the Soviet Union Stalinism, how this stuff was a problem. And it’s certainly relevant to our day. You see, when you read this book, a lot of examples to even the United States of America when you talk about how some people have the power to rule over other people, and we have equality, but there’s this quote in there, Some animals are more equal than other animals. It’s like, how are you more equal? Just all that means is you just have more power and control over us. And so there actually is no equality. So what I like about dystopian fiction, is there are often ways to apply it to your own day, even though it was written in a different era. And so it’s very fascinating to read both, to think about what he was specifically responding to with Stalinism in the Soviet Union, but also to think how it applies today.
Brittany: So my next one is not a book, it’s a little different. It’s like a series of pamphlets and we’ve talked about pamphlets as far as the American Revolution goes in a few other episodes. But this is about World War II, specifically when the Nazis were coming to power in Germany and there was a college student named Sophie Scholl and her brother, and I think it was one other friend, maybe a couple of other friends, who started the White Rose Society. And what they were doing is they were resisting the Nazis, which anybody who knows anything about World War II, that’s just something you didn’t do at that time. I mean, that was one of the most dangerous things you can do. But a lot of the actual German students, the people there were not aware of everything that was going on. They didn’t know because there was no internet there.
No, you couldn’t snap a photo on your cell phone and post it online. So a lot of people didn’t know the extent of the evils that were going on during World War II. In fact, a lot of Germans, once they found out about it after the war, were just beside themselves. They knew things were bad, they didn’t know how bad. Well, Sophie Scholl was writing and her brother and her friend were writing these pamphlets and they were before classic throwing them in the air and they were just kind of going all over the hall so that nobody could catch them. They were doing it anonymously and they were exposing the Nazis to a lot of college students who may not have actually known about how evil and how bad things have gotten. The most important part of this, I think, is how brave she was because she did end up losing her life. She did end up being killed because of this, but she knew the risks and she did it anyway because she knew how important it was to let people know what was going on. So Sophie Scholl’s a great person to look up to, right? White Rose Society also. But definitely take a look at those pamphlets.
Connor: There is also a film that was done about Sophie Scholl that I enjoy watching at least every couple of years. I believe it’s called Sophie Sholl, The Final Days. And it shows basically exactly her final days of the resistance, it’s hard what happened to her and it’s very powerful. I think it’s appropriate enough for teens to watch. It’s all in German. And then you watch subtitles very moving. In fact, I just had someone email me today asking about resources that he could share with his children about the Nazis were appropriate. And I said, Well, this film might be appropriate, you might wanna watch it first. But it’s something that I think is very powerful to show what one young woman can do to stand up for what she believes. So I think that’s definitely worth checking out. The final one that I’ll share before you can share your last one, Brittany, is Anatomy of the State.
This was written by Murray Rothbard and we based the Thre Tuttle Twins and the Fate of the Future on this particular booklet, it’s not that long it’s more of an essay. It’s pretty clearly written. So it’s not that boring of a read. In fact, it’s pretty invigorating of a read to try and understand the title is Anatomy of the State. What is anatomy? It’s like your guts on the inside of your body. And so he is saying, this is what the state government actually is. We talk about it government by the people, love the people for the people, or we’re a constitutional republic or we’re the majority vote or all these different things. And he says, No, no, no. Let’s not rely on these words. Let’s actually try and understand the way the state actually works. What are the actual characteristics we share in our Fate of The Future Book?
Several quotes and examples from the book where Rothbart is talking about it. But for the older kids, I would say definitely go read the underlying essay because he explains things in a really good way. We’ve talked about the Declaration of Independence before where Thomas Jefferson in there, he writes, All experience has shown that mankind is more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to write themselves by abolishing the forms to which they’re accustomed. But so what are these forms that we’re accustomed to? What are these systems of government that we’re just suffering under that were disposed to suffer? Well, the state itself is this kind of system of government that has a monopoly over us. We suffer under it. Monarchy is the state and the constitutional republic is still a state. So even though the forms were changed, Murray Rothbart is inviting us to think a bit more deeply about government.
Not just communism versus democracy or constitutional republic versus a monarchy or whatever, but just the nature of the state itself. We talk in the book about how the state says, I have a or we have a monopoly of force in this jurisdiction. Here are these borders on a map. And if you are within here, if you step out of there 10 feet that way, suddenly we don’t have power over you. But then if you magically jump on the other side of that invisible line, we can now do whatever we want to you. And so that is the nature of the state. And so Rothbart does a really good job at helping us try and understand why that method of government might be a problem. So that is actually a very controversial read because basically the state is everywhere. And so the reason we did the Fate of the Future was to try and help people be thinking about if the fade of the future depends on us trying to figure out how we can actually deal with one another, work with one another voluntarily, not using force, not having the state. Is that even possible? What does that look like? Let’s imagine some of these scenarios. And so it’s a very fun read to share and I would encourage the older kids and the parents to consider giving it a read.
Brittany: Well, I’m glad you left this one for me cuz this is actually one of my favorite book series of all time. And I did not read it as a kid or a teenager. I read them as an adult. So they’re not just for kids and teens or I would say probably more tweens and teens and adults, but the Uncle Eric series by Richard Maybury, who is a fantastic author and a great man if you had the chance to meet him. So he does a bunch of books and what I call them is kind of real history or real economics. The stuff you’re not going to hear in maybe public schools or even some charter and private schools. But they talk about everything. I mean, the fall of Rome World War, I think I learned more about World War I from Richard Maybury’s book than I did from any class I ever took in school.
But what makes these books so cool is the way they’re written. They’re written an uncle writing to his nephew. So in terms that everybody can understand and it’s very casual. So it’s the uncle kind of saying, he wrote to me, Uncle Eric is his name, and he’ll say like, Oh, you know, wrote to me about this topic. Really glad you asked about it. Let me dive into what makes this topic so interesting. But what makes these controversial, as I said, is not the information you’re gonna get from most even professors. This is the real history. This is stuff like inflation stuff. I’m trying to think of another one of his books I really like. He does one I think I mentioned The Fall of Rome that talks about, which talked about it in a previous episode about how people used to shave off coins. And it’s not even in the inflation one, it’s in the Rome one. So there’s just a bunch of really cool historical facts and economic facts that I would not have known if not for these books. So highly recommend them.
Connor: That’s awesome. Well, hopefully, this has been helpful in the show notes page, we will link to each of these books on Amazon if you wanna peruse them and have a handy little resource to go back and find what all of them were. Most of these can be found very inexpensively. They’d make for some great homeschool curriculum for some of the older kids, some great discussions, and even some education for the adults as well. So hopefully that’s been enjoyable for you. There are so many more that we could pick from but we enjoy a lot of these books and we’ll certainly talk about more in the episodes ahead. Make sure your head to tuttletwins.com/podcast. Thanks for subscribing share the podcast with some friends, and Brittany as always great talking with you and we’ll see you next time.
Brittany: See you next time.