What would conservatives deem the top five books Americans should read?
Five Books Newsletter reporter Jonathan Rauch asked this question to six experts. He asked political analyst Karl Rove, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute, Daniel Finkelstein of the Times of London, Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review and Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institute to come up with a list.
The top pick was “Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek. Number 2 was “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers, followed by “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Toqueville. The “Federalist Papers” by Hamilton, Jay and Madison were next with “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman at No. 5.
However, the author went on to ask Karl Rove for his top 5 and his answers were quite interesting.
Rove puts “The Federalist Papers” at the top. “I think this is the greatest explanation, in one place, of the American Constitution; of the essential underpinnings and structures that make democracy possible. We can learn from it what is necessary to maintain the American democracy.”
He chose De Toqueville’s “Democracy in America” next because “the recognition that the American habit of association, our tendency to gather together in groups to solve immediate needs without waiting for direction from the government, is vital to the American experience.”
Surprisingly, “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater ranks high for Rove, even though it came out in the 1960s. Why read it today? “It really strikes a defined note of individualism,” Rove says. “I was a westerner – he spoke in western vernacular and spoke about things that as a westerner I felt familiar with – and it was a rip roaring good read.”
Instead of “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman, Rove picked “Capitalism and Freedom” by that author.
“It was very contraversial. If you have the form of political freedom, but not the substance of market freedom, eventually it will undermine the form of political freedom,” Rove says.
Lastly, he likes “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” by Adam Smith. “For me, the essential part of it is his description of human nature, that there really is inherent in every human being, a striving to win the favor of others by doing right things… I don’t think you can have a society as he describes in “The Wealth of Nations” without also having understood the nature of human striving.”
For the picks and explanations by the other experts, you can read more at