Why you should care

Because what Washington’s bigwigs are reading matters.

The OZY Summer Reading Series: Each week we share a specially themed book list, chosen by OZY staff.

If you’re looking for summer reading with a little more kick than your average beach paperback, Grover Norquist has got you covered. President of Americans for Tax Reform, conservative kingmaker and Burning Man attendee, Norquist has told OZY readers about everything from the future of libertarianism to what — and whom — to bet on in 2016. Now see his four picks for books that look at the world from nontraditional viewpoints, each with lessons for how to approach today’s and tomorrow’s big questions.

A Narrative of a Revolutionary Solder: Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin

This memoir, previously published as Private Yankee Doodle, has one of the best perspectives on war that I’ve read. Martin joined the Continental Army at the age of 15 and served until age 23. In 1830, at 70 years old, he wrote this personal history of the American Revolution. The long war, the hunger, lack of boots and chaos of battle come through the eyes of a determined — and remarkably good-humored — young man. Pretty far from my life in business school at age 23.

The Defence of Duffer’s Drift
by Ernest Dunlop Swinton

This book is filled with such strong lessons on war and personal life alike that the British War Office ordered 3,000 copies for its soldiers to read in World War II. Written in 1907, it’s the story of a British commander in South Africa with orders to prevent a Boer army from crossing the Silliaasvogel river. Things don’t begin well: In the first few pages, the Boers advance and capture the entire unit. But then the book takes a surprising turn — it turns out to be a series of six dreams in which our commander “Backsight Forethought” fights and refights this battle, learning 22 lessons over six battles. In the first five, he fails for reasons he can’t understand. In the sixth, he succeeds. In life, we don’t get so many chances; in fiction, we do. And we might learn from the mistakes and triumphs of this story.

The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself
by James Grant

You probably don’t know the long-ignored history of the 18-month recession in 1920–21. Neither Woodrow Wilson nor Warren G. Harding enacted tax hikes, jobs programs, wage or price controls. Yet by the end of 1921, the Roaring Twenties were off and running. Oddly, many look to the Hoover reaction to the 1929 crash as a model for how to “fix” recessions — he raised the income tax rate to 77 percent, enacted jobs programs and set floors below wages and prices. FDR followed suit. The 1929 recession lasted not 18 months but over a decade. Sometimes the lessons of history are right in front of us.

Some may be familiar with the great-man theory of history, in which one man’s wickedness or lousy judgment — Stalin, Louis XVI — can wreak great damage. MacKay, writing in 1852, details the horrors that flow not from individuals but from mass delusions, such as investment bubbles in tulips, the Mississippi Scheme, the South Sea Bubble, not to mention blood-soaked group enthusiasms like the Crusades, dueling, witch hunting and the Slow Poisoners. The masses can be as dangerous as a bad king. In modern America we have the king thing pretty much under control … but … this? We’ll leave that to you.

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