Old Friends is a series on authors who have made significant contributions to western culture.
Last Updated: July 25, 2021
One of the pleasures of old age is that you can reflect on life, on history. Not that we don’t do that when young or at any other time in our adult lives. But what begins to evolve is this measure of realism that settles into your line of reasoning. As the decades pass, you quietly discard some ideas because you realize they are unjust or unrealistic. But you also discover that there are some ideas that have affected you personally and have shaped your world view. They are tested by experience and evidence, and within that crucible are ideas you never discard. For some reason they keep coming up.
When I retired at the end of November 2020 I was excited with the opportunity to read more often, along with traveling, hiking, fishing and self-educating. It was not with some trepidation that I started to pick up books to read. Since about 2008 I had struggled with what can be labeled as Computer Vision Syndrome. It’s chief symptom was recurring migraines and its remedy was a more regimented exposure to the computer screen. Needless to say, reading was problematic as my eyes would quickly tire and after about six pages I would lose focus. It was frustrating, to say the least. But upon retirement I was not in front of a computer for eight hours a day. I decided that the place to begin was to finish what I had started. This included Jewish Antiquities by Josephus, The Life of Christ by Frederic W. Farrar, and Phantastes by George MacDonald. For the first time in decades I had the leisure and the ability to read more and enjoy it. The first two books were part of research on one of my projects, while Phantastes was simply revisiting a Victorian author who I deeply enjoy.
As I placed those works back on the shelf (they were all keepers), I considered my next step. I looked over the titles in my library and came across some “old friends.” It is interesting that as we age we seem to retain a fondness for certain songs, movies and books. It is at this point you begin to realize how truly significant these works of art had been. Alas, I have read Cat in the Hat, but I rarely quote it. It’s content almost never comes to mind when discussing the forces that shape our world. No, some works of art stick because they are “true” in some sense, even if they are works of fiction or musical lyrics. As regards books, they are most profoundly effective if they contribute ideas, ideas that reflect manifested human nature, ideas that are strangely prophetic or deeply insightful. I am a person of ideas. I find human behavior fascinating. Ideas matter. Ideas, when implemented, can affect humanity for good or evil.
So I decided to reacquaint myself to these “old friends.” These are books that I have subconsciously returned to on numerous occasions. I hope you find them as valuable as I. And maybe it will encourage you to seek truth if you have not done so yet. And it may give you pause, to reflect on your own journey and the ideas that shaped your view of the world.
As a disclaimer, depending on when you read this introduction, the list below may expand over time as I rediscover more old friends.
Harvard University Press, 1967
I find it a bit peculiar that the one book that was on the top of my list was a historian’s review of pamphlets written just prior to the American Revolution. Yet the ideas that were written on these humble pages would transform the history of mankind. I can’t recall which class in college had this book as assigned reading. It was probably American Intellectual History. Courses at Hope College were typically reading-intensive. I had to squeeze in several books a week and it resulted in most of them being scanned using speed-reading techniques. But even with a quick read, it was clear to me that this book was gold. After college I reread the book and I have used it as a reference ever since.
Edited by Bruce Caldwell
Chicago University Press, 2007
I am not certain Dr. Hayek would be flattered if I gave him the metaphysical distinction of being prophetic, but The Road to Serfdom, a book that would be first published in 1944, would contain within it startling observations of our modern society, the evolution of the regulative State and the steady erosion of individual liberty. What has made this book so relevant is what surrounds us every day. It is impossible to ignore.