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My Year in Books Part 1: Buddhism

I read 43 books in 2018. That doesn’t include all the ones I needed only to look at part of, or skimmed, or gave up on.

It was a weird reading year. Usually I’m more well-rounded in my reading, but 2018 saw me laser focused on two topics that don’t seem to have much to do with each other. But you gotta go where your interests lead, and the books I finish are always slaves to my interests. Thus 2018 became the year of Buddhism and science fiction novels set in the grim darkness of the far future where there is only war.

Rather than do the typical think of listing all the books, with brief comments on each, I’ve decided to tackle this reading retrospective in essay form, because it was a year of sums being greater than parts. And I’m splitting it in two. This week, we’ll talk Buddhism. Next week, the Imperium of Man.

Buddhism

Twelve of those 43 books were about Buddhism, including the first book I read this year: Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True. Wright’s book holds the odd honor of being both the most personally influential thing I read and also, in retrospect, one of the least interesting. Put another way, it’s the book that got me into Buddhism, but as a book about Buddhism, it’s at best okay. That said, man, did it get me into Buddhism, and what an important intellectual journey that’s been.

I’d read a bit about Buddhism prior to this year, and tried meditation some too when I’d stumbled across one popular mindfulness app or another. But Wright’s book, for whatever reason, hooked me this time around. Made me think this is pretty interesting stuff, maybe I should give it a go of real study. It even got me to attend a three day silent meditation retreat—which turned out to be one of the most valuable things I’ve done in quite some time.

Why Buddhism is True, plus subsequent eleven other titles, convinced me that Buddhism, broadly, as articulated by Siddhāttha Gotama and recorded in the earliest versions of his teachings known as the Pali Canon, is largely correct. It’s the right diagnosis of the human condition, and offers the most valuable, practical, and immediate way to achieve happiness given our nature and the world we’re situated within. I became convinced enough of all this that it’s probably safe to say now, today, given a year’s worth of reading, I’m officially a Buddhist, at least of a sort.

The odd place of Wright’s book isn’t because it’s bad. Obviously, it had a tremendous effect on me, and that’s something I can say of very few books, this year or any before. (The last book that radically changed my worldview in anything approaching the way Wright’s did was Rosalind Hursthouse’s On Virtue Ethics, which, years back, set me one the path of seeing more questions through an ancient lens and gave me what I still consider to be the most useful and rich way of thinking about moral issues.) It’s more that Wright comes at Buddhism from a different direction than what works for me. His thing’s evolutionary psychology, and he presents the Buddha’s lessons through that. I’m not against evolutionary psychology, though I get the objections to it. When I was an undergrad, my friend and fellow student and now Cato Institute colleague and Free Thoughts co-host Trevor Burrus recommended Wright’s The Moral Animal to me and it lead to the most fun I’ve ever had analyzing literature. The paper I wrote doing an evolutionary psyche interpretation of a Raymond Chandler’s short story is probably my favorite from my college years.

But that’s not my wheelhouse anymore. I’m a philosophy guy, and what’s more an ancient philosophy guy. The ancients—and by this I always meant, before my reading adventures of 2018, the ancient Greeks—understood the issues that matter to me, or at least talked about those issues, in a way that resonates better and that I find more useful than typically modern philosophical approaches. The gift of Buddhism in 2018 was seeing that a guy living half a world away from Plato and Aristotle’s Athens, but at around the same time, was coming up with ideas complementary to my beloved Greeks, ideas that tackled the same problems but from what seemed a more practical—i.e., grounded in practice—direction. Gotama’s teachings are still quite philosophically dense, but his interest is in articulating what concrete steps you and I and the whole of humanity can take right now to achieve stable and lasting happiness.

Wright, then, lead me to Buddhism, but Buddhism didn’t really take until I began to approach it the way I do Greek philosophy, which meant going back to the ancient sources. That took finding Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a Western monk in the Theravadan Thai Forest Tradition, and his—it’s impossible to overstate this—incredible Dhammatalks.org website. Thanissaro’s books, all available for free, made up much, but not all, of the rest of my Buddhism reading for the year. Thanissaro is largely a translator of the earliest Buddhist texts known as the Pali Canon, compiled and recorded from the oral tradition about 400 years after the Buddha’s death. But he also has a generally philosophical mindset of a Western sort, meaning that his exegesis of those texts presents things in a way that works well for me. In particular, his The Wings to Awakening is a comprehensive anthology and study guide to the core of the Buddha’s teachings, and is the book I’d recommend to anyone with a philosophy background who wants to study Buddhism through primary texts. (As I noted, all of Thanissaro’s books can be downloaded for free from his website, but this PDF gives instructions on how to request free paperback copies, as well. It usually takes a few weeks for them to arrive, and will cost you nothing more than the stamp to mail him a letter with the list of titles you’d like.)

The year’s worth of all this Buddhist reading introduced me to an entirely new philosophical tradition, not just a set of admittedly extremely valuable tools for self-cultivation. It’s a rich tradition, and one that covers a great deal of ground, in epistemology, morality, and ethics, that stands up easily next to the best ideas to come out Ancient Greece. I’ll explore all this more, and give my longer pitch for why western philosophers really ought to be reading Buddhist philosophers, in an upcoming newsletter.

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Critics of Liberty: A Reading List


A guide to the books and essays containing the most powerful arguments against libertarianism.

It’s not enough to be familiar with the major libertarian thinkers and their arguments. A well-informed advocate of liberty must also understand and appreciate the positions of those thinkers who disagree with libertarianism. The works on this list offer a comprehensive introduction to many of the most intriguing, enduring, and forceful attacks on libertarianism — as well as positive arguments for visions incompatible with the philosophy of liberty.

A first step

Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction by Will Kymlicka

Kymlicka’s book tops this list for two reasons. First, it contains an excellent — and highly critical — chapter on libertarianism, one that clearly presents several strong critiques of libertarian philosophy, particularly that of Robert Nozick. Second, it offers equally excellent overviews of the other major schools of modern political thought — utilitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, Marxism, communitarianism, citizenship theory, multiculturalism, and feminism. Each of these schools has something to offer the curious libertarian seeking a better and more nuanced view of political philosophy.

Further reading

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls

Rawls’s monumental A Theory of Justice is very likely the most important work of political philosophy in the last hundred years. It’s often said that all political philosophy published after A Theory of Justice came out in 1971 is, in one way or another, a reaction to it. The theory Rawls lays out isn’t a direct attack on libertarianism — some have even argued it can be interpreted as a powerful foundation for a libertarian society. But it forms much of the background for all contemporary debate, especially within the liberal tradition, making it crucial that any student of libertarian thought understand Rawls.

Liberalism and the Limits of Justice by Michael J. Sandel

Sandel represents one version of the rich school of political philosophy known as communitarianism. At its core, communitarianism is a reaction against philosophical liberalism’s focus on the individual. Communitarians believe that individuals can only be understood as members of a community, and that the community should be a — if not the — focus of political theory. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice takes this so far as to claim that, if the community is given enough weight within a society, there will be no need for considerations of justice. Justice is only needed, Sandel thinks, as a remedy when people are not sufficiently concerned with love and shared goals.

Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality by G. A. Cohen

This is Cohen’s classic response to Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Cohen, a Marxist, agrees with Nozick — and other libertarians — that self-ownership and private property lead to libertarianism. His response is not to abandon Marxism, but to abandon self-ownership and private property. He argues that neither, at least in the strong form Nozick endorses, can be defended. In the area of private ownership of land, for example, Cohen argues that land does not begin in the “unowned” state John Locke and Robert Nozick assume but, rather, that all land is at all times owned by all people. Many outside of libertarianism have found Cohen’s critique perfectly fatal to Nozick’s project. Libertarians, of course, would no longer be libertarians if they agreed.

The Concept of the Political by Carl Schmitt

Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political comes from a perspective so far removed from a libertarian’s view of politics — and even what it means to be human — that it can be a profoundly difficult book to wrestle with. For Schmitt, politics defines humanity. This means that the liberal ideal of reducing or doing away with the sphere of politics means reducing or doing away with humanity itself. Even more troubling, politics only exists because of friend-enemy distinctions. A people genuinely without enemies is a people without politics — and so not really a people at all. The liberal project of toleration and scaling back the power of the state is thus doomed, Schmitt thinks, because it is impossible to abandon our nature, meaning we cannot abandon politics — or enemies. Perhaps even more distressing than the details of Schmitt’s argument is the deep and continuing influence it has had on much modern political thought, particularly that of the neoconservatives and the more radical, collectivist strains of the Left.

Anti-libertarianism: Markets, Philosophy, and Myth by Alan Haworth

If libertarianism is the political philosophy that holds freedom of central importance, then libertarians, Alan Haworth argues, are actually anti-libertarian. In this short book, he sets out to expose the shaky foundations of what Haworth sees as the three principles of libertarianism: the belief in moral good of free markets, the moral evil of the state, and the supreme importance of freedom. Anti-libertarianism is written clearly and passionately, and many of Haworth’s arguments will force libertarians to more closely examine their own beliefs and the reasons they have for holding them. For that reason alone, this book is valuable, even if it ultimately fails in wiping libertarianism from the field.

“What’s Wrong with Negative Liberty” by Charles Taylor

A focus of many critiques of libertarianism, especially from the left, is the idea that libertarians advocate a hyper-individualist, dog-eat-dog morality. Charles Taylor, one of our most important contemporary philosophers, develops this argument by way of attacking “negative liberty.” Negative liberty is the idea, held by most libertarians, that freedom can only be conceived as freedom from something external to the individual. The state’s only legitimate role is to protect us from violations of our negative liberty by others. Taylor argues that this isn’t good enough. “Freedom cannot just be the absence of external obstacles, for there may also be internal ones. Nor may the internal obstacles be confined to those the subject identifies as such, for he may be profoundly mistaken about his purposes and about what he wants to repudiate. And if so, he is less capable of freedom in the meaningful sense of the word.” Even if libertarians are inclined to accept some of Taylor’s argument, they draw a bright line between voluntary, non-coercive efforts to help others achieve freedom in this “meaningful sense,” and state-based, coercive efforts to force us to be free. The imperfect exercise of freedom (in Taylor’s sense of the term) may be the price we pay to avoid tyranny.

“Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries” by Russell Kirk

Twentieth century conservative icon Russell Kirk really didn’t like libertarians — and he set out his reasons why in this essay. The piece is valuable not so much as a compelling critique but as an exemplar of the way libertarianism is often seen by non-libertarians, especially conservatives. For example, Kirk accuses libertarians of being in favor of “exalting an absolute and indefinable ‘liberty’ at the expense of order.” Libertarians, he argues, assume human nature is overwhelmingly good, and the state is an oppressor. But the conservative,” he writes, “finds that the state is ordained of God.” Broadly speaking, Kirk sees libertarians as irresponsible and childish hedonists who lack the realist and tragic view of humanity of the conservative. Most of Kirk’s volleys miss the truth of libertarianism entirely, but his characterization remains one that libertarians must work to expose the inaccuracy of.

Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality by Robert George

The libertarian view of the state’s proper role is that it should protect rights but not legislate or enforce morality, particularly when it comes to victimless crimes. Robert George disagrees. Morals legislation, George argues, is crucial in establishing the moral environment necessary for citizens to lead good and virtuous lives. He spends much of the book critiquing several liberal philosophers in the non-perfectionist tradition, a strain of thought that, like libertarianism, holds that it isn’t proper for the state to force a particular conception of morality (beyond the morality of respecting rights) upon its citizens. From George’s perspective, it is very much the state’s role to morally perfect its subjects. This view ought to deeply concern libertarians — and isn’t one they can safely ignore.

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Libertarian History: A Reading List


A guide to books on the history of liberty and libertarianism.

The history of libertarianism is more than a series of scholarly statements on philosophy, economics, and the social sciences. It is the history of courageous men and women struggling to bring freedom to the lives of those living without it. The works on this list give important context to the ideas found on the others.

A first step

“A History of Libertarianism” by David Boaz

This essay, reprinted from Libertarianism: A Primer, covers the sweep of libertarian and pre-libertarian history, from Lao Tzu in the sixth century B.C. to the latest developments of the 21st century. Because it’s available for free on Libertarianism.org, the essay also includes numerous links to more information about major thinkers and their works. For a general sense of the rich history of the movement for liberty, this is easily the best place to start.

Further reading

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn

Bernard Bailyn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the ideas that influenced the American Revolution had a profound influence on our understanding of the republic’s origin by exposing its deeply libertarian foundations. Bailyn studied the many political pamphlets published between 1750 and 1776 and identified patterns of language, argument, and references to figures such as the radical Whigs and Cato the Younger. Because these were “notions which men often saw little need to explain because they were so obvious,” their understanding was assumed by the Founders and thus not immediately obvious to modern readers. When the Revolution is reexamined with Bailyn’s findings in mind, there’s no way to escape the conclusion that America was always steeped in libertarian principles.

Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement by Brian Doherty

The libertarian movement in America in the 20th century is the focus of this delightful history from Brian Dorhety. Radicals for Capitalism is more the story of the men and women who fought for freedom and limited government than it is an intellectual history of libertarian ideas. But it is an important story because it helps to place the contemporary debate about the place of libertarianism in American politics within the context of a major and long-lived social movement.

The Decline of American Liberalism by Arthur A. Ekirch Jr.

Ekirch traces the history of the liberal idea in the United States from the founding through World War II. He places the high point of true liberalism in the years immediately following the American Revolution, before the federal government began its long march of ever more centralized control over the country. And he shows how this shift has negatively impacted everything from global peace to the economy to individual autonomy.

Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade by Douglas A. Irwin

Ever since Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations appeared in 1776, the case for free trade — both its economic benefits and its moral footing — seemed settled. Yet in the ensuing two centuries, many have attempted to restrict freedom of trade with claims about its deleterious effects. Irwin’s Against the Tide traces the intellectual history of free trade from the early mercantilists, through Smith and the neoclassical economists, and to the present. He shows how free trade has withstood theoretical assaults from protectionists of all stripes — and how it remains the most effective means for bringing prosperity and peace to people throughout the world.

The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000 Year History Told Through the Lives of Freedom’s Greatest Champions by Jim Powell

If Radicals for Capitalism is the tale of the men and women who fought for liberty in the 20th century, Jim Powell’s The Triumph of Liberty fills in the backstory. The book is an exhaustive collection of biographical articles on 65 major figures, from Marcus Tullius Cicero to Martin Luther King, Jr., summarizing their lives, thought, and impact. While not all of them were strictly libertarian, every one of the people Powell covers was instrumental in making the world a freer. For a grand sweep of liberty’s history through the lives of those who struggled in its name, there’s no better source than The Triumph of Liberty.

How The West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation Of The Industrial World by Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdzell Jr.

The central question that How the West Grew Rich addresses is precisely what its title implies. For thousands of years, human beings lived in unrelieved misery: hunger, famine, illiteracy, superstition, ignorance, pestilence and worse have been their lot. How did things change? How did a relatively few people — those in what we call “the West” — escape from grinding poverty into sustained economic growth and material well-being when most other societies remained trapped in an endless cycle of birth, hardship, and death? This fascinating book tells that story. The explanations that many historians have offered — claiming that it was all due to science, or luck, or natural resources, or exploitations or imperialism — are refuted at the outset, in the book’s opening chapter. Rosenberg and Birdzell are then free to provide an explanation that makes much more sense.

The State by Franz Oppenheimer

Much political philosophy begins with a “social concept” theory of the state. Mankind originally existed in a “state of nature,” and the state only arose when people came together and agreed to give up some of their liberties in exchange for protection of others. Oppenheimer rejects this rosy picture and replaces it with his much more realistic “conquest theory,” which finds the genesis of states in roving bands of marauders who eventually settled down and turned to taxation when they realized it was easier than perpetual raiding. The State also features Oppenheimer’s influential distinction between the two means by which man can set about fulfilling his needs: “I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the ‘economic means’ for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the ‘political means.’”

Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World by Deirdre McCloskey

In Bourgeois Dignity, McCloskey offers a different story of economic growth from the common one of capitalism and markets. The West grew rich, she argues, not simply because it embraced trade, but because its cultural ideas shifted, specifically in granting a sense of dignity to the bourgeoisie. It is that dignity — and the rhetoric surrounding it — that sparked the Industrial Revolution and, in turn, lead to the modern world. Bourgeois Dignity traces the influence of these changing ideas — and uses them to explain not just the rise of the West but also the recent, monumental growth of India and China. The book is the second in a four-volume series, “The Bourgeois Era.”

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Libertarian Theory: A Reading List


A selection of books to take readers beyond the basics of libertarianism and into the philosophy and economics that provide its foundations.

If you’re already familiar with the basics of libertarian thought and are interested in exploring deeper, the books on this list provide a thorough overview of the rich fundamentals. A mixture of established classics and modern contributions, these books are a bit more demanding than those on the “Introducing Libertarianism” list. But for the serious student of liberty, these works greatly reward careful study.

A first step

The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman by David Boaz

The scope of libertarian philosophy can be overwhelming. With countless thinkers stretching back thousands of years, it’s difficult to know where to start. David Boaz’s The Libertarian Reader is a great source for the major works, including essays and selections from books. Divided thematically and featuring both classics and newer contributions, it’s the perfect first step in exploring libertarian theory. By reading The Libertarian Reader, you’ll come away with an appreciation of the full reach and complexity of libertarian thought — as well as a sense of where to focus future exploration.

Further reading

The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law by Randy E. Barnett

In The Structure of Liberty, Randy Barnett tackles the problem of justifying a complete libertarian philosophy. Starting with a clear, compelling, and secular account of natural law and natural rights, Barnett moves on to address three significant problems with power, government, and central control: the problem of knowledge, the problem of interest, and the problem of power. Barnett explains how a decentralized markets and polycentric legal orders can best deal with these fundamental limitations of human institutions.

The Bastiat Collection by Frédéric Bastiat

More than 150 years after his death, the works of Frédéric Bastiat remain some of the most incisive critiques of protectionism and big government — was well as the most thoughtful and clear articulations of the benefits of free trade. Bastiat possessed a remarkable ability to make economic analysis clear and compelling and he is unmatched as a popularizer of economic thinking. Highlights include “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen,” which features the now-famous “broken window” fallacy, and “A PETITION From the Manufacturers of Candles,” a terribly funny satire of protectionism, which has a coalition of lighting manufacturers petitioning the government because, they say, “We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price.” They are speaking, of course, of the sun.

Simple Rules for a Complex World by Richard A. Epstein

Richard Epstein is one of the most important contemporary consequentialist libertarian thinkers. His scholarship focuses on the intersection of law and economics, and Simple Rules is no exception. The book sets out a powerful argument for reducing the scope of law to a handful of “simple rules” (autonomy, first possession, consensual exchange) and defines a simple rule as one that generates more benefits than harm. Thus streamlined, law will be more efficient and more conducive to a flourishing society.

Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

Capitalism and Freedom is the book that introduced Milton Friedman to general audiences. In it, Friedman, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, shows how political freedom depends upon economic freedom. He develops this argument through examinations of education, discrimination, the regulation of monopoly, occupational licensing, and poverty. And he shows how free markets, and the incentives they unleash, can address many of the social concerns governments have failed to solve.

The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek

The Constitution of Liberty is Hayek’s monumental restatement of the principles of classical liberalism. Hayek is arguably the most important libertarian thinker of the 20th century, and The Constitution of Liberty is the most thorough and accessible summary of his thought. Hayek’s major contribution is in understanding the way that knowledge operates within a society and how unplanned and emergent behaviors and institutions are better able to draw upon knowledge held by individuals than are bureaucrats and central-planners. The Constitution of Liberty sets out his vision for what a free society respecting these principles would look like.

Second Treatise of Civil Government by John Locke

One of history’s most important works of political philosophy, John Locke’s Second Treatise is a classic and timeless statement of the principles of individual liberty and limited government, one that had a major influence on the founding of the American republic. By starting with a hypothetical “state of nature,” Locke develops a system of human rights, including a right to property, and shows how governments are created by men in order to protect those rights. He argues that, because governments are so limited, citizens are justified in rebelling when the rulers overstep their bounds — an idea that found clear expression in the Declaration of Independence.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

“The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection,” John Stuart Mill writes in his classic utilitarian defense of liberalism, On Liberty. This very libertarian argument leads Mill to defend a great many rights against state incursion, including liberty of conscience, freedom of thought and expression, association, freedom to choose one’s own path in life, and more. On Liberty is a powerful — and beautifully written — defense of the core beliefs of libertarianism.

Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick

Robert Nozick’s book, released to widespread critical and popular acclaim in 1974, was almost single-handedly responsible for making libertarianism a force in modern academic philosophy. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick shows how a minimal state — one that acts only to protect its citizens from violence and fraud — can arise within a state of nature, and without violating any rights. He then goes on to argue that such a minimal state is the only morally legitimate form of government and that it is also the form most conducive to human happiness and a pluralistic conception of the good. Anarchy, State, and Utopia retains a proud place in the canon of political philosophy.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand

Rand’s collection of essays — which also includes pieces from Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Hessen — represents an extended defense of laissez-faire capitalism, which Rand considers the only system compatible with man’s rational nature. The book’s first section addresses the fundamental theories supporting capitalism, as well as its history. The second section applies these ideas to then-contemporary political issues. Taken as a whole, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal offers a thorough application of the ideas of Objectivism to politics and the economy. The book closes with an appendix republishing two major essays, “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government,” which first appeared in The Virtue of Selfishness.

Moral Principles and Political Obligations by A. John Simmons

Most political philosophy begins by assuming the existence of the state and the duty of its subjects to obey its rules. In Moral Principles and Political Obligations, Simmons asks us to take a step back and first address the question of what duty — if any — do we have to obey the state? He examines the most common arguments for state authority — including consent, gratitude, fair play, and natural duty — and finds them either uncompelling or unrealistic when applied to existing governments. His conclusion is “philosophical anarchy,” the idea that we don’t have a moral duty to obey the government — but that there may be other, non-moral reasons for doing so. Political authority is an important issue paid far too little attention by both libertarian and non-libertarian thinkers.

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Introducing Libertarianism: A Reading List


The eight books on this list offer a thorough but accessible introduction to libertarianism.

Libertarianism — its theory, its practice — is an awfully big topic. This reading list gives you a place to start. A combination of newcomers and established classics, these books offer accessible introductions to variety of libertarian thought, from philosophy to history to economics.

Start Here

The Libertarian Mind by David Boaz

Boaz’s The Libertarian Mind is a quick and easy read, but it’s also a remarkably thorough introduction to libertarianism. It covers the historical roots of libertarianism and the basics of libertarian political philosophy and economic thinking. Boaz then applies these ideas to major policy areas, showing how free association and free markets, not government coercion and bureaucracy, can solve our most pressing social issues.

Further Reading

The Law by Frédéric Bastiat

Everything this 19th century Frenchman wrote is worth reading — and The Law is a great place to start. Bastiat’s knack is tackling head-on, with great wit and clarity, the fundamental errors and hidden interests behind much economic and political thinking. With The Law, published in 1850, his target is “legal plunder” or state-authorized confiscation of property. The law exists to protect our basic rights, Bastiat argues. When it instead becomes a means of coerced redistribution, “the law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others.”

The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism by David Friedman

Libertarianism represents a spectrum of political philosophies, all sharing a general presumption of liberty. These philosophies vary in how much of a role they grant the state. Classical liberals, for instance, allow government to tax for the provision of many services, including education and social safety nets. Minarchists see government’s only legitimate role as providing rights protection in the form of police, courts, and national defense. At the extreme are the anarcho-capitalists, who would abolish the state altogether and replace it with purely private and voluntary provision of services, including for the law itself. David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom offers an introduction to anarcho-capitalism, arguing from a “consequentialist” perspective that the state is both unnecessary for achieving a desirable society and that it in fact makes the world worse through its actions. The questions Friedman raises and the analysis he offers will benefit any student of liberty.

Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman

Published as the companion volume to the 10-hour documentary of the same name, Free to Choose was one of the bestselling books of 1980. Here Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, give a spirited and readable critique of the interventionist state, focusing on concrete examples and explanations. Free to Choose is an excellent introduction to the productive power unleashed by freedom — and also a primer on the economic analysis of public policy. The Friedmans examine the workings of markets, look at how well-meaning policies like the minimum wage hurt the poor, and explain the causes of the Great Depression. Covering much the same ground as the documentary series, though in more depth, Free to Choose is a perfect introduction not only to the thought of Milton Friedman, one of the 20th century’s foremost champions of liberty, but also to the under-appreciated and often misunderstood benefits of laissez faire.

Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics by P. J. O’Rourke

Proving that economics need not be a dry, textbook affair, P. J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich sets out to answer the critical question, “Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?” O’Rourke, one of America’s premier humorists, travels the world, visiting Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Cuba, Russia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and uses his experiences to untangle the relationship between markets, political institutions, and culture. While Eat the Rich is a breezy and hilarious read, it is far from facile. O’Rourke’s explorations and the insights he draws from them make the book live up to its subtitle, “A Treatise on Economics.” If you’ve never taken Econ 101 and the thought of supply and demand curves makes you want to nod off, Eat the Richis a perfect book.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

A perennial bestseller since its publication in 1957, Ayn Rand’s mammoth novel Atlas Shrugged has probably turned more people on to libertarianism than any other book. Atlas Shrugged explores a dystopian future, where the government has enthusiastically embraced collectivism in the name of fairness and equality and leading innovators, industrialists, and artists have begun disappearing. The book served as Rand’s platform for promoting Objectivism, her comprehensive philosophy of “rational selfishness.” While Rand’s philosophy remains deeply divisive to this day, it is impossible to deny the enormous impact she’s had on promoting the benefits of free markets and dynamic capitalism.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

The newest book on this list, Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimistemploys the grand sweep of human history and pre-history to argue for the incredible significance of free trade — and against those who would seek to restrict it. In so doing, Ridley offers what amounts to a book-length answer to the question, “Why are people rich?” Most humans who have ever lived did so in unimaginable poverty. It was only recently that standards of living began their remarkable — and accelerating — climb. What happened? Free exchange. “Just as sex made biological evolution cumulative,” Ridley writes, “so exchange made cultural evolution cumulative and intelligence collective, and that there is therefore an inexorable tide in the affairs of men and women discernible beneath the chaos of their actions.”

Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell

While the libertarian vision is much more than just free markets, economic thinking greatly informs the libertarian approach to public policy. When you’re ready to move beyond the brief introduction provided by P. J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich, Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics is the ideal place to turn. Sowell presents the fundamentals of economic reasoning in clear, jargon-free prose. He addresses everything from incentives and the role of prices, to international trade, monetary policy, and the banking system. Sowell shows how so many government programs, enacted with the best of intentions, run afoul of simple economic truths and, as a result, often do far more harm than good.

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Which Star Wars Novels Are Worth Reading?


An ongoing list of the new canon books I’ve read, the ones I’d read again, and the ones I wish I’d never read in the first place.

If you’re going to read Star Wars novels, which ones should you read? If you’re dedicated enough, you read them all, of course. But if your time is limited or your tastes not quite so focused, which ones are worth your time? Here’s my stab at answering for each of the new Star Wars novels I’ve read.


A New Dawn

By John Jackson Miller. The novel that started it all doesn’t have a ton to offer, even for fans of Kaden and Hera from Star Wars Rebels, whose introductions it tells. Here’s where they meet, in a story about an evil corporate overlord in cahoots with the Empire, and his plan to blow up an inhabited moon to speed up mining operations.

The book took me a while to get through because I just didn’t care much about what was happening. We don’t need to know how Kaden and Hera met, especially given how little both of them in A New Dawn resemble their Rebels versions. This reads like it was written by someone who’d never seen the show.

Recommendation: Skip it.

Aftermath

By Chuck Wendig. The first novel to give us a peek at events between Episodes VI and VII, Star Wars: Aftermath is mostly about dropping hints. It also suffers from a problem common to many of the new books. Namely, because big reveals must be saved for the movies, reveals in the novels are necessarily small. A such, Aftermath spends most of its time following a rather inconsequential story, though it does give a decent sense of what the galaxy looks like immediately following the Emperors death. Is it worth reading? Maybe. Though perhaps it would be better, if your interest is mostly in the state of the universe stuff, to just read the Interludes spread throughout the book, instead of the whole thing. Still, like Bloodline, Aftermath probably falls in the category of novels to read only if you’ve got nothing better. Otherwise, the Wookieepedia coverage is just as good.

Aftermath: Life Debt

By Chuck Wendig. The second in the Aftermath trilogy, Aftermath: Life Debt is more of the same. We get to see the liberation of Kashyyyk, but its less interesting than it ought to be. We get to see the remnants of the Empire continue to sputter, intrigue, and seek to regain control. But, again, theres not enough good here in terms of storytelling, characters or prose to make reading 400 pages worth it unless you really liked Aftermath.

Battlefront: Twilight Company

By Alexander Freed. The thing about Star Wars novels is that if you took away the Star Wars branding and set them in an original universe, we fans probably wouldn’t see much value in reading them. Top-shelf sci-fi they’re typically not. Battlefront: Twilight Company’s a rare exception.

Not much new in terms of world-building or secrets revealed, but this story of grunts fighting for the Rebellion is just so damn good, with compelling and adult characterization, meaningful emotion, and excellent, if a little workmanlike, prose. If you read just one of the novels in the new Star Wars cannon, make it this one. Though you run the risk, as happened to me, that Alexander Freed’s book will ruin a bit whatever else you read in the series, because its that much better than its peers.

Before the Awakening

By Greg Rucka. Oh man, do I wish I’d read this before seeing The Force Awakens. A collection of three short stories set just before the events of the film, Before the Awakening answers a few of the most confusing things about Episode VII while not spoiling the introductions of Rey, Finn, and Poe. Rey’s story tells us why she’s such a good pilot if she spent her life landlocked on a single planet. Poe’s tells us what the Resistance is and its relationship to the New Republic. Okay, theres not much in Finns. But its still good.

The book arrived from Amazon a few days before Episode VII’s premier and I held off reading it, fearing spoilers. That was a mistake. I would’ve enjoyed the movie more if Id read this first.

Bloodline

By Claudia Gray. A grown up novel fro the author of the much better YAStar Wars: Lost Stars,Bloodline ploddingly tells a story that shouldve been better, given the importance of its premise. Episode VII begins with the new that Leia is no longer a senator but instead back in a military role leading The Resistance against the First Order, and this Resistance is somehow distinct from the Republic Navy. So what gives? Thats the storyBloodline sets out to tell. But its just not all that interesting when the events are all out on the table. And while the author handles the tragic love affair inLost Stars with the necessary YA ham-handed starry-eyedness, when shes writing adults engaged in whats supposed to be political intrigue, she lacks the chops to make it at all convincing. Simply put, the book is boring and not worth the time. Better to just read about the events and characters online.

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel

By James Luceno. Catalyst is a difficult novel to slot into this list. On the one hand, its pretty dull and largely plotless. On the other, having read it before seeing Rogue One, Im convinced it make me enjoy that movie more than otherwise. Introducing Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, it strengthens the characters and relationship of both men, and so makes the events ofRogue One better resonate. Recommended for that, but not much else.

Lost Stars

By Claudia Gray. The first genuinely interesting novel in the new canon, and the first thats an unquestionably recommended read. Star Wars: Lost Stars gives us a bit of new information on the post-Return of the Jedi era, mostly regarding the Battle of Jakku, but its good stuff comes in presenting a thoughtful, realistic look at the events of the original trilogy from an Imperial perspective. We get to see the Rebels as terrorists. If we don’t rebuilt it, the terrorists will have won.and the Imperial rank and file as sympathetic true believers.

My only knock against the book is that as a YA novel, it shoehorns in largely uninteresting teenage drama and romance. But thats easy enough to overlook when the rest contributes so much to a story I thought I already knew inside and out.

Tarkin

By James Luceno. Okay, if a little unfocused. It fills in a good deal of Tarkin’s backstory, but I found it didn’t do much to change my sense of the character or make me appreciate him more. Lucino’s a decent enough writer, but theres just not enough here to make reading the novel worth the extra time over just reading Tarkin’s entry in Wookieepedia.

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Why the Rogue One Novelization’s Author Is a Good Sign for the Movie

Alexander Freed wrote the best Star Wars novel to date and his style fits perfectly what we hope Rogue One will be.


Reshoots have fans worried.

Every movie schedules reshoots, but scuttlebutt is that Rogue One’s getting more than most, and that they’re happening because Disney wants more humor. That they want a “lighter” story and jokier dialog. Disney’s denied this, but studios always deny fans’ fears, right?

So are we facing a needlessly “family friendly” movie? Will Rogue One suffer the senseless humor of the prequels? To date, I haven’t been much concerned. Now, with the announcement of Alexander Freed as the author of the movie’s novel tie-in, I’m even less so.


Freed’s not an established name in Star Wars books. He’s a video game and comics guy. But his one novel, Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company, is the best in the new Star Wars cannon. (It’s the only tie-in novel to make BuzzFeed’s list of the “24 Best Science Fiction Books of 2015.”) In fact, Twilight Company is quite likely the best written novel to bear the Star Wars name, and certainly the one that makes the best case for being just a good novel, even if you filed off all the Star Wars bits.

It’s also the most distinctive in tone — and that tone is what bodes well for Rogue One the movie. Disney had a ton of choices for the novelization. They could’ve turned to one of their regulars, like Alan Dean Foster. They could’ve chosen someone of bland competence, like Troy Denning. But they went with a guy who has only a single novel under his belt.

The thing that sents Twilight Company apart isn’t just the quality of its prose and dialog, though both are excellent. What sets it apart is its grown-up psychology, in contrast to most Star Wars novels, which tend to go for a style of what I’ll call “adolescent” psychology.


It’s important to note that this distinction isn’t about the presence of violence or “grittiness.” You could tell a psychologically adult light adventure story and a psychologically adolescent war story. Twilight Company is, of course, about war, but that’s not what makes it so good.

The common feature of the adolescent style is that characters act without feeling the weight of their situations. They fret, yes, and get angsty, but they maintain a sort of archetypal detachment. Han is always wisecracking Han, no matter what’s happening. The young lovers in Star Wars: Lost Stars swoon for each other because that’s what young lovers are supposed to do, even when their world is falling apart. And all of it happens in a way that meets the expectations of how children and tweens and teenagers believe adults act and think instead of the way adults actually act and think.

https://aaronrosspowell.com/star-wars-lost-stars-a-terrific-star-wars-story-dragged-down-by-unfortunate-ya-ness-4de840b249e3

I got into this in a bit more depth in my reviews of Lost Stars and Star Wars: Bloodline. Of the latter, I wrote,

Bloodline tells Leia’s story, as she slouches through a dull political career suddenly made livelier by uncovered secrets, unexpected betrayal, and a fall from grace. But the whole thing has a typically juvenile feel, like this is how an unworldly teenager thinks politics works or spying missions play out or adults talk to each other. There’s a lack of psychological plausibility, a lack of realistic emotional expression, and a lack of meaningful danger.

This tone pervades most Star Wars novels. They rarely feel real — and in a way that has nothing to do with aliens and spaceships and the Force.

https://aaronrosspowell.com/star-wars-lost-stars-a-terrific-star-wars-story-dragged-down-by-unfortunate-ya-ness-4de840b249e3

Twilight Company feels real. It feels like actual people with psychological depth, facing situations that make them uncomfortable or put them in difficult positions, and then responding as adults genuinely would. Their motives make sense, their reactions to events and to each other make sense. The characters of Twilight Company are, dare I say it, deep.

What does this mean for Rogue One? Like I said above, Lucasfilm didn’t have to choose Freed to write the novel. He wasn’t an obvious pick. So that decision, coupled with how much Twilight Company (again, his only published novel to date) stands out from the rest, makes me think that his announced tie to Rogue One is because Rogue One will match Alexander Freed.

If that’s the case, then we’ll get a movie that also stands out, and for all the right reasons.

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Star Wars: Lost Stars — A terrific Star Wars story dragged down by unfortunate YA-ness


Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Lost Stars caps off my reading of the five novels in the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens series. On the whole, they’ve been quite good — and much better than the old EU stuff. Part of that, I’m sure, is their canon-ness. These books — and I know this is silly — are about what actually happened in the Star Wars universe. The EU, on the other hand, always had a whiff of fan fiction.

Gray’s novel is, on the one hand, a terrific look at the events of the three movies (plus a few years more) from a different and fun direction. But, I really wish it hadn’t been YA. Or rather, I wish it hadn’t been YA romance.


This is, I’ll admit, the first YA “boy-and-girl-fall-for-each-other-and-run-into-troubles” book I’ve read. Though I take it that genre’s kind of a thing among a pretty big set of readers. (Twilight and all the other supernatural romances fall into this category, I guess?) But, so far as I can tell, what it meant in practice is that we got basically a war story with a bunch of teen drama and teen romance shoehorned in, both of which were at best boring.

And, while the events of the novel were a ton of fun to read about, the two main characters, Thane and Ciena, were so totally flat, so totally without interesting features, that I didn’t care a jot about their budding love or tortured loyalties. Maybe that’s a romance thing. That you want the readers to be able to imagine themselves as one of the two leads, as so you have to make them sort of empty vessels and totally non-threatening, so there’s nothing where the reader’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to imagine myself as thatguy or girl.” For someone who didn’t find the drama/romance compelling, though, the flatness leaves the characters feeling, well, flat.

But, anyway, that aside, I quite enjoyed Lost Stars. Seeing how Imperials reacted to things like the destruction of Alderaan and then of the first Death Star was pretty neat. As was the Battle of Jakku.

I just wish it hadn’t been a novel about kids acting and talking like really bland kids.

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Animus: Six Tales of Crime and Terror


Six Tales of Crime and Terror

From Aaron Ross Powell, author of the apocalyptic horror novel The Hole, comes this collection of six stories of crime and terror.

You can get the book on Amazon, listen to it on Audible, or read each of the stories by following the links below.

  • “Snowed In” tells the story of three people with secrets to hide who meet at a roadside bar during a storm–and learn that there’s nothing deadlier than each other. Read it here.
  • In “Helix,” a detective takes a case that leads him into the twisted world of genetic modification and artificial intelligence. Read it here.
  • The violent noir “Let Sleeping Gods” features a bad man doing very bad things to prevent the end of the world.
  • “What the People Want” is an alternate history legal mystery about what happens when the law becomes a product of popular culture.
  • “Traffic Light” is about a carjacking with a terrible motive.
  • In “Old Lady Prideaux’s Terrible Menagerie,” an ex-cop is asked to investigate the odd old lady who lives across the street–and discovers truths far weirder than he could’ve imagined. Read it here.
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The Hole: A Novel of Supernatural Apocalypse

A Novel of Supernatural Apocalypse


The world as Elliot Bishop and Evajean Rhodes know it is gone. Destroyed. In just two weeks, a horrific plague raged across the planet — driving its victims insane before killing them.

The two survivors set out on an unimaginable journey, driven by a cryptic message from Evajean’s husband: If anything terrible happens, you must get to Salt Lake City. But the pair soon discover they are not alone, and that the plague has done more than kill. The countryside between Virginia and Utah now crawls with victims who have been driven mad — violent lunatics fueled with definite yet unknown purpose.

To survive, Elliot and Evajean must fight for their lives — against the crazies, against sinister forces who would stop their quest, against long-ago hidden menaces — and uncover the deeply guarded secret of those driven mad and the plague that spawned them. The secret of a destructive force unleashed on the world by one of America’s most powerful religious sects…


Buy The Hole

Amazon Kindle ($2.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited)

Paperback ($12.95)

Audiobook ($11.95)


Read Chapter 1

Elliot sat on the front steps of his house and sipped a warm Dr. Pepper as he watched his neighbor drag her husband’s corpse to the curb.

She was short, dark haired — like a pixie. Her husband was fat and stiff and filthy. Elliot liked her look. He was used to her husband’s.

Setting down the pop can, still feeling numb at the horror his life had turned into, Elliot realized he’d come to assume he was the only one left. It was a shock that this woman was alive.

He stood and walked across the lawn toward her. “Need help?” he called.

She turned and stared at him. Elliot smiled and lifted his arm in a half-hearted wave. He said, “You want me to help you?” Now only a handful of paces away, he said, “Evajean, right? Your name’s Evajean?”

She nodded, the dead man’s wrists huge in her small hands.

“I’m Elliot. I live next door.” He looked down at the body. “Where are you taking him?”

“Away,” she said.

“Okay. I’ll help. If he’s too heavy for you, I’ll help carry him.”

She nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Yeah.”

Elliot took the large man’s ankles, which were cold and greasy and the skin slid too easily over the bone. They moved him to an old Subaru — rusted and flaked, with the shadows of bumper stickers across the back — parked in front of Evajean’s house. She pulled keys from her pocket, unlocked the car, and lifted hatchback. “In here,” she said.

Elliot didn’t move. He thought, in the trunk?

Evajean didn’t seem to notice. She lifted and strained, trying to pull the body into the car. After a moment, Elliot shook his head, briefly closed his eyes, and helped her.

When they had her husband stowed away, Evajean reached up and yanked the hatchback closed. She looked through the dusty window at the body, her hands pressed to the glass.

Elliot stood behind her, one foot up on the curb, and waited. A moment later, Evajean turned away. “I’m going inside now,” she said.

“Sure,” Elliot said.

“Are you the only one?” she said. “The only one alive?”

“Besides you,” he said, “I think so.”

Evajean looked at him, at his chest and then his face and then a point beyond him. She nodded and walked up the middle of her lawn to the front door of her house, opened it, and went inside. She pulled the door shut behind her.

Elliot peered through the window of the hatchback. The man was hefty, he saw, not quite fat. His skin had gone black around his mouth. His lips had deep gouges and little crescent cuts. From fingernails, Elliot somehow knew, when she’d tried to force those lips closed.

From when she’d tried to shut him up.

With his own wife, Elliot had almost done the same.


He’d gone back into his house after that.

Elliot wanted to see her again. He’d thought he was alone, the last one left in Charlottesville, and now there was this woman, right across the street. Living and breathing — and not sick, not mad, not crazy.

But he knew the look on her face, the vacancy in her eyes. He wouldn’t disturb her. He’d let her grieve.

He poured a drink and took it to the living room. He sat in the large recliner and flipped up the leg rest and set the tumbler on his stomach as he looked out the front window. The sun had fallen below the tops of the trees across the street.

He wasn’t alone. He smiled at this simple pleasure and drank.

His wife and daughter were dead. Callie had gone first, her young body twisted at the end, her muscles taut against the pain. At least the madness had been brief — she’d been one of the lucky majority — and the disease took her without reducing her to an animal first.

With Clarine it was different. His wife died shortly after their daughter. They’d both known it was coming. She’d had the first symptoms days before they buried Callie. She’d grown lethargic, was then afflicted with something like the flu — but so much worse, so much more hateful and awful. The gibbering started a week later and Elliot had known it would be bad, that the madness which bypassed Callie would take his wife in full.

The flu part had gone away and her strength returned, but this was only the next step in the disease. She began to mumble under her breath and slur when she spoke to him. She tried to hide her terror at what was coming.

When Clarine could no longer control her speech and sat babbling in this same chair in which Elliot now drank and remembered, she’d pleaded with him to make it stop. She scrawled incoherent messages on scraps of paper and gazed into his eyes with pity and pain.

But he couldn’t cure her — and couldn’t bring himself to make the convulsive babbling cease. Not like Evajean had done.

So Clarine silenced herself. Before the disease claimed her entirely, turning her feral before killing her, she’d taken a crystal candlestick from the mantle, broken off the narrow end about two-thirds of the way up, and driven the base with its long glass spike into the fleshy area under her chin. It penetrated easily, cutting through the floor of her mouth, her tongue, and into her skull. Where she found the strength, he didn’t know.

Elliot finished his drink and set the glass on the coffee table. He leaned back and stared at the ceiling and fell asleep.


Evajean was knocking at the front door.

Elliot rubbed his eyes and climbed out of the chair, blinking in the sunlight coming through the window.

He opened the door and stepped back to let her in. She hugged herself and stared past him.

“It’s okay,” he said. “Please, come in.”

She didn’t. She said, “I — Is there…”

“There’s nobody else inside,” he said. “They’re buried under the tree.”

She exhaled and her shoulders relaxed. She stepped inside.

“You want anything to drink?” Elliot said. “I have bottled water. Also some whiskey.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“The whiskey?”

“Yeah.”

He poured and handed her the glass. She took it and looked down into the drink. “Thank you.”

“Do you want to sit down?”

She nodded.

He took her into the living room. She sat on the couch. Elliot said, “I’m sorry about your husband.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Did you — ”

“A wife and daughter.”

“I knew that,” she said. “I’d seen them.”

“Clarine was my wife. Callie was my little girl.”

“Henry,” she said. “My husband was Henry.”

They both sat. Neither spoke.

A moment later, Evajean said, “What’s going to happen to us?”

Elliot thought about it. “We survive. We figure out how to survive.”

“I don’t think we’re going to get sick,” she said.

“Neither do I.”

“Why aren’t we?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many people died?” she said.

Elliot didn’t know. The plague had come only a month ago. In less than two weeks, nearly everyone he knew was dead. The power went out, the radio stations stopped broadcasting, and the Internet was silent. Newspapers stopped almost immediately. News outside of Charlottesville was impossible to come by. Clarine had always insisted they keep a stocked basement pantry, so Elliot and his family had not gone hungry. What little he’d learned of the plague came from watching his neighbors succumb, from talking to friends and relatives before the phone service collapsed, from seeing the disease kill Clarine and Callie and everyone else — except him. And except Evajean.

Elliot said, “Everyone died, I think.”

“Everyone but us.”

“Everyone but us,” Elliot said.

“Do you wish you’d died with them?” Evajean said.

Elliot looked away and scratched his arm. “No,” he said.

“You do,” Evajean said. “I do, too.”

Elliot shook his head. “No,” he said. “I thought I would, but I don’t.”

“I’m sorry I upset you.”

“No,” Elliot said. “I’m fine. Actually, I’m hungry. Do you want breakfast?”

They ate — canned peaches poured over dry cornflakes, with cranberry juice boxes. Evajean wolfed hers. When she’d finished, she said, “We can’t stay here.”

Elliot set down his spoon.

Evajean said, “Every house is full of bodies and the ones that aren’t, they’re buried in the yard. There’s no food in the stores. We’ll have to go into the houses and forage to get things to eat. I don’t want to do that.”

Elliot didn’t either. “Where would you go?” he said.

“Henry told me — He talked to me once about how I should go to Salt Lake City if anything happened to him.”

“To Utah?”

She laughed. “It’s crazy. I told him what am I going to do in Utah? He said — Henry said…” She stopped and stared at the table, closing her eyes.

Elliot let her sit.

Eventually, she said, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Elliot said.

She inhaled and let the breath out slowly. “I want to go to Salt Lake City,” she said.

“Okay.”

“I want you to come with me.”

Elliot didn’t think before he answered, nor was he surprised by his response. “Of course,” he said.

“Really?” She grinned. She leaned across the small kitchen table and hugged him, then quickly pulled away. “Thank you,” she said.


They planned. Elliot had a pickup truck. Evajean had camping gear. They filled the truck’s bed with a tent and sleeping bags, with a portable stove and fuel, with cans of food and dry goods.

They agreed it wasn’t enough, not to travel across the bulk of the country. Not to travel into that unknown expanse of dead land.

There was a Walmart in Charlottesville. They’d drive there and see what they could find.

Elliot felt nothing leaving his home behind. Only a moment he spent looking out at the two mounds in the backyard, under the oak tree, one smaller than the other. Only a moment he thought of how they’d come to live here, he and Callie and Clarine — how his wife had suggested the move, had picked out the house, and he’d gone along with it. Just like he was going along now.

Evajean said “Thank you” as they pulled out of the driveway. Elliot tilted his head to look at her. She said, “This could be stupid. We could die out there. Thank you for coming with me.”

“Don’t worry about it. You were right, anyway. I can’t stay here.”

She nodded, staring out the window.

Elliot drove.

He hadn’t been off the block since Clarine died. Charlottesville’s streets and lawns were free of corpses. Folks sought privacy in death. The town didn’t look like a tomb. It was just vacant, like everyone had left to watch the big game.

The air stank. Faint, not overpowering, but noticeable as the wind carried it in through the truck’s open windows. Decay. A town rotting behind cheerful doors, within manicured tombs.