11 Essential Books to Round Out Your Education

Dig into these useful introductions to Western civilization, the American experience, conservative thought, and economics.

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Western Civilization

Ugly myths about Western civilization have gained currency in popular culture and the academy. This book is the antidote. The esteemed Baylor University scholar Rodney Stark debunks the politically correct myths about the West. In this page-turning history he takes you on a thrilling journey from ancient Greece to the present.
How the West Won

How the West Won

by Rodney Stark
This little book (just 56 pages) is packed with wisdom desperately needed in our contentious political climate. You’ll get an education in one sitting: Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield, one of America’s leading political theorists, gives you a readable guide to history’s most influential political thinkers, from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine to Hobbes, Locke, Burke, and Tocqueville.

A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy

by Harvey C. Mansfield

America’s Founding Principles

This slim book by the great Russell Kirk—the godfather of modern American conservatism—explains the political, economic, and moral principles on which America is built. According toTownhall, “This short, easy-to-read book should be required reading for every student.”

The American Cause

by Russell Kirk
Kirk goes deeper here in this classic work that might be called “A Tale of Five Cities”: Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia. He shows clearly how the Founders who gathered in Philadelphia in 1776 and 1787 drew on 2,500 years of Western tradition to shape the American order.
The Roots of American Order

The Roots of American Order

by Russell Kirk
Matthew Spalding, an expert in American political history at Hillsdale College, takes you on an enlightening tour through the ten principles that have made America the freest and most prosperous nation in history. He also highlights the relentless attacks that undermine those foundational principles today.

We Still Hold These Truths

by Matthew Spalding

Conservative Thought

If the American order emerged from 2,500 years of Western tradition, the modern American conservative movement emerged to preserve and defend the Western and American traditions of liberty. But today there’s so much confusion and conflict that it can be hard to say what conservatism means anymore. If you’re seeking answers, this classic book is for you. It features brilliant essays by some of conservatism’s greatest thinkers, including F. A. Hayek, William F. Buckley Jr., and Russell Kirk.
What Is Conservatism?

What Is Conservatism?

by 12 Leading Conservatives
Just look at Twitter and you’ll see that the conservative/libertarian debate is as lively today as ever. But do you ever get the feeling that people are talking past one another? Here, leading conservative and libertarian thinkers actually engage one another’s arguments. As World magazine said in its review, “The rare sight of both sides critiquing each other can be eye-opening.”

Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate

by George V. Carey
With busy schedules, the constant distraction of social media, and job and school opportunities that take us far away from home, it’s harder than ever to lay down roots in our communities. Oh well, that’s life, right? Well, take another look at what you’re losing—what we’re all losing. It’s not just that we’re becoming atomized individuals, with looser and looser ties to family, neighborhood, church, and so forth. This classic book by Robert Nisbet shows you the key overlooked aspect of community: if you care about limiting government power, you can’t champion individualism alone.

The Quest for Community

by Robert Nisbet


In this vital little guide, economics is anything but a “dismal science.” And the truth is, you need to understand economic basics, because politicians and pundits throw out so much misinformation. So dig in here. In just 60 pages you’ll learn the history of economic thought. You’ll also learn why the market economy is responsible for America’s unprecedented prosperity. That’s no small matter at a time when polls shows that young Americans actually prefer socialism to capitalism.

A Student’s Guide to Economics

by Paul Heyne
No matter what you think about the federal government, this book will open your eyes. If you’re passionate about limited government, it shows you why you’ve probably been relying on the wrong arguments to make your case. And if you’re not concerned about big government, this work offers reasons to rethink your position.
False Promise of Big Government

The False Promise of Big Government

by Patrick M. Garry
Want to understand how economics really works? You can’t do much better than this masterpiece by the great economist Wilhelm Röpke. As the Wall Street Journal notes, reading this book is like being in “a seminar on integral freedom conducted by a professor of uncommon brilliance.” In a new introduction, the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg writes that A Humane Economy challenges “those who question the market economy’s moral and economic benefits.” A timely message.
A Humane Economy

A Humane Economy

by Wilhelm Röpke

Just the Beginning

Of course, these books are just a start. You can (and should!) go deeper in your reading—and ISI has plenty of other resources for you.

But when you read these books—accessible, engaging works written by leading thinkers—you’ll get an excellent grounding in foundational ideas.