I wanted to write about this on the front page rather than simply in the reading list in order to draw additional attention to it. I just finished reading Defending the Undefendable by Walter Block, and I was completely amazed.
This is by far one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. The book is, essentially, a collection of case studies in how to think like a common-sense economist. I say common sense rather than Austrian economist, simply because many of the arguments boil down to fairly basic economic theory rather than specific distinctions unique to the Austrian school. Rather than present the material in a dry, top-down, foundational treatise form (such as Rothbard’s “Man, Economy and State”), Walter Block offers a series of short, real-life examples in how the principles of economics can show us that “conventional wisdom” often misses the greater point.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the variety. Even though almost every one of the “villains” that Block seeks to defend could be justified by the simple argument of “humans only engage in voluntary trade for mutual benefit,” he doesn’t simply rely on that in every chapter. Rather, he comes up with unique (and still relevant) defenses to almost every case, meaning that by the time you are finished with the book, you’ve been exposed to a wide variety of economic concepts and seen them applied to real life situations. In my opinion, the application part is huge. The average layman with absolutely no knowledge of economics could read this book, easily understand the arguments, and walk away understanding basic economics better than Paul Krugman, without even knowing that he was just taught economics.
That’s not to say the book is absolutely perfect. Some of the language is a bit stuffy, some of the cultural references are a bit outdated (it was written in the 70s), and most of the illustrations are just…. weird. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the arguments either, sometimes he just goes too far out there and seem to be playing too much of a devil’s advocate (and coming from me, that’s saying something). The chapter on counterfeiting, for example, strikes me as a fairly weak argument where he was simply trying way too hard to justify something that really does not have any redeeming qualities.
Despite these minor flaws, this is still an excellent book. If I were teaching basic economics to a high-school or undergraduate class, I would prescribe this book as a text. I cannot think of any other book I have read that makes a clearer, more easily understood case for freedom and liberty, while at the same time training your brain to “think like an economist.” This is an all-time classic, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Block for writing it.