The 10 Best Libertarian Books for Beginners
We libertarians are often asked what influenced us to embrace our radical philosophy of freedom.
A common answer is Ayn Rand’s libertarian novel, Atlas Shrugged, the great philosopher’s 1200-page magnum opus that originated the catchphrase, “Who is John Galt?”
It’s an outstanding book, albeit a bit wordy in places, but it’s not the best introductory novel. Rand’s prose, while certainly well-crafted, can be overwhelming at times.
What we’re seeking instead are libertarian books that are more accessible to beginners.
Though we at Art for Liberty are more focused on libertarian fiction, I decided to include some non-fiction as well. Non-fiction brings a lot of people into the libertarian fold. I myself read about as many non-fiction books as fiction. So I have selected five from each category.
To be clear, the below libertarian books for beginners aren’t necessarily my ten favorites overall. I’ve selected them for accessibility and the different aspects of the libertarian ideal that each represents.
I’ll begin with the non-fiction.
The 5 Best Non-Fiction Libertarian Books for Beginners
If I were to assemble the physical editions of these picks on one shelf, one thing would be immediately noticeable: they are all rather thin volumes.
That’s because an introduction to libertarianism for beginners, especially in the case of non-fiction, should be short enough to digest without trying the reader’s patience.
Ironically, they all have rather long titles.
1. The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul (2008)
Ron Paul surveys the many problems facing America today and the government’s role in creating them. Rather than advocating more laws and restrictions, he shows how freedom is the best answer in each case. It’s a radical solution that stems from a common-sense philosophy. Doctor Paul portrays libertarianism as a logical extension of American tradition and paints a hopeful picture of the future of this nation.
2. No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner (1870)
No Treason is a historical American anti-government tract by a 19th Century activist who viewed America’s venerated Constitution as destructive of liberty. Spooner campaigned against slavery and yet supported the right of the Confederacy to secede from the Union. This brilliant essay demolishes the “social contract” theory of government in favor of natural and inalienable rights.
3. The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude by Etienne LaBoetie (1576)
Here is a philosophical treatise by a 16th Century French intellectual that asks the question, why do people obey authority, even when it is against their interests to do so? LaBoetie addresses the psychological and economic reasons why people follow their leaders and what it might take to get them to revolt.
Ebook versions available for free from the Mises Institute.
4. A Short History of Man: Progress and Decline by Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2017)
This is a short though exhaustive survey of the history of human civilization, government, and markets. In the process, Doctor Hoppe barbecues sacred cows such as “progress” and “democracy.” A student of Ludwig von Mises and a colleague of Murray Rothbard, Hoppe’s writings are more straightforward and accessible than either.
5. TANSTAAFL – A Libertarian Perspective on Environmental Policy by Edwin G. Dolan (1971)
The name comes from the popular acronym of the phrase, “There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.” It’s a unique look at environmentalism from a libertarian perspective. Dolan introduces the concept of economic “externalities” and shows how, more often than not, government policy has harmed the environment rather than protecting it.
The 5 Best Fiction Libertarian Books for Beginners
Of all the genres, science fiction is the most amenable to speculation and the exploration of great ideas. Therefore it’s no accident that all of my top five picks are science fiction of one sort or another. I’ve encountered works from other genres that are generally pro-freedom but not explicit enough to call them libertarian.
1. Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938)
Rand didn’t only write doorstoppers; one of her shortest books, Anthem, is a timeless allegory about a far-future dystopian society which has abolished the concept of individuality. A rebellious young man named Equality runs afoul of the authorities by pursuing scientific inquiry in defiance of his assignment as a manual laborer. He and his girlfriend escape to the wilderness where they discover the secret history of freedom. This classic book has become very topical in light of the globalist establishment’s current war on individualism, logic, and accurate language.
2. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (1966)
This classic tale tells the story of the desperate struggle for independence by the citizens of a lunar penal colony in the late 21st Century. In this book, Heinlein introduces the phrase TANSTAAFL (see above) and considers the strange cultural shifts in a society without formal government and a 70% male population. One of its primary characters is Mike, an artificially intelligent computer that predates Hal of 2001 fame.
3. The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod (1996)
Part of his Fall Revolution Series, MacLeod’s novel begins sometime in the 21st Century as technology alters the nature of humanity. The consequences include widespread cloning, radical life extension, the transfer of human consciousness to machines, and a transhuman colony on Jupiter that menaces the entire species. MacLeod explores potential forms of government including an anarcho-capitalist outpost on a world called Mars II, home of the titular Stone Canal.
Several of MacLeod’s other works, including The Corporation Wars Trilogy and The Star Fraction appear on our comprehensive list of libertarian fiction.
4. The Peace War by Vernor Vinge (1984)
Mathematician Vernor Vinge has written several novels with pro-liberty themes, but this is probably the most on-point. The story takes place decades after The Peace Authority has ended war by encasing all military facilities in impenetrable spherical force fields called “bobbles.” Yet in stopping the violence, they have become the world’s absolute rulers. Paul Hoehler, the device’s inventor, works with a teenage genius to find a weakness in the technology and liberate the world. The book raises interesting questions about coercion and freedom.
AFL is big fans of Vinge’s generally, as you can see from our review of his free anarcho-capitalist short story The Ungoverned.
5. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008)
In this near-future young adult novel, Marcus, a teenage computer nerd, fights the system after a terrorist attack turns his hometown of San Francisco into a police state. It’s a plausible, nearly mainstream story in which clever teens use technology to fight back against oppression. This fast-paced and exciting story was difficult to put down. Little Brother is an excellent introduction to the practical implications of tyranny and freedom for the younger set.
What other books do you recommend for libertarian beginners?
Any of these books would make an excellent libertarian gift for readers who may be receptive to the ideas of freedom and individualism. They’re also essential components for the bookshelf of the dedicated libertarian.
Do you have any favorite books you recommend for new readers curious about libertarianism? Add them in the comments!
And if you need some other libertarian books that won’t break the bank, check out our list of the top free libertarian novels.