JACK CARR BOOK CLUB
February 2021 Reading List
The February 2021 installment of my monthly reading list series is live on my blog. Usually, I pick six selections to highlight each month, but I’ve decided to do something a bit different for February and include a few more titles than I have in the past. Some I have mentioned before and others I am suggesting for the first time. I’ll leave it up to the reader to deduce why these selections seemed relevant.
Though it is not yet “Banned Book Week” which is an event that has been in effect since 1982, freedom of speech is a hot topic of conversation in 2021. We have seen institutions and professions that have typically been the guardians of the First Amendment to include lawyers, politicians, publishing houses, journalists and even authors, support actions that would silence those with whom they disagree. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States used to be something we could all rally around as Americans; we would fight and die for your right to speak even if, especially if, we didn’t agree with you. There has been a shift. Private institutions that used to act in the spirit of the First Amendment have abandoned those traditional principles of the professions they represent. Today we see people and institutions whose livelihoods are ironically guaranteed by the First Amendment actively calling for or supporting others who would limit that right for those with different opinions. As private institutions they have every right to do so even though it is a departure from their long-held stances defending civil liberties for all.
I encourage Americans to study the history of the First Amendment, why it exists, past attacks on this right, Supreme Court rulings and precedent, and what has followed historically when books and speech are banned. Understand the difference between “imminent incitement” and “advocacy” as per the Brandenburg Principle decided in a 1969 9-0 decision by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio. Decide for yourself if you stand for the right of others to disagree with you. We used to celebrate the spirit of the First Amendment and welcome our beliefs and arguments competing in the marketplace of ideas. This month’s selections are directly or indirectly tied to that notion.
As Americans, standing up for the right of others to disagree with us should be a unifying principle. Remember those who stood strong to ensure we would inherit these freedoms. We owe it to them to put in the requisite time, energy and effort to the study of history before we abridge the rights they fought and died for. They sacrificed their futures and trusted us to pass those freedoms on to our children and grandchildren.
In 2021, the First Amendment now divides us. Though the original source of the quote is unknown (often attributed to Mark Twain), “History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes” is a wise reminder to study the past, heed its lessons, and apply it to our perspective and decisions in the form of wisdom.
Before you cheer or support the abridgment of free speech and the “cancelation” of those with different ideas and beliefs via Tweets, opinion pieces or even your silence, take a moment to remember the words of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
As I wrote in the preface to my first novel, The Terminal List:
The consolidation of power at the federal level in the guise of public safety is a national trend and should be guarded against at all costs. This erosion of rights, however incremental, is the slow death of freedom. Recent allegations that government agencies may have targeted political opponents should alarm all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. Revisionist views of the Constitution by opportunistic judges with agendas that reinterpret the Bill of Rights to take power away from the people and consolidate it at the federal level threaten the core principles of the Republic. As a free people, keeping federal power in check is something that should be of concern to us all. The fundamental value of freedom is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We are citizens, not subjects, and we must stay ever vigilant that we remain so.
These selections for the February reading list are certainly not exhaustive. They are a few books from my shelves that seemed pertinent to the times.
As parents, one of the most poignant lessons we can teach our children as American citizens is the importance of standing up for the free speech rights of those with whom we disagree. It’s easy to stand up for those who agree with you politically or ideologically; a true defender of the spirit of the First Amendment must stand up for those they not only disagree with but vehemently disagree with or even despise. That’s America.
Will the freedoms enshrined in America’s founding documents survive the tests of the 21st century? Look to the past.
February 2021 Reading List
- The Constitution of the United States of America
- The Bill of Rights
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Báez
- Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- Naming Names by Victor S. Navasky
- Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Three Felonies a Day by Harvey A. Silverglate
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Term Limits by Vince Flynn
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu
BLADES, BOOKS, AND BULLETS!
The Constitution of the United States of America, The Bill of Rights and The Declaration of Independence
I firmly believe that every household in America should have bound editions of these founding documents on the shelf. I shudder to think how many Americans and even how many of our elected officials have not spent time emersed in their pages. More worrisome still is how many have not studied them in depth. Will our children analyze these documents in school? You would be smart to assume they will not. That responsibility falls to us as parents. Having bound editions reinforces how important they are. Their ready availability online is not the same as owning them. Buy them and keep them in a place of honor. How many elected officials see the Constitution as an obstacle in comparison to those who see it as the supreme law of the land clearly spelling out the limited powers of government?
The Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Báez
“’Our memory no longer exists. The cradle of civilization, writing, and law, has been burned. Only ashes remain.’ These are the words of a professor of medieval history in Baghdad: a few days later he was arrested for belonging to the Baath Party.”
This is not just a book for bibliophiles, it is for anyone looking to understand the psychology of book burning, destruction of knowledge and the erasure of history. It is a tool of control that has persisted throughout human history, and one that endures today.
Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Though certainly not the only book you should read on the history of the Holocaust or the psychology of those involved in planning and carrying out the “Final Solution” it should certainly be one you explore. It is ultimately a book on individual responsibility and our duty as human beings to question authority.
“Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.” – Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1821
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been re-written, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
“War is Peace”
“Freedom Is Slavery”
“Ignorance is Strength”
“Ministry of Truth”
“. . .war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war.”
“The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant. . .”
“No one dares trust a wife or child or a friend any longer.”
“. . .always there will be the intoxication of power. . .”
“A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police.”
“. . .all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian.”
“Big Brother Is Watching You”
Naming Names by Victor S. Navasky
I recommend reading this work through the lens of the First Amendment while at the same time keeping in mind the state of the world during the time period explored in the book. The House Committee on Un-American Activities was established in 1938. It changed its name to the even more dubious House Committee on Internal Security in 1969. The committee was abolished in 1975 when its mandate was transferred to the House Judiciary Committee. Naming Names focuses on investigations into the communist ties of the film industry following World War II when government institutions blurred legalities and encroached on civil liberties in the name of national security. As with most tumultuous times in history, events are often not as black and white as they first may seem. What lessons does the era of blacklists hold for the country today?
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”
Best known for his 1969 work Slaughterhouse-Five, the iconic writer was also a veteran of World War Two. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and experienced the firebombing of Dresden as a POW, surviving the attack as a prisoner assigned to a work detail in an underground meat locker. Today, I recommend you pick up a collection of his short stories titled Welcome to the Monkey House and flip to “Harrison Bergeron.” I think you will find it appropriate to the times.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
“Who is John Galt?” With those immortal words, so begins Ayn Rand’s novelization of her philosophy of Objectivism in Atlas Shrugged, a work that continues to influence how I live and write today. The theme of the novel, according to its author, is “the role of the mind in man’s existence.” The heroes of the story understand the mind, and the role of logic and reason in high achievement. She writes in the afterword: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
First published in 1957, it is without question one of the most profound and impactful novels of the 20th century. Every American needs to read this book. You may even notice some interesting parallels to today’s reality. Taking it a step further, anyone who reads Atlas Shrugged and takes the time to internalize and conceptualize its themes, will move forward as a stronger, more productive citizen. I’d also recommend studying Ayn Rand as you start your reading journey. Where she came from and how she formed the basis of her philosophy is just as important as the plot of her preeminent work. While I was in BUD/S, I went to see a documentary at a small independent theater in San Diego to see Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. That documentary is an excellent place to begin. It is valuable to read Atlas Shrugged at different stages of life; high school, college, once in the private sector, and again later on after one has gained wisdom through experience and adversity. Ayn Rand lived her life to the fullest. The gift she left all of us is her example; we have the ability to do the same.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, not at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
Ironically Fahrenheit 451, a story about book burning, censorship, and government power has been subject to censorship and bans on numerous occasions since its publication in 1953. Influenced by the destruction of the library in ancient Alexandria, the book burnings in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Great Purge, and actions by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Ray Bradbury, who had spent his youth in the library, gives us his timeless classic on his love of books. Though often cited as a novel of both warning, prevention and prediction of a dystopian future, there is also an underlining theme that hints at a date where burning books by a totalitarian government is not necessary because the populace has abandoned them for the ease of passive entertainment, which in the 1950s was television and radio. Ray Bradbury’s notes from the mid-50s acknowledge that Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon provided an early foundation for both the author’s life and specifically Fahrenheit 451 where he foretells the very real possibility of an “intellectual holocaust.” How much closer to this abandonment of books in exchange for the distractions of a digitally connected, and therefore disconnected, world are we today? Revisit Fahrenheit 451 for your answer.
Three Felonies a Day by Harvey A. Silverglate
Three Felonies a Day by Harvey A. Silverglate is my most gifted book after Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer. Its premise is one that should frighten all Americans regardless of party affiliation; the average person wakes up, makes breakfast, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner and goes to bed. Unbeknownst to them, throughout the course of that day, they have committed at least three felonies. A growing number of laws, statutes, and regulations have created an environment that allows the federal government to target anyone of their choosing. Laws are intentionally written in general and vague language so they can be interpreted broadly by those in power. Most laws require a law degree to decipher which is a departure from the original common law traditions upon which our country’s legal system was founded. The book was published in 2009. Its premise and lessons are even more relevant today. It is not a stretch to make the comparison to the “legal system” in place under Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror where his secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria, famously stated, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” Most dissidents sent to the gulag were not in prison for their dissenting political views. Rather, they were tried and found guilty of breaking a host of other “laws.” Think this doesn’t happen in the United States? If so, you owe it to yourself and to future generations to read this book.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
“. . .most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”
“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
If you read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, be sure you juxtapose it to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and ask yourself which of these two words we are leaning toward today. . .
Term Limits by Vince Flynn
Term Limits by the legendary Vince Flynn is the groundbreaking novel that changed the genre and established Vince Flynn as the master of the modern political thriller, paving the way for a new generation of thriller writers. It was in my first reading list selection from October 2019.
It is Vince Flynn’s first novel and the only one that does not feature Mitch Rapp as the protagonist. A novel of well calculated revenge by a group with the will, means, training and experience to carry it out, Term Limits is one of those novels that convinces the reader through the art of storytelling that its central theme might one day come to fruition.
I was fortunate enough to meet Vince Flynn years ago at SHOT Show in Las Vegas, an industry event showcasing all the latest gear and weapons. He exceeded all expectations! Such a wonderful person. He was so generous with his time. I’ll never forget how he treated me. We were able to walk through SHOT together at the end of the day as it was closing down. I remember asking him if he ever worried that one day he would wake up and pick up the paper to discover that someone had used Term Limits as a blueprint to hold our elected officials accountable. I’ll never forget his response: “Every day,” he said. Rest easy, Vince. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.