Finished two books today. Mises’ Human Action and Aristotle’s Poetics. I didn’t start them at the same time; I’ve been working on Human Action for about three weeks (after an abortive first start back in January) and Aristotle only took two days’ worth of reading.
I didn’t go for my morning walk this morning, and instead I stayed in and paced while reading on my tablet to get my step count, so by the amount of steps I have (which is a function of time spent reading) you can probably surmise that it wasn’t a long book. One thing that I find interesting is that I’ve put off reading a lot of the great classic texts because I was not interested in delving into massive tomes, and they are often quite more accessible than I would have expected.
That doesn’t mean they’re easy, mind you. Going through Aristotle’s Poetics required me to do a lot more work in terms of figuring out what exactly he meant than I would have had to expend on Mises, so there’s some merit on expanding the language and format to achieve better clarity.
While I will say that I don’t think the Poetics is going to be required reading any time soon, it is quite interesting. I wrote a reflection on it, and while it’s certainly worth reading if you have time for it I wouldn’t describe it as high priority. It’s the sort of text that you can definitely find errors with if you’re looking for them, but the fact that it plays such a foundational role in our understanding of literature should not be overlooked. The differences in terms and understandings (in part brought on by the difference between the oral and performed works of the ancients versus the modern opportunities brought forward by writing, printing, and mass media) are substantial, and you really probably shouldn’t read it as a novice even though there’s some good things there.
That is, people should understand Aristotle, but they do not need to read his work directly because it is short and a summary may serve the point as well.
Also, I now get to be the sort of snob who can casually bring up having read Aristotle at parties, though I suspect that this may be at odds with my personal brand (much more casual and subtly subversive than my intellectual stylings might suggest) and the types of party I enjoy attending (none).
Human Action was also deeply enjoyable. I’ve gotten enough of an economics background from exposure and constantly reading books that there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff, but something about Mises has a diction and clarity that rise to the point of being enjoyable in and of itself. Of course I disagree with Mises on some points, being more in line with some of his successors than him with regards to certain small matters, but that doesn’t make his ability to logically and carefully develop ideas any less important.
In fact, I don’t think that there is any other text that is quite at the level of Human Action. Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State is an attempt at a return to the systematic economic treatise in the vein of Human Action, but I think you would need to read further to get from Rothbard the same philosophical understanding that Mises is able to evoke of the power and benefits of freedom. In case anyone is curious, that further reading would include Anatomy of the State and Ethics of Liberty.
It’s certainly a shame that Hayek got popular and stole Mises’ thunder, since Mises is in many ways the far superior scholar and I think even better at prose. Some of this might be a consequence of the fact that The Road to Serfdom was less bold and more equivocating in its focus than Human Action, some of which had to do with the political situation when it was published and the lay audience it targeted.