Graduation Gifts
Jude Wanniski
June 1, 2001


Memo To: Parents, Grandparents, Uncles & Aunts
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Give a Book

I’d planned one last lesson in this spring semester, but there were not enough interesting questions posed from the student body to make it interesting. We will proceed straight to graduation and some ideas for graduation gifts, if you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, who are graduating from high school and entering college next fall, or graduating from college and proceeding to their career tracks. The best graduation gifts, I think, are books that the graduates might not otherwise see, but will give them a head start in the next passage of their lives. When I graduated Brooklyn Technical High School in 1954, after the ceremony my parents and my materal grandparents took me to a little restaurant near the school. My grandfather, John Rusinskas, handed me a package, my present from him, a Modern Library edition of “Capital,” by Karl Marx. I read it and understood only a fraction of it. On his death bed 21 years later, in the IC unit at Coney Island Hospital, he whispered his last wish to me -- that I re-read Das Kapital and that I write a book. This was the push I needed, which led me two years later to write The Way the World Works, which was my attempt to blend the classical ideas of Adam Smith and Karl Marx into a supply-side view of history.

When I took the outline for the book to Basic Books in 1976, at the suggestion of my mentor, Irving Kristol, the late Irwin Glikes looked it over and said that if I could deliver on the outline, he would publish the book. He asked, though, who I was writing it for. He said it was his belief that every serious writer had an idea of the audience he or she was aiming at, even a single person. I realized how right he was, for as an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal at the time, my practice was to think of a person I would try to influence in the editorial. Not lots of people, just one. It remains the core of this website “memo on the margin.” On reflection, I told Irwin back then that I was going to write the book “For Jude Wanniski, age 18.” I explained that it had taken me the intervening 22 years to learn what I knew about the way the world worked and how it all fit together, the politics, the economics, the cultures, the religions, the flow of history. So I would write it all down with me in mind at age 18, with words and concepts that would accessible to a young man or young woman who were at that early stage. If you would ask me what book I would recommend for your graduating relative or friend, it of course would be The Way the World Works, which you can order at this website or at If they have been students at our Supply-Side University, it is most likely they already have the book, so I will suggest some others that I’ve read along the way from which I think they will profit.

*The Story of Civilization by Will & Ariel Durant. There are 11 volumes in this monumental history of the world, from the dawn of civilization in “Our Oriental Heritage,” to “The Age of Napoleon.” I can’t be too far away from these books, so I have three sets, one at the office and one in each of my homes. This is an investment that will return dividends for the rest of the life of the graduate. Volume III, Caesar and Christ is my favorite, but there are dog ears in all the books in the series.

*The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. This is a novel I read when I was a teenager, which really did change my life. It is not for every graduate because it might take all summer to get through it, if it will hold his attention at all, as it moves at a glacial pace. But it is about every aspect of life, seen through the mind’s eye of a young engineer who visits a tubercular sanatorium in the German Alps and stays for the rest of his life. Every ten years or so I re-read the book and get more out of it each time. I’ve given a few copies as graduation gifts and have gotten excellent reviews from most, not all.

*Wealth and Poverty by George Gilder. A year or two after I finished writing The Way the World Works, my friend George Gilder produced his classic Wealth and Poverty. I found it so awesome and illuminating myself that I arranged for copies to be handed out at the first Cabinet meeting of the Reagan administration. The book went through several printings before the year 1981 was out and it has since been translated into a dozen languages. There is a spiritual dimension to Wealth and Poverty that made it extra special as a companion to my contribution to political economics.

*The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of the United States: 1932-1972. This two-volume “narrative history” by William Manchester is a perfect graduation gift from grandparents, if they can locate a used copy. The book is out of print!! Any of Manchester’s biographies are worth space on a personal library shelf, his Churchill volumes and his bio of Douglas MacArthur. But if your high school grad is interested in a history, this account of what it was like to live through this 40-year stretch of American history is priceless. I recommended it to my wife Patricia last month and she could hardly put them down until she had finished.