I think this is one--if not the--of the most important books that I have ever read. And I do not say that lightly. I'm weighing this single book against all the "great" books of the world, including that perennial bestseller, the Bible. Why is this book so important? Because of its terrifying immediacy. While I say this book is important, I mean here and now. It is my sincere hope that this book will become a historical document (like many of those great books); it is my fear that I am dreaming.
So what is so all-fired important? This book is a history and discussion about consensual crimes--that is, victimless crimes, or, as the author prefers, crimes in which the participants consented to the action. The distinction is necessary, and Peter McWilliams makes a point of clearly stating his position, codified in a single statement, which I will repeat for you here: "You should be able to do with your person or property whatever you please, as long as you don't physically harm the person or property of another." However, for such a simple statement, it is dangerously revolutionary with regard to our society today (but then, most revolutionary statements have been simple, like "Give me liberty or give me death" or "Thou shalt have no other gods before me").
What at first glance might seem the height of liberalism--McWilliams is, after all, recommending the abolishment of laws against drug use, gambling, and prostitution, among others--is actually the basis of libertarianism. Yet McWilliams has solved the problem that I have always had with the libertarian movement, and that is their stand on the environment. Clearly many of the environmental rules and regulations would continue to stand if McWilliams had his way; pollution does physically harm the environment (and the persons) of others.
This book, for the simple nature of its argument, is no half-measure though. Although it is extremely readable, with an interesting layout (included a boxed quote for almost every page), it is still 800 pages. I didn't feel like any of the material was extraneous, however, and sometimes wanted more detail. Some of the interesting details that were included:
* McWilliams documenting Jerry Falwell committing a "false witness" (lying) on national television;
* The history of hemp use (and the evolution of the propaganda on its abuse);
* The play-by-play description of a "Dragnet" episode in which a character dies of an LSD overdose, although there's never been a documented case of such (some have died due to actions performed under the influence [similar to drunk driving?], but not of an overdose);
* "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." The Bible, right? Wrong. Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice," Act 1, Scene 3, Line 99.
While it isn't necessary to agree completely with McWilliams (although you'll be tempted; he is a very persuasive writer), the point is that if you agree with a single argument, it is enough to call for the abolishment of laws against consensual crimes. A strong statement, but clearly evidenced by the facts--that is, if you agree with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Is it needless to say that I highly recommend this book? No, I think I need to state it openly. Even if you don't come to the same conclusions as McWilliams, I think it is vitally necessary that you make the effort to educate yourself regarding the history of these activities and the history of the laws against these activities. Given the amount of dis- and non-information that is available on drugs, prostitution, homosexuality, et al., even if the statistics that McWilliams quotes are only 10% accurate, the figures are still impressive.
This isn't a "dry" book at all, even given the numerous quotes from founding fathers (both American and Biblical); McWilliams understands the necessity of humor (who said, "If I couldn't laugh, I'd be crying"?). Thanks to Laurie Mann for recommending this book.