I’ve loved reading from a very young age. I teach English, subscribe to many magazines, periodicals, and individual Substack accounts, and buy way more books than I could ever read. One of the best parts about reading, as I always try to convince my young students, is that being able to read well exposes you to people who think differently from you. This is good, whether you end up agreeing with them or not.
Over my life there have been many outstanding writers and thinkers who have helped shape my views of the world, politics, social issues, and even of myself. Some were relevant to certain periods of my life because I needed to know whether other people were thinking the things I suspected to be true. Some remain reliably good, no matter where I am or what I happen to be dealing with. Some are true independents, some are proud conservatives, and others are very far to the political Left. Very few of them are pedantic, and none of them talk without thinking first.
You can read a little more about the directions my life has taken in my last post, but suffice it to say that I am often told to stop consuming Conservative media because I like to push back against the predominant social ideology, which is currently very progressive. I admit freely that I get defensive about this, because I think it’s not true, it’s not fair, and it seems like people most often accuse me of being a bigoted Republican because it’s easier to turn me into a bad guy than to actually talk about complex issues. The fact that I also spent many years advocating for gay rights and criticizing Christianity is conveniently forgotten. This all makes me very grumpy.
So without further ado, I offer to all my real and imaginary critics this list as evidence that I am not, and never will be, a sticky old Republican. I hope it also offers some great reading to anyone who’s looking for new material.
Christopher Hitchens – Of all the writers that have ever been, or ever will be, Christopher Hitchens was one of the best. He is the only quasi-celebrity whose death made me cry. I sorely miss his sharp, funny commentary and clear-eyed rationalism and I badly wish I could hear what he would have to say about today’s social and political circus. Hitchens wasn’t nice, but he was fair – he attacked hypocrisy and corruption across the political spectrum with a devastating combination of sophisticated vocabulary and stylistic prose. I disagree with Hitchens that religion serves no useful purpose and is on its way out, but I will always love how he tackled the bullshit piety of Mother Theresa, the Catholic Church, and other self-righteous religious charlatans and institutions. Recommended Reading: The Missionary Position, Hitch-22, Arguably, Fetal Distraction, and Why Women Aren’t Funny.
Sam Harris – Sam Harris’s commitment to calm, rational thinking and never-ending curiosity about how the human mind works is an ongoing source of great writing and podcast content. Like Hitchens, I think Harris is wrong about faith and religion coming to an end – if for no other reason that most of us are simply wired to find a guiding doctrine and stick to it. But I love that he refuses to equivocate between belief systems as if they were all equal, because some of them are clearly much worse than others. As he famously said on his podcast – “Where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers?” Recommended Reading & Listening: Free Will, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, Waking Up (the book), Waking Up (the podcast)
Andrew Sullivan – Sullivan is one of the first public gay intellectuals to openly talk about having AIDS and the devastating impact it had on American homosexuals. Sullivan is really funny, draws from a deep well of knowledge about many different subjects, and you get the sense from listening to him that he is an all-around great guy. I love his love of America, his defense of the importance of reasonable nationalism and social cohesion, and I admire his commitment to the best parts of Catholicism. His essays are thoughtful and clever, and he brings out the best in everyone he interviews on his podcasts. Sullivan just released an essay collection that I look forward to reading. I subscribe to Sullivan’s Substack, and you should too. Recommended reading & Listening: The Weekly Dish (podcast), The Weekly Dish (Substack), The Conservative Soul, Out on a Limb.
Dan Savage – Dan Savage’s sex advice columns, and later his Savage Love podcast, opened up a necessary conversation about sex, kinks, and what it means to be a great partner to millions of people all over the world. He made this information accessible to everyone, gay and straight, and manages to balance an outrageously funny crudeness with a kind of dad-next-door gentle familiarity. His basic premise is that sex is an inevitable and important part of life, and that people should seek and strive to be honest, fair, and giving sex partners. How could you not love that? Savage also just released an essay collection, which I hope to read in the near future. Recommended Reading and Listening: Savage Love (the podcast), Savage Love (the advice column),
Ellie Wiesel – I first encountered Ellie Wiesel during my conversion to Judaism, but boy am I glad I did. He tackles one of the hardest subjects of all – what does it mean to live a meaningful life in the face of meaningless suffering? For Jewish readers, he asks hard questions about what it means to be Jewish today. For non-Jewish readers, he relives the Holocaust in a way that makes its crude, violent senselessness unforgettable. This is important, especially now, when terms like Hitler, Nazi, and Holocaust have been inverted and baselessly applied to Jews – especially, but by no means limited to, those in Israel. Wiesel’s willingness and ability to articulate the hideous consequences of what people will do when they feel righteously justified is necessary reading for everyone. Recommended reading: Night, A Jew Today.
Glenn Greenwald – Glenn Greenwald’s outstanding investigative journalism takes no hostages. Although he is more of a liberal by character, he is absolutely nonpartisan in his investigations into corrupt, hypocritical politicians and political movements that span many decades and countries. Lately, his reporting on the political and social Left in America, and the bizarre, deeply conformist, and anti-science Covid hysteria has been excellent. Greenwald is vaccinated and is a far cry from an anti-vaxxer, but he rightly points out that the ever-changing zealotry of the Follow the Science crowd is nasty, vindictive, changes with the wind, and often just doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Likewise, he issues well-researched takedowns of shitty people and important issues that the mainstream media considers untouchable: Nancy Pelosi’s inexplicable wealth, Hunter Biden’s legitimate laptop problems, Social Media’s unscrupulous tactics to get rid of Trump, just to name a few. Sometimes Greenwald falls victim to the “Whoever is weakest is right” mentality, notably in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but on the whole he is thoughtful and does his research. I subscribe to Greenwald’s Substack, simply titled Glenn Greenwald, and love hearing him as a guest on other people’s podcasts.
Richard Dawkins – Richard Dawkins’ compelling explanations for some of the seemingly inexplicable developments in evolutionary biology in his books and online lectures rightfully earned him a permanent place in the heart of anyone interested in why humans do the things we do. Dawkins also makes sophisticated, good-faith arguments in his books against the existence of God, and normalized the willingness of people to be open about the fact they just can’t buy into religion, especially its metaphysical claims. In his later years, Dawkins has gotten a little weird on Twitter and often is something of a mean, evangelical atheist who believes only stupid, desperate people have any use for religion. I’m sorry to see that, because I think he’s done some outstanding work on the subject. Recommended Reading: The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene, The Greatest Show on Earth. Not recommended reading: His Twitter account.
Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying: This sweet, soft-spoken, progressive married couple was one of the first to get axed on the altar of the Woke takeover of college campuses. They did an excellent job at responding to a truly insane situation wherein they were confronted by 18 year olds walking around campus with baseball bats and a university administration who told security guards to stand down. Weinstein and Heying are each fascinating and learned people in their own right, but they really shine when they’re discussing evolutionary biology together. They have just the right mixture of nerdy enthusiasm, sincere concern about the impact of human growth on the planet’s ecosystems, and a total lack of putting on airs. They are easy to listen to and learn from, and their deep respect and appreciation for each other comes out in everything they do. They recently published an excellent book that discusses many of the problems rapid change is causing to modern humans, and how we can wisely navigate them. Recommended reading & listening: The Dark Horse podcast, A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century.
Megyn Kelly – Megyn Kelly is a Conservative journalist who was recently played by Margot Robbie in a film about the very strange and sexually exploitative situation Kelly faced with Roger Ailes, her producer at Fox. In this case, Robbie’s casting as Kelly made sense because Kelly is actually super hot. She’s a tough, smart attorney-turned-journalist-turned-podcaster, and she’s a good source for anyone who wants to know what a non-boogeyman version of a Conservative sounds like. Kelly does a great job of balancing Conservative skepticism about the Me Too movement without denying the obvious fact that sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem for women. Kelly sometimes get mired in some of the goofy moral panics that Conservatives love to obsess over, but for the most part she makes great content with a wide variety of guests. Recommended Listening: The Megyn Kelly Show.
Camille Paglia: Paglia is nuts, in the best possible way. She’s insanely smart, talks faster than most people can think, and has a vicious sense of humor that she aims at anyone she thinks is ridiculous. Her favorite targets are self-consuming feminist movements; modern society’s obsession with crude sex while simultaneously having very little appreciation for its subtleties, especially where art history is concerned; the general attempt by Progressives to demonize history, art, and literature that have been produced by White people; and the Progressive Left’s ignorance of what relationships between men and women really are, rather than what they should be. Paglia is not a conservative, but like many other of my favorite left-leaning writers, she holds hypocrisy on the right and the left in equally low regard. I love her essay collections, and I love that she stays out of the public eye. Recommended reading: Free Men, Free Women, and, if you’re into art history, Sexual Personae (which I haven’t read, but hope to get around to someday. It’s supposed to be her best work.) Watch any interviews with her that you can.
Bari Weiss – I love Bari Weiss. What more can I say? She is a smart, kind, principled woman who has faced serious bullying from her former colleagues at The New York Times, primarily because she’s an outspoken Jew in defense of Israel. It doesn’t seem to matter that she mostly agrees with her colleagues on political issues. Weiss left the Times before things got completely out of hand, and now she runs her own podcast, which is quite good, if maybe a little overproduced. If I can humblebrag here just a little, Weiss’s wife, Nellie Bowles, converted to Judaism and ran a blogs for converts in which I was published. Bowles even said she showed my essay to Weiss, sooooo I’m basically famous. Recommended reading & listening: Honestly (Weiss’s podcast), How to Fight Anti-Semitism, her resignation letter from The New York Times.
Thomas Sowell – Sowell is an unapologetic Black conservative, and despite a seriously impressive list of academic publications and a deep understanding of social trends and economics, he is completely overlooked by everyone screaming “Listen to Black voices!!” That’s because, like Coleman Hughes, Kmele Foster, and other Black academics who make a hell of a lot more sense than Ibram X. Kendi, he does a great job at breaking down how so many of the Progressive social policies intended to help Black people in America have actually made their situation worse. He also regularly criticizes the White liberals who implement these idealistic policies, but who pay no consequences whatsoever when the said policies fuck things up. Sowell is interested in facts, not ideals, and his writing is pithy and well-researched. He has no patience for the belief that society will eventually be perfected, if only we could all just try hard enough, whether it comes from Progressives or Christians. Even if you end up disagreeing with him, he takes important perspectives that need to be addressed. Recommended reading: Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Intellectuals and Society, Economic Facts and Fallacies, and The Quest for Cosmic Justice.
Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog – These two knuckleheads produce my favorite podcast of all time. There is no fancy producing, and that’s great. They make hilarious podcasts using Amazon microphones on cardboard boxes, and tackle the stupid shit going on in cancel culture, most of which is unimportant but is fun to listen to anyway. They are really fucking funny and the podcast has a great lightheartedness and the best podcast ads ever, but occasionally they touch on serious problems when people’s lives have been totally and unfairly ruined because an Online Twitter Mob came after them. They also aren’t afraid to touch issues like the whole trans-children-should-get-puberty-blockers-no-mater-what-even-if-it-means-they-can-never-develop-secondary-sex-characteristic-or-have-an-orgasm weirdness. Singal and Herzog are both progressives, which lends them some authority because their criticism is all in good faith. They’d like to see the Left be better, and can recognize some of the really concerning totalitarian trends going on within it right now. Did I mention they are hilarious? They’re a magical combination, although they are both fascinating people in their own right. Recommended reading & listening: Blocked and Reported (their podcast), The Quick Fix (Singal’s new book on dumb fad psychology), and Where Have All the Lesbians Gone? (A guest essay by Herzog on Andrew Sullivan’s Substack).
Caitlyn Flanagan – Flanagan is a wonderful woman who writes powerful, balanced social criticism. She has a great essay on abortion and when you listen to her on podcasts, you’ll kind of wish she was your mom. She reminds me a little of Elizabeth Bruenig, but less Catholic. She writes about talking to children about hard things, education, and politics with nuance and lovely prose, and under it all is the general sense that you should get off social media and do things that actually matter. Her essays are moving enough to make you cry right away and think for a lot longer. I have yet to read a single one I didn’t like. Recommended reading: Tell Children the Truth, The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate, The Problem with HR, The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story.
Ben Shapiro – Shapiro is infamous for having one of the most annoying voices and speaking styles on air, but if you can get over it, he actually has a lot to say worth listening to. Shapiro is an Orthodox Jew who adheres to several religious beliefs that I firmly disagree with, but accusations that he is on the far right or is somehow a white supremacist are as baseless as they are laughable, considering that he has been the #1 target of white supremacists in America many years running. Shapiro is a smart social commentator, and in a media dominated by people on the Left criticizing people on the Right, it’s good to hear it from the other direction. His legal analysis is quite good (he’s an attorney), and – But first, let’s talk about your home’s security – he has a distinctive pattern of content-advertisement-content that can be familiar and pleasant as it plays in the background while you get stuff done. I know a guy who went to Harvard with Shapiro, and he says Shapiro really is as unbelievably fast and intelligent in person as he seems to be on air. He produces an incredible amount of content in rapid-fire succession and I doubt he ever sleeps, despite his repeated advertisements for the best mattresses ever. I don’t take his podcast too seriously, but I’ve learned a lot of important stuff from Shapiro that I never would have heard from my other sources, most of which tend to lean Left. Recommended Listening: The Ben Shapiro Show.
I could go on, but I think I’ve covered the most important ones. I’m sure I’ll come back and revisit this list, but in the meantime, if you agree or disagree with anyone on my list or have any recommendations, I’d love to her about it in the comments!