New York: Continuum, 2011 (168 pages)
Alberto Mingardi's Herbert Spencer is a handsome little book, volume 18 in the Continuum series Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers produced under the direction of John Meadowcroft. Written in an accessible, readable style (with a few grammatical infelicities), the book includes a short biography of Spencer's relatively uneventful life; an analysis of his major political ideas as elucidated in The Proper Sphere of Government (1842-1843), Social Statics (1851), The Man Versus the State (1884), and his Principles of Ethics (1891); a discussion of thinkers who followed in Spencer's idiosyncratic footsteps (with particular emphasis on libertarian-leaning authors such as William Graham Sumner, Murray Rothbard, and Friedrich Hayek); a bibliography of primary and secondary sources; and a short index.
Although Spencer achieved celebrated, cultlike status during his long life (1820-1903), an uncharitable commentator might describe his beliefs as a hodgepodge of eccentric, historical curiosities. Mingardi cites …