Steve Bannon: A Reading List


There’s a lot of talk about Steve Bannon being the intellectual force behind the Trump administration. With Harvard Business School and Goldman Sachs on his resume, he’s certainly a smart guy. He’s also profoundly dangerous if you believe in things like, say, the Constitution, human rights, or basic human decency.

I’m always fascinated with the intellectual lives of public figures, but when Bannon named dropped obscure neo-fascist crazy man Julius Evola the other day, I got really interested in what, exactly, this man so close to the president reads.

What Bannon reads, or claims to read, can help us understand what he believes, but it can also tell us how he wants to be seen. For example, according to various sources, he’s a voracious reader. I don’t know if that’s true. I haven’t been able to find much on what he’s actually read. But even if it isn’t, it tells me he wants to be seen (unlike the President) as someone who reads.

Below is what I’ve been able to gather from various news sources. If you know more, please get in touch.

The Art of War, Sun Tzu – Shocker, defense hawk ultra-nationalist likes classic text of military theory.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, William Strauss and Neil Howe – Every Bannon article mentions his interest in this book by two amateur historians that posits that history moved in 80-100 year cycles of birth, life, and destruction and rebirth. Guess where Bannon thinks we are right now.

Anti-Fragile, Nicholas Nassim Taleb – Funny enough, this is one of the few Taleb books I haven’t read. While Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness diagnose the phenomenon of “black swans” and how our failure to understand them hurts us, Anti-Fragile is (so I understand) more of a guide of how to act in a world of Black Swans. Bannon apparently hands this out to aides. Trump is pretty much the quintessential black swan phenomenon, so I went ahead and order this today.

The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam – Bannon was seen reading this history of the Vietnam War in an airport around Christmas. I haven’t read this, but my understanding is Best and Brightest focuses on the errors made by Washington experts in executing the Vietnam strategy. Interesting read for a man who would weeks later orchestrate the disastrous Muslim travel ban.

Bhagavad Gita, — One associate from Bannon’s days in the Hollywood recalls his interest in the concept of dharma, or one’s role in life. Bannon found this concept in his reading of this classic Hindu text. You could make the argument that Bannon’s interest int he cycles of history can be seen in his interest in both this book of karmic rebirth, and the Fourth Turning. Or it could just be random. There’s a whiff of traditionalism in his interest in this stuff, but it isn’t strong enough to really make the case.

Reagan’s War, Peter Schweizer – A Reagan biography focusing on the President’s anti-communism. Bannon made this into the film In the Face of Evil and Schweizer would go on to work for Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute and write Clinton Cash.

Time To Get Tough, Donald Trump – Trump’s campaign book from 2015. I assume Bannon read it before gushing over it on the Brietbart site.

Other Thinkers

I’m not going to list here all the right wing nut jobs he’s praised on Breitbart, just the most interesting or important

Michael Anton – the author of the piece that is viewed by many as the best intellectual defense of voting for Trump “The Flight 93 Election”. During the campaign, Anton was so worried about being outed as a Trump supporter he wrote under the pen name Publius Decius Mus. Now, he works in the White House.

Julius Evola – We don’t know whether or not Bannon has read Evola, but we do know he’s familiar with his ideas. Evola was a no joke self-described fascist and one of the leading writers of post-war fascist thought. He was also bonkers sex magic practitioner. Evola is best known for Revolt Against the Modern World. I’m not going to link to his books because dude is actually really bad news, but here’s a page I put together of resources on post-war fascism and neo-Nazism.

Alexander Dugin – Called by some the theoretician of Putin’s Russia, Dugin is another dodgy character that we know Bannon is familiar with, but has perhaps not read. Dugin is, like Evola, really, seriously, a fascist. Like it is not up for debate. His most famous work is The Fourth Political Theory. I’m not linking to that garbage either.

Jean RaspailBannon has also repeatedly name dropped Camp Of Saints, a novel by Jean Raspail “about the end of the white race” through mass immigration to Europe. Yeah you can buy this on amazon, but I don’t link to racist novels.

Random Thoughts On Nicolas Nassim Taleb

Been thinking a lot about unpredictability, and more specifically Nassim Taleb‘s work on markets and “the black swan”.*

Nassim Taleb was a pretty successful hedge fund manager, now he styles himself a philosopher. I haven’t read Taleb’s book yet, but from what I can gather, his theory is basically this:

In options trading, the conventional thinking is you want a mixture of bets. Some in which you’re betting that things remain the same and (generally) a smaller number of bets in which you think things will change dramatically.**

Taleb, basically, only makes the bets that things will change. This means that on the day to day he loses little bits of money. But, when things change big, he makes a pile of money. He seems to think that what holds true for markets holds true for other events. You can never discount the long shot because seeing any number of white swans doesn’t mean there aren’t any black swans, but one black swan proves all swans are not white***

Taleb’s books seems to be making a lot of waves, but I think it might be much ado about nothing. He may be right that people overestimate the predicability of life. But, I think, in markets at least, those willing to bet on things staying the same tend to do pretty well. Those who only bet on things going real bad tend to not do as well.

I have no great conclusion to this right now, but it has me thinking about human behavior and what kind of lessons can be extracted from market behavior for other parts of life, and what lessons can’t

anyone else have any thoughts on this?

*The man in love with funny little theories, Malcolm Galdwell wrote a piece on Taleb, that might be helpful in explaining this.

**meaning, in most cases, you think Sony will make roughly the same amount of money it did last quarter, and a smaller number of bets you think Apple will tank and its value will drop dramatically.

** Hey! That’s Hume!