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I, Pencil: My Family Tree As Told to Leonard E. Read

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  679 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Leonard E. Read skillfully teaches a lesson in economics, through the story of a pencil and its makers. "Not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me"

I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read, c2006, 6"x9", staple bound, 11 page booklet. Heavy paper cover, glossy paper pages.
11 pages
Published (first published 1958)
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4.40  · 
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 ·  679 ratings  ·  80 reviews

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Ruby Granger
Such an important, valuable essay and lesson to mankind. Despite having been first first published in the 1960s, Read's point remains just as important (if not MORE important than it did at the time of publication). With this worldview, we can begin to rehumanise those with whom we are not in direct content... those who live in different countries to us, with different jobs, and different cultural traditions.

Consider the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013 (which I am sure you stil
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I first read this in college, It was a required reading in a Human Sociology class, or something to that nature. I remember the professor going off on the essay and the evil powers of propaganda. And I vaguely remember the half assed essay response I wrote basically proving capitalism is just the modern chains and whips of slavery. What I do remember was getting a good grade on the essay. Let us fast forward 13/14 years or maybe more. I have less hair more wits and I think I may have learned a t ...more
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
please take 10 minutes and read this. its online at oh, then don't go vote for Big Government...
As Sam would put it This essay is THE WORST. This is actually the worst essay I've ever had to read, and my entire class hated it. The pencil was extremely condescending and this was just weird and as pointless as a dull pencil. I hate it with the thousand passions of a thousand acrid lemons and limes.

(Yes, I'm in a bad mood, and thus I'm ranting about shitty essays AP has made me read)
Mateus R. Carvalho
Dec 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
"Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn't know how to do all the thing incident to mail delivery. He also recongizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enought know-how to perform a nation's mail deliver ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
A wonderful little primer on the power of the Invisible Hand. A great introduction to the magnificence of human creativity and cooperation.
David Rush
Sep 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
From what I can tell on the Internet I think this is highly regarded and much loved introduction or condensation of libertarian philosophy. I see the Goodread’s reviews are generally 4 and 5 stars and some are quite gushing in their praise.

I’m not here to troll, and I may just be too dumb to see how good it is, but I don’t get it. It seems like it is trying to be a fable with a moral of some sort, but Read spends half the piece listing the ingredients in a pencil and then maybe a quarter about
M. Pandžić
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I’ve heard about this essay so much, that when I started reading it I thought it was going to be boring because I already knew what it was all about, but I was definitely wrong. Before any thought on market regulation, one must know what markets actually are. Leonard E. Read, with an amazing ability to synthesize and present (through storytelling) what markets are really made of: infinite and complex voluntary exchanges; constructs a sound argument for getting rid of any political mastermind (an ...more
Oct 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
The statement, "Not a single person on earth knows how to make me," is not a true statement. I think the author means that it takes a great effort and contributions from many people with a variety of skills to produce this small and relatively simple item. However, someone, one persons conceived the idea and one person directs all the components to come together. I just think there is another way for the author to make his point. And yes, given all that humanity has accomplished, I agree we don' ...more
Sean Rosenthal
Jun 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Interesting Quote:

"I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing."

-Leonard E. Reed, I, Pencil
Tathagat Varma
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Highly relevant even today! A remarkable account of how making something as simple as a pencil is actually so complex that it doesn't make sense to centralize it. Indeed a great perspective on the free market.
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderfully clear way to explain Free enterprise and the economic principle. This essay explains that we as people don't have to do everything to create a product or institute ideas. It is important that we work together as a functional unit so that all can benefit not just the few.
Oct 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
The point is made that no one human can make a pencil yet millions cooperate unguided to make a pencil. This is a principal of the market often called the "invisible hand" or referred to as spontaneous order. Finally, government "planning" is contrasted to the effectiveness of spontaneous order.
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Short essay with punch supporting free markets and succinctly demonstrating, by deconstructing the many human inputs to the manufacture of a single pencil, the inevitable folly - or worse - of centralized planning.
Dayo Adewoye
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A short but brilliant story illustrating how the free market effectively coordinates the activities of thousands of economic agents in getting us products and services, in the absence of any central planner. A great read.
Gary McCallister
Every person should read this short tract. In just a few pages it explains how the free market works and why a free society is needed.
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice synopsis on economics

This book is a great choice for anyone who just wants a basic read on how economics really works and the gist of what is meant by the invisible hand.
SJ Barakony
VERY simple read -- it only took this long ( ha ) since I was reading 2 other books ( not yet updated here, shall be ... ) + my month of April for business ventures has been blessedly hectic.

This book is so accessible to read, in fact, that even someone who hasn't read a book in decades could focus enough to digest the ~10 pages of content.

YET, yet ... Do NOT look down on the quality due to the quantity, please. What Mr. Read covers in 'I, Pencil' would revolutionize civics (and politics) if (a
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've had "I, Pencil" on my reading list for a while now. As a part of a school assignment, I was able to select a book to read. Thus, I selected to read this book.

"I, Pencil" is a short, yet profound read— filled with mind-shaking economic analysis within the framework of a simple and relatable extended metaphor of a pencil.

By using the manufacturing and development process of a pencil as a vehicle to discus the economy, Read is able to argue against the destructive nature of central economic pl
Nathan Wood
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
A short yet impactful read reasons for unplanned/uncontrolled governments. This essay takes you through the creation of a pencil, from the pencil's perspective, which consists of more people than I realized once I started thinking about it.

The author uses the pencil as an example for why unplanned economies are desirable. Not one person knows how to or can produce a pencil on their own or from their own planning. It is from the "Invisible Hand" which guides the individual entities to come toget
wendy wei
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mr-baker
This book is about the process of how a tree becomes a pencil. After reading this book, I was shocked about how the book that talks about economics can be so imaginative. I like what the author said from the beginning, "No one on earth knows how to make me". This is really attractive to read because I don't think there is any difficulty in making pencils. But after reading on, I found that I really didn't expect that it would lead to a series of problems when making pencils. Finally, I think tha ...more
Kelby Bertolett
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I ultimately enjoyed reading this book because almost everything it says is true. This book displays people working together who might not even know it. It gives a great insight of how the world works and why people do things. I expected this book to be a boring book that I would not understand because it might be too complex, but in fact I was able to read, understand, and enjoy this book. Even though much of the book is describing one thing, the main purpose of the essay is bigger then just a ...more
Igor Stojanov
Nov 10, 2018 rated it liked it
A short essay on the intricate power of the invisible hand of Adam Smith. The world functions better when decision making happens at the edge, by each individual, for himself knows best what is best for him. No central authority, no matter how intelligent can make a decision that is in the best interest for all.

It is amazing to know the direction of the world if everyone works for its self-improvement, and through it, he improves the humankind.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very easy read. One would hope that it would be an underwhelming read- if it was, it's likely because the message seems obvious. (Good for you.) Should be required reading for any 10 year old. Distillation of simple logic but somehow never makes its way to the average adult, most of whom have vowed to plan the world into dullness. Regardless, a pertinent reminder for utopian thinkers. Downloaded for free on FEE's website.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shane Hawk
A very brief essay which illustrates market mechanisms and the complexity within production of a seemingly simple item, the pencil. Makes one sit back and think about all the labor and capital involved in every step of the process: the timber, the lacquer, the graphite, the label, the eraser, and everything in between.
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fast 5 minute read that explains why man must be allowed to remain free of socialism and tendencies to allow government to control or manage our every day lives.

If I wrote the required 20 more words, my review would be longer than the essay. Economics made easy ... to explain "the invisible hand"
Follow up to a Social Studies unit on The Pencil. We listened to the audio on youtube which had a cute animation to go along with it. It is an interesting view on how to look at almost everything and really think about how it came to be in your possession. Well worth a few minutes it took to listen to it.
Rick Davis
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this. It was a bit short, but I guess that's by design. This might be something good to have a middle school aged student to read in order to introduce free market ideas.
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best introduction to an economic mind. First heard it in Milton Friedman's famous TV series 'Free to Choose'.
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Small Government ...: I, Pencil by Leonard Read 2 9 Nov 19, 2015 03:14PM  

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“The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society's legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.” 5 likes
“For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” 0 likes
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