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

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  881 ratings  ·  103 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 December 1958)
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Average rating 4.40  · 
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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
...more
Joseph
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
please take 10 minutes and read this. its online at fee.org. oh, then don't go vote for Big Government...
Tova
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: economics
"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
Sarah Epps
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great, short and profound.
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
Sarah
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
...more
Lukas Mason
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Short, sweet, and to the point. Gets its point across with little fuss or fanfare. The wonder that is the distributed, specialized, modern economy is apparent in this essay, and Leonard Reed is brilliant to choose as unassuming of an object as a pencil. Read it for free here at the Mises Institute: https://cdn.mises.org/I%20Pencil.pdf ...more
Hanan Alaali
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Warning: you’ll never look at pencils the same way again!
Kaitlyn
Apr 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Read this book aloud as a family. Short climatic book, with a good purpose and message.
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
Daniel
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
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.
Justin
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.
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.
Eric
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.
Rebecca
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.
Neil
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
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.
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.
PvOberstein
Aug 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Read the online version, with introduction by Milton Friedman and afterward by Donald J. Boudreaux. The short essay gives a quick overview of the complexity of manufacturing something as simple as a Mongol 482 Eberhard Faber pencil, from the graphite mines of Sri Lanka to the forests of Oregon. The key point is that all of thousands of people involved in the making of a pencil (or millions, depending on how broadly you define the contributors) were harmoniously organizing themselves to manufactu ...more
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
...more
Paul
Mar 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Cool short story about the "invisible hand". It gives a refreshing perspective on the million of goods and services generated by the modern economy every seconds - how it could be extremely difficult to plan and make a pencil from scratch without free competition, private property and market.

My question is, is free market the only place where innovation thrives? There are advanced inventions that are a direct product of central planning and governmental research funding - coming to my mind are A
...more
Yakov Bronsteyn
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Talmud Bavli, Brachos 58A

“Ben Zoma once saw a crowd on one of the steps of the Temple Mount. He said, Blessed is He that discerneth secrets, and blessed is He who has created all these to serve me. [For] he used to say: What labours Adam had to carry out before he obtained bread to eat! He ploughed, he sowed, he reaped, he bound [the sheaves], he threshed and winnowed and selected the ears, he ground [them], and sifted [the flour], he kneaded and baked, and then at last he ate; whereas I get up,
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Daniel
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
...more
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
...more
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
Elaine
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The majority of this essay explores the complexity of industry behind making a single pencil, and the complex interplay between mining and chemistry and shipping and so forth -- millions of people to produce "the pencil" and no one person who is The Maker of The Pencil (my phrasing).

And then it attributes this miracle of industry to the free market and extrapolates the decentralized nature of all these resources coming together into a pencil into the almost godly state of the Invisible Hand of
...more
Eric
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.
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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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