Stefanie at So Many Books posted about Human Events‘ recent listing of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. In case you don’t know (I didn’t) Human Events is an American conservative “news” magazine that proudly proclaims itself to be “free from liberal bias.” Unfortunately, judging by it’s top ten list, and the (dis?)honorable mentions, it is not free from conservative bias. All the usual red-state nemeses made this black list: communism, sexuality, feminism, science (especially evolution), atheism, secular humanism, “big” government, and—most disturbing for me— environmentalism (I love nature even more than books).
The top ten are:
- The Communist Manifesto
- Mein Kampf
- Quotations from Chairman Mao
- Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (“The Kinsey Report”)
- Democracy and Education
- Das Kapital
- The Feminine Mystique
- Introduction to Positive Philosophy
- Beyond Good and Evil
- The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money
Among the honorable mentions were:
- The Population Bomb
- Origin of the Species
- Silent Spring
- The Limits to Growth
- Descent of Man
This list is actually a good reading list for the study of the most important reform movements (both good and bad) in recent history. It’s a bit weak on human (civil) rights movements, but that is easily rectified with a little Gandhi and MLK Jr., and perhaps Harriet Beecher Stowe.
To their credit they actually include links to amazon, should anyone be masochistic enough to read on of these books (which is inevitable whenever books are banned or protested). I do wonder how many of these books the panel actually read—so many of them could land on such a list by reputation alone. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read one of them (The Feminine Mystique—quite tame by the time I read it) but I would like to rectify that.
Why read a book like Mein Kampf that led to such horrors? Precisely because it led to such horrors. These books, for good or for ill, have had a profound influence on our world (especially from an American and North American viewpoint) and shaped the world we live in today. Whether these books were instigators, or merely popularized the leading edge of social movements, they can teach us about where we came from, and how to (or how not to) get to where we want to go.
What books will shape our future? At a time when literacy is at an all-time high and growing, do books have the influence they once had? The incredible growth of publishing means that any book’s impact is diluted by the million or so other books published that year (not to mention the other mass media). Moreover, is there any major revolution yet to be explored? We’ve at least attempted to rectify sexism, racism, economic injustice, environmental destruction, religious oppression, state oppression, sexual repression, and even psychological trauma. Are there any revolutions yet to happen? Or will we have to recycle the old ones as the reactionary backlash represented by this list gains ascendancy? If so, I hope we won’t make the same mistakes some of our revolutionary forebears did.
UPDATE: I (and the panelists) forgot to mention the animal rights / vegetarian revolution. I would add Animal Liberation and Diet for a Small Planet to the list.