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Monday, June 06, 2005

Human Events magazine has published a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Since this is a conservative weekly, you might expect the number one winner would be The Communist Manifesto, followed by Mein Kampf. The ones down the list are more instructive:

#4: The Kinsey Report, which told the world that almost everyone is a little bit odd sexually ... it was much better when everyone suffered alone, right?
#7: The Feminine Mystique, which suggested that not all homemakers were happy...
#10: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money: John Maynard Keynes' 1936 book which suggested that the only way out of the Depression was through government spending... proved, I would have thought, by the WWII boom...

Honorable mentions:
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by BF Skinner: operant conditioning and how it affects everyone.
The Origin of Species: evolution, 'nuff said.
Coming of Age in Samoa: not everyone is as uptight as you are.
Unsafe at Any Speed: Badly designed cars can be dangerous.
Silent Spring: Pesticides aren't good for the environment.
Introduction to Psychoanalysis: There's something going on under the hood.
The Descent of Man: we're all a monkey's uncle.

Pretty much the books that defined the 20th Century, when you come to think of it. I hate communism, too, but it's telling that so many of the books they hate are scientific theories. The implication is that new ideas may be dangerous. Freud may be part hooey, but you don't get to knowledge without allowing a certain amount of hooey. And boy would I not want to live in a world where Rachel Carson had never written Silent Spring, and Ralph Nader had not written Unsafe at Any Speed.

6 Comments:

It's amazing that they would come up with a list like this. Even a book as repulsive as Hitler's Mein Kampf could have been read and used to prevent Hitler from implimenting his evil plan.

If they put B.F. Skinner on there (as representative of the left), what about Ayn Rand (as a right wing author?) I think the only dangerous book is the one left unread.

By Blogger Lawrence, at 4:09 PM  

Interesting to see that John Dewey's Democracy and Education is more "harmful" than Das Kapital. Dewey proposed that schools teach thinking skills rather than dogma.

By Anonymous Jon, at 12:37 AM  

Actually, Rachel Carson's anti-scientific diatribe against DDT led to a resurgence of malaria all across the world (but particularly in developing nations), and the DTT hysteria she caused is responsible for millions upon millions of deaths.

Here's a good article that refers to, among other sources, a tremendous New York Times editorial about this.

By Anonymous Craig Mazin, at 4:24 AM  

Fascinating article. It's funny. I went to a conservative Catholic university and many of these books were on our required reading lists. Thanks Craig, you've introduced me to a great list of must-reads.

It's interesting what they have to say about the books, I only wish they had more explanation on the Honorable Mention list.

By Anonymous brock., at 11:44 AM  

Fair point about Silent Spring, but at the time, everyone was touting DDT as a panacea, and no one was noticing what it was doing to the environment. The careful application of DDT to inside walls they're talking about in the Times article is fine; at the time, US farmers were spraying DDT from airplanes, it was getting into the water table, and all the birds were dying, e.g. the bald eagle.

Silent Spring might not have been perfect, but that wasn't its job. Carson's job was to wake people up to the dangers of indiscriminate pesticide use. Dow Chemical had enough publicists on its staff to defend itself. We needed a new perspective. In the long run I think Carson will have done everyone a service, even if, absolutely, there is always a people cost to protecting the environment.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:53 AM  

Yeah, except DDT wasn't hurting or killing bald eagles. That's the problem. Rachel Carson's book simply was inaccurate. Mind you, I'm not a nut. I like birds too. I also like people. What I hate is bad science. When people get hysterical about some alleged danger (like Ms. Carson), they might as well be book burners or fundamental wingnuts.

Anyway, here comes the science.

By Anonymous Craig Mazin, at 4:59 AM  

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