Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Ten Most Harmful Books

The conservative journal Human Events recently published a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Here’s what their panel of judges decided, in order:

1. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx
2. Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
3. Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
4. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (commonly known as The Kinsey Report), Alfred Kinsey
5. Democracy and Education, John Dewey
6. Das Kapital, Karl Marx
7. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
8. The Course in Positive Philosophy, Auguste Comte
9. Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes

Some of these are hard to argue. Mein Kampf, for one. Nietzsche is often lumped in with the fascists, and he had a gawdawful moustache, so okay, I guess its inclusion isn’t so crazy. I’d like to quibble with the inclusion of the Marxist books, but it’s hard.*

Keynes is a bastion of liberal economic thought. Including him was the judges’ way of saying “neener neener” to the liberals of the world. I can appreciate the snark evinced by including it.

But the rest? There lay exposed…scary monsters.

The Kinsey Report? Science, it appears, terrifies the judging committee. “His research doesn’t back our ideology! The truth frightens us! The truth should remain hidden if we don’t like it! Eeek!”

Democracy and Education? Dewey advocated teaching kids how to think, not to memorize stacks of facts, and that to “learn by doing” was the best way. “Think for themselves, rather than only do what we tell them? Eeek!”

I’m not even going to comment on the inclusion of Friedan. You can hear the judges: “Feminism! Uppity women! Eeek!”

Auguste Comte created the discipline of sociology and greatly advanced the philosophy of positivism. In short, he advocated the idea of applying the scientific approach to the study of humanity, rather than adhere to traditional (i.e., strictly religious) explanations and methods. Say it with me: “Eeek!”**

They had a couple of other books that didn’t crack the top ten, but merited “honorable mention.” Some highlights: The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno),*** On Liberty (Mill),**** Coming of Age in Samoa (Mead), Unsafe at Any Speed (Nader), The Second Sex (de Beauvoir), Silent Spring (Carson), and Introduction to Psychoanalysis (Freud).

Going by this list, they find terrifying: communism, fascism, feminism, environmentalism, consumer rights, any form of social science, and…um…anthropology.

There are curious omissions from the list. For example, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book written by the Czar’s government to discredit Jews by labelling them as masters of a vast world conspiracy. The Protocols were used to justify pogroms and the Holocaust, and are still used today to libel the whole of Judaism. I’d call that a harmful book.

They also left out The Turner Diaries, a favorite of American militia nuts. There are a few hundred families in Oklahoma City who would probably argue that Alfred Kinsey exposing the American people’s propensity for unusual sexual practices doesn’t quite compare in impact to The Turner Diaries.

But hey, what do I know? Maybe bringing to light the commonality of homosexuality and promsicuity is, indeed, more dangerous than car bombs blowing up day care centers.

Hm.

No it isn't. It really isn't.

I digress.

There are other harmful books. Other books that present grave dangers to this world. Books that the conservatroid mulletheads of Human Events ignored or overlooked. I do not.

Thus, I present to you:

The True Ten Most Harmful Books of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child
Responsible for more bad meals than any other book in history. How many lives have been lost eating the horrors perpetrated by deluded fools thinking they could replicate her sole meunière?

2. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Early editions of Great Expectations contained a large spring-loaded steel knife blade that impaled the reader upon reaching page 210. Dickens's "literary device" has slain thousands and horribly wounded tens of thousands more. (Modern editions use a plastic blade, reducing deaths significantly. Still, it remains a dangerous book.)

3. Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
This mammoth tome has crushed untold numbers of people, mostly children, beneath its elephantine bulk.

4. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson
Modern bad poetry began here. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is also at fault, but the greatest share of blame goes to the Poet of Amherst.

5. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Countless lives have been hopelessly dorkified by Tolkien’s pseudo-epic. When will the madness end? With the slaying of the ORCS and the QUESTING for the MOUNT DOOM and the hoiven with the pain, and the stabbing, and the finger biting off, glaven!

6. Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley
My neighbors are building a homunculus out of corpse parts this summer. The entire DC area is overrun with these unnatural half-men, sewn together from cadavers and infused with life drawn from the heavens. Goddammit, Mary Shelley, I blame you for this.

7. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
A key element of maturity is the ability to recognize the motivation of others. A child thinks his father makes him mow the lawn because his father hates him. A grown man sees there’s more to it: the old man hates to mow, and dammit, the game’s on. Rand’s binary logic and inflexibility of mind has stunted the intellectual growth of millions by creating an asinine theory of “Reason” based upon a child’s view of the world. "Objectivism" does not survive even the slightest contact with adult reality.

8. The Man Who Knew Too Much, G.K. Chesterton
This nefarious volume encourages people to know too much.

9. Where’s Waldo, Martin Handford
Psychiatric wards contain thousands of victims of Handford’s evil. The Bosch-esque tableaux, the torment of the puzzles, the infernal cruelty writ across the face of Waldo, I swear, if hell itself were ever committed to paper, it would resemble nothing so much as Where’s Waldo.

10. The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown
Not for its crackpot theology or specious history does this book make the list. No. Instead, it cracks the top ten purely on the power of its sucking. Lord, what a crappy novel. Save us all from one-dimensional characters and prose that should embarrass a ten-year old. The power of its suck is so mighty that it infuses nearby objects with suck-waves. If you own a copy, wrap it in aluminum foil to insulate your other books, as well as yourself, from the suck-osity.

Protect yourself and your loved ones from these truly dangerous books.

You have been warned.

------------------------
*Part of me thinks that since Russia was a violent, repressive, backwards police state before the revolution and a violent, repressive, backwards police state after the revolution, blaming the lights of the revolution for the evil seems overkill. Ditto China. Was it a free and open place before Mao took over? Uh, no. It was a repressive empire. Is it now? Uh, no. It’s still a repressive empire and emperors still run the joint. The big difference is that now the emperors wear boring clothes.

Still and all, the Communist flavor of the tyranny can’t be excused or written off.

**Amusing sidenote: Comte invented the word “altruism.” (Insert rude joke about the reason his book is considered dangerous here.)

***They hate this book because it describes them. Really. It does. Heh.

****Mill had the crazy idea that folks should be free to do what they want, provided it doesn’t hurt anybody else. For a group that likes to legislate who can get married and who can’t, Mill advocates treason. For everybody else, Mill makes a lot of sense.


Hell, I’m surprised the Human Events judges didn’t include the Gettysburg Address on the list. ("Government by, of, and for the people? Sounds like a big-government weirdo to me!")


15 Comments:

  • I would argue that no books are inherently harmful, even Hitler's - it's what people do with them that counts. That said, I am pretty shocked the Protocols didn't make it. Stupid conservative book readers.

    And I would put any novel by a celebrity not known for writing novels above Brown. Like the "novels" of Jimmy Buffett or Ethan Hawke - those books are much more harmful than The Da Vinci Code.

    By Blogger Greg, at 4:12 PM  

  • Oh, snap! Nice dis on "The Fountainhead." I read that book when I was too young and it almost fucked me up for life.

    I'd toss in any "Complete Idiot's Guide to..." book just on principle.

    By Blogger David Campbell, at 5:46 PM  

  • Greg, I agree completely. The whole idea of the list was repugnant and more than a little strange. As though, had Marx not written "Das Kapital," there would not have been some form of communism, or that fascism would never have been born had not Krazy Dolf written his opus.

    Lists like this make me feel bad for conservatives who aren't raging buffoons. To those folks, I say: I feel your pain, and I know these yo-yos represent the fringe of the movement.

    David: The best "Complete Idiot's Guide" is "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Enhancing Self-Esteem." I worked in a bookstore when that came out and was nearly fired for it, because I couldn't stop laughing like a drunken hyena when I saw the title. "My self-esteem is low! Stupid, stupid!"

    To quote the Giffen/DeMattis Justice League, "BWAH-HA-HA-HAAAA!!!"

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 6:18 PM  

  • I have a feeling 20+ million dead Russians, 60+ million dead Chinese, etc. would dispute your glib remarks about Communism, as would (and should) anyone who doesn't have the moral imagination of a turnip. I guess the old stereotype of liberals unquestioningly swallowing Communist propaganda is still applicable.

    That said, of course the HE list is stupid: All such lists are, and lists-by-committee especially so, because people in groups are exponentially stupider than individuals.

    By Blogger Eric Martens, at 8:45 PM  

  • Oh, score! My first troll!

    If you'd read what I wrote, you'd see the gist of my problem: Russia and China were run by a pack of thieving, murdering scum both before and after the revolution.

    Ask yourself: How did the Ch'ing dynasty and the Romanovs retain control before the revolutions? Time-outs and stern paddlings? Nah. Secret police forces and massacres.

    The mass murders in both countries during the middle part of the twentieth century were fueled in large part by the ideological fervor of the communists. Yep. But don't pretend for a split second that the ideology was necessary for that brutality or repression. It wasn't before.

    Notice that I don't let Marx and company off the hook. Instead, I question blaming them exclusively. They added a religious fervor to a tradition of brutality. That's a surefire recipe for horror.

    My remarks were not glib, but rather reflective of a multi-faceted understanding of human motivation and a disregard for simpleminded blaming represented by the whole Human Events list.

    Sadly, I do lack "the moral imagination of a turnip." I have the moral intelligence of a human. It's a hell of a lot larger and more complex.

    (I know I shouldn't feed the trolls, but I felt this needed saying.)

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 3:37 PM  

  • I'm going to make a list of the people who got served the hardest:

    People Who Got Served the Hardest:
    1 - Eric Martens



    As idiotic as the list is, it burns me up when no-one mentions "Seduction of the Innocent" to at least be in the running.

    And the Bible. Lots of people died over that book.

    By Blogger Jason, at 5:00 PM  

  • What about "Watership Down"? Think of it: millions of intelligent bunnies with their own words for things. The implications are terrifying.

    By Blogger Jack Ruttan, at 8:13 AM  

  • What, no Harry Potter? It's turned all our impressionable youth into devious witches, warlocks, and spellcasters! All that good Catholic upbringing was for naught. Oh, well... where'd I put that lighter fluid?

    By Blogger Bill Reed, at 12:51 PM  

  • Okay, first off, I'm sorry for the tone and the content of my last comment. I mean that, and not just because I was, indeed, "served the hardest" (and deservedly so) as a result, but because I suspect you have more fulfilling things to deal with than abusive assholes, among whose number I unfortunately have to count myself sometimes.

    But since you did reply, let me at least try to make the point I didn't bother making last time:

    If a guy picks a fight with my brother and ends up stabbing him, and I retaliate by breaking into his home and butchering everyone but his eight-year-old daughter, whom I force to watch the whole thing, then both he and I are murdering scum, but it's neither "simpleminded blaming" nor (maybe not the choicest word in this context) "overkill" to be way more horrified by my crime than his, despite his having created the context in which mine was committed, and despite our both using knives.

    Yes, Russia and China were violent, repressive, backward police states both before and after their revolutions. France and Iran were despotic hell-holes both before and after theirs. Yes, murderous ideologies thrive in societies without established democratic traditions. Which is to say, all but like six countries on the planet, and all of those have their own histories of brutality or the indifference thereto (Yes, I'm looking at you, Switzerland).

    Violence and repression (and demagoguery--this is important, too, because it gives the poeple someone to be pissed off at besides the government) are pretty much the default settings for any government, because they're easy to do. That doesn't explain why the Romanovs were content to imprison and murder tens, maybe hundreds of thousands (and I'm not saying that's anything but far too many) rather than tens of millions. I mean, if it had been illegal in Czarist Russia (as it was under the Soviets) even to be a relative of an Enemy of the People, Lenin might well have been hanged alongside his brother, in which case the Revolution would have turned out quite differently, or been avoided altogether. So why wasn't it? Or rather: What was it about the Communists that made them capable of conceiving, let alone enforcing, such a depraved and anti-human law? Their depraved and anti-human ideology. Thus the unquibblable inclusion of the Marxist books on that stupid list.

    In other words: if we're not on quite the same page on this issue, we're at least in the same chapter, and I was an asshole to respond the way I did. For which I remain sorry. And it's small consolation but I'll probably still be sorry long after you've forgotten we ever had this exchange.

    By Blogger Eric Martens, at 1:20 AM  

  • Eric,

    Don't worry about it. The internet's basic anonymity and lack of human connection makes it far too easy to write in ways we'd never even consider speaking. Trust me, I'm writing from extensive personal experience. (I've taken up the habit of waiting at least twelve hours before posting anything political on line, since I tend to get shrill and stoopid. "I wrote what? Oh man.")

    At the root, our positions are quite similar. Communism can easily become a crypto-religion, and the True Believers of that peculiar faith were responsible for horrific crimes that rank among the worst in human history. As you rightly point out, though the emperors of China were often murderous, would any of them have undertaken something as insane and cruel as the Cultural Revolution? Nope--that takes a True Believer.

    I separate some of the insights of Marx from the Soviet and Chinese monstrosities, and find them at least useful as tools for examining capitalism and culture. Not a system I'd care to implement, because we've seen how that goes, but I appreciate the outside perspective.

    If we met, I'm sure we'd disagree on the utility of leftist thinking, but I'm also sure we'd agree on the intrinsic value of human life and dignity, and that choosing ideology over humanity is a crime.

    And I still think Julia Child's book is highly dangerous. Haute Cuisine is not for amateurs! Put the roulade down and step away from the oven!

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 12:02 PM  

  • Books don't harm people; it's the punctuation marks inside the books that do the most harm.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:37 AM  

  • Human events say "The Nazis loved Nietszche", well actually they loved Nietzsche's sisters selective interpretation of his works. His isolation perhaps led him to place far too much emphasis on individuality at the expense of others but to describe him as some sort of proto-nazi is plain unfair. His contribution to a true understanding of knowledge and morality are one of the greatest achievements of his time.
    His mostache, however, was horrendous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:44 PM  

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    By Blogger dhd, at 1:55 AM  

  • Hmm, I wonder why the Bible didn't make the list.

    By Blogger Alexc3, at 1:00 AM  

  • By Blogger dfadf, at 7:16 PM  

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