As I was writing the section on “Lost, Secret, Censored, and Forbidden” books for Atheism for Dummies, I came across a list on the website Human Events — Powerful Conservative Voices naming the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
It was not just the nonsensical ravings of some random guy. That’s fun too, but too easy and cheap — there’s always that guy somewhere. This list gathered the opinions of “15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders.” Human Events has been around since WWII (initially in print form) and was Ronald Reagan’s “favorite reading for years.”
The result was even better than I’d hoped. In addition to questioning the whole concept of the harmful book, I thought some on the list were just too funny. The Kinsey Report? The Feminine Mystique? Dewey’s Democracy and Education? (The listmaker moans that Dewey introduced the teaching of thinking “skills” — scare quotes included — into public education. Bastard!)
Even better are some of the runners up: Mill’s On Liberty; Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed (which harmfully made cars less dangerous); Origin of Species and Descent of Man (of course); Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex…and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring!
Lists of banned books are so damn revealing. In this case, nearly every book on the list, including the runners-up, is challenging the status quo, holding prevailing assumption to the light.
Stephen King’s advice to a group of students was spot-on:
When you hear a book is being banned, RUN, don’t walk, to the first library you can find and read what they’re trying to keep out of your eyes. Read what they’re trying to keep out of your brains. Because that’s exactly what you need to know.”