Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Read These Books

I own a copy of Mein Kampf.

Which probably sounds quite creepy, I suppose, especially since I have a few other Hitler-related tomes--Bullock's Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives and, of course, Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. But I own it, first, because it's probably the Most Famous Book That Nobody Has Read (even more so than Das Kapital, and that's saying something!), and because one should aquaint oneself with evil when it presents itself--especially when it nakedly exposes itself. If there were ever anyone in the past century we need to understand, it's Adolf--"never again" is predicated on the ability to see him coming. It's also a dreadful read, of course, especially if you've read Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea and Spengler's Decline of the West (and haven't we all?), but one should read such things, I think, not for prurience or, God forbid, inspiration, but because, well, if Satan kept a diary and it fell into human hands, it would irresponsible not to read it, wouldn't it? Doesn't maintaining morality demand a conversance with immorality? If we don't know where the border is between the two, how do we know when we come close to it. Plus which, Hitler's understanding of history (much less logic) is absolutely hilarious, if you can temporarily forget the whole "6 million Jews" thing.

I mention that I own a copy because Human Events, the self-described "National Conservative Weekly," commisioned a panel of, shall we say, right-leaning academics (how they found such individuals I can't imagine, since according to publications like Human Events, all us Ivory Tower types are flag-burning, commie-loving, welfare-expanding loons--maybe they just polled heavily from Bob Jones and Pat Robertson--though, need I add that Phyllis Schlafly was one of the judges and what that means to the 'objective value' of this list?) to identify the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Century," of which Mein Kampf was one. Which prompts me to point out that we must read these books--that any time anyone tells you not to read a book, the first thing you should do is run right out and read it. (Unless, of course, you are a character in an H.P. Lovecraft story and the book is The Necronomicon. Then you should definitely take that advice.) I'd give the link to the list, but I don't want them to get hits and think that people like them. So here they are, books that you should read because 'They' don't want you to:

Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

1. The Communist Manifesto
Authors: Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels

2. Mein Kampf
Author: Adolf Hitler

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao
Author: Mao Zedong

4. The Kinsey Report
Author: Alfred Kinsey

5. Democracy and Education
Author: John Dewey

6. Das Kapital
Author: Karl Marx

7. The Feminine Mystique
Author: Betty Friedan

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy
Author: Auguste Comte

9. Beyond Good and Evil
Author: Freidrich Nietzsche

10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
Author: John Maynard Keynes

Honorable Mention

These books won votes from two or more judges:

The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich Score: 22
What Is To Be Done by V.I. Lenin Score: 20
Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno Score: 19
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill Score: 18
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner Score: 18
Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel Score: 18
The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly Score: 17
Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin Score: 17
Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault Score: 12
Soviet Communism: A New Civilization by Sidney and Beatrice Webb Score: 12
Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead Score: 11
Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader Score: 11
Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir Score: 10
Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci Score: 10
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson Score: 9
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon Score: 9
Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud Score: 9
The Greening of America by Charles Reich Score: 9
The Limits to Growth by Club of Rome Score: 4
Descent of Man by Charles Darwin Score: 2

Me, again. I'm kind of suprised that Origin of Species came in so low--of course, without it, we could never have had Social Darwinism, so you know the neo-cons must have been torn about that title. Margaret Mead? John Stuart Mill? Not exactly what I normally think of as 'unhealthy' reading, and let's face it, has anyone of genuine social influence ever read Adorno or Foucault, really? I think not. The Nietzsche title seems chosen at random--they b*tch about the fact that he's the guy who said that "God is dead," but ignore the fact that that's from Thus Spake Zarathustra and they point out that the Nazis loved him, similarly ignoring the fact that, like everything else they read (including, um, the BIBLE) they twisted what they read to suit their own agenda. And how can Ehrlich be really harmful, when he was proven to be completely wrong within a few years? Kinsey, Freud--well, sure, anyone who argues that sex exists is going to be automatically bad.

But Mein Kampf harmful? How so? As a means of disseminating Hitler's ideas? Um, no. It sold incredibly poorly and, though they cite the Simon Weisenthal center (and you've gotta know that Weisenthal must just be thrilled to be mentioned in this article) in claiming that in 1945 there were 10 million copies in circulation, the only response one can have to that is "Well, duh--it was tacitly required for all citizens of Germany to own a copy." Hitler's poison wasn't disseminated by that book--personal appearances, radio, and film did that trick--especially since he was mostly popular with people who weren't what you'd call the literati. No, if Mein Kampf was anything, it was an incredibly helpful book that we of the saner nations chose to ignore. He told us everything he was going to do. It laid it all out in black and white. If we'd read it and paid attention, we'd have known exactly where National Socialism was headed, and we might have stopped it earlier. It's as if Dr. No sent a detailed memo to James Bond laying out exactly what his plan for world domination was, only to have Bond completely ignore it. Imagine that confrontation:

Bond: "So, Doctor--isn't it time you told me what all this was about?"

No: "What all this was--what are you--didn't you get the memo?"

Bond: "The memo? The mem--oh, yes--yes, you did send me something last month, didn't you? Sorry, I just never got around to reading it."

No: "But--but I told you everything, Mr. Bond! I mean, it was all in there! 'Step One: Establish secret fortress in Crab Key, Jamaica. Step Two: Create radar jamming equipment to interfere with nuclear missiles. Step Three: Hold the world hostage--you mean you didn't read any of it?"

Bond: "Look, I'm a busy man. Plus, I drink, I womanize--I do have a social life, you know. I can't be expected to read every piece of paper that crosses my desk."

No: "Oh, for the love of--not even if it's titled Incredibly Important Plan For World Domination--Read This Right Away, Mr. Bond, And You Might Stop Me Even Before I Pose A Serious Risk To The Planet?!?!?"

Bond: "Well, put it like that--I mean, look--my bad, OK?"

No: "Your bad? Your BAD??? You know what?--screw this. I knew I should have sent it to Napoleon Solo. Hell, even Matt Helm would have given it a glance-over. But you? You just--I mean--oh, the hell with it. I was going to wait and give you my whole 'the plan is already in motion and there's nothing you can do to stop it' speech, but you're just not worth it. I quit. We're done."

Bond: "Meaning what?"

No: "Meaning this, you chinless Limey." (Pulls lever, dropping Bond into the shark tank where he is promptly, messily devoured.)

So let's not fall victim to Bond's fate, shall we? Read these books--risk the 'harm'--read them so you can realize what morons these would-be book-burners are, and to spit in the eye of censorship and willful stupidity. Read these books.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be comforted--if it were "Most Harmful Books of All Time," the Bible would definitely have to be on it.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Of course, but then, I think people SHOULD read the Bible. Just not, you know, the way most people USUALLY read it--as a transparent how-to manual. Ditto on the Koran, Tao Te Ching--hell, even the Book of Mormon has some cool parts. Wilde wrote, famously, "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are either well written or badly written. That is all." Basically, I'm approaching books from a similar angle--a book is neither dangerous nor helpful but THINKING (or, in the former case, NOT thinking) makes it so...

12:32 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

The Feminine Mystique?

1:32 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Yeah, I figure that one's on the list largely because of Ms. Schlafly--after all, anything that suggests that women should, you know, "break up the home" by doing such inappropriate things as working and reading books and thinking for themselves and voting must inevitably lead to the decline of American civilization. And that's really the point of this list, isn't it?--that every title is there because the judges thought that the book had been bad for AMERICA, rather than the rest of the world...

2:52 PM  

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