Columns » Boomer with Attitude

Books for Evildoers

Caution: Bonfires ahead

Last week, the conservative website Human Events Online posted its "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." The list - actually 30 books, including 20 "honorable mentions" - was picked by a panel of right-wing think-tankers, writers and academics. The top two picks? No-brainers — The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf (even though Hitler's book was hardly noticed until after he was elected chancellor). Most of the remaining picks are, as you'd expect, books that have gained near-bible status among progressives. But what I found most interesting, make that fascinating, is what the list reveals about the mindset of much of the American right wing.

Other than Communism and Nazism, what did our conservative experts find "most harmful"? That would be . . . (drumroll). . .Science and Sex!

Surprised? I'm not, considering how much time the right spends railing against the modern world. Number 4 on the list is The Kinsey Report which, the panel said, aided the "normalization of promiscuity and deviancy." Hmm, and we thought Kinsey documented changes in sexual behavior that were already the new norm. Other sex-related works that made the "most harmful" hit parade include Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (feminism = communism, in so many words), Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead, and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. What? No Dr. Spock baby books?

Science took a similar beating. The panel condemned Sigmund Freud's Introduction to Psychoanalysis (science and sex! — how did Freud avoid being Number 1?); behaviorist B.F. Skinner, whose influence was minimal and has pretty much been forgotten; economist John Maynard Keynes, whose ideas helped drag the US out of the Great Depression; environmentalist Paul Ehrlich; and, of course, the Kingdaddy of evil science, Charles Darwin. Mr. Evolution is so special to the religious-nut wing of conservatism, he was cited twice: for Origin of the Species (the actual title is On the Origin of Species, but hey, it's evil, so who cares?), and The Descent of Man.

Others who took it on their big harmful chins include philosopher/educator John Dewey, Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, Michel Foucault and, unexpectedly, John Stuart Mill, whose On Liberty is one of the few books I've ever heard praised by both liberals and conservatives — but those were conservatives of a more libertarian bent, not the twisted authoritarians currently in charge of the right.

What's funny is that each book on the Human Events site is linked to with the group's tag, meaning the Human Events people make a buck or two whenever one of their readers decides to buy one of these foul books.

My first reaction, other than wondering about the presence of Mill and the absence of Spock, was, What the hell?! They're slamming almost every type of social progress made in the past 150 years — I'm surprised Uncle Tom's Cabin's not here. What do these people want to do, go back to the McKinley era? And then I remembered: Yes, they do. After all, President W's main man, Karl Rove, as well as other rightist thinkers, have openly proclaimed admiration for McKinley and they think America would be better off returning to the pre-Progressive Era days. That means a time before, say, meat inspections, or drug testing, or Social Security. In other words, these people are batshit crazy and if given enough leeway — such as, say, "running the government" — they could be much more harmful than anyone on their book list.

Rather than mope around about all this, I decided to whip up my own list of most harmful books. Here's a shortened version:

1. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Written in the early 20th century under the direction of Russia's secret police, the book claims to be evidence of a Jewish plot to take over the world. The Bible of anti-Semitism, Protocols was a big influence on the likes of Hitler and Timothy McVeigh.

2. The Left Behind series by Tim LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. This sloppy, violent version of Protestant fundamentalists' bizarre take on Revelations has sold millions while stirring the mud at the bottom of the nation's intellectual pond.

3. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. Friedman's fame as the leader of the Chicago School of economics, aka The Temple of Unfettered Free Markets, led to a group of his disciples being given control of the Chilean economy after Pinochet took over. The result? A few super-rich suits offset by 22 percent unemployment, 40 percent of the population in poverty, and a collapsed economy (saved afterward, by the way, by FDR-style policies).

4. The Way Things Ought To Be by Rush Limbaugh. Oxycontin Boy looks at America's problems by distorting facts and, when that fails, making them up, then running them through a filter of fear and selfishness.

5. Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss. A former U. of Chicago professor and political philosopher, Strauss influenced a number of neo-conservatives who followed his ideas all the way to the disastrous war in Iraq.

You may disagree with my list (and I'd love to hear your own picks for most harmful books), but give me some credit — unlike the Human Events folks, at least I'm not trying to make a buck from things I don't like.

To see the full Human Events list, go to

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