Sunday, June 05, 2005

Most Harmful Books?
This list of the most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries has gotten a lot of attention and a lot of criticism (Darwin is harmful?), but I have two severe criticisms of my own: one inclusion and one exclusion.

The wrong inclusion is Hitler's Mein Kampf. What harm did this book do? Almost nobody bought it when it first came out. It became popular later because Hitler was popular, but there is no reason to believe that anybody read it much, or that it had any influence whatsoever. On the other hand, if enough people had read it, Hitler's plans might have been taken more seriously. On a related note, I think the world would be a better place if more people read what this man has to say.

The book that I feel is wrongly excluded from the list is Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front", published in 1929. A typical view of this book, given by an Amazon reviewer is, "This is the greatest war novel ever because Remarque's book is anti-war."

Anti-war. What does is mean? It doesn't mean "war is hell", a sentiment no one disagrees with. "Anti-war" means that in any war, both sides are equally wrong, and either side would be better off making whatever unilateral concessions are necessary to end the war, or to make sure that it doesn't start in the first place. Unlike Mein Kampf, Remarque's book was very widely read, and its lessons were very well learned in Europe (except for Germany, where Hitler burnt it). War Must Never Happen Again. Or at least it must be delayed as long as possible. And made as severe as possible. And millions of people must die.

Of course, there were anti-war influences besides Quiet, and I'm not even sure how Remarque meant his book to be interpreted. But to the extent that any one book can kill 50 million people, this book did.

1 comment:

Dave said...

You could add:

One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse

Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock MD

The America I have Seen by Sayyid Qutb

and to be a little ethnocentric:

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion