Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ten Most Harmful Books

Thanks to Rob "Helpychalk," I discovered this wonderful list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Century. It was put together by a conservative group, so some of the books were obvious choices. Number 1 is the Communist Manifesto, with Das Kapital at number 6. The list also provides some pretty big hints about the kinds of conservatives who did the ratings. For instance, Darwin made the Honorable Mention list twice, with The Origin of the Species and Descent of Man. Appparently evolution is pretty harful. The Kinsey Report came in at number 4 (number 4!), meaning that sex is only slightly less harmful than Marx, Hitler, and Mao (whose books are number 1, 2, and 3 respectively). I was excited to find that some of my favorite authors/books are there as well. Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil came in at number 9 (its description ends with, "The Nazis loved Nietzsche"), John Dewey made the list with Democracy and Education at number 5, and Michael Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, and Theodor Adorno (with his book about authoritarianism, which links it to conservativism) all made the Honorable Mention list.

The descriptions of the books are great. I'll just give you a taste, from the description of Democracy and Education.
In Democracy and Education, in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation.
Connecting Dewey and Clinton to make it clear just how harmful Dewey has been is ingenius. I'm a little confused, though, about the use of the adjectives "pompous" and "opaque" to describe the prose in Democracy and Education. It's generally considered one of his most easily read books, and while I doubt anyone would call Dewey a great writer, I've always thought that this book (especially compared to his early writings) was quite clearly written.

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