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Be careful of what you read in public...


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#1 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 18 July 2003 - 12:16 PM

Here's something that I found more than a little disturbing...

To tell the truth, I'm kind of anxious to hear back from the FBI, if only for the chance to ask why anyone would find media criticism suspicious, or if maybe the sight of a dark, bearded man reading in public is itself enough to strike fear in the heart of a patriotic citizen.



#2 Darrel Manson

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Posted 18 July 2003 - 02:11 PM

I never get around to it, but I keep thinking I should go check out as many books that could be considered subversive as I can find in the library.

#3 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 01:44 PM

This looks like a good thread for this. As my reading, writing and discussions of theology, philosophy, arts & culture and politics have been slowly increasing over the years, it occurred to me that I still need to be far more educated than I really am. It's time that I was able to speak just a little more authoritatively on a few ideas and philosophies that still exert great influence within culture as it exists today. While I was forced to read a few of these back in college, I decided to collect now at least one bookshelf of books that are pretty much required reading now for anyone who seriously wants to interact with these ideas - ideas that are believed to have been damaging. I've come up with a list of 15 books that it's high time I gave a thorough reading of in order to be better informed (and in order to not condemn a book that I have simply not read or thought much about). My list so far is as follows:

The Social Construction of Reality - by Peter L. Berger
The Positive Philosophy - by Auguste Comte
On the Origin of the Species - by Charles Darwin
Democracy And Education - by John Dewey
The Feminine Mystique - by Betty Friedan
Concluding Unscientific Postscript - by Soren Kierkegaard
Philosophical Fragments - by Soren Kierkegaard
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female - by Alfred C. Kinsey
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male - by Alfred C. Kinsey
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money - by John Maynard Keynes
The Communist Manifesto - by Karl Marx
Das Kapital - by Karl Marx
Beyond Good and Evil - by Friedrich Nietzsche
Atlas Shrugged - by Ayn Rand
Critique of Dialectical Reason - by Jean-Paul Sartre
A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom - by Andrew Dickson White

Anyone else have any suggestions to be included here? What are some of the most widely read, most famous books that you believe to have been damaging to society?

Again, I'm not trying to imply that all these books are wrong. I haven't thoroughly read any of them yet. But I've been told that they are dangerously wrong and it's time I checked them out for myself.

Edited by Persiflage, 30 April 2012 - 11:38 AM.


#4 Anders

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 07:40 PM

There are a few on this list that I like, even though I know that others think they are damaging (Kierkegaard, and Marx's CAPITAL has some critically indicting passages that seem pulled straight from the gospels). Then there are a a few that I'm surprised that people would list as "damaging" (particularly Keynes? Really?). Can I recommend that if you read Nietzsche (whom I esteem quite highly, with reservations) you also read "On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense"? His GENEALOGY OF MORALS and UNTIMELY MEDITATIONS might also be as important as BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL (which sound so "scary").

I'll be interested to hear more about Auguste Comte, since I don't have a high view of positivism.

#5 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 10:24 PM

... there are a a few that I'm surprised that people would list as "damaging" (particularly Keynes? Really?).

I have a strong background in Economics from college. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published in 1936 during the Great Depression. As I understand it, it was considered to be Keynes' magnum opus of sorts, and it was particularly embraced by FDR for it's views on deficit spending's effects upon the economy. While thinkers like Bertrand Russell, John Kenneth Galbraith, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman all embraced Keynes' main ideas, most of my economics professors leaned more towards the Austrian (Carl Menger & Eugen Bohm-Bawerk) and Chicago schools of economics, and laid the blame for the length of the great depression, the recessions of the 1970s and the wildly out-of-control deficit spending we are engaged in today right at the door of Keynes' economic presuppositions. While I've never been convinced by the libertarian claims against his General Theory that the more extreme Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard have made, I have been given an impression that there is a majority consensus in most economics circles that the critiques by the more temperant of economists (like Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer and most of all, Henry Hazlitt) have all pretty much proved Keynes was working under fundamentally erroneous assumptions. (But, in the long run, we are all dead anyway, aren't we?)

All this to say the first time I tried to read the General Theory, I found it utterly impenetrable, but if it is the philosophy behind the increasingly short term fixation we have these days about increasing our debt, I probably do need to force myself to plough through it to make sure I'm not just making some unwarranted assumptions myself.

Can I recommend that if you read Nietzsche (whom I esteem quite highly, with reservations) you also read "On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense"? His GENEALOGY OF MORALS and UNTIMELY MEDITATIONS might also be as important as BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL (which sound so "scary").

I've read The Gay Science and Thus Spake Zarathustra so far and have found both Nietzsche's philosophy abhorrent and his writing and thinking delightful. He was a brilliant guy who believed some pretty soul-crushing things. Your recommendations sound good and I probably need to follow them. In spite of what I've read of him so far, I haven't really read his supposed "take down" of morality yet.

#6 The Defenestrator

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 10:33 PM

Some of those are pretty good reads, actually. I'd agree with Anders that Kierkegaard and Marx are especially worth reading. Andrew Dickson White's book I found to be mostly worthless.

How about Mein Kampf by Hitler?

Also, for a very interesting and charitable reading of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, I'd highly recommend Merold Westphal's Suspicion and Faith.

#7 Cunningham

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 06:32 AM

I feel like "The Fountainhead" should be on that list...

#8 Anders

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 10:07 AM


... there are a a few that I'm surprised that people would list as "damaging" (particularly Keynes? Really?).

I have a strong background in Economics from college. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published in 1936 during the Great Depression. As I understand it, it was considered to be Keynes' magnum opus of sorts, and it was particularly embraced by FDR for it's views on deficit spending's effects upon the economy. While thinkers like Bertrand Russell, John Kenneth Galbraith, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman all embraced Keynes' main ideas, most of my economics professors leaned more towards the Austrian (Carl Menger & Eugen Bohm-Bawerk) and Chicago schools of economics, and laid the blame for the length of the great depression, the recessions of the 1970s and the wildly out-of-control deficit spending we are engaged in today right at the door of Keynes' economic presuppositions. While I've never been convinced by the libertarian claims against his General Theory that the more extreme Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard have made, I have been given an impression that there is a majority consensus in most economics circles that the critiques by the more temperant of economists (like Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer and most of all, Henry Hazlitt) have all pretty much proved Keynes was working under fundamentally erroneous assumptions. (But, in the long run, we are all dead anyway, aren't we?)

All this to say the first time I tried to read the General Theory, I found it utterly impenetrable, but if it is the philosophy behind the increasingly short term fixation we have these days about increasing our debt, I probably do need to force myself to plough through it to make sure I'm not just making some unwarranted assumptions myself.


Well, one of my undergraduate economics professors (the one that was the most compelling to me) was a fairly big Keynesean. And I find Paul Krugman pretty compelling as a writer. Granted, I'm probably not as well versed in economics as you are (a couple of undergraduate courses and some scattered independent reading), but I've come to the understanding that the Chicago school of economics is partly to blame for the most recent economic crisis in many ways. Most of the key members of the Bush administration were of the Chicago school, no? And you're the first person I've to describe Milton Friedman as "temperate."

Still, I don't want to make this about politics. It's clear we have been given very different impressions, but also have some commonalities. I'm happy to hear that you're doing something I don't have the time to do right now (what with being in the middle of doctoral studies).

#9 NBooth

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 11:02 PM

Anyone else have any suggestions to be included here? What are some of the most widely read, most famous books that you believe to have been damaging to society?

Again, I'm not trying to imply that all these books are wrong. I haven't thoroughly read any of them yet. But I've been told that they are dangerously wrong and it's time I checked them out for myself.


This is a cool idea. If my dancing card wasn't full, I'd try to tango with you. Still might, actually; I've got a copy of The Communist Manifesto lying around somewhere, and Freidan's autobiography (not The Feminine Mystique, though).

If you want to add more books to the list, you could probably check out lists of commonly-challenged/banned nonfiction. Not that everything there would be useful; I doubt What's Happening to My Body? would be a necessary volume on your shelf. But lists like that might give some ideas for other possible additions.

Edited by NBooth, 26 April 2012 - 11:04 PM.


#10 Joel

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 12:42 AM

I might have missed an earlier part of the discussion but I wasn't quite sure what the "ideas that are believed to have been damaging" part meant exactly. But if this is a list of important thinkers to engage with in the fields you mentioned, I think Foucault would be important to add to the list. (I only have Foucault: A Very Short Introduction and I haven't made it through that yet.)

#11 NBooth

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 02:20 AM

I might have missed an earlier part of the discussion but I wasn't quite sure what the "ideas that are believed to have been damaging" part meant exactly. But if this is a list of important thinkers to engage with in the fields you mentioned, I think Foucault would be important to add to the list. (I only have Foucault: A Very Short Introduction and I haven't made it through that yet.)


I think the only Foucault I've read so far was in The Continental Philosophy Reader...several years ago. But I second the motion. Something like The History of Sexuality would definitely fit this project. Foucault was, after all, the guy who suggested the notion that a binary understanding of sexuality only developed in 1870 (he's been challenged since, I think; Graham Robb's Strangers certainly takes issue with him). "Damaging"--perhaps, perhaps not. Depends on who you ask. But that's the case with everything else on the list, too (I certainly wouldn't want to live in a pre-Freidan world).

FWIW, a flip through the linked Reader's table of contents would expose a veritable who's-who of "damaging" thought: Husserl, Heidegger, Lacan, Kristeva, Derrida.... I'm not suggesting the Reader itself, but one could theoretically keep very busy tracing down the authors represented in it.

Edited by NBooth, 27 April 2012 - 12:19 PM.


#12 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 11:37 AM

How about Mein Kampf by Hitler?

Good point, although I don't feel like it's a book we need to interact with anymore, other than as just a historical warning marker. It's infamous now rather than influential.

I feel like "The Fountainhead" should be on that list...

Atlas Shrugged probably. But I'm not sure if Ayn Rand is really that damagingly influential except in outside-of-the-mainstream loony circles.

Well, one of my undergraduate economics professors (the one that was the most compelling to me) was a fairly big Keynesean. And I find Paul Krugman pretty compelling as a writer. Granted, I'm probably not as well versed in economics as you are (a couple of undergraduate courses and some scattered independent reading), but I've come to the understanding that the Chicago school of economics is partly to blame for the most recent economic crisis in many ways. Most of the key members of the Bush administration were of the Chicago school, no? And you're the first person I've to describe Milton Friedman as "temperate."

Actually, the Chicago school of economics was strongly opposed to many of the prior administration's economic policies. But, regardless, I guess I can grant you that the question of whether John Maynard Keynes belongs on a list like this is still up for debate.

If you want to add more books to the list, you could probably check out lists of commonly-challenged/banned nonfiction. Not that everything there would be useful; I doubt What's Happening to My Body? would be a necessary volume on your shelf. But lists like that might give some ideas for other possible additions.

Interesting, but the problem with that list is that it's just a list of books that happened to have been banned, at one time or another, by anyone. Thomas Paine was banned by the British. Malcolm X was banned in a number of southern states. Solzhenhitsyn was banned by the Soviet Union. A number of the sex books have been banned by efforts of the religious right. Other than having been banned, there's no rhyme or reason to it, thus resulting in placing Immanuel Kant and Robie Harris on the same list.

I might have missed an earlier part of the discussion but I wasn't quite sure what the "ideas that are believed to have been damaging" part meant exactly. But if this is a list of important thinkers to engage with in the fields you mentioned, I think Foucault would be important to add to the list. (I only have Foucault: A Very Short Introduction and I haven't made it through that yet.)

I'm not sure that I've narrowly defined this list for myself either. I just have an impression that, over the years, I've been taught that a number of books are bad - that they have influenced society in ways that are harmful, and that, because of that impression I've been avoiding them for reasons that are unsound. Michel Foucault looks like he could go on this list. From what you've read do you know if he has a major work? Perhaps The Archaeology of Knowledge?

#13 NBooth

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 12:56 PM

Given that Alan Greenspan was an Ayn Rand acolyte, I think it's safe to say that her ideas have had consequences far outside the fringy Cato Institute circles....


If you want to add more books to the list, you could probably check out lists of commonly-challenged/banned nonfiction. Not that everything there would be useful; I doubt What's Happening to My Body? would be a necessary volume on your shelf. But lists like that might give some ideas for other possible additions.

Interesting, but the problem with that list is that it's just a list of books that happened to have been banned, at one time or another, by anyone. Thomas Paine was banned by the British. Malcolm X was banned in a number of southern states. Solzhenhitsyn was banned by the Soviet Union. A number of the sex books have been banned by efforts of the religious right. Other than having been banned, there's no rhyme or reason to it, thus resulting in placing Immanuel Kant and Robie Harris on the same list.


I would submit that such an observation underlines the arbitrary nature of any list of "dangerous" books. If you want to see what books people think are "dangerous" you look at what they try to ban; not all of 'em will be useful, but at least some of them will. I think it's worth checking out, anyway, as a barometer of opinion--a limited use, to be sure.

Other thoughts:

Paine's The Age of Reason (which I've no doubt you've already read, given your interest in the period) definitely belongs on a list of "dangerous" books.

Freud should probably be on the list. Probably A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis and Moses and Monotheism

Also--Marquis de Sade. Although I have been told that his are the only books that just reading will make you into a moral reprobate. Posted Image

Derrida: Writing and Difference. Because Derrida and deconstructionism [and, I guess, that hoary old chestnut "postmodernism"] go together like a horse and carriage.

EDIT: w/r/t Foucault--I'm not Joel, but I'll put my two cents in anyway. Foucault's works on sexuality seem to have been hugely influential (again--it was Foucault that fielded the idea that the idea of hetero/homosexuality didn't exist until 187ish). Madness and Civilization, however, seems to be--at least, according to the editorial copy--his masterpiece. Most of Foucault's themes seem to find their start in this book.

Edited by NBooth, 30 April 2012 - 01:14 PM.


#14 NBooth

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Posted 19 September 2012 - 06:21 AM

So I was trolling around the older threads--because I do that some times--and was surprised to discover this thread. Given the turn toward "dangerous books" (though it's about half a year late) I figured I would stick the link here for reference.