Wednesday, June 15, 2005

He struck me on the head with his hardcover copy of Mein Kampf!

I like listening to Bob Garfield ('77 Penn State grad and co-host of NPR/WNYC's "On the Media"); he can be kind of unpredictable in some of his interviews. On last Sunday's program, available as a podcast here, he spoke with a guy named Herb London about the conservative weekly Human Events' recent list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." [No. 1 is that insidious page-turner of a pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto.]

London was on the jury who selected the books, and he manages to dance around taking very strong stands on books that he didn't actually vote for. And you can just hear Garfield trying to prod him into saying something funny or something he'll regret (especially considering the supposed weight of the topic). Here's a choice interchange:
BOB GARFIELD: Well, it - apparently there was some sort of consensus on the jury. Do you know why [Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male] was deemed to be so harmful?

HERB LONDON: Well, probably because conventional notions of sexuality were changed and the relationship between men and women changed in the process. Normative behavior became very different as a result of the Kinsey Report and what was alleged to be the great changes that were occurring in American sexuality.

BOB GARFIELD: And next thing you know, you got, like Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is talking about ... man on dog sex.

HERB LONDON: Well, I won't even comment on that. I'm not going to dignify that comment, but [Garfield's LAUGHTER] I, all I'm saying to you is that if you're looking at normative behavior, clearly it changed as a result of the Kinsey Report.
Earlier, they have a slightly less cheeky discussion about whether books really hurt people or people hurt people. London maintains that books can in fact be very dangerous. [The full transcript is here.]

Joking aside, I wondered how dangerous such books could really be without guns and ammunition, overly ambitious leaders, changes in law and science, and new and powerful inventions, etc. thrown into the mix? And yet, on the other hand, many people could make arguments that certain works of literature can actually be seen as sources of great good. (Remember: "Does Writing Change Anything?") So could a person support a top 10 list of the most helpful books of recent history while chiding a list of the 10 most harmful ones? Would a left-leaning publication ever find itself coming up with a top 10 "harmful" list? Or what would a Human Events "most beneficial" list look like?

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