Books Can Be Dangerous!
The Book Thief is a movie that was made not that long ago which touches upon the importance of books to keep up morale and present to the reader new ideas.
It is of course the presenting to the reader new ideas, or ideas that the reader has not previously come across, that can make a book dangerous.
In The Book Thief Hitler's Mein Kampf is touched upon a number of times. It is a book forced upon those who wish to either be loyal or appear to be loyal to Hitler's Germany. There are, however, books in The book Thief that are uplifting and treasured by the reader.
Not long ago French artists and writers were slaughtered by crazed Muslims. Can't they take a little criticism? Was the magazine they attacked such a profound threat to them?
And was this magazine also a threat to the Pope? It did touch upon the subject of priests of the Catholic Church doing the wrong thing with young children.
What's more, since the attack upon Charlie Hebdo by religious freaks their circulation has more than doubled. If anything attacking such a publication ended up making it even more dangerous.
Today books that were dangerous, really dangerous are even more so. They can be presented to readers not only as hardcovers and paperbacks but also as e-books. They have so many ways of getting around.
One argument for the radical comic book back in the late 20th Century was that it was easily distributed and therefore its distribution was difficult for people in authority to control. Close down one source of distribution and another one would pop up.
Comic books thus became a way of protesting against the continuance of the Vietnam War and also the stockpiling of atomic weapons.
For further information check out Last Gasp comics. Nowadays all books can make the claim that the comic books in the 1960s and '70s could make.
Whole nations have gone to war holding up high books such as the Bible and the Koran. It doesn't always matter what's inside such books, just that they are holy.
There have been court cases and trials in various countries over the owning of certain books as well as the teaching from them. In 1925 in the USA a teacher was put on trial for teaching his class about The Theory of Evolution.
He wasn't teaching from Charles Darwin's famous and also infamous On the Origin of Species (1859) but from a chapter in A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems by George Hunter (1914).
Novels such as the sadomasochistic 1950s work, The Story of O by Pauline Reage, came under scrutiny by the censors in various countries for its somewhat outlandish sexual content. Now it seems tame compared to what is presently out there.
So how can a book be possibly dangerous? Well, it can be dangerous by its contents.
Books that are dangerous move people, they stir things up and even make people question their lives and the society they are living in. Das Kapital by Karl Marx was such a book.
In societies where people are not permitted to ask too many questions, such as Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, dangerous books are burned.
I just saw the film Storm Center (1956) starring Bette Davis. In it Bette Davis plays the role of an old librarian who refuses to bow down to censorship during the Cold War.
Books are her life and she will not remove one from the shelf just because her and the town council don't like what is written in it.
She feels that democracy demands that every voice is heard and even books against democracy should be out there to be read and discussed.
It is a touching film and many a time I felt like patting the Davis character on the back for her steadfast support of our collective freedoms and our rights.
The movie ends with the library on fire. Many of the books shown burning were, when they first came out, controversial.
They were, in fact, dangerous books because they got people thinking. I believe the world would be better off with more such books.
Here is a list of twelve books that have been dangerous and, to some extent, are still dangerous.
I will discard here the more obvious choices such as The Karma Sutra, The Bible, The Koran, and Charles Darwin's famous work, On the Origin Species.
Here I should mention if briefly 1984 and Brave New World. They are excellent and should not be lightly dismissed.
It could even be said that we dismiss them at quite possibly our own peril. If dangerous they are mostly so those who do not want the general public to think.
In search of Treasure
1. THE ALCHEMIST
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (English version 1993) is about a young shepherd's quest for a treasure to be found somewhere in the land of the pyramids.
The journey is long and on the way the shepherd discovers that there are other riches besides gold on offer to him.
This is a quest saga with numerous twists and turns. It shows the Arab in a less sinister light than we today in the west see the Arab and therefore gets the western reader to think in perhaps new ways.
According to Coelho there is something clean as well as savage about the desert. It has its beauty that comes out of its harshness. The wilderness tests men and sometimes finds the men it tests wanting.
A Sea of Red
2. DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER
Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay ( 2005) is part of a series of books by Lindsay about a killer who targets other killers.
Born in blood, the impulse to murder within him waiting to get out, Dexter works as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police.
He finds his victims through information he gathers where he works and then kills in his spare time.
In most crime novels the hero brings in the villain or villains alive or at least makes a damn good try of doing so. Not so with Dexter. He even has his own method of execution.
This twists the crime novel and by doing so gets the reader thinking. The books have spawned an equally thought provoking television series.
THE JOURNEY TO NEW ATLANTIS
3. NEW ATLANTIS
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (1627) was highly controversial in its day.
At a time when there were people preaching that the Bible was the only book one needs to read, Bacon was giving the okay for the public to broaden their horizons in book reading.
At a time when science seemed to be encroaching on religious territory, Bacon was saying that you can be both scientific and religious.
Peace and scientific discovery can go hand in hand. There is nothing wrong in studying the works of God.
What's more, knowledge is for everyone and not just the clergy. Dangerous ideas to be pushing forward in 1627.
In New Atlantis outsiders are considered barbarians who have not yet seen the light. New
Atlantis is a place of wonder. It is an advanced civilization and, being fictional, illustrates the ideas and ideals of Francis Bacon.
The Worms Have It!
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) is a science fiction masterpiece with everything going for it. Among other things it challenges the reader's views on politics.
Could a future ruler see Hitler as the ideal ruler who make a few unfortunate mistakes? Can the future rely so much on a precious fuel source and those able to get it and those able to put it to use? Well in 1965 the present sure did.
One can say that the local inhabitants of Dune are much like the people of our Middle East and the giant worms that travel underground produce the treasure of the ages.
There have been a number of offshoots of this novel plus at least one movie and a mini-series.
War is Hell
5. THE GHOST ROAD
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker (1995) deals with the results of the First World War. It also touches upon what the world was like before all hell literally broke loose for a whole generation of Englishmen.
Before the First World War the results of continuous exposure to bombs and machine gun fire was not well known.
Not much scientific study had been done on the effect on the minds of soldiers who basically had to either stay in their trenches and take it or go out into no-man's-land and risk greater exposure.
Before the First World War there had been trench warfare during the American Civil War but it has only gone on for months and was in a specific area and not for years over miles of Belgium and French countryside as in the First World War.
For the men who fought during the First World War there was the possibility of drowning in mud or being buried alive. Some of those who were buried alive managed to survive because of air pockets in the soil until they were dug out.
A number of those who were thus dug out developed uncontrolled twitching from the experience.
Perhaps it was just the horror of the premature burial or perhaps it might also have been the sight and smell of the dead all around them. Certainly they could not move and had to wait for rescue that might never come.
In the Victorian age premature burial was a great fear. American writer Edgar Allan Poe made much of it in his writing. This, during the First World War, was a new and terrible slant on the whole business.
There is also shell shock. This could prompt a man to simply run away from the action even if running away was just as likely to get him killed by either and enemy sniper or eventually by a firing squad made up of his own countrymen.
In The Ghost Road, author Pat Barker looks at mental illness caused by the trenches and also the rather naive age that had preceded the war.
Was the British Empire already looking tatty and worn even before the start of the great conflict? What about the dreams of Lewis Carroll? What about the British in the south pacific? What about Fraud and his ideas on mental health? A lot of questions are thrown up in this small but energetic book.
6. THE TRIAL
The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925) is probably one of the most unusual and gripping books of the 20th Century. It predates the Nazi and the Communist show trials yet has elements within it that suggest both.
Kafka wrote his great work in the city of Prague which was multicultural at the time. It was also a city of mystery, magic and alchemy.
In The Trial a man is arrested and brought to court. He is given a lawyer whose best advice is to use legal trickery as much as possible to avoid going to trial.
The Trial, however, is inevitable and there is only so many appeals and legal trickery that can be used to put it off.
The man knows he will most likely be sentenced to death but neither he nor the reader will ever know why he is being put on trial and what he is actually being condemned of.
Could any one of us be taken from our homes and put on trial? Certainly in 1930s Germany it was definitely possible. It was also possible to dispense with the trial altogether and simply go for the hanging or the shooting.
The Genius of Lewis Caroll
7. ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865) (better known simply as Alice in Wonderland) rocked the 19th Century with it's surrealism and it's bits of tongue-in-cheek humor on how the British government was run.
It was a book written on two levels. It was meant to entertain young children and at the same time get adults reading it to the children to think about live and how they were living it.
It was way ahead of its time and yet it was very much a 19th Century work. Memorable characters include the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Mad Hatter.
The Cheshire Cat predates the Alice books and may go back to an advertising campaign for Cheshire cheese. The emphasis being that the cheese was rather creamy and apt to delight a cat in its creaminess. Even so Lewis Carroll's version of this cat is rather unconventional.
It was followed by Through the Looking Glass (1871) which had, among other things, the nonsense poem about the Jabberwocky.
Lewis Carroll's Alice books were dangerous in that they challenged conformity and even the very structure of the English language.
There have been numerous films made about the Alice books. There was one made by Disney.
I have in part based my own novel, Desk Job, on Carroll's enduring genius as both a wordsmith who loved to play and humorist who loved to bedazzle his readers.
Drugs are not Always the Best Answer
8. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesley (1962) is primarily about a troublemaker who fakes his way into an American psychiatric hospital to get out of jail. He finds, however, that the psychiatric hospital is, in some ways, worse than jail.
The inmates are kept drugged and there seems to be little hope in their lives. He sets out to bring some fun into the place and in so doing runs foul into difficulties with the administration.
The question throughout arises as to how psychiatric hospitals in the USA and elsewhere in the western world should be run, who keeps an eye on whether they are run truly for the benefit of the patients, and who really does care for the mentally ill.
The Keys to Understanding Egypt
9. THE KEYS OF EGYPT
The Keys of Egypt - the Race to Read the Hieroglyphs by Lesley and Roy Adkins (2000) is the novelized true story of Jean-Francois Champollion, the man who first broke the code to the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Considering he was working with a dead written language that many scholars at the time didn't believe was a language at all plus he was most of his life poverty stricken, he did well.
Champollion was a Frenchman and his greatest rival in the breaking of the code was an Englishman so the rivalry was intense since it ran along national lines.
Napoleon's savants were the first people of a scientific nature in ages to attempt to map out and generally understand Egypt.
It is true that Napoleon had set out to conquer Egypt and make it part of his empire. He was stopped from doing so basically by the British Navy which had superior ships.
The hieroglyphs found on old temples were at first looked upon as ancient mystic symbols that had esoteric meanings long lost in the sands of time. It was the discovery of the Rosetta stone, which contained a number of written languages including Egyptian hieroglyphs, that renewed any belief that the Egyptian hieroglyphs were, in fact, a proper language that might be understood along the lines of other written languages such as Chinese, French and English.
The Rosetta stone may have been discovered by the French but it fell into English hands and today continues to rest in London.
Napoleon's expedition to Egypt was not a great military success but Napoleon was able to put some political spin on it. The discoveries of the savants and the artifacts brought back helped. They even began a fascination with Egypt shared to this day by many nations of Europe.
This fascination even hit Australia. At one of the entrances to Hyde Park, Sydney there is a magnificent Egyptian style obelisk based on Cleopatra's needle. Atop, it has sphinxes and serpents.
It was first unveiled to the public in 1857 and, even though it could do with some restoration work, it still stands as Sydney's gem in the 19th Century craze to do something Egyptian. This craze was reignited in the 1920s and is every once in a while reignited by new discoveries.
When the Egyptian hieroglyphs were eventually worked out to some extent by Champollion, there was the fear among the Catholic clergy in Rome that the dating system worked out by biblical scholars for when the world began would come under attack.
At first Champollion's translations of ancient text did not prove the Vatican to be wrong. This changed, however, when Champollion, at long last, made the journey to Egypt. Yes, the world was a lot older than the biblical scholars of the time would have it and civilization in general was also much older.
Like Galileo's discoveries about the moon, this tended to put the Catholic Church in a difficult position. Galileo could and was stopped but it was not possible to bring to a halt the fledgling Egyptology.
The 19th Century was the age of discovery as much as industrialization and Champollion was a mover and shaker in all this.
Perhaps a book on how the ancient writings of the Egyptians came to be read after centuries of time isn't that dangerous. Hark though that, in the 19th Century, there was both danger in the discovery and what it might reveal about our collective past.
The Jewel in Queen Victoria's Crown
Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901) is an adventure set in India in the 19th Century about a lad of British descent who lives primarily as a beggar with his holy man. He is recruited by the British military as a spy and journeys throughout India.
Ideas that came into the Boy Scouts organization can be found here and also in Kipling's Jungle Books.
Regardless, Kipling, a staunch imperialist, does seem to question in Kim what exactly the British are doing in India and if what they are doing is really so marvelous for the people of India.
India is portrayed as a busy, energetic mixture of many types of humanity. The British are the overlords but many of the junior officers in the military, coming from elsewhere, have a great learning curve when it comes to understanding the many and varied natives and their place in the scheme of things.
India is not a simple place to understand unless, of course, you are born there.
How the British lost India, the jewel in Queen Victoria's crown, may be glimpsed in Kim. The Russians, as things have turned out, were not to be the great enemy that would eventually wrench India from Britain that Kipling thought they were. It would, in fact, be, among other things, British mismanagement of India.
Kim comes to us as a strange remnant at the very end of the Victorian age. Even so, it may have stirred feelings among the people of India when it was first in print as well as revealing, to some extent to the British, what 19th Century India was really like. Yes, a dangerous book indeed.
I, CLAUDIUS BY ROBERT GRAVES
11. I, CLAUDIUS BY ROBERT GRAVES
I, Claudius (1934) by Robert Graves shocked readers when it first came out. It dealt mainly with the Roman emperor Claudius' cunning and struggles at survival at a time when he wasn't emperor but a relative of the then mad ruler, Caligula. Dealing with someone insane wasn't easy.
These were decadent times and here Graves fails to pull any punches.
Some of the things that Roman soldiers were called upon to do in Caligula's name were often horrific. Sometimes they were comical.
The idea, for example, of having well armed men march into the sea to do battle with the forces of the sea god has its humorous side.
A Strange Journey
12. QUEEN OF IRON YEARS
Queen of Iron Years by Lyn McConchie and Sharman Horwood is a gender bender novel about a man who goes back into the past to try to save Boadicia of the Iceni from the Romans. She is meant to meet her end at their hands but if he can change that he just might be able to alter his own more recent past enough to help his friends. This is a slim hope at best.
As it turns out the tribe known as the Iceni are not quite what he expected them to be. The same can also be said of Boadicia.
This novel is well researched but not bogged down in detail. A good balance has been struck.
Published in 2011, Queen of Iron Years may prove to be the first in a line of modern dangerous novels.
DANGEROUS BOOKS MOVE PEOPLE
Which one of the following books have moved you?See results without voting
You may Try to Keep a Book Worth Reading Down but You Won't Succeed
Today in parts of our world dominated by organisations such as Islamic State the burning of books is far too common. The torturing and killing of people with contrary views is also far too common.
Books today, however, are a lot harder to completely destroy because of the internet.
Books were originally made more difficult to completely destroy when the printing press with movable type came in.
It was the printing press that obliterated the hopes of the Catholic Church to completely control writing and indeed thought throughout the Christian world. Too many books, pamphlets, etc could get into circulation very quickly for absolute control to be maintained.
In the 1960 and 1970s underground comic books were used to get radical ideas across in Vietnam haunted America. They were cheap and easy to put together. They could be circulated on various student campuses and in record shops.
They questioned not only the Vietnam War but the need to continually build up stocks of nuclear weapons only a madman would ever let loose.
Today there is the buzz on Youtube, the hubpages and Facebook. Once put out there is is extremely difficult to keep a book worth reading down. Even the exerts might prove dangerous.
Well, those are my twelve. So, you might ask, how many dangerous books are out there? I cannot say for sure but I will say that every book has the potential to get someone somewhere thinking in ways they may never have thought before and thus have the potential to be, indeed, dangerous.
More by this Author
Australian Propaganda from convict origins, to outlaws, to World War One, to populate or perish. Racism, Reverse Racism, sexism, loose lips sink ships, Muslims, Christians, bikinis, The Simpsons, USA
The Great Gatsby, The Red Badge of Courage, A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Brave New World, 1984, Story of O, Tender is the Night, Wasp, Dune, Twilight Healer, A Study in Scarlet, Dracula, Jazz.
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.