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Books that Killed

©10 The Media Desk

[The Desk doesn't know if this is a Mystery Series article, just a general non-fiction article, or something more. And in truth, it doesn't matter. It is what it is. And no, this time the Desk will not say "enjoy"... thank you.]

      To be honest, the title here is misleading, and intentionally so.

      The only way a book could kill is, say, if it was really thick and heavy and fell on somebody from the top of a skyscraper.

      In any case, it isn't the books we're talking about here anyway, it is the ideas in those books that have caused untold death and suffering. Some in a righteous cause, others in a misguided but sincere way, and still another in, to be fair, a bid to take over the world.
      And before somebody goes off on a tangent we are going to eliminate the two that have perhaps caused the most death during the entire history of mankind, the Bible and the Quran. Just consider this, then we'll move on to the subjects at hand: How many Holy Wars have been fought, one against the other, beginning with the writing of the second in about 610? For instance we'll look toward the Crusades and Spain under the Caliphs, AKA the 'Moors'. Not to mention the ones fought between and amongst their own adherents. For examples there we need look no further than Ireland and the latest Iran/Iraq skirmish.
      So going in, and as we've already discussed those as far as they need to be discussed here, we'll not discuss those so discussed anymore in this discussion. (don't try this at home, the Desk is a Professional)

      For this study we'll look chronologically at those published since the invention of the printing press which allowed the mass distribution of the first one and contributed more than any other factor to the ensuing madness that engulfed Europe and America for over a hundred years, and, in some ways, is still with us.

Links to various sources follow the article.

"The Hammer of the Witches"
      It was the Little Ice Age of the Middle Ages that followed the Medieval warm period. Crops across the Northern Hemisphere were failing, livestock was dying. There were years when Summer was more an idea than a reality. It had to be the work of witches. Right? Climate can't change by itself, can it? Had to be witches causing it. The weather is supposed to be the same all the time. Must be a witch in league with the Devil.
      And it is the job of the Church to root them out and destroy them and their practices. Right?
      A Papal Bull from Innocent VIII in 1484 empowered inquisitors:

"to proceed to the just correction, imprisonment, and punishment of any persons, without let or hindrance, in every way... to proceed, according to the regulations of the Inquisition, against any persons of whatsoever rank and high estate, correcting, mulcting, imprisoning, punishing, as their crimes merit, those whom they have found guilty, the penalty being adapted to the offence." (link below)
      To that end perhaps millions of innocent lives were disrupted with many subjected to the most horrific tortures ever devised by the human mind.
      If you think "waterboarding" is heinous, don't go looking into some of the methods of the Inquisition. If you do, you might just wake up screaming tonight. And remember, none of the tens of thousands of people imprisoned, tortured, and executed during the witch madness were guilty!
      Once accused, some level of guilt was presumed, as is true with things such as being a sexual predator today, there was no realistic defense. The handbook for the proceedings doesn't even take into account the idea of witnesses for the defense. They were thought to be under the spell of the witch, and if they objected too strenuously, they were probably witches themselves.
      It is at least passably interesting to note that if the accused died while being tortured that they were then deemed innocent of the charges because the Devil was supposed to protect his devotees from harm.
      Historically speaking, witchcraft was nothing new. In the Bible, witchcraft and other dark arts are mentioned in the earliest books, for instance, see the court magicians in Egypt during the Exodus. Elsewhere, it is mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi which dates from about 2000 BC. The 'accusation' mentioned would appear to be one of sorcery.
"If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser."
The Code of Hammurabi

      The aforementioned handbook Malleus Maleficarum was written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger and published the following year on that new toy we've already mentioned, the printing press.
      It begins with two assertions that could send you to the Inquisitors if you denied either. One, that Witches are real. And Two, that the Roman Catholic Church is Sovereign over even the local King, and can kill citizens of whatever country in the name of the church with impunity.

      Once started, the witch craze spread like a plague, first jumping to civil courts as a crime against the community and then to the New World where at it height 19 were executed after 150 accusations of witchcraft by the infamous three girls who were acting the part of the Pope's Inquisitors in the Salem witch trials....

"the Supreme Pontiff now happily reigning, lord Innocent, Pope, as hath been set out above, hath committed and granted by a bull duly signed and sealed unto the aforesaid Inquisitors Henry and James, members of the Order of Preachers and Professors of Sacred Theology, by His Supreme Apostolic Authority, the power of making search and inquiry into all heresies, and most especially into the heresy of witches, an abomination that thrives and waxes strong in these our unhappy days... granting them every faculty of judging and proceeding against such even with the power of putting malefactors to death, according to the tenor of the Apostolic bull."
Official Letter of Approbation of the Malleus Maleficarum from The Faculty of Theology of the Honourable University of Cologne (see links below)
Uncle Tom's Cabin
      Well, the only reason this one is included here is because of something that President Lincoln said, perhaps only half jokingly to the author, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896).
"So this is the little lady who made this big war."

      What the book did was to put a human face on the plight of the slaves and give Abolitionists a rallying point.
      Contrary to your fifth grade Civics class, the War Between the States was not about Slavery, remember, slavery wasn't abolished until the two Emancipation Proclamations were issued in the fall of 1862 and January of 1863. And even then, it only abolished slavery in the states then in rebellion, the Confederacy. The so called "border states" and certain areas then under Union control in the South were exempt and slaves were held in them for some time even after the war ended, until the 13th Amendment passed in December of 1865.
      The War was about Home Rule and State's Rights as much as anything, and it also established the primacy of the Federal government that is now so vexing on those who believe the Tenth Amendment meant what it said:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
US Constitution.

      Now, since this article is about 'books that killed', who did "Uncle Tom" kill?
      Thousands. Tens of Thousands.... Two Hundred Thousand (give or take) as a direct result of battle. And in all reality, even More.
      The fact is that nobody knows the exact total although most scholars believe that over Half a Million Americans died as a direct or indirect consequence of the war including civilians, Native Americans, slaves, and those that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. With at least that many maimed and wounded that would live out their lives with daily reminders of the conflict.
      But now having said that, we'll say this: The fact is that Slavery was the thorn under the saddle blanket of the country since the Continental Congress. If Freedom for the Negros had been built into the Constitution the way many Founders wanted it, the Southern States would never have signed and the Confederacy would have been formed in 1776, either that or they would have remained under England or France. The fact that it hadn't been made the War inevitable, and everybody knew it. If you look back at the history, it's surprising that the various compromises held it off as long as they did. Lincoln's election and his open opposition to Slavery merely fanned the long smoldering embers into a raging inferno.
      And it was that fire which did, after all, shape America into the country she has since become with words like these that, sadly, are no longer part of our national conscience.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Mein Kampf
      Whereas argument could be made, perhaps rightly, that Stowe's book should not be here save for the sacrifice of those that Lincoln mentioned, there is no doubt about this one.
      Adolf Hitler's book "My Struggle" was a small part autobiography and large part political diatribe. In it he outlined the rise to prominence that ended up with his being jailed for the failed revolution usually called the Beerhall Putsch in 1923. It also covered how he saw the Jews (and later others such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Gypsies, and Homosexuals) as the source for everything that was wrong in Germany, and Communism as everything wrong with the rest of the continent, voiced absolute disdain for the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War One, and outlined his plans to make Germany the master of Europe if not the entire world.

      Hitler, and his personal secretary Rudolf Hess, wrote the multi-volume work while in prison for treason after the Putsch, however, Hitler only served about a year (counting time incarcerated during the trial) of his sentence, or the book may have been much longer.
      Once Hitler (1889 - 1945) came to power in 1933 the book, actually a two volume set, became essentially required reading for those in the military, government workers, and anybody else that wanted to know what the Chancellor had up his sleeve.
      Oh, yes, it is indeed true that newlyweds were given a free copy!
      Nice of them that, no?

"A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich."
The Reich Citizenship Law September 15, 1935
(the Nuremberg Laws)

      The Desk wrote a brief about the Holocaust as a whole a few years ago, link below.

Silence on Silent Spring
      The Desk debated with itself for some time about including the landmark environmentalist, and indeed, environmental alarmist, book on this list. It still hasn't made a decision on whether or not to include it. So we'll look at the argument and try to be objective about it, which, in reality, is damned near impossible to do.

      That Rachel Carson's book fired off the Environmental movement as we know it today is not even worth debating. It gave those who were so minded a cause and a voice with which to speak. From there on in, you get into a debate that covers the entire spectrum of politics, the environment, world economy, and even racism. To say the discussion isn't pretty is to understate it to comedic levels.

      Eventually, the book, and the debate it raised, led to the almost total ban world-wide on all use of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and a selection of other persistent agents, most of whom were chlorine based man-made chemicals, by the 1980s. This, in turn, has had a dramatic effect on the increase of the spread of Malaria and Typhus, even though in the book, Carson specifically mentioned continuing to use the chemicals to control disease. The ban resulted in an increase in price in 'easy on the environment' insecticides and biological agents, which were usually far less effective in hostile enviroments where needed the worst, and led to selective use of the synthetics such as DDT only as a disease vector control in certain areas, which raised even more protests of prejudice and favoritism.
      That ban on inexpensive insecticides resulted in a catastrophic increase in the spread of diseases transmitted by insects, especially in poorer areas of developed countries and throughout the Third World that had relied on cheap chemicals that could be quickly applied over a wide area, such as spraying marshlands from aircraft. Now one must remember, or be told for the first time, that DDT was known to be extremely toxic to things other than mosquitoes. It will kill, indiscriminately, regardless of the target, everything from crayfish and shrimp to some amphibians. As well as killing several species of fish which are then in turn fed on by various birds whose eggshells it was said to thin.
      But in spite of the ban and the sign waving crowd, DDT is still in use in some places in the US. Yes it is carefully controlled, but even some Federal officials see deciding between an outbreak of plague and using DDT to kill fleas as something of a Hobson's choice.

      Whether or not Carson based her assumptions about the eggshells of eagles and ospreys on shoddy science tainted by political views or even professional discontent with the bureaucracy above her at US Fish and Wildlife is still discussed in academic forums with opinions and views that range from the religious to the crackpot on both sides. There is no doubt that DDT and similar substances are an accumulative toxin and that sprinkling any of them on your pancakes every morning may not be a good idea, but just what it does when it enters the food chain, any long term effects, and how long it remains active is even now still uncertain.
      One thing Carson was right about is the influence chemical company money had, and has, with politicians and thereby with regulatory agencies. She also points out that there were several cases where new products were approved for use based solely on the results and conclusions of the companies who were producing the product without professional review or even serious questioning. Sadly, such is still the case.

      Truth be told, which is what the Desk tries to do in these things... DDT was beginning to fail as a mosquito control agent even before the bans went into place. Several species of the bugs are resistant to the entire range of DDT's ingredients (such as DDD, DDE, etc) and other concoctions were being investigated, including combining it with other compounds into even deadlier cocktails. Something that is chilling to think about at best.

      Last note on Ms Carson (1907 - 1964) who, besides Silent Spring, also wrote a very good series on the sea among other works. Some try to use the fact that she was probably a lesbian in an effort to discredit her work as a spokeswoman for all of Nature, a lifelong effort that led directly to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
      Yes, Rachel Carson had very close relationships with other women throughout her life, and there appears little if any evidence of a romantic relationship with any men at any point in her life. And, yes, after Carson's death, one of her 'special friends' burned a large number of their letters to each other. And even then, yes, there were rumors even during her lifetime that her friendship with the other ladies may have been something more. That she was, we'll go ahead and say it, that she was a lesbian. OK. And if she was or was not...
      So what?

      The reason this book is even being discussed here is that it did directly and indirectly impact the lives and the quality of those lives for millions, perhaps even Billions, of people throughout the world. Ranging from the spread of disease in native villages where it could have been prevented all the way up to the financial conditions of various chemical companies that produced the products.
      Did the book directly kill anybody in a tropical village overrun by malarial mosquitoes? No. But the title was chanted outside the halls of power in various national capitols such as Washington and London by those who, through accident of birth and no other reason, would never be bitten by one, which raised the shouts of discrimination and other forms of hatred.
      So there you have it.
      Should we put Ms Carson's book on the same shelf as the others?
      Some would say yes, that in the long run, the ideas she expressed and roused in others may have killed at least as many individuals as all of the others combined.
      Others would say no, that disease carrying vermin have been around as long as the humans they prey on and that it is simply nature taking its course without chemical intervention by man.
      We shall let the reader decide.


      That last statement is as good of a conclusion as any other the Desk might come up with to the basic question that remained unasked in the article, but which did inspire the article.... What should we think of works like these? Where do they belong in History? Is there anything we should take away from them?

      We shall let the reader decide.


      NOTE: All of the mentioned works are available either online, or through libraries and bookstores worldwide. The Desk does not own any rights to anything mentioned. If somebody who does have rights to any of them object to the material as referenced, said reference will be removed. The majority of the referenced works are in the Public Domain, others are cited under "Fair Use", see below.

Believe it or not, the Desk owns a copy, in one form or another, of all of the above. Now as to whether or not it can find it on demand is another matter all together.
-Thank you

Links to texts and other resources Outside links will open in a new window

The Holy Books mentioned above:
The Quran online:

The Bible online at:

Malleus Maleficarum The Text online with references as cited in article Article on the Inquisition in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Code of Hammurabi

Uncle Tom's Cabin
The Historic Site

The Text online

the US Constitution

The Gettysburg Address

Mein Kampf
The Text online

The Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race

The Desk's article on the Holocaust as mentioned above.

Silent Spring
The text is still protected by copyright.

Biographical information and other resources are at:

A rebuttal of the book on its fortieth anniversary (in 2002).

Junk Science looked at the DDT hysteria:

Other Desk Non-Fiction Articles

[NOTE: All listed websites, and their ideas, are owned by other entities. No disparagement or disrespect is intended.
      The Desk is solely responsible for the analysis and conclusions hereby presented. If the reader has any issues with anything in the article they may contact the Desk through the usual channels.
thank you]

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