I recently wrote of a fictional book that brought me back to why I practiced law for so long. I am sure there are other lawyers who felt a deep connection with the fictional “The Last Trial’’ by Scott Turow, but when one writes a book that changes the world’s thinking on a subject, that’s a whole different story. I recently read an article setting forth an account of such amazing fictional and non-fictional works that have changed the world’s ideas on a particular subject.
In order to make this article more interesting, I am not going to disclose the names of the authors until the last paragraph. I have given some clues to go along with the titles.
Let’s start with an easy one. This book, “Baby and Child Care,’’ first appeared in 1946. It became a top seller for decades and is still being read by young parents today. The author was a pediatrician and had studied psychoanalysis. He encouraged mostly moms (Hey, in 1946, how much did men do in child rearing?) to trust themselves as they knew more than they thought they did. He also espoused the theory that parents should treat their children as individuals and be more diplomatic in discipline.
This man also had won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1924 in rowing. Not only that, but he ran for president of the United States in 1972. OK, this one was easy. Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Now, here are some most interesting books that helped change the world‘s perception in certain areas over the last 200 years. They are listed in chronological order.
1. The novel “Oliver Twist,’’ written in 1837, helped bring about better treatment of indigent children on the streets of England.
2. In 1852, the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin’’ was published and is thought to have ignited the Civil War, as it realistically portrayed the life of a slave in the South.
3. In 1899, one of the first books on psychiatry and psychology was written and is still being published today. The book was “The Interpretations of Dreams.’’
4. In 1939, the writer of “The Grapes of Wrath’’ won the Nobel Prize for his portrayal of American life in the Great Depression. The Joad family had come to the Dust Bowl as part of a program set up by the American government to develop those desolate areas of the far Middle West. The promise of adequate rain became a myth, and the destitute Okies had no choice but to stay where they had been sent, poor and starving.
5. For many years the environment of the world was not a large topic in the continuing development of the American Dream. Coal would last forever as would oil. Chemicals such as DDT were lauded in the victory over pests. The secondary effects of DDT were set forth in terrifying terms in 1962. “Silent Spring’’ alerted not only America, but the rest of the listening world, to the environmental damage done by this product as well as what it did to humans and animals.
6. The American car has been idolized forever. Whatever could run could be sold. Then, in 1965, a man chose to fight the Detroit auto industry with “Unsafe at Any Speed.’’ His disclosures created the demand for more safety features such as seatbelts and better tires. It largely drove down the demand for the Corvair when he gave the facts with regard to the frequency of rollovers for this automobile.
7. In 1966, fictional scary stories were replaced with a true story of a horrendous crime. The murder of the four-member Clutter family was graphically described in the novel “In Cold Blood.’’ A new genre of such plots was started.
8. Then, in 1971, a woman wrote a classic book that totally changed the way we viewed perhaps our closest relative, the chimpanzee, when she penned In the “Shadow of Man.’’
9. “A Brief History of Time,’’ written in 1988, illustrated for us laymen the origin of the universe and the whole Big Bang Theory. There, we first learned words like “The Black Hole.” While much was over the heads of us non-astronomers, it was really the first explanation of an interplanetary relationship that we could at least digest in part.
10. The last on my list is still a political hotspot as the two sides of our country are as far apart as ever on the subject of global warming. “An Inconvenient Truth’’ was as upsetting in its disclosure of the dangers of our ignoring the environment as it was vilified by the polluters. What seemed so clear to many was debunked by big industry. How could their actions change the weather of the entire world? The debate has not slowed much since its publication in 2006, but the warmer ocean waters, more hurricanes, and ecological changes in the Arctic Ocean have made denials a lot less believable.
And here are the answers: 1. Charles Dickens. 2. Harriet Beecher Stowe. 3. Sigmund Freud. 4. John Steinbeck. 5. Rachel Carlson. 6. Ralph Nader. 7. Truman Capote 8. Jane Goodall.9. Stephen Hawking. 10. Al Gore.
These people were from all walks of life. Poets, doctors, novelists, a slave, scientists, and, yes, politicians. Is it not a bit weird that of the 10 names listed, three of them ran for the presidency of the United State? And none of them won. Perhaps intellect and politics do not go hand in-hand. But perhaps this will encourage you during these stay-at-home times to pick up a copy of one of the above. Thanks to Richard Lederer and his article for many of these thoughts.