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In the 1970s I interviewed an elderly labor historian named Morris Schnapper. He told stories of his lifelong work exposing anti-union dirty tricks and government antilabor programs. At one point he told me about how the CIA had created a publishing house that served as a front to publish books that carried the cold war and anti-union line. These books were covert propaganda, designed to spread the views that the government wanted its citizens to believe. He pointed to a shelf of books in his study--all published by the CIA. He said, quite sadly, that of all the abuses he had documented, this one hurt him the most, because "A book is a sacred thing. And there they are. They'll sit on library shelves for decades to come, filled with lies."
I too think a book can be a sacred thing, yielding explosive insights that we couldn't have seen by ourselves. Books have dramatically expanded my world and influenced my thinking. Books also influence society as a whole. We are often swayed in our analysis of events, our public policy formulation, and our national beliefs by books.
Think of Michael Harrington's 1962 The Other America, a book that exposed the destitution of many people who lived their lives out of sight of the media. The Other America gave an enormous boost to President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty social programs. Then think of The Bell Curve, the loathsome 1994 book by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles …