Debating the effects of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring got me wondering about the true influence of that book. That quickly turned into wondering about the true influence of other writings, books and papers that might be credited with having turned around history in a given field, or in the United States (I’m focusing on U.S. history this year since that’s what I’m teaching).
What books and writings — not events, not inventions — literally changed U.S. history?
I have a quick list, not in chronological order, nor any other order, really:
- The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
- “Common Sense,” Tom Paine’s broadside
- Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations
- Federalist Papers and Antifederalist Papers
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriett Beecher Stowe
- Das Kapital, by Karl Marx
- On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
- Perhaps The Bible, at least after 1880 during the rise of fundamentalism
- Einstein’s five papers in 1905 (which led to a cascade of events to nuclear weapons, and more)
- John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory on Employment, Interest and Money (or would his Treatise on Money be the one to look at?)
- Ludwig von Mises (which writing?)
- Crick’s and Watson’s paper on DNA in 1953
- Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
- Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” in the way it recast the Declaration of Independence
What about Profiles in Courage? Did it have so much influence? Any influence at all?
I didn’t include Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I wonder if it should be there. I regard it as the novel in which America came of age, when Huck decides he’ll go ahead and burn in hell by not turning Jim in as an escaped slave, because Jim is a man and a good friend. (I don’t think a discussion of the validity of Huck’s religious beliefs gets at the issue here, where he does what is right assuming bad consequences, but maybe that’s a greater influence later on.)
Oh, surely I’ve overlooked some very important contribution by someone. De Tocqueville perhaps? Were there other books that were greatly influential in their time, that we now generally don’t consider? Ida Tarbell’s work, perhaps? Did Edwin Hubble have a fundamental publication we can point to? How about Alpher, Herman and Gamow and Big Bang?
A follow-on question might be music, plays and movies that had similar results – not sure of any that qualify, though I wonder about the influence of “Show Boat” in the campaign for desegregation and civil rights, and I wonder about the influence of “Our Town” on our view of civic government and small town life especially given that so many thousands of people participated in local and school productions of the thing over the years. “Hair!?”
I’m looking for sources to use to provide genuine light to a high school student in U.S. history. Some of these sources we touch on, but others are completely ignored in all current U.S. history texts for public schools.
What do you think?