#3. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
If you've heard of this book at all, it's because of the controversy surrounding the author (Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdie) getting threatened with violent death from some radical Muslims after it was published.
We're not going to make a joke about his eye, but we want you to know we could have.
So, based on that, you might have thought the book was devoted entirely to talking shit about Islam, or that the "Satanic verses" were Rushdie calling Islam Satanic. In reality, the book is about a pair of Indian actors who are magically saved from an exploding airplane, transformed into angels and demons, and deal with life as Indian immigrants in modern-day England.
But the Prophet Muhammad does make an appearance, and, well, you know where this is going.
The Ugly Aftermath:
The "Satanic verses" in the title references a then-little-cared-about footnote in Quranic scholarship (verses that supposedly were to be included in the Quran but were cut as they were ultimately found not to be from Allah). But that title was accidentally translated into Arabic to read something along the lines of This Whole Book Is About How Your Bible Was Written By Satan. Since it would have required nothing short of actually reading the book to debunk this, Rushdie was wholly, utterly screwed.
Yeah, that's about as far as we got.
Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of Rushdie, numerous people associated with the book were killed, and Middle East/Western relations became even more complicated to learn in school. By early March 1989, the FBI had received 78 threats against bookstores in the U.S. alone, "clearly only a small proportion of the total number." Numerous bookstores throughout the U.K. were bombed, protests and acts of violence erupted around the world, and 39 people were killed in 1993 during one incident in Turkey.
Journalist Maureen J. O'Brien, a specialist in the book trade, would later comment that "the business of bookselling ... will never again be quite the same."
"It still won't be very interesting, though."
#2. The Dick and Jane series, by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp
If you grew up in the U.S. at any time from the Great Depression to the disco era, chances are you were forced to get to know two Aryan youths named Dick and Jane in elementary school.
They weren't particularly bright kids, and their neighborhood was not all that racially inclusive, but man, did they ever know how to make learning to read fun!
"Fun" here means "suicidally boring."
The Ugly Aftermath:
It is hard to imagine that any book printed prior to Dan Brown could actually make you dumber by reading it, but sure enough, that remains the No. 1 complaint leveled at the books of the Dick and Jane series.
The books were intended to teach reading using a specific method, often called the "look-and-say" method, which pretty much did for literacy what texting has done for spelling.
The human race is really moving on up.
The method relied on, for instance, putting the word "DUCK" under a picture of a duck, and visually the kid was supposed to remember that those four letters stuck together represented the quacking bird. The kids weren't being taught why words are pronounced they way they are, or how different letter combinations work together. So if a kid ran into a new word, he had no means of figuring out how to say it on his own -- he only learned them as a series of pictures.
We know that's a terrible way to learn English ... now. And educators have changed their approach. But to this day, there are experts who blame a generation of Dick and Jane readers for America's lagging performance in reading skills (U.S. students rank 17th in the world in reading).
We're No. 17! We're No. 17!
Debate still rages about which teaching methods are best, but there seems to be universal agreement that using the Dick and Jane "look-and-say" method by itself results in kids who both hate to read and also really suck at it.
#1. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock
This landmark book by "totally not the guy from Star Trek" is, quite simply, the quintessential book on baby care for everyone from the Mayo Clinic to the Coen brothers.
Dr. Benjamin Spock's book has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into 39 languages. It's literally one of the most popular books ever printed on any subject.
The Ugly Aftermath:
It is one thing to accidentally leave out some good advice that science had not thought up yet, but it is a whole other animal to actually tell people to do something that will kill their babies and then brag about it being common sense ... which is exactly what Dr. Spock did.
Shine on you, crazy, baby-killing diamond.
Specifically, Dr. Spock strongly advocated that babies not be put on their backs while sleeping. No one was in a position to argue with him. We mean, the dude was Dr. Spock. That's why, once research in the 1970s showed that Dr. Spock's advice could lead to SIDS, researchers thought it would be easier to ignore this information than to publicly disagree with Dr. Spock, who at this point was a baby-god.
Whatever you do, don't let this man put your kid to sleep.
Sixty years and 50,000 infant deaths later, the entire medical community realized that there is a lot more to their profession than telling people to buy their book.
Be sure to pick up the bestselling book that's making the world worse while making it totally awesome.
Now check out some books that should've altered history in 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World. Or check out some books that people just don't get, in 6 Books Everyone (Including Your English Teacher) Got Wrong.
And stop by Linkstorm because books are for geeks.
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