Columbia Library columns (v.23(1973Nov-1974May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.23,no.3(1974:May): Page 11  

The Best Books


\UPPOSE we have to choose from all the books in the world
those which are, not the grearest, nor the most valuable,
but, literally, the best; best for us, that is, best for humanity,
best for the people of the world, past, present and future. They
would be the books, along with the ideas or activities they repre¬
sent, which have done the most to reduce the sufferings of human¬

To simplify the game, let us agree to exclude the testaments of
world religions, like the Bible, the Koran, the \^edas, so as to avoid
having to explain away the miseries resulting from certain inter¬
pretations, or misinterpretations, of these works. Also, because
space is limited, let us set aside the triumphs of medical progress,
such as the discovery of anesthesia, Lister's surgical antisepsis,
Fleming's penicillin. This leaves the writings of a group of men
and women who, through their lives, have been the great social
benefactors of our civilization. Strangely, some of rhem are vir¬
tually unknown to the average person, many are dismissed with a
brief mention in a textbook, and the writings of not a few, rare
though they may be, are not of sufficient interest to collectors to
be preserved in rare book rooms.

It is surprising that so many of these benefactors of the human
race have been almost forgotten, «'hile the names and histories of
great monsters of inhumanity like Napoleon and Stalin are drilled
into every schoolchild. But this is the common fate of reformers,
the keepers of the public conscience, often rewarded with ridicule,
yawns and oblivion. Wilberforce, the champion of the slaves, is
neglected, but a never-ending succession of biographies honors his
contemporary Wellington, a "man of blood," and an iron-hearted
reactionary to boot.

I decided to play the game of the "best books" in the Columbia
  v.23,no.3(1974:May): Page 11