A digital publisher called Open Road Integrated Media has launched a series called the “Forbidden Bookshelf,” in order to acquaint the public with books that were vanished or, in one way or another, killed at birth by the government or corporate entities when they were first published.
Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University, came up with the idea. He told Firedoglake in an interview that over the years he had found a lot of books he wanted to assign in his courses were unavailable,” which he said “speaks to certain problems in the book publishing industry.”
More importantly, he also learned repeatedly of books that had been “disappeared” by powerful interests. Those works were not targeted with “outright bans,” because such outright censorship is unconstitutional in the United States. Rather, they were undone through other means, such as malicious bad reviews, or no reviews at all, or by the publisher not doing any marketing or even shipping copies to the bookstores.
Open Road has launched the series with five titles now available as e-books, with new introductions: The Lords of Creation: A History of America’s 1 Percent by Frederick Lewis Allen; The Search for an Abortionist by Nancy Howell Lee, Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football by Dan E. Moldea, Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Destructive Impact on Our Foreign and Domestic Policy, by Christopher Simpson, and The Phoenix Program: America’s Use of Terror in Vietnam, by Douglas Valentine.
While there are “loose criteria” for what books will be included in the series, “they have to offer truths or information that Americans need to know and, of course, they have to be out of print.”
“We are especially interested in books that have been demonstrably undone but also books that have been conveniently forgotten,” Miller said.
Miller provided details on each of the books released so far and why he believed they had become “forbidden books.”
The Lords of Creation, according to Miller, is the only popular history by Frederick Lewis Allen that is out of print. He is well-known for Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s as well as Since Yesterday: The 1930s in America, a sequel volume. While both those books have stayed in print, The Lords of Creation has been unavailable since the Sixties, although “it’s more directly pertinent to our economic crisis” than those others.
Covering the period from the late 1800s to the stock market collapse of 1929, The Lords of Creation traces the consolidation of economic power in the hands of the Rockefellers, Morgans and Vanderbilts, who were able to make the economy work for them as opposed to lower class Americans. A new introduction by Gretchen Morgenson, financial reporter for the New York Times, explains the continuities between the heyday of those “robber barons” and the great financial crimes of recent years.
First published in 1969, The Search for an Abortionist was recommended to Miller by a writer named Katherine Silberger Stewart when he asked her what books should be featured in the “Forbidden Bookshelf” series. She said this book made a big impression on her in the 1970s, as it conveyed a vivid sense of how women had to cope with their unwanted pregnancies before Roe v. Wade.
Lee interviewed 114 women, whose experiences differed greatly. “The Search for an Abortionist reminds us of how perilous life was for women then, and also makes quite clear that outlawing abortion doesn’t end the practice, but only makes it far more dangerous,” Miller explained. As the right continues its campaign to make abortion unavailable from coast to coast, “this book is one that all Americans should read,” he added.
Miller clarified that he did not think that Lords of Creation and The Search for an Abortionist were “deliberately kept out of print.” They were out of print because “book publishers have overlooked their relevance, perhaps because the relevance is often uncomfortable.”
On the other hand, there are books that did not receive attention because the powers that be did not want people to learn about particular sensitive subjects.
Christopher Simpson’s Blowback tells how the US recruited thousands of former Nazis and fascist collaborators after the war, to help in the Cold War against the Soviets. Simpson argues that those covert programs were not only immoral and illegal in themselves, but also massively perverted US foreign and domestic policy. Despite its scholarly excellence, and its importance, Blowback got little press attention when it came out at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency; and the New York Times ran a dismissive review by Serge Schmemann, who accused Simpson of “smearing anti-Communism with the taint of Nazism.”
In his new introduction, Simpson tells us of his service, from 1999-2007, on an advisory panel of historians appointed by the National Archives “for the purpose of guiding their policy on declassification of documents pertaining to post-war recruitment of Nazi fascists and Japanese imperialists.” Historians were persuaded to “provide voluntarily labor and in return the National Archives would publish a collection of their writings on the subjects.”
Simpson “wrote a piece about the difficulty that the formal historical panel— the one directly overseeing the classificationprocess—because of the obstructionism of the government agencies concerned, especially the CIA. In that piece Simpson also revealed that [President George W. Bush's] administration had actually tried to get John Yoo appointed to head the National Archives.”
“When the National Archives report came out,” Miller continued, ”it did not include Simpson’s piece. In short, they censored it. So, his new introduction includes that piece, which speaks to the obvious explosiveness of the whole subject of US involvement with Nazis after the war.”
Thousands and thousands of former Nazis and fascists were “recruited to work for the US in some Cold War capacity. In Simpson’s view, this had a “destructive effect” on US foreign and domestic policy. He wrote this at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. It did not get much review attention and there was a dismissive review in the New York Times from Serge Schmemann, where he accused Simpson of “smearing anti-Communism with the taint of Nazism.”
Investigative journalist Dan Moldea expected Interference, dealing with organized crime’s influence on the American professional football, to be challenged by sportswriters loyal to the NFL, and that the League would fight him. He did not expect to do battle with the New York Times, where he had once worked.
As he summarized on Keith Olbermann’s sports program on ESPN, his book came out in 1989. He alleged that no fewer than 70 NFL games had been fixed, no fewer than 26 past and present NFL team owners had documented ties to illegal gambling or an organized crime syndicate and no fewer than 50 investigations had been killed.
The New York Times came after him with a review from sportswriter Gerald Eskenazi that was filled with lies. It crudely misrepresented what his book revealed about the NFL and what it did not reveal. The review ultimately played a role in his paperback deal being canceled, bookstores refusing to display the book and copies of the book being returned to the publisher, according to Miller.
The apparent malicious nature of the Times’ review led Moldea to file a libel lawsuit to hold book reviewers to the same journalistic standards of factual accuracy. The legal battle, as Moldea said, lasted longer than World War II and happened right in the “heart of his career.” He won on appeal in a lower court and then the judge reversed his decision. It went on to the Supreme Court, where he lost the case.
And then, there’s The Phoenix Program by Douglas Valentine. He managed to obtain permission from former CIA director William Colby to talk to officers who had been involved in that huge program of mass surveillance, torture and assassination in South Vietnam. But once the agency realized that Valentine would not be publishing some “puff piece,” theAgency abruptly froze him out, and urged other federal agencies to do the same. With the help of the ACLU, Valentine fought back with a Privacy Act request, and so managed to complete his research.
When it came out in 1990, The Phoenix Program also was attacked in a New York Times review—this one by Morley Safer of CBS, who argued Valentine had “written as turgid and dense and often incomprehensible a book as I have ever had the misfortune to open.” The rest of the review assailed the author’s writing style, with three paragraphs plucked out of context so as to seem “incomprehensible” (On this, Miller noted, the book “is very lucidly written.”)
One might notice that for three of these books, the New York Times seems to have been a part of ensuring these books were ignored and forgotten. Miller reflected on how reviews are used to discredit and marginalize books, sharing his own personal experience:
[W]ith Fooled Again, my book about the theft of the 2004 election: I was really flabbergasted by the response—or non-response—to that book when it came out in 2005, after a major cover story in Harper’s. Although It was a major publisher that did it—Basic Books—and though it was, and is, a very meticulously documented study, which garnered laudatory blurbs from [Representative] John Conyers and a lot of people who aren’t nuts, Fooled Again was pointedly ignored by the media, and I couldn’t get any interviews on NPR, although I’d previously done them often, on all sorts of subjects.
It seemed like he had been put on some kind of blacklist. Even the left attacked his book. Salon and Mother Jones did not like it. “It was written off as conspiracy theory,” a phrase which he notes has been deployed for years police dissident ideas, chill vital investigations and inhibit freedom of expression.
So far, Forbidden Bookshelf seems to be successful. Meanwhile, Miller is now hearing from others who appreciate the project and have offered their suggestions for other works that ought to be revived.
“I had no idea how large a library there is of books that died at birth,” Miller exclaimed.
“We’ve heard of the ones that made a splash when they came out and were discredited or fell under a cloud or slipped out of a print. But how do you know the books that you had never heard of? How do you know about the ones that only a handful of people remember or know anything about?”