Heather Cox Richardson, Book Bans, and Libraries

  • Profile of Heather Cox Richardson, and a review of her new book;
  • Several items on book bans in the US;
  • And an item about all the threats to US libraries, not just book bans.
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Profile of Heather Cox Richardson, and a review of her new book.

NY Times, Elisabeth Egan, 12 Oct 2023: Heather Cox Richardson Wants You to Study History, subtitled “The author of “Democracy Awakening” and a popular politics newsletter makes a powerful case for studying the past.”

Richardson’s latest project is “Democracy Awakening,” an examination of American history through the lens of authoritarianism, which debuted at No. 4 on the hardcover nonfiction list. She’s also known for Letters From an American, a wildly popular newsletter that presents the day’s political news in simple, streamlined terms.

When she sits down to compose her daily dispatch, Richardson tends to picture her college roommates as her audience. “They’re going to give me grief if I say something stupid, but they don’t wish me ill,” she said. “It’s much harder to write for an audience that you believe is eager to tear you down.”

The Guardian, Charles Kaiser, 8 Oct 2023: Democracy Awakening review: Heather Cox Richardson’s necessary US history, subtitled “The Boston College professor offers a valuable primer on Republican extremism – but also progressive achievement”

In the age of social media, Richardson’s success is counterintuitive. When she was profiled by Ben Smith in the New York Times a couple of years ago, Smith confessed he was so addicted to Twitter he rarely found the time to open her “rich summaries” of the news. When he told Bill Moyers, one of Richardson’s earliest promoters, the same thing, the great commentator explained: “You live in a world of thunderstorms, and she watches the waves come in.”

Richardson’s latest book shares all the intelligence of her newsletter. It doesn’t have the news value of her internet contributions but it is an excellent primer for anyone who needs the important facts of the last 150 years of American history – and how they got us to the sorry place we inhabit today.

Like other recent books, including The Destructionists by Dana Milbank, Richardson’s new volume reminds us that far from being an outlier, Donald Trump was inevitable after 70 years of Republican pandering to big business, racism and Christian nationalism.


Other items. There seems to be no end of individuals who would impose their prudish scruples on everyone else.

Salon, 14 Oct 2023: Expert sounds alarm as Texas book bans grow: These efforts are “well-organized and well-funded”, subtitled “‘When white supremacy wins these fights, all of our children lose,’ professor warns


Salon, 7 Oct 2023: My mom tried to ban Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, subtitled “In the ’80s, Silverstein’s books were a frequent target of school library bans. My mom’s attempt ended differently”

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 9 Oct 2023: The right is getting weirder about sex, subtitled “Cults always police their followers’ sex lives, but the right wants to impose their bizarre beliefs on everyone”


More generally,

The Guardian, opinion by Brewster Kahle, 9 Oct 2023: The US library system, once the best in the world, faces death by a thousand cuts, subtitled “In addition to political censorship and budget cuts, libraries are being undermined by rapacious digital licensing agreements”

The US library system, once the model for the world, is under assault from politicians, rightwing activists and corporate publishers. Book bans are at record levels, and libraries across the country are facing catastrophic budget cuts, a fate only narrowly avoided by New York City’s public libraries this summer. In a separate line of attack, library collections are being squeezed by draconian licensing deals, and even sued to stop lending digitized books.

This war on libraries – and on the traditional values of equal opportunity, universal education and cultural preservation they represent – directly contravenes the will of the majority in the United States. Polls reveal that public support for libraries is as strong as ever. But the profession of librarianship has become a hazardous one, because of the actions of a hostile minority. It’s time to reverse course.

Centuries ago, publishers, lawmakers and business leaders understood the value to society of libraries, and of making books accessible to anyone curious enough to read them. Mindful of a long history of autocratic tyranny over the dissemination of books, Benjamin Franklin – a publisher and printer by trade – started the first subscription library in the US to spread knowledge widely.

Politicians driven by zealots, usually religious ones, to subvert the will of the majority, not to mention the wills of Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Carnegie.

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