David Meyer and Deana Rohlinger’s recent article “Big Books and Social Movements: A Myth of Ideas and Social Change” (Social Problems 59: 136-153) explores the idea that social movements have their origins in important books that changed popular thinking. This idea, they say, is a myth.
Among the big books they profile in their article are: The Other America (1962) by Michael Harrington, The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan, Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) by Ralph Nader and Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson, books that it is widely believed, not only drew much- needed attention to ongoing issues of poverty, sexism, automobile danger, and environmental hazards but also sparked social movements.
The reason I liked this article is that, as I read it, I realized that I have fallen for the book as origin myth for at least one of the above social movements.
As sociologists we ought to know better but, as Meyer and Rohlinger point out, the book as origin myth is compelling. Complex processes involving multiple actors and reciprocal relationships between activists and government are reduced to easily digestible single dates and charistmatic individuals. This is particularly the case for the four big books of the 1960s era.
For the rest of the story you’ll have to read the article.