Answer to Ayn Rand? How about To Kill a Mockingbird?

Dr. Wayne Baker welcomes back popular guest columnist Terry Gallagher.
This is his second column this week …

This week, we’re talking about the liberal’s bookshelf, what would go on the list of required reading for progressives.

The question came up following reports of how certain writers, especially Ayn Rand, have been influential to the conservative movement in America, and especially to Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. (See Monday’s column for more on that.)

Some obvious titles on the liberal list would be thinly veiled polemics like Ray Bradbury’s argument for free thinking, Fahrenheit 451, or Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

But for me, few can doubt the importance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and its influence on the movement for civil rights and racial equality.

Published in 1960, it is “probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism,” according to a critic cited on Wikipedia. The novel was voted the “Best Novel of the 20th century” by readers of the Library Journal in 1999.

The book and the terrific 1962 film version continue to be enormously popular, despite the challenging subject matter. The American Film Institute’s list of greatest movie heroes of the last 100 years ranks Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch as No. 1, beating out No. 2 Indiana Jones and No. 3 James Bond. This year, Universal has released new DVD and Blu-ray editions of the movie.

Surely the warm and affectionate portrayals of the Finch children and their father, Atticus, are major factors in the book’s continuing appeal.

But its influence on racial attitudes is undeniable. At the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, it gave readers a roadmap for a way to overcome prejudice.

Today, it gives readers hope for a more equitable future.

Do you remember when you read Mockingbird?

What did you think then?

What do you think now?

Add your Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

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