At BookClub, one of our favorite things to do is to crack open a book and learn something new. In fact, we built this company on the insight that people learn more from books and reading than they do from any other source. Thanks to some of our favorite books, we’ve learned about government affairs in A Promised Land by Barack Obama, what it’s like to experience other areas of the world in World Travel by Anthony Bourdain, and we’ve even become aware of company corruption in Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. Without books, the information of the world would be a lot harder to come by.
In fact, some books are such excellent sources of information that their publication— and public reception— are instrumental in the incitement of social change. Don’t believe us? Below are three of our favorite examples.
Nellie Bly helped reform mental healthcare in Ten Days In A Mad-House
While one could argue that Nellie Bly’s 72 day trip around the world is a pretty incredible feat for a young journalist, perhaps the most thrilling accolade in her illustrious career is that of her undercover series for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper. Eager and willing to crack the story of the supposed horrors inside of a local mental healthcare facility, Bly checked herself into a temporary home for at-risk women and forced herself to stay awake for days to give herself a “disturbed” look. After she made dozens of wild accusations about her housemates, she was abruptly arrested and committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island.
Once committed, Bly witnessed the deplorable conditions firsthand, and even referred to the facility as “A human rat-trap.” She stayed at the hospital for ten days before her editor arranged for her release and her story appeared in the paper, causing an immediate public outcry. Bly’s incredible exposé caused industry reforms in mental healthcare institutions across the country, which without her may not have happened for decades later— furthering the suffering of those involved. In 1887 she published the unabridged story into a book, Ten Days In A Mad-House.
Upton Sinclair made US food safer in The Jungle
Determined to expose labor exploitation, journalist Upton Sinclair went undercover as a worker in a Chicago meatpacking plant for seven weeks in 1904. While there, he experienced more than just labor exploitation and exposed the shockingly unsanitary conditions to the public in a column written for the midwest newspaper, Appeal to Reason, and then later unabridged in his book, The Jungle.
Not only is The Jungle often considered the story that made Sinclair’s career, but it’s also the story that greatly impacted food-safety standards in the US. If Sinclair hadn’t exposed the grisly details of the inner workings of the meat-packing industry, the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act may have never passed federally and we may still be eating moldy meat cleaned with chemicals, forgotten body parts, and who knows what else. Yuck!
Ida B. Wells exposed racial injustice in Southern Horrors
Ida B. Wells was a renowned civil rights journalist, teacher, and eventually co-owner and editor of The Free Speech and Headlight, one of the first Black-owned newspapers in the US. Deeply passionate about civil progression in the South, Wells focused her story angles on the treatment of Blacks, exposing racial prejudices and other issues. Once, she even urged her readers to flee the state for their safety after a horrific lynching had taken place in 1892 at a local grocery store in Memphis. Wells, who had been friends with the owner of the grocery store, was horrified and immediately devoted her life determined to find out why lynchings occur.
After years of research on the matter, Wells published her findings on lynching in her first pamphlet, Southern Horrors in 1892, and a book, The Red Pamphlet, before she headed to Great Britain on an anti-lynching speaking campaign that shared the details of American lynchings with the world, helping to end the practice.
No matter what you like to read, pick up one of your favorite books that gets your brain stirring with us today, March 18th, in celebration of National Information Day and the freedom of information. Without the freedom of information, it would be nearly impossible for the writers we know and love to poke and prod at the issues in society that need changing, no matter how big or small they might be. What book has changed the way you’ve thought about something? Share it with us by sending us a tweet @bookclubdotcom.