Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2004, Volume 24, No. 2
Copyright 2004 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Paul Longmore (2003). Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Paperback, 278 pages, $22.95

Reviewed by Bonnie O'Day

Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability, by Paul K. Longmore presents an overview of almost a century of disability issues and activism. Beginning with a foreword by Robert Davidoff, the book contains four units, including "Analysis and Reconstruction"," Images and Reflections"," Ethics and Advocacy", and "Protests and Forecasts." The sections provide a historical perspective on disability, a discussion of media portrayals, an exploration of assisted suicide, and a look at the movement's evolution.

Why I Burned My Book truly brings the last century of the disability civil rights movement alive! Long time followers of Dr. Longmore's writings will be pleased to find his essays--mostly written during the 1980s and 1990s and many out of print--gathered into one easily accessible, very readable volume. Beginning students of disability studies will find this a wonderful introduction to the field and Dr. Longmore's work. Because each essay was written to stand on its own, there is some repetition in the essays. But most of the issues Longmore discusses are still relevant today and each essay contains new insights that many readers will find fresh and interesting.

Dr. Davidoff's "Foreword" asks why we still see disability as such a frightening subject, asserting that it challenges our beliefs about normality and our own vulnerability. While these assertions are quite familiar to disability researchers and advocates, young students of disability studies will find them, and the essays presented in this book, insightful and provocative. Davidoff illuminates how Dr. Longmore's experience with disability and the barriers he faced in the social service system uniquely place him in a position to combine the research skills and expertise of a historian with the perspectives of a disability activist in his essays. Dr. Longmore's personal experience with disability brings a lively and personal perspective to his writing and demonstrates why it is crucial for people with disabilities to become trained academicians and scholars.

In the introduction, Dr. Longmore makes a sound argument for the need to move beyond traditional ways of viewing disability and argues for disability studies programs that analyze American society through a disability lens. His essays are located in the overarching paradigm that today grounds disability studies and disability activism. He points out that disability studies critically analyzes the ideas about disability that have shaped societal organization, public policies, cultural values, architectural design, individual behavior, and interpersonal encounters from the perspectives of people with disabilities. Dr. Longmore points out that many of his essays reflect the evolution of analysis of the mid-1970s and 1980s, when they were originally written. He points out that a more nuanced and deeper analysis is needed for a further exploration of American culture and social values from a disability perspective.

Particularly outstanding are the essays on "Randolph Bourne" and the "League for the Physically Handicapped"—historical readings that are often overlooked by today's disability scholars. These must-read essays combine provocative and insightful historical research with scholarly perceptions based upon the new perspectives of disability studies. These essays help us understand the obstacles and triumphs of people with disabilities of our parents' or grandparents' generations. These experiences are often lost, because most of us never hear of these issues from older family members.

Other essays, such as "Disability Watch", which chronicles the inaccessibility and lack of accommodation in our society, are written purely from an advocacy angle. The essays on assisted suicide cogently present the perspective of disability rights advocates, such as "Not Dead Yet". Readers interested in the essays on advocacy to release the implementing regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the independent living movement may also wish to pursue more recent writing and analysis on the disability rights movement by other authors, such as Scotch, Shapiro, and Brown, who explore these issues more fully.

The essays on movie and television stereotypes provide an interesting perspective on portrayal of disability in the media during the 1970s and 1980s; these portrayals of disability are probably still true today. Dr. Longmore's analysis of A Beautiful Mind would have been a fascinating addition to this section.

The final essay, Why I Burned My Book, is brilliant and worth the purchase. This combines a historical and thoughtful analysis of modern rehabilitation and welfare programs with Dr. Longmore's personal experiences. This compelling essay should be required reading for those who craft, implement, and study public policy.


Brown, S. (2000). Freedom of movement: IL history and philosophy . Houston, TX: Independent Living Research Utilization.

Scotch, R. (1984). From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Scotch, R. (2002). Paradigms of American social research on disability: What's new? Disability Studies Quarterly , 22, 2, 23-34.

Shapiro, J. (1993) No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement, New York: Random House.