Sunday, March 19, 2006

Twelve books that changed the World

Excerpt from "Twelve Books that Changed the World", by Melvyn Bragg (to be published on April 10):

... A mere book seems a very unlikely contender as a world-changing catalyst.

Yet for those of us who love to read, the idea that a book can have an influence is not news. Our perceptions have been shaped through books, our store of information heaped up, our tastes extended, perhaps refined, our sense of humour tickled, our sense of well-being restored or reinforced; we have been excited, alerted, moved, consoled, felt less alone, even felt morally improved and inspired — at least for a while. We know that books can change us as individuals.

On a different level books have often been and still are the agents of creeds that have shaped and reshaped humanity. These generally religious books would, I think, have figured prominently in the reckoning for a list of the 12 most influential books in the world. At one stage I had a list dominated by the ancient Greeks, books of God, Marx and Mao and two or three books of science. It felt unsatisfactory; too ambitious and, despite the undoubted importance, not very lively as a selection.

Out of the several lists that followed, I eventually saw that a number of books by British authors had a fair claim to have changed the world. Indeed it was difficult to cut down the number to 12 — James Clerk Maxwell, Tom Paine and Dr Johnson, for instance, were hard to omit. The British have produced and still do produce a high yield in key thoughts, inventions and proposals. By omitting the definite article — these are not the 12 books — I believed a case could be made for 12 books from these islands and that is what I try to do. The British provide a surprisingly rich crop.

From the beginning I wanted to enjoy a range. Leisure and literature would, if I could make it work, figure alongside science and the constitution; changes in society as well as changes in technology would be addressed. This has meant taking a risk and, now and then, elasticating the strict meaning of the word “book”.
(continue reading this excerpt in today's Times)


Principia Mathematica (1687) by Isaac Newton

Married Love (1918) by Marie Stopes

Magna Carta (1215) by members of the English ruling classes

Book of Rules of Association Football (1863) by a group of former English public-school men

On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin

On the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1789) by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several versions

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft

Experimental Researches in Electricity (three volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855) by Michael Faraday

Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769) by Richard Arkwright

The King James Bible (1611) by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the king

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) by Adam Smith

The First Folio (1623) by William Shakespeare

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another silly exercise! And of course, Marxs "Das Kapital" did not change the world (or, for that matter, Mein Kempf either...)!
Why not just write "My (his) favorite books" and not something presumptuous (spelling OK?) like the idea that this (stupid) guy is able (knowledgable) enough to list "twelve books that changed the world" (was it the books? Was it the people who red them?) Wgat is the value of duch an exerise besides giving us the 100% subjective view of the writer about what would be those books? And who cares??