Friday, 11 April 2014

Books that Changed the World

Books that changed the World: the 50 most influential books in Human History by Andrew Taylor
Published by Quercus
6th March 2014
Paperback Edition



Books That Changed the World tells the fascinating stories behind 50 books that, in ways great and small, have changed the course of human history. Andrew Taylor sets each text in its historical context and explores its wider influence and legacy.

Whether he's discussing the incandescent effect of The Qu'ran, the enduring influence of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, of the way in which Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe galavanized the anti-slavery movement, Taylor has written a stirring and informative testament to human ingenuity and endeavour. Ranging from The Iliad to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Kama Sutra to Lady Chatterley's Lover, this is the ultimate, thought-provoking read for book-lovers everywhere.


How can we ever change the world?  Military leaders, such as Genghis Khan or Napoleon have certainly managed to change large parts of it, though generally not for as long as they expected; scientists devising cures and vaccines for disease can spread a more benign influence across whole continents; the thoughts of religious leaders or philosphers, like Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Plato or Confucius, can sweep through generations like fire.  But books?
     Reading books is generally a solitary, unassuming pastime: bookishness is the very antithesis of the man-of-action qualities that seem to shake the world by the scruff of its neck.  The pen may boast of being mightier than the sword, but it is generally the sword that wins in the short term.  It is that phrase, though, which gives the game away: in the short term, writers can be bullied, imprisoned or executed, their work censored, and their books burned, but over the long sweep of history, it is books and the ideas expressed within them that have transformed the world.


As Andrew Taylor rightly points out, any list of books whether it be the ten best of a particular genre, or as in this case, the most influential books in changing the world, is purely subjective.  As Taylor says "These are the books that, in their different ways, have changed my world - but they are also books that I believe have demonstrably changed the world in one way or another for millions of other people."   He has drawn up a list of 50 titles, that in very different ways have had a great impact on the changing world, not just in the era that they were written, but continue to do so today.  I think it is important to look at the list in question so here it is:

The Iliad by Homer
The Histories by Herodotus
The Analects by Confucius
The Republic by Plato
The Bible
Odes by Horace
Geographia by Ptolemy
Kama Sutra by Mallanaga Vatsyayana
Canon of Medicine by Avicenna
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Atlas, or, Cosmographic Meditations by Gerard Mercator
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
First Folio by William Shakespeare
An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei
Prinicipa mathematica by Isaac Newton
A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgange von Goethe
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Telephone Directory by New Haven District Telephone Company
The Thousand and one Nights translated by Sir Richard Burton
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
Poems by Wilfred Owen
Relativity: The Special and the General Theory by Albert Einstein
Ulysses by James Joyce
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lover
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes
If This is a Man by Primo Levi
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao Zedong
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling

I have to admit that the number I have actually read off of this list is remarkably low, but the number of books that I hadn't heard of was interesting, particularly Silent Spring by Rachel Carson which was only published in 1962 which makes me think I should have heard of it before!  Interestingly between 1964 (Quotations by Chairman Mao) and 1997 (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) there are on other inclusions worthy of influence - does that mean that the books of the twentieth century are not influential, or have not yet had time to impact on the wider world?

First published in 2008, this book has been reprinted this year, but disappointingly still doesn't include anything later than 1997.  What does this say about the book market of today? 

The only other question left to ask is: which books would you have included?!


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x


  1. I would have included "To Kill a Mocking Bird" A tale that really has had a profound effect on all my family.
    And what about Animal Farm?

    1. Oh I love To Kill a Mockingbird! X

  2. This sounds fantastic, I'd love to read this! I've only read ONE book on that list, and obviously that's Harry Potter which is quite shameful. I have The Catcher in the Rye on my shelf though so hopefully I'll get around to that soon and see what all the fuss is about! :) xx


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