Books That Changed the World

Jan 29 08:10 2009 Fernando Bessega Print This Article

The Communist Manifesto,Guest Posting co-authored with Friedrich Engels, was published in 1848. Commissioned by the Communist League, the manifesto urged the working classes to overthrow its rulers and establish a classless society without private property. The Russian Revolution turned his theory into reality and the world was never the same again.

Das Kapital, published in 1867, is critique of capitalism and how it exploits the workers. If the Communist Manifesto urges action then Das Kapital explains why change is required. Would Douglas Coupland have popularized the term ‘McJob’ in his 1991 novel, Generation X, without Marx and his work so long ago.

If you look at the colourful blurbs on the dust jackets of books, many publishers claim their author has written a book that changes the world. In reality, very few books change the world but here are some candidates.......some have stronger claims than others.

The Bible – The book that defines Christianity, billions of people have lived their lives according to its text. Christians have gone into battle to defend what the book stands for.

The Qur'an / Koran /Al-Qur'an – The book that defines Islam, billions of people have lived their lives according to its text. Muslims have gone into battle to defend what the book stands for.

Magna Carta (1215) – Written in Latin, the Magna Carta is quite simply one of the key moments in the history of democracy. Among other things, the charter established habeas corpus meaning that citizens can’t be thrown in jail at the drop of a hat. Much of its content comes from the Charter of Liberties issued by Henry I in 1100.

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859) – perhaps the greatest science book of all time as it established the principle of evolutionary biology (although this concept is still contested in some places south of the Mason-Dixon Line).

Divine Comedy by Dante (circa 1310) – this book established a language, Italian, out of a series of regional dialects and describes a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. To the Italians, Dante is ‘the Supreme Poet’ (il Sommo Poeta). 

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (6th century BC) – Countless generals and leaders have praised this book as the definitive guide to military strategy and tactics. Thirteen aspects of warfare are each allocated a chapter. 

Utopia by Thomas More (1516) – the former Lord Chancellor coined the word ‘Utopia’ with this book where private property does not exist and there is religious toleration, an unheard of notion for those days. It’s a long way from today’s classification of freedom but still a highly remarkable book. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) – this anti-slavery novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the United States. It played a role in the build-up to the American Civil War and heavily influenced public opinion in Northern states. 

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776) – this widely read pamphlet advocated independence for the American colonies from Britain. Paine, a great liberal thinker, also penned Rights of Man in 1791.

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1687) – the book describes gravity and the laws of motion for the first time. It is the basis for modern engineering. A true landmark in science

The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1899/1900]) - ‘Die Traumdeutung’ revealed Freud’s theory on dream analysis and introduces the ego. A flawed but influential book in understanding the human unconscious

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (Vol-1 1925 & vol-2 1926) – This infamous book is essentially an autobiography that also outlines the National Socialist political ideology. Hitler changed the world, not his book, but Mein Kampf was a tool of the Nazi political machine.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) – this book is the perfect literary reply to Mein Kampf and the most powerful book in the 20th century. It was first published as Het Achterhuis: Dagboekbrieven van 12 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944 (The Annex: diary notes from 12 June 1942 – 1 August 1944) but the 1952 English translations turned it into a worldwide success.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776) – the first book on economics written as the Industrial Revolution began to gather pace. It promotes free market economics and consists of five books over two volumes. Donald Trump, Richard Branson and all the others owe Smith an eternal debt.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859) – this book is a key liberal work in proclaiming the rights of an individual.  It established the Harm Principle - people can do anything they like as long as it does not harm others. 

Experimental Researches in Electricity by Michael Faraday (1859) – Not really a book but Faraday’s papers in four volumes. Without electricity, AbeBooks wouldn’t be here so we think it’s quite important.

On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres by Nicholas Copernicus (1543) - De revolutionibus orbium coelestium introduced astronomy as we know it. The book outlines the heliocentric theory that the sun is at the center of the universe.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 14th century) – this book popularized the use of vernacular English in literature rather than Latin or French. Without Geoffrey, you’d be reading this in Latin.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1964) – published by the Chinese Government, this book became known as the ‘Little Red Book’ in the West. More than 900 million copies were printed and it became essential for every Chinese citizen to own one. A symbol of Mao’s cultural revolution.

The Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth (1968) – Would AbeBooks exist without this book? It covers programming algorithms and their analysis. Knuth began the project, which was originally planned to be one book, in 1962. The first three volumes were published in rapid succession, starting with volume 1 in 1968, volume 2 in 1969, and volume 3 in 1973.

Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson (1939) – Thousands of alcoholics would argue that this book (nicknamed the Big Book), which introduced the 12-step recovery program, changed their world.  First editions are hugely collectible.

Kama Sutra (circa 2nd century AD) – this ancient Indian book concerns love more than sex. It could be argued that Richard Burton’s 1883 translation started to change Western attitudes to sex. 

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Fernando Bessega
Fernando Bessega

Fernando Bessega is an ecommerce expert specialized in the book market. You can find more information about the featured books here.

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