Sunday, 22 September 2013

Books that changed the world?

My weekly challenge to myself is to click ‘Random Article’ on Wikipedia, write about whatever topic comes up, and link it in some way to writing.
This week’s article was about an Australian TV programme called ‘Jennifer Byrne Presents’, a series of specials from the Tuesday Book Club. Having never seen the programme, all I can do is look at the list of episode titles, which seem to cover everything from Fantasy and Erotica, to Writing with Food and War Stories. A very eclectic mixture!
One episode interested me in particular: Books That Changed the World. I wonder what was included in that? It reminded me of a question on one of my university exam. papers. ‘Revolutions are caused by books. Discuss’. If I remember correctly, my essay answer covered the effects of books like Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’, the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau, and Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’, and how they influenced the revolutions in the American colonies, France, and Russia.
In a sense, these books changed the world, or at least led to important changes in some countries. But what about other books? Obviously the main books of each world religion have had a major impact on the world: the Old and New Testaments of Judaism and Christianity, the Muslim Qu'ran, the Hindu Vedas, the Sikh Adi Granth, and the various Buddhist writings, as well as the scriptures of other religions.
And what about Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ which was the foundation of the evolution theory? Or Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’, one of the earliest defences of women’s rights? Or ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, which helped the anti-slavery lobby prior to the American Civil War? We could even include ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ – tame by today’s standards, but the release of the unexpurgated edition in Britain in 1960 could be considered a significant event in the sexual revolution which  followed in the sixties.
There are many other books I could name, but I’ll leave it to you now. What books do you think have changed the world?


  1. All Agatha Christie's novels, she made my teens so rich!

  2. They certainly changed your world, then, Claudia :-)

  3. How about some of the Greek philosophers? And in a more modern vein, I'd argue that Salman Rushdie's earlier writings definitely impacted the Arab world.

  4. Plato was probably the most influential of the Greek philosophers, Jen, with Socrates and Aristotle not far behind.
    Interesting thought about Salman Rushdie, but it seems he's slipped into oblivion now.

  5. Very interesting post, Paula. I think To Kill a Mocking Bird must be one of the most influential books and to some extent, The Help is the modern equivalent perhaps.

  6. You know Paula, I'm thinking a bit out of the box here and I'm going to add The Bible and The Koran. These books definately continue to influence people even today. I would definately give my vote to Lady Chatterly's Lover and I might add Madame Bovery and even Anna Karienna given the time period and context they were written in.

    Great post!

  7. It would be great to believe that dinamic books could change the world, but it doesn't always happen. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck should have changed the lot of immigrant workers, but it didn't. It is a good historical account of the Great Depression and how greatly lives were changed because of it though.
    A wonderful blog today and I enjoyed reading the comments of others in the discussion.
    All the best...

  8. Please forgive my spelling. I gave a new way to spell dynamic. LOL

  9. Rosemary, I confess to never having read 'To Kill a Mocking Bird'. It's on my TBR list!

    Steph, I did include the books of each religion. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina were similar, in a way, to Lady Chatterley within their own eras.

    Sarah, that's an interesting point about books which 'should' have changed things but didn't have as much effect as maybe they should have.