Books that Changed the World: The 50 Most Influential Books in Human History by Andrew Taylor
Oh the pleasure when, as a book reviewer, one can simply point to the title and say – 'yup, that'. Or, I suppose, as in the non-existent follow-up, Adverts That Changed the World, simply repeat the mantra 'it does exactly what it says on the tin'. This paperback edition of the six year old original, fresh with several typos they had time to iron out alongside putting in Seamus Heaney's departure, makes life even easier, given that subtitle. I'm sure the more bibliophilic are already sold, and there is little influence I can bear on things. I will, however, soldier on.
|Books that Changed the World: The 50 Most Influential Books in Human History by Andrew Taylor|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: 50 Shades of essential literature – not necessarily books to rush to read, but ones we should all be aware of, along with what changes they made to our civilisation.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: March 2014|
As you might have guessed, this is a round-up of classic works of literature, without exactly being a bucket-list of things one must read before one dies. (I certainly hope so, for I have read a shockingly small number of them.) So alongside some titles that are definitely expected, there is also the world's first phone directory, or a short pamphlet that really inspired the Declaration of Independence and the whole nature of the emergent USA. Some books are followed to this day, others seem woefully ignored (John Stuart Mill's On Liberty). These, then, are titles that have changed enough of the world to count as important, and each gets a six-page essay, more or less, to introduce it in very easy and intelligent journalistic style to justify its standing in this pantheon.
Everything is arranged chronologically, and certainly if you skip the contents page and just read in order you find surprises – not least of which is how many are actually dating from Before the Common Era. This order makes for some unusual juxtapositions, so the world's weightiest writing can jump from Dickens' A Christmas Carol to The Communist Manifesto before settling down somewhat with a brace of two huge and well-known American novels. Clearly the Bible and the Koran are featured (the latter a little untruthfully, I feel) but there are also many other non-fiction titles – chiefly where scientists report their theories that change our entire knowledge system.
As with all forcibly-created canons it might be contentious – never more so, I feel, than at the end. Ultimately, however, I wasn't sold on any of the contents. I know which of these books I have read (a disgusting four, with bits of a further few) and which I do fully, given time and a prevailing wind, intend to read. But my mind was not changed about any of the others. Yes, I feel the final list of 50 is a great one, and all herein seems very well argued, but this itself has gone no way at all towards changing my life.
Yet there remains a strong feel of authority here, given the erudition of our author. It really gives the impression that he has read every word of each entrant – and therefore of some he considered yet didn't include. If any of these books need a reprint, you feel Taylor would be perfect to provide a foreword, as the essays here (despite some crammed-in extracts) are great summaries of the worth of each book. So, to repeat, this is not so much a list to be ticked off for the conscientious completist as a potted history of how one person (typically a man) was able to indelibly change humankind through the simple act of creating a piece of writing. It won't then instigate reading of your own, but it is no less inspiring for that.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
This is Not the End of the Book; by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere contains a lot - not just on how important books will forever remain.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Books that Changed the World: The 50 Most Influential Books in Human History by Andrew Taylor at Amazon.com. Books that Changed the World: The 50 Most Influential Books in Human History by Andrew Taylor is in the Top Ten History Books of 2014.
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