12 books that changed the world

An interesting list [such things can happen] from Melvyn Bragg – Twelve Books that Changed the World. Although several reports mention the Anglo-centric and, indeed, eccentric nature of his choices it’s still an interesting consideration.. and the Daily Telegraph suggests an alternative list.. of course there’s a TV series behind it.. but that didn’t stop Lord Bragg[as he is now] from having a dig at his former LWT colleague Lord Birt, as the BBC gleefuly reported, “Perhaps he has joined the club of beached grandees who take swipes at ITV, whose programmes they might not have even watched.”.. heh.

Bragg’s list in full –

Darwin – The Origin of Species (1859)

The First Rule Book of the Football Association (1863)

William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623)

Newton – Principia Mathematica (1687)

Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations (1776)

William Wilberforce – Speech to the House of Commons (May 12 1789)

The King James Bible (1611)

Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769)

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

Michael Faraday – Experimental Research in Electricity (1855)

Marie Stopes – Married Love (1918)

Magna Carta (1215)

Given his inclusion of a single page document, and a speech, there seems a wide scope for any alternative list.. the one criteria appears to be that it must have appeared in print.

So, here’s my attempt.. admittedly, entirely subjective.. as Melvyn Bragg’s is –

Magna Carta (1215)

Johann Guttenberg’s Bible (1452)

Nicolaus Copernicus – On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres (1543)

William Gilbert – De Magnete (1600)

William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623)

Galileo Galilei – Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican (1632)

Charles I’s death warrant (1649)

Robert Hooke – Micrographia (1665)

Newton – Principia Mathematica (1687)

Thomas Jefferson et al – The Unanimous Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America(1776)

Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species (1859)

Albert Einstein – Special theory of relativity (1905)

Feel free to add your own suggestions.

  • Paul Panther

    In an attempt to give the suggestions a more modern tone may I put forward The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.
    Although the book that I enjoyed most is Henri Charrie’s Papillion. (Apologies if I have spelt Henri’s surname wrongly)

  • peteb

    I appreciate the effort, Paul.. but did The Alchemist really change the world?

  • Ciarán

    Since we’re on books that changed the world, how’s about Marx’s spectral Communist Manifesto and Lenin’s What is to be Done? These texts could easily be seen to have shaped the last century, not just in the Soviet and Chinese blocs, but (partly through fear of communist agitation) across the new welfare states of the industrialised world as well.

  • peteb


    They have a valid claim for inclusion.. but I was restricted to 12 choices.

  • The Beach Tree

    Twelve? Only Twelve?

    Ok, then…

    The Torah

    Aristotle : Metaphysics


    The Gospel according to John

    Paul’s Letter to the Romans

    Galen : Opera and Therapeutica

    Shakespeare’s Folio

    On the Origin of Species

    The Communist Manifesto

    Mein Kampf

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

    Nineteen Eighty Four

  • peteb

    Beach Tree

    Interesting choices.. although I’d have picked Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica rather than Galen.

  • The Beach Tree


    I nearly went with Harvey’s work on the circulation, but in then end I plumped for Galen as my root of modern medicine; you’re choice has much validity also in that sphere.

    I wouldn’t mind seperate lists for fiction and non-fiction actually – great as fiction is, it only makes a couple of definite appearances.

    THe twelve (fiction) books that changed my world?

    The Very Hungry Caterpiller
    Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World
    Banville, Book of Evidence
    McEwans, Atonement
    Kafka, Der Process
    Lawrence, The Rainbow
    Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
    The Collected William Trevor
    Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby
    O’Neill, Long Days Journey into Night
    Stephen King, the Bachman Books
    Behan, Borstal Boy.


    Did 1984 change the world or merely predict it?

  • The Beach Tree


    I believe that Animal Farm was the predictive book. 1984 however set the context for the discussion of state action and freedom for the next sixty years (written in 1948). That’s pretty fucking amazing for a work of fiction.

    I’m not sure we’ve ever had such a thorough hatchet job on either totalitarian government or propaganda since.

  • peteb

    Heh.. William Harvey’s De Motu was almost on my list too.. the Daily Telegraph did include it.

    I should just point out though, that although the choices themselves are subjective, it’s a list of books that I think changed the World.

  • Keith M

    Where’s “The Guinness Book Of Records”? Without it we’d never know how many smelly students you can fit in a mini.

  • United Irelander

    What? No mention of the Harry Potter books? Disgraceful!

  • grandpa joe

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

  • Durrutti Columnist

    Confucius’ Analects laid the foundations for a teaching that shaped the lives of at least a quarter of the world’s population.
    Also for China (and also actually a collection of sayings by disciples rather than something written as a book) you have Mao’s Little Red Book, though maybe his miltary writings on guerilla warfare had more of an actual transforming impact on history.
    If we’re talking Bibles, wouldn’t Tyndale’s transaltion be in with a shout for Anglophones?

  • Napper

    No book or books ever changed the world. That is a ridiculous statement.

    Wonderful books change individual outlooks on life but that’s about the extent of it.

  • Alan

    How’s about four letters and three punctuation marks that changed my world completely

    *http://* by Tim Berners-Lee

  • Barton Fink

    I can´t beleive you have left out the Beezer 1978 annual.
    Changed my world more than he Magna Carta did.

    Of course I´m being silly, but the list is ridiculous as it contains historical documents. It is events that shape World History.

    Without the events the documents would not exist. Also although a scholar on Shakespeare I have to say that his writings contributed nothing to change the world. They certainly shaped English literature and British culture for centuries, but does that equate to changing the world.

    Me thinks not.

  • The Beach Tree

    Barton Fink

    I would argue, Barton, that Shakespeare’s works did more than any other single thing to legitimate James I (VI) reign among the people of England – this led directly to the later upheavels of the Stuarts.

    His Roses works also did much to legitimise the heirs of Henry Tudor – who was essentially an usurper.

  • peteb

    “Without the events the documents would not exist”

    ..and, in certain examples, without the documents the events would not.

    Not to mention the world-changing impact of certain books, documents etc, by the dissemination of ideas they contained or embodied.

  • Gum

    Thank God no one has mentioned the da Vinci Code! Awful stuff…

    ‘1984’ is a work of genious. Orwell really was only 20 yrs out. Apart from ‘Big Brother’, the concept of the ‘never-ending war’ is equally prophetic. Today, when MI5 want civil liberties eroded and the govt wants to be able to listen in on phone calls, this book should be required reading in classrooms. The way things are going though, Chares Clarke is likely to ban it as subversive literature!

  • ainelivia

    The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer
    Ulysses – James Joyce
    Joseph O’Connor – The Secret World of the Irish Male