Literary links for World Book Day

As it’s World Book Day, here’s another of those occasional cultural interludes.. Award winning blogger [*ahem* – Ed], Shane Hegarty, wants to know “what one book you would recommend everyone read?” I’d agree HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be an excellent choice, and I’d disagree with Sinéad’s comment on the movie – it wasn’t great, but it was good. [Adds That was this Sinéad, btw. A different] Sinéad, at Sigla blog, also has 10 more related links. To which I’ll add the Guardian video of a young artist meeting Quentin Blake. And I’ll take the opportunity to repost my version of Melvyn Bragg’s 12 books that changed the worldHere’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)

This time I’ll add an honourable mention to Andreas Vesalius – De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543, 1555)

Feel free to add your own suggestions.

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  • joeCanuck

    Pretty good list but you didn’t go back far enough, Pete.

    Any list is incomplete without the Dialogues of Plato.

  • Pete Baker


    I’ve undoubtedly left out many books which some will think any list would be incomplete without.

    The tricky thing is to pick just 12 books.

  • Garibaldy

    Surely the Communist Manifesto has to go in for sheer impact? And replace the yank declaration with the French one of 1789

  • susan

    I cannot believe it is World Book Day again. I have to say, I think it is very sporting of Bragg to include Marie Stopes “Married Love.” Don’t remember hearing of it before, but it certainly sounds chockfull of news you can use.

    In terms of books that changed the world, I guess I’d include Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe (for its influence, not its literary merits), and perhaps, seriously, James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” on merit, as well as the censorship battles it provoked, and the authors it influenced and inspired.

    That means I would have to cut three, and that would be difficult. It seems like forever since I curled up with Charles I’s death warrant; perhaps I would investigate cutting that from a list of twelve.

  • dewi

    Guns Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond.
    Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith
    The Perfect Spy – Le Carre
    History of Wales – John Davies
    Un nos ola leuad – Caradog Pritchard
    An idiot’s guide to the Mafia – Jerry Capeci
    To kill a mocking bird – Harper Lee
    My fight for Irish Freedom – Dan Breen
    The Kite Runner – can’t remember Hossein is it?
    Dance Hall of the dead – Tony Hillerman (anything by Hillerman)
    Culture in Crisis – Clive Betts
    Echo Park – Michael Connelly (and lots more by him)
    Donnelly’s Famine book number 12 – again can’t remember name

    My brother in law has just written “A rough guide to the world’s best 200 classics” – I’ll let u know when it comes out Pete – but in the meantime get into detectives mun.

  • Pete Baker


    12 books that changed the world?


    Possibly. Personally I’m not convinced enough to drop anything on my list. But it is subjective.


    Even if you did drop parliament’s authorisation of the execution of a King.. ;o)’d still have to drop two others.

  • Garibaldy

    Charles I’s death warrant more impact than the Communist Manifesto? I’d seriously doubt that. In fact, I might even find it a bit silly, and highly Anglocentric. On the Yank declaration, the reason I said the French was that it resulted in much more immediate and irrevocable change across Europe and beyond, as seen in the extent to which so many countries of the world model their flags and constitutions on those produced by the French Revolution.

  • Pete Baker

    As I said, Garibaldy, it’s a subjective list.

    I’d argue that the two documents you’ve criticised for inclusion on my list represent actual moments of world-changing impact.

    As for the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789.

    From the French President’s website

    “The 1789 Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen was inspired by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776.”

    Your “Yank declaration” reference is, perhaps, telling.

  • Garibaldy

    Undoubtedly the French Declaration was inspired by the American. But I’d reckon its significance is greater not only because of France’s place in the international state system at the time, but also because of both its immediate effect on Europe – an effect the American declaration did not come close to having – and for its longer-term impact. The American declaration changed American circumstances. The French declaration changed the course of European and then world history forever.

    The Yank declaration was laziness, not hostility to the ideals of 1776.

    On the Charles I thing. The execution of Kings by their subjects was not as unusual as some people would like to think, even if the establishment of the commonwealth for a few years was interesting. On the other hand, the Communist Manifesto inspired numerous attempts to reorganise society according to radically different political, social and economic principles that had never been tried before. The execution of Charles I inspired…nothing?

  • Garibaldy

    I haven’t criticised them. I’ve said that I could see other replacements for them if the list is to stay at 12.

  • Dec

    Surely any list would have to include:

    Martin Luther – The Ninety-Five Theses

  • Pete Baker

    I’m keeping the original declaration of independence on the list, rather than a document it inspired – for obvious reasons, I’d have thought.

    “The execution of Kings by their subjects was not as unusual as some people would like to think”

    Well I put that document on my list because of its impact in terms of assserting the authority of parliament over that of a King – despite his appeal that he was divinely appointed and therefore not subject to any court.

    Again, for obvious reasons, I’d have thought.

  • Pete Baker


    I listed Johann Guttenberg’s Bible (1452)

    For the impact on religion.. and, moreso, for the impact of the use of movable type in the printing press.

    But, again, it’s a subjective list.

  • Garibaldy

    Inspired by rather than a copy of. As in got the idea for a declaration to explain what they were at to people. The two documents are actually fairly distinct given the differences in social and political conditions. In fact, a great deal of the American Declaration is a rather boring attack on George III.

    As for Charles I, we could just as easily put any Roman historian’s account of the last Roman king (Tarquinus I think) on. The execution of Charles I did not involve a break with the economic and social as well as political arrangements of the past, something that was achieved by the followers of the Communist Manifesto.

    I am not saying that the documents you have put on are not highly significant. Just that I think that more signficant equivalents can be found in terms of their impact on world affairs.

  • ulsterfan

    Animal Farm must be included along with the Bible.

  • One of the most influential non-books has to be “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which led to too many awful atrocities. Reminds me a little of the so called rosary bead, holy water blessed by the pope, IRA “Green Book”, which used to often be quoted by Loyalist rabble rousers.

  • Pete, thanks for the link. I should point that it’s a different Sinéad who made the comments about HGTTG.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks Sinéad.

    I should have been more careful when leaping to that assumption.

  • Yes – that would be me. 🙂

  • Different Sinéads, but I still agree with my namesake on the film version. It’s pants. 🙂

  • pfhl

    Animal Farm must be included along with the Bible.

    Posted by ulsterfan on Mar 06, 2008 @ 06:57 PM


  • It’s a terrible pity when a movie of a novel doesn’t do it justice. It makes persuading someone to read that book particularly difficult, and yet they could be missing out on something so great like HHGG.

  • Pete Baker

    “but I still agree with my namesake on the film version. It’s pants. :)”

    I have two words in response to that.

    Bill Nighy.

  • I’m not saying that it wasn’t an entertaining family film – it just didn’t have that Adams essence to it. A terrible pity.

  • Pete Baker

    Sinéad C

    That I agree with.

    But as an entertaining film, in it’s own right, it did work.

  • Turgon

    I know everyone will be unsurprised but as well as the Guttenberg translation of the bible I think Wycliff’s and indeed the King James Versions also merit a mention. Especially the first helped begin the process of the reformation in England (clearly Henry VIII’s wish to get a divorce was also critical) and that was a significant even in world history.

    Depressingly I suppose Mien Kampf and and Mao’s Little Red Book warrant inclusion in twentieth century terms.

  • joeCanuck

    Seems we need a list of 25 (at least).

  • Dewi

    I was being a bit ironic – sorry – but please read “Guns Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond” Pete – it will chnage your world honest.

  • Dewi

    “Guns Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond”

    Please read it – cheap on Amazon.

  • bollix

    the main prob i had with melvyns list is that they are mainly the work of white english men. I accept that he is a white english man writing for an anglocentric audience, but i just wish that his obvious erudition and broad knowledge would have led to a greater trawl of world literature.

    any list of this sort is hugely subjective, but all the books on pete’s list are pretty good candidates.

    To try and break out of the eurocentric mold, how about “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. It was written a few thousand years ago as a treatise on military tactics. it was used since then (most famously by Mao) and also referred to by many modern military tacticians. Geeky management types probably try to learn business methods from it too “be like water, strike the low places, avoid the high places” etc.

    Another chinese one – Into the West. On its face a travel story about the journey from china to india to reclaim ancient buddhist scriptures, but at the same time an analogy of man’s quest for spiritual fulfillment, examining man’s various archetypes (pigsy the glutton, monkey the permanently inquisitive, etc.) Yes, it is what Monkey the oriental serial was based on. Hugely influential in China.

    Das Kapital by Marx as a basis for socialism / communism (dunno if its any good, never read it).

    1984 by George Orwell as it is just so on the mark about so many things (permanent war, scapegoating of nominated bogeymen, complete and total state intrustion into private life, use of torture to protect state, lies and propaganda, mangling of language and history for political ends, etc.) Animal Farm for a more readable notion of what happens when communism goes wrong.

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck for a great exposition of what economic ruin and a free market mean to poor human beings. As well as being a great story.

    And a dictionary – a book which provides the key to all other books.

    The Prince by machiavelli – the honest art of being a mean old politician. (did he write it in italian or latin?)

    Thomas Aquinas’ summa theologica – never read it, but it probably underpins a great deal of our moral reasoning to this day.

  • Mac An Aistrigh

    “1066 and All That”

    A bit Anglocentric; but the level of history normal in the blogosphere – and funny.

  • Dec

    To try and break out of the eurocentric mold, how about “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. It was written a few thousand years ago as a treatise on military tactics. it was used since then (most famously by Mao)

    Anybody who still believes that last bit needs to read Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday urgently.

  • Rory

    …but shipwrecked, alone on a desert island with only one book for solace, inspiration and comfort it must surely be Cervantes’ Don Quixote of La Mancha, although I suppose Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might do in a pinch.

  • Dewi
  • Dewi. There is also a 3 hour or so documentary on Guns Germs & Steel made by Jared Diamond made by PBS in the States. He puts forward a believable thesis on why things are the way they are today, with Europeans and their descendants in North America having near total hegemony over the world economy, though we could be at the cusp of a change. Don’t worry, I’m sure the mutants of the dreary steeples of fermanagh and tyrone will still squabble with rocks and stones after global nuclear annihilation. What a freakin’ parochial inward looking place up there. I have a copy so if you’re interested let me know.

  • Dewi

    Looks good Daithi. Kind offer.

  • Is that your e-mail Dewi? If so, I’ll e-mail you and we can organize a delivery if you wish, to a PO Box or something like that. I’m in the hated free state so I’m thinking there’s a stretch of water between us.

  • Dewi

    It is my Email Daithi – I’ll read it tonight.