Melvyn Bragg's Twelve Books that Changed the World listed no novels (Principia Mathematica; Married Love; Magna Carta; Book of Rules of Association Football; On the Origin of Species; On the Abolition of the Slave Trade; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; Experimental Researches in Electricity; Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine; The King James Bible; An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations; and Shakespeare's First Folio). It was an, erm, intriguing list, but perhaps not what most folk expected to be served up. A more obvious list comes in the shape of a new series of "short biographies of world-changing books" from Atlantic Books. Whether we need a new series on introductory books notwithstanding, these are a handsome lot and include Simon Blackburn on Plato's Republic, Janet Browne on Darwin's Origin of Species, Christopher Hitchens on Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, Bruce Lawrence on The Qur'an and Francis Wheen on Karl Marx's Das Kapital. The series continues with books on the Bible, Smith's Wealth of Nations, Machiavelli's The Prince, Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey and von Clausewitz's On War.

Readers Comments

  1. You know I was struck by the absence of novels on Bragg's list. Perhaps it's just a way to cut down the huge potential field of literature he would otherwise have to contend with, but I really think there ought to be some alternative listing that includes books that changed the way we think about, and read, literature. You'd have to include Montaigne's essays, Tristram Shandy, Ulysses, Proust, Goethe's Faust, well, it would be a challenge to compile, no? But the balance ought to be redressed, or else the message goes round that novels are just stories to idle the time away, and that would be misleading at best.

  2. As Bragg and/or his publisher made the fatal decision to exclude the constraints from the title on his list (they had to be British) he's been faced with indignant alternative lists ever since: It's also a shame it didn't include negative change. For sake of an example, if it had been English, you could put the patent for Zyklon B gas in there.

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