20 Works With Most Impact on the World

BBC Radio 4 Today programme, yesterday (6th Sept 07:44) discussed this list of books assembled by Penguin as representing the works with most impact on the world, in chronological order. After some debate it was concluded that perhaps these were the easier appetisers, rather than the less digestible main-courses, from these specific authors or schools of thought.

Seneca – On the Shortness of Life
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
St Augustine – Confessions of a Sinner
Thomas a Kempis – The Inner Life
Niccolo Machiavelli – The Prince
Michel de Montaigne – On Friendship
Jonathan Swift – A Tale of a Tub
Jean-Jacques Rousseau – The Social Contract
Edward Gibbon – The Christians and the Fall of Rome
Thomas Paine – Common Sense
Mary Wollstonecraft – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
William Hazlitt – On the Pleasure of Hating
Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto
Arthur Schopenhauer – On the Suffering of the World
John Ruskin – On Art and Life
Charles Darwin – On Natural Selection
Friedrich Nietzsche – Why I Am So Wise
Virginia Woolf – A Room of Ones Own
Sigmund Freud – Civilization and its Discontents
George Orwell – Why I Write

Humphrey’s suggested significant (but less readable) omissions were Das Kapital and Mein Kampf, plus Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, not to mention Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Mill. I’m currently reading Jacob Bronowski’s “Man Without a Mask” about the times and works of William Blake, and have to say that Thomas Paine (included in this list) sounds more intriguing, the more I learn. (Lots of those omissions at the bottom of my side-bar BTW.)

I guess if you were bringing the list up to date, you’d have to include WWII vintage stuff, Northrop, Barfield, The Chicago School, McLuhan (?) and right up to date The Cluetrain Manifesto will outlive the dot-com boom in to the web-enabled future of reality. But it’s all been said before.

When asked “Which do you think comes first? The political revolution of a society or the revolution of an individual’s self perception?”, Simon Winder, the Penguin editor says “The latter no question – every revolution has been led by disturbingly well-read people stuffed with Great Ideas which they have want to put into practice. I’m sure people are reading books now … which are sowing the seeds of all the major flashpoints of the future.”

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