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Twelve Books that Changed the World

Which are my ‘Twelve Books that changed the world?

Help me decide.

According to Melvyn Bragg the Twelve Books that Changed the World ( BBC TV Series) are those that follow – then I give you mine. And then you can offer yours !

Melvyn Bragg deliberately limited himself to British books

  1. ‘Principia Mathematica’ by Issac Newton (1687)
  2. ‘Married Love’ by Marie Stopes (1918)
  3. ‘Magna Carta’ by Members of the English Ruling Classes (1215)
  4. ‘Book of Rules of Association Football’ by a group of Former English Public School Men (Etonian’s I believe) (1863)
  5. ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin (1859)
  6. ‘On the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several version (1789)
  7. ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
  8. ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ by Michael Faraday (3 volumes, 1839, 1844, 1859)
  9. ‘Paten Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine’ by Richard Arkwright (1769)
  10. ‘The King James Bible’ by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the King (1611)
  11. ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith (1776)
  12. ‘The First Folio’ by William Shakespeare (1623)

I don’t see me reading any of these, though I made read Melvyn Braggs book available from Sunday Times books 0870 165 8585 for £17.99.

A week later the Observer has an article with the crash title ‘Writing to Bragg about’ with a ridiculously posed shot of the aging TV presenter, LWT Million wannabe novelist author man. (It costs 99p less from the Observer).

As a reader at the Bodleian Library (I renewed my reader’s ticket) I could walk in next week, find a seat and order each of these books, in turn, from the shelves. I dare say there’d be a cue as I might not be the only person indulging myself in this way – going to the original sources, always better than taking it second hand, and preferably done BEFORE reading Bragg’s book, rather than afterwards. ‘ ‘Eh lad, there’s an academic in ye struggling te get out.’

I don’t see anything from the 21st century which surprises me; although only a few years in, in matters of fact and science in particular, much has moved on.

Something on warfare, 21st century politics or Global Warming?

Or medicine, on genetics?

On electronics or Information Technology?

On Google?

On the bursting of the Web in 2001?

At least here we’re invited to make up our own list of a dozen books and to email in our choices with our reasons.

I’m likely to read ‘Twelve Books’ though I’m unlikely to read any of the books themselves. They read like a list for Oxford & Cambridge hopefuls, pack this lot in between Jan and the exams in June and you would have been able add a fourth A’ Level in the form an A Level in General Studies. I took a fourth A Level in Art. I got a B. I wasn’t going to push it by attempting a fifth A Level in General Studies.

My interest in any subjects beyond art, history, english, geography and sex were myopic in my teens.

Melvyn Bragg has made his selection the way a writer would – it is both personal and contained. What would a panel of worthies come up with? or a TV vote? A right joke. My choice These books, Melvyn Bragg adds, do not need to make a good read to be on his list. Who after all is going to ready Michael Faraday’s three volumes of ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ ? I think he is wrong here – the influence was outside the book, if the book could not be read or was not widely read.

The book was a mere expression of an idea that had a better life beyond its pages.

My twelve books that changed the world … that is, until it becomes the twelve or more books that have had an impact on me.  Not very academic. But this is a blog after all.

1. ‘Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine, (Part I in 1791, Part II in 1792)

Written by a man who lived here  in Lewes, became a local councillor, complained a lot about the local landed gentry and then ran off to America where he joined in enthusiastically to have the ‘colony’ seek independence from Britain and a parliamentary democracy that had a monarch as the head of state. Still relevant today. I’m all for a Republic. The Monarchy needs to go.

2. ‘Utopia’ by Thomas Moore (c 1515)

A must read during my History A’ Levels, or the Oxbridge Exams. Interesting Sci-fi – the first ‘Brave New World.’ Insightful. We’re clever people us humans, when we thin, then get it down.

3. ‘The Prince’ by Nicolo Machiavelli (1513)

Another must read. Probably on some A’ level reading list, which is when I read it. Explains the word ‘Machiavellian.’ How many of those do we know? I’ve not much of any of the following, just read about them and a bit of each: Arthur C Clarke A prodigious writer of fact and fiction

4. The Manual for the Vickers MKII machine gun. (c1910)

This given to all members of the Machine Gun Corps. I have my grandfather’s copy. He was selected for what was ‘nicknamed’ the suicide squad in 1915, then saw action in Arras, on the Somme, at Passchendale and Ypres. He must have been considered good with the weapon, he said he never saw any of the thousands of Germans he must have killed – spraying bullets was his trade. It was ticket into the Royal Flying Corps where he would continue to fire a Vicker’s Machine Gun, this time through the propeller blades of a Bristol fighter. What a weapon, what a book – how they put their stamp on the 20th century and history and many millions lives. A piece of English History or on English History? Churchill?

5. Eden by Tim Smit (2001)

How to get something done in this country against the odds and especially against the obstructive councillors and characters in our councils whose response fed by activists in minority groups is generally ‘ no you can’t.’

6. French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (1987)

Gorgeous, a great read, wonderful to cook. A piece of mid 20th century history too.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1999)

Something Historical by Neil Ferguson

Good non-fiction reads I’d recommend though would be: These are not only a must read. They are books you should keep if you enjoy, sprawl with notes and share with others. They may not have defined the world we now live in, but the help explain it. When an OXford undergraduate he wrote something called ‘The Labours of hercules Sprout’ which we shot as a film … on video. 90 mins. I should know, I was the cameraman.

7. The Hite Report by Shere Hite (1982)

Informative, red with a voracious appetite by men and women and super fun to put into practice! There’s nothing a studied harder or with more gusto, or shared around (or for whom I bought copies) than this gem, this bible for those who are new to sex (or just thinking about it a lot, which is what I did when I first got my hands on this one age 15 or 16).

8. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)

And Capricorn, and Plexus, Nexus and Sexus. A good male read, not a wank … not porn or erotica, just a man and his stiffy.

9. Henry and June : from a Journal of Love

+ the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1932

The film Henry & June introduced me to this pair when I was living in Paris. I bought Tropic of Cancer, and Anais Nin’s erotica. Then I started to read the diaries. All of them. Then everything Henry Miller had written … and their correspondence, as well as biographies.

10. What’s Going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Elliot Ph.D (September 2000)

Because all parents want to know, and this is intelligent and fact-based, written by a neurosurgeon but not a science text. No parent should be tempted by the popular twaddle that publishers try to make them real. Babies are creatures, extraordinary vehicles of potential. They should be understood.

11. Mother Tongue. The English Language by Bill Bryson (1991)

Amazing. Insightful. Sell it to the world.

12. A short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2004)

Had I read this in my teens, had it been available in my teens, I may have read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and followed a different, more academic and cerebral career. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable Roget’s Thesaurus

The Human Brain by Robert Winston

Alistair Cooke by Biography A history book?

‘Read everything you can until you can hear the people speak.

My mother bought much of what I need on my modern history reading list pre-Oxford and sent it out. Nothing stirred me, otherwise I may have been more keen to stick with history Tocqueville, in French. Gibbon on the Rise & Fall of the Trigan Empire … or should that read Roman Empire?

Can’t think what else.

The geography reading list was equally turgid; I should have thought hard about either subject earlier in at Oxford and swapped out. An art book? A geography book? Pre-teens did I read at all if it wasn’t a school text book? I draw, I didn’t write. I looked at pictures, I didn’t read. I had a collection of from the TV series by Nigel Calder, such as ‘The Weather Machine’ and ‘The New Ice Age.’

There was the ABC of Space by Peter Fairly

How Things Work parts I & II

From my godparents, ‘How things works I’ for one birthday and ‘How things work II’ for the next.

The Chambers Dictionary of English

Something from my father which I had asked for, more to please him than for the amount I would use it, though I still have it and will at times still prefer this over Dictionary.com on the Internet.

How to Ski was a book from the Sunday Times

We took on our first ski trip, when I was 13. I broke my leg, so I hadn’t really anything about common sense. But what young teenager ever has common sense.

Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen (2000)

Still practical, if dull. Writing for the web and its lay-out needs to follow some simple rules if it is to be readable and scannable.

Hidden France by Richard Binns (1982)

12. Detecting Lies & Deceit. The psychology of lying and the implications for professional practice. Aldert Vrij (2001)

There are too many deceitful liars in the world. Read this to get a handle on who they might be, how you might or might not get away with lying, whether it matters and whether it does and knowing the difference. We should all be honest liars.

And some others I’ve thought of

‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ by David Ogilvy (1999)

The men who created modern advertising, aiming for hearts, not just minds.

Or ‘How to become an Advertising Man’ by James Webb Young (1963)

Given to all graduate trainees of advertising agency JWT.

The Beatles Song Book by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Iconic Art, a band that changed the nature of modern popular music, a book that so many wannabe guitarist, lyricists, pianists and buskers must buy and browse through. But which one?

Go. Off the top of your head. Give me twelve.

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