Influential Books

Task

Global: Objective
Think about the influence of books globally. Can you think of some seminal works that have informed worldwide politics, religion and science? Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, The Bible, The Koran… when we appreciate the breadth and influence of these works we begin to appreciate the extent of a book’s potential impact. Books carry and communicate ideas; powerful messages can be contained within seemingly innocuous bound paper pages.

In your learning log, create a short list of books, with accompanying images, which you believe to be important in a global context. These may be scientific, historical, political, geographic, fictional, poetic or religious texts – think of the impact of books as broadly and generally as you can. Write a sentence or two for each book explaining the reasons behind your choice. Remember to be objective in this part of the exercise – think about the global significance of your chosen books rather than your own personal response to them.

Books carry and communicate powerful messages. Whether or not books and the ideas in them are of global influence depends on:

  • Whether the books are actually published
  • How many people have access to the books – numbers sold or disseminated
  • Whether or not those people are receptive to the ideas – do they understand them, do they agree or disagree enough to be influenced
  • Are those people able to act and/or pass on the ideas.

Some books eg bomb making instructions for the 9/11 bombers may actually be influential through just targeting a small number of very powerful people or small sects determined to act. Some scientific books have also been read by a very few scientists but what they do with that knowledge has had huge impacts.

Other books may be influential because certain ideas strike a chord with many people. So the ideas spread even if most people have not even read the book or can understand it. The Arabic Koran and Latin Bible might come into that category. Also some political texts.

Influence may also be good or disastrous eg Mein Kampf had a disastrous mpact on many people who had not read the book. But nowadays as very many more people can read and write, and book production is much cheaper, this means books can reach very many more people. At the same time, the ready availability of very many books of different types means that any one book may have less overall impact in itself.

A Google search on ‘influential books’ brings up a number of lists – but these are very Euro/Western centric:

Influential books global

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Personal: Subjective
Now consider the importance of books to you on a personal or subjective level. Think back to the earliest books you came across as a child, through your teenage years and early adulthood to where you are now. There may be half a dozen books which stick in your memory or are important to you in some way. There may be many more than that. It may be an early reading book, a particular image or short rhyme which helped you recognise letterforms. It may be the distressed metallic silver cover of a Salinger novel you read as a teenager, or the book you bought on impulse after work one day, seduced by the tactile quality of the cover.

Influential books my map

In your learning log, use photographs and annotation to create another illustrated list documenting the books that are important to you, for whatever reason. Did any of these books appear on your earlier list?
Influential books subjective

None of the books that have influenced me most appear on the ‘objective’ list. This is possibly for a number of reasons:

  • The criteria for choice on the ‘objective’ list are not completely clear, and in the absence of statistical research on rigorous criteria, choices are inherently subjective. In particular, the objective lists are somewhat Western-biased and also in terms of intellectual class.
  • I myself have tended to be more interested in alternative ways of thinking
  • My list focuses on earlier influences before I had read so many books it would be difficult to choose. For example I read The Second Sex after The Female Eunuch, so it was not so groundbreaking for me.