a common reader

The 50 most influential books in human history?

· 25 February 2009 |  by Janantoon
· Published in: andere literatuur · English texts · over boeken

books-that-changed-the-worldI can never resist this kind of book about books. It is a beautiful edition, although only with black and white illustrations. Of course, one can always ask questions about the choice of the canon. Were they all that influential? Haven’t other books, as influential or even more so, been left out? Shouldn’t the title say “in Anglo-American history”?
Even so, it is always fun to browse through such a list. And I always wonder how many of them I already have. So, I’ll take you through the whole list.

The Iliad, Homer. Funny, I only seem to have the modern version, retold by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco. I’ll have to look for a nice edition of the original.

The Histories, Herodotus. Herodotos’ work also had an important place in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, where count Almásy always takes it with him.
And there is also an excellent book by the Polish journalist and novelist Ryszard Kapuściński, that I have in a French translation: Mes voyages avec Hérodote.

The Analects, Confucius. No, and I don’t think I will ever buy this. Chinese philosophy is so far away from us, I think. I’ll stick to the enormous western philosophical literature.

The Republic, Plato. I have The Collected Dialogues, which comprises of course The Republic. Moreover, I have Plato’s Republic, A biography by Simon Blackburn. It is part of a fine series of ‘biographies’ of important books.

The Bible. I can’t call myself religious, but I have several versions of the bible. A nice one, to enhance my Spanish is La Biblia cultural. I have more versions of the New Testament though, some of them real beauties (as book) like this Lucas evangile by a private press. For me, José Saramago’s novel El Evangelio según Jesucristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) is even more influential.

Odes, Horace. I’m sorry, I haven’t had a classical education, so I am missing a lot I think. Luckily, my loved one is a classicist and has them all.

Geographia, Ptolemy. See my remarks on Mercator.

Kama Sutra, Mallanaga Vatsyayana. Those who buy this thinking it is a pornographic work, will be very disappointed.

The Qur’an

Canon of Medicine, Avicenna.

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer. I also have Peter Ackroyd’s short biography Chaucer. Here, Andrew Taylor is already equating English history with human history. The influential books until now were really part of world history. I don’t want to diminish the extraordinary literary value of The Canterbury Tales, but it has it biggest importance in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Why didn’t he include El Cid, or La Chanson de Roland, for instance?
The Prince, Niccoló Machiavelli.

Atlas, Mercator. I’d like to have the Atlas (first edition…) of course, but alas. I do have the biography Mercator, The Man who Mapped the Planet by Nicholas Crane. I rather love maps and mapmaking, and allthough I don’t have the atlas, I have several other fine books about maps and mapmaking. Recently I bought the very fine French editie:
Le dessous des cartes.

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes. I have the annotated edition of the original Spanish version: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. The title in the first impression was literally: “EL INGENIOSO HIDALGO DON QVIXOT DE LA MANCHA Compuesto por Miguel de Ceruantes Saauedra. In the 16th century the “u” and “v” were used indiscriminately. The “x” was pronounced like an English sh-sound [kiſote]. In the meantime the sound changed in Spain to the j (jota) which is pronounced as in the German Bach. The English translations keep the x so that it is generally and rather ridiculously pronounced as [kwiks∂t] combining two errors of pronunciation.

First folio, William Shakespeare. Of course I have the Complete Works, and several editions with illustrations by Eric Gill, and of course the sonnets. And James Shapiro’s 1599, A year in the life of William Shakespeare.

The Motion of the Heart and Blood, William Harvey. What about De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius?
He only lived in the Low Countries?

Two Chief World Systems, Galileo Galilei. Related reading in my library: Leben des Galilei by Bertolt Brecht.

Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton.

Dictionary, Samuel Johnson. Related reading in my library: Boswell’s Presumptuous Task by Adam Sisman. I have always loved dictionaries and I have many as you can see in my category language. Related
reading: the biography of Van Dale, the initiator of the the famous Dutch dictionaries.

The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith.

Common Sense, Thomas Paine. In the excellent series of book biographies Christopher Hitchens wrote about Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.

Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. Why not Victor Hugo?

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx. I have got it in German: Das Kommunistische Manifest by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, with an introduction by Eric Hobsbawm.

Moby Dick, Herman Melville.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert.

On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The Descent of Man. More Charles Darwin in my library.

On Liberty, John Stuart Mill.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. In the Dutch translation Oorlog en vrede 1 and 2.

The Telephone Directory. He must be kidding.

The Thousand and one Nights, translated by Sir Richard Burton. I bought the beautiful edition of the new translation by Malcolm C. Lyons in 3 books. It actually was the 2000st book in my collection.

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle. I have read many of the Holmes stories, but I only have this one: The hound of the Baskervilles.

The Interpretations of Dreams, Sigmund Freud.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Poems, Wilfred Owen. The Seared Conscience, a private press edition by The Tern Press with etchings by Nicholas Parry. Of course, I have more Owen poems in several anthologies.
Owen appears, together with Siegfried Sassoon, as a character in Pat Barker’s Regeneration, first part of a trilogy about the First World War. Owen and Sassoon met each other at Craiglockhart, a wartime sanatorium under supervision of the well-known psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers (also a character in the novels). In the novel, Pat Barker describes how Owen wrote his famous sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth with the help of Siegfried Sassoon.

Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, Albert Einstein.

Ulysses, James Joyce, in a beautiful edition of the Folio Society.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence.

The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes.

If this is a Man, Primo Levi.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell. Indeed, this is one of the most important novels of the 20th century (and later). I think I have almost everything Orwell wrote and a few biographies.

The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger. I read it years ago, but don’t have it. I do have Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters , and Seymour an Introduction

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe.

Silent Spring, Rachel Carson.

Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. He must be kidding.

Twenty-three out of this fifty books “that changed the world” were written by Anglo-American authors! I miss Winnieh the Pooh, though, and Tolkien.
This certainly shows the bias of the author (and the editor).


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