028: 12 Books That Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg

by Gerard


028: Bragg, Melvyn. 12 Books That Changed the World. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006. 344 pp. ISBN 0-340-83981-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 000: Computer science, information, and general works
  • 020: Library and information science
  • 028: Reading and the use of other information media

Think about all the books you’ve read in your lifetime. Can you name just twelve that have truly changed your life? Which twelve books would make your list? Melvyn Bragg has an even harder task at hand. He has to pick twelve books that have not just changed his life, but the lives of the all the people on the planet. His 12 Books That Changed the World is a speculative look into just which tomes would make the list.

His picks are presented in a weird order, but in order of publication, they are:

  • 1215: Magna Carta
  • 1611: The King James Bible
  • 1623: William Shakespeare’s The First Folio
  • 1687: Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica
  • 1769: Richard Arkwright’s Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine
  • 1776: Adam Smith’s An Inquiry in the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
  • 1789: William Wilberforce’s On the Abolition of the Slave Trade
  • 1792: Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • 1839-1855: Michael Faraday’s Experimental Researches in Electricity
  • 1859: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
  • 1863: The Rule Book of Association Football
  • 1918: Marie Stopes’s Married Love

The first thing you’ll notice that these are all British books, and two aren’t even books. The Wilberforce entry is a printed speech and Arkwright’s patent is a pamphlet at best. But still, Bragg does make an interesting case for their global effect. The Magna Carta set primitive democracy in motion, Shakespeare’s works expanded the English vocabulary and imagination, and Newton, Faraday, and Darwin brought science experiment and theory out of the realm of the gentleman philosopher and gave humanity robust theories of how the natural world and the universe worked.

Bragg’s writing is not the best I’ve encountered: he’s a bit stuffy and in need of some editing. Nonetheless, the history behind the authors, books, and their publication was interesting. Each publication is indicative of its age, and the philosophical impact of each choice is pretty clear. You could probably give this task to a hundred different writers and get back a hundred different lists, but each book that’s published changes the world in some infinitesimal way (for better or for worse) and that’s what makes Bragg’s list worth checking out. Each selection he makes gives the reader a moment to think about their own “distinguished dozen.” An engaging and thoughtful book.