What makes a great book? And can books really change the way we see the world?
I opened a newspaper the other day to be confronted by a large photograph of my old friend Melvyn Bragg. He wasn't wearing his usual carefree expression, but looked grim and earnest.
For a moment I wondered what could be the matter, but then the headline caught my eye and all was revealed. It turns out that Lord Bragg has written a book entitled Twelve Books that Changed the World which will be published next month.
His article in the newspaper explained the intensely serious way in which he'd made his choices for the book.
Often when reviewing a movie, a critic admits that he's got to be careful, or else he'll give the plot away. I have no such problem with Melvyn Bragg, who obligingly wrote down the titles of the twelve books he'd selected.
They're by British authors, but the criteria for inclusion was exacting as Melvyn told us. "What I wanted the books on my list to have in common was that they changed the world to that in which we now live."
Between the sheets
He felt he had to have Magna Carta in, because of its key constitutional importance and such pioneers in their field as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Adam Smith also make the list.
Melvyn Bragg has listed 12 books which have changed the world
If those names make the job of selection sound easy, I can assure you that it isn't. In the modern world there are many altars and choosing which to place flowers upon is taxing.
What categories should be in and which of necessity must be left out? Melvyn Bragg has a keen sense of what matters, as in his explanation of why female equality passed the test.
"Nor could the emergence of women as equals in every respect be neglected," he said. I was delighted by his choice, because one of the books selected is Married Love by Marie Stopes.
I once had dinner with her in the Oxford Union. It occurred to me that the only person on Melvyn's list of 12 whom anybody alive could have known was this same Marie Stopes - the only one of them around in the last century.
I suspect Lord Bragg's book will be a great hit and he deserves it, because he brings a gravity to the subject that I, for one, entirely lack. I read anything that takes my fancy without thought of moral improvement.
George Orwell's 1984 shows how "easy it is to persuade"
But literature doesn't only change history it also enriches our lives. So I thought I'd discuss a few books well-known and not so well-known that have enriched mine.
I discovered a wonderful book when I was 10 years old, because of my father's interest in the movies. Though largely forgotten these days, Rudolf Valentino was the great lover of Hollywood's silent screen and the idol of worshipping female millions.
When he died from peritonitis in 1926 he was mourned by vast crowds amid a lying-in-state. My father however wasn't much impressed by this adulation. He insisted that Valentino's best work was in the greatest film he'd ever seen called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
This film was mentioned so frequently that I longed to see it. But it was a silent movie made in 1921 and, of course, it wasn't showing anywhere.
Then one day an old bookshop not far from my home closed down with piles of books selling for next to nothing. Rummaging around some of the books, I came upon one called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibanez.
PG Wodehouse's work is "endlessly amusing"
It hadn't dawned on me that the Valentino film had been based on a book. Though it was very well bound I somehow managed to acquire it; perhaps I ran errands for somebody.
To this day it remains my favourite book. I know Ibanez doesn't have the quality of say Tolstoy, but The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a marvellous tale. And it contains two sections that have stuck in my mind, with the help of constant re-reading, for more than 60 years.
One is the enchanting story of Don Madariaga, the Argentinian cattleman who lives free as a bird on the pampas. Nobody interferes with him and nobody supervises him. The classical liberty he enjoyed has long since been lost forever. It can hardly be imagined in today's world. I read about it to remind myself of what life ought to be like.
The second section is the terrible story of the advance of the German army through France in 1914. In its little details it teaches the horror of war, better than any history book.
And it marks the end of one European civilisation and its replacement by another. Ibanez captures beautifully the innocence and hope of the civilisation so totally destroyed by the First World War.
Though much loved by me, I have to concede that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse isn't exactly a barrel of laughs. But my next choice is.
Golo Mann's history book explains the rise of Hitler
My mother used to pay a few pennies every week to a man from the Liverpool Victoria. Besides being an insurance agent he was also a Labour councillor. He was a kindly man, but very class-conscious and very down on the nobs.
He told my father there was what he called a "Tory upper-class novelist," who was broadcasting for the Germans. This turned out to be PG Wodehouse. Intrigued by anybody who could be on the German side, I got hold of a book by this Wodehouse.
It was The Code of the Woosters. It introduced me to an imaginary, self-contained world which I found endlessly amusing. I ought to add for those who aren't Wodehouse fans that he wasn't a Nazi agent and was eventually cleared of all suspicion. Those who are Wodehouse fans should introduce him to their younger friends.
My education was somewhat uneven and so my knowledge of George Orwell came about in a strange fashion. I'd read Homage to Catalonia, but I had no idea that Orwell had also written 1984.
When I was in the air force I was in the Naafi one day when the book that was propping up the leg of a billiard table was changed. It was thrown across the room and I picked it up. It was Orwell's 1984. I couldn't put it down, though I never read it now.
It's a famously grim satire and it destroyed forever my illusions about power. In a way the book strikes an optimistic note showing the resistance of some human beings to an all-embracing tyranny.
But I can never see it like that. For me, it's a brilliant meditation on how easy it is to persuade people to believe a monstrous pack of lies. So I hail George Orwell as a genius, but avoid re-reading his greatest work.
One of my friends reproaches me because I don't enjoy reading the great German novelist, Thomas Mann. The fault is mine. I'm instinctively resistant to him as I am to Balzac and DH Lawrence.
But the reason I've brought up Thomas Mann is because years ago I bewailed my inability to find a history of Germany in English that I found truly interesting.
A wise acquaintance urged me to read The History of Germany since 1789 by Thomas Mann's son, Golo Mann. This is a very great book. In an immensely competitive field, Golo Mann may have written the best of all popular history books.
His explanations of why Germany succumbed to Adolf Hitler not only reveal much about the Nazis and Germany, they also illustrate some of the less obvious aspects of human nature.
Golo Mann wrote with such depth and yet such simplicity, that the reader can slip into thinking that the subject is easy and wondering why he ever thought it difficult. The mark of a great writer.
I'm sometimes asked if I can recommend a short book, easy to read about politics, which reveals the way politicians think and the subtleties of their language. I can, in fact, recommend just such a book, but before I name it can I add one or two supplementary details?
The introduction to the book was written by none other than Alistair Cooke, who said of the author, "There is nobody like him." Cooke thought he'd made an art form of his work.
He pointed out that the celebrity interview of politicians was comparatively recent. Neither Gladstone nor Lloyd-George had ever been interviewed in depth. Alistair Cooke thought the author was the greatest of interviewers, a view I share.
What's the book and who wrote it? It's called Movers and Shakers and it was written by Terry Coleman, a Guardian columnist, nearly 20 years ago. It's an unpretentious work, being no more than the bringing together of articles Coleman had written.
But if you want to understand politics, it's the book to read. Coleman doesn't waste time on insults or scoops. He talks to politicians as equals and what they say in return is the frankest explanation you're ever going to get.
Don't forget about Melvyn Bragg's Twelve Books that Changed the World, because we get a reward from disciplined reading. It can only help to see the role that logic plays in human development. How each new idea leads inexorably to the next one.
But don't neglect chaotic reading either. We can be sure that Melvyn does that too. Because it's fun.
Do you agree with these choices? Send your own in, or add your comments, using the form below.
Without doubt the book that has changes to world completely is the Holy Bible. It is by far the most well read book in the world; it crosses many different cultures in mnay different countries and has been translated into more languages than the entire list above! Many people find the bible daunting to read, due to its size and what people perceive as its irrelevance to today¿s society. The Bible though is a very interesting book, with something for everyone. No other book has death, romance, immorality, miracles, war, peace and so forth all under the same cover! 500 million people who read or listen to it as their instruction for their lives on it can't be wrong!
Zenin Ekron, Newbury, Uk
I think someone who had an influence on creating the world as we know it today was Studs Terkel. Studs Terkel was interested in the personal stories of the man in the street. He was the first to popularize the oral histories of ordinary people, rather than the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The collections of interviews he published, such as Hard Times and Work, made people realize the importance of recording their own personal stories.
C Wright, Canterbury/UK
I can only agree that Wodehouse is wonderfully funny, and 1984 is scarry for so many reasons. When the National Lottery was introduced I could only think of it as a means of keeping the proles happy with the thought that there MIGHT be a way out. I would add Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. A study in the insanity of any group of young men (or I suspect people of any sex)kept togeather with little or nothing in common. And of course the tragic effects of constantly living with your own mortality, threatening to be proved with devastating and instant effect. Oh and Catch 22 has entered the language as one of the most overused and misunderstood book titles in history!
Andy Wilson, Winscome, North Somerset (England)
To Kill a Mockingbird
Eugene O'Brien, Belgium
Perhaps an interesting question is: 'imagine you/your child could only read 10 books. To best equip you/him/her for the life ahead...which 10 would you choose?'
Steve Eames, Athens
In no particular order, my 12 influential books are:
Pilgrim's Progress: John Bunyan, Mein Kampf:Adolf Hitler, Mediterranean Cooking: Elisabeth David
Das Kapital: Karl Marx, The Deer Park: Norman Mailer, She: Rider Haggard, Caravans: James Michener
Modern Man in search of a soul: Carl G Jung, The Glass Bead Game: Hermanne Hesse,
Kim: Rudyard Kipling, Foucault's Pendulum: Umberto Eco, The Legacy of Carpocrates: Osman Khareef
Chris Jones, Llandeilo, Wales
The two books I find myself thinking about most these days is Orwell's '1984' and Atwood's 'Handmaid's Tale'. I agree with Walden that Orwell was a great thinker. When I read '1984' I found it so overwhelming I could only read it a few pages at a time and I shall never read it again, I fear living it too much.
Charlotte, London, UK
The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann) repays amply the perseverance required of an average reader (like me) A lot of words - but a lot of wisdom.
David Robinson, Dubai UAE
Being Jordan shd be number one it changed my life!!!!
Irving Welsh - Filth: This was the first book I've read which made me feel pure venom towards the main character - he is truly vile. The story follows the life of a 'bent copper' who seeks to manipulate or violate those people he comes into contact with.
Until encountering 'Filth', I had never felt so repulsed by, yet utterly compelled by a fiction book.
L Bisset, Brighton
Follow the Hearts by Mike Smith is perhaps one of the best football books ever written - if you're a Hearts fan!
Stan Smith, Edinburgh
Darwin's The Origin of Species & The Descent of Man.
Albert Boudreau, Buenos Aires, Argentina
"Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown - a searing history of the destruction of the Native Americans and their way of life, and an object lesson in the systematic 'untrustability' of governments.
"Wild Swans" by Jung Chang - an eye-opening and moving history of 20th century China, from empire to communism to de-facto capitalism, depicted through the author's family history.
And "Little, Big" by John Crowley, a wondrous novel that didn't change the world at all, but just happens to be my favourite book. (Actually it's all about whether the world CAN ever change.)
Jason Mills, Accrington, UK
Leaving aside such obvious choices as the Bible, the Koran or the OED...my choice for the book which changed the world would be the Diary of Anne Frank. Her touching and unassuming prose has helped so many people to identify with the victims of war.
Elsie Green, Chichester, UK
In terms of changing the world, Charles Darwin's On the Origin Of Species has had a massive influence on science and theological debate. William Shakespeare's works, particularly Macbeth & Romeo and Juliet, profoundly influenced storytelling across written and performance media. Arthur Miller's plays have been extremely influential in defining key themes raised in dramatic arts across the world.
I am quite sure that Ann Rynd's Atlas Shrugged and Fountain Head will comfortably find a mention in the top part of any listing of books that changed the way we look at the world.
Asher, Karachi, Pakistan
I would nominate James Joyce's Ulysses for controversially reminding that ordinary, everyday life can be so beautiful
Anne , UK
I agree...1984 is a fantastic book. I've loved A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for a long time too. Both deal with similar subjects. I've just finished reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess which was brilliantly written. Recommend reading this before seeing the film.
Lisa Brooks, London
The Bible is a great book - in fact 'great' is a serious understatement. The first time I read Bible the words just leapt from the page! It takes something very special, that can seep into your very soul, to work within you and change your life. That 'something' I should replace with 'Someone' - God. Can it really change the way we see the world - yes! Has done and will continue to do so!
Liz Fairweather, Brandon, UK
I have just reread one of my favourite books of all time and it is still a classic. It is "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Household. Written in 1939 it deals with the immediate pre-war period in an exciting and unusual way and provokes a lot of thought about what exactly do we mean by "Freedom"? It is also remarkably undated after 67 years.
Roy Brookes, Hamburg, Germany
I'm sure there are as many lists as there are readers, so here are the 12 books that have made the most impact on my life thus far, in chronological order (childhood to present):
Homer's Odyssey, Dante's Inferno, 1984, by George Orwell, The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien, Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence, The Wasteland, by TS Eliot, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce, Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, Persuasion, by Jane Austen, The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, The Tent of Miracles, by Jorge Amado, Rough Crossings, by Simon Schama
Sabrina Gledhill, Salvador, Brazil
The autobiography of Malcolm X certainly changed my life and how I view the world, to read about the extraordinary life of a man who underwent a complete transformation, in every sense of the word, had an immense effect on me.
Adam, London UK
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. If you want to know exactly what is wrong with the society in which we live, this is your "bible". For anyone that wants justice and a truly fair world, this is the book.
Neil Maggs, Bristol
To Kill a Mockingbird. I teach it regularly and it always throws up wonder and awe in my students as they try to come to grips with the sheer humanity of Atticus Finch compared to the raging prejudices evident within his environment. Surely now more than ever we need to be able to stand in someone else's shoes & walk around in them.
Mark Dove, St.Ives Cornwall
Two books which have significantly affected me are John Perkins' 'confession of an economic hit man' anf Herman Hesse's 'Siddhartha' - everyone should read both of these, the world would be a better place if we did!
Jeremy Smith, Winchester, UK
"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. The most beautiful, most brittle and most damning portrait of what man could be, and what he is. Set in a dystopian authoritarian America of the Sixties, when a self-styled "left" leaning government has seized control, this book may be a little too much to the right for some, but really it is a book about freedom, and how much we need to cherish it. It is the masterpiece of Ayn Rand, and an expression of her philosophy. I think it really is the most wonderful book I have ever read. p.s. Makes a very interesting read if read against "South Riding" by Winifred Holtby, which is the English polar opposite.
Dan Bidewell, London
I feel Lord Bragg's choices were fine based on the criteria he used-not as silly as Andrew Motion's notion that kids should read 'Ulysses'!Mr Walden's selection is probably more interesting-as the personal appeared to be used as the criteria rather than Bragg's more generalised selections(which form the approach of his book I intend to read).I like these lists as they give you titles to track down-Waterstone's book 'Test of Time:What Makes a Classic a Classic?' a key example. The twelve books that I would pick would include:'The Outsider', Albert Camus;'USA' by John Dos Passos;'If This is a Man?/The Truce', Primo Levi;'A People's History of the United States', Howard Zinn;'A User's Guide to the Millennium',JG Ballard;'The Diary of Anne Frank'; 'Frankenstein' (I'm with Brian Aldiss that it's a key work of science-fiction); Dante's 'The Divine Comedy';'Temple of the Golden Pavillion', Yukio Mishima; 'Slaughterhouse-Five', Kurt Vonnegut Jr.;'Heart of Darkness', Joseph Conrad; & 'Testament of Youth' by Vera Brittain.
Jason Parkes, Worcester, UK
The list is very much from an English perspective. This makes it a perfectly legimate exercise but not one which should be protrayed as being a "World" perspective. The Bible had a world changing influence before the English translated it, and the Koran must also be acknowledged as having a world changing influence. We should also consider Greek philosophy...
Peter O'Connell, Midhurst, UK
The Diary of Anne Frank
Jo Jones, Wallasey, England
I've been reading PG Wodehouse since I was 15 and I'll keep on reading him until I die. I couldn't agree more about George Orwell. How about Dickens ? Unforgettable characters that have stood the test of time and social history to boot. Or Erich Von Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, surely the greatest anti war book ever written.
Bill MacFarlane, Hove,Uk
Perhaps on Magna Carta and Newton's works on these lists have actually "changed the world". My nomination for a book that has literally changed the world: Godfrey and Siddons: Four Figure Mathematical Tables. Probably unknown to the current calculator / computer generation, but 30 years or more ago, these were the Tables that formed the basis for anything other than a rough calculation for engineering purposes. Not a gripping read, but the basis of science and engineering that indeed has changed the world.
David W, Fllet, Hants, UK
"The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" by Robert Tressell written 100 years ago and first published in 1914. It has been in print ever since. This is the classic novel of English working life, the lot of the ordinary man and woman for most of the last century. I first read this book as a young architect nearly 40 years ago. It helped me understand the way the building industry works and still works. It is very relevant today. It has been turned into a play and a month ago I saw a production of the play at a packed performance at the Theatre Royal in Margate. It has been playing to packed houses in village halls up and down Kent and in East Sussex since the new year which says something about its continuing importance. It is one of the few "underground" books in the English language which contiunues to be read through word of mouth. A must for any one who values the way literature can change lives.
Sam Webb, Canterbury Kent
If you include Magna Carta, surely the same must apply to the Phone Book? Magna Carta told us who owned what and where, ultimately who should pay tax - at a single point in time. The phone book is all about communication, its dynamic, its for the people, its always up to date, its free and delivered to every home in the land. As Magna Carta epitomised the power vested in the monarch, the phone book is its modern equivalent but for the common man!
simon mallett, UK Maidstone
I think the chronicles of narnia have had a huge impact on raders between 10-14. i'm 13
Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged must rank for me as a changing book,it has shaped my view of politics and politicians ever since reading it 40 years ago
edward ronnie, muscat oman
of course, the two books that you missed out were The ragged trousered philanthropist by Robert Tressel telling the story of Frank Owen the working class hero.
The other book which is a particular favourite of mine is the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Racial tension in the deep south. The story of Atticus and Scout Finch will stay with me forever.
Tony Martin, Tamworth, Staffordshire, England
Books which changed the world include The Bible, The Koran, The Origin of Species, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Das Kapital. Mein Kampf possibly scrapes in as well.
Quentin Hawkins, Morpeth, UK
I would recomend "A Scots Quair" by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. A novel written of a time and place by someone who also lived in that time and place. He lived through the events of the period he wrote of 1910 to 1935. Sadly he died in 1935 aged only 34. A wonderful portrayal of people and the times.
Lord of the Rings, The Power of Now, The Shadow of the Wind, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, Brat Farrar, The Bhagavad Gita, The Prophet, His Dark Materials
Alison, Margate UK
My favourite book is 'Mans search for Meaning' by Victor Frankle, a story of how some people survived the concentration camps by finding a meaning beyond their immediate surroundings. Very inspiring!
Louis Brady, London
As a teenager the book which changed my world was Erin Pizzey's "The Watershed". It was the first time I had read a feminist novel. It was not just the dreadful behaviour of the main character's husband but his awful (and totally believable) mother that made me think about how people treat others and the reasons for it.
Kay Sanders, Huddersfield, UK
Hurray for Bragg championing literature. In an age where 'well-read' normally means having intimate knowledge of Dan Brown's back catalogue its good to be reminded that books can have a constructive influence on our old cerebral matter.
Fabulous choices in respect of 1984 and also most of the work of PGW. If you like the feel and comedy of the latter, then I'd recommend EF Benson too - the frivolous but warming Mapp and Lucia stories are glorious. And like PGW they manage to evoke sensations of times that most of us never lived through, and leave us wishing that we had.
Paul Mayhew, Merstham, Surrey
Out of all the books that have affected me, I always remember a fantasy book by Samuel R Delaney called Tales of Neveryon. It claimed to be translations of stories contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The book cured me of my belief in a God as it made me see that everyone has their own creation myth which gives meaning to their life, and it is a human need rather than a rational explanation of life.
Kim Biddulph, Aylesbury, UK
1. Mary Wollestonecraft: A vindication of the rights of women. This book did not change my life but my life would have been vastly different if it had not been written. Everything women have today stems from this book. Why is it not compulsory reading in schools?
2. Eric Schlosser: Fast Food Nation. This book is about the only one which I could specifically point to and say changed my life. Or should I say my life style. I stopped eating junk food and started cooking my own meals from scratch sans salt, excess fat and additives. It's easy and I feel great. Morgan Spurlock stole the idea. This was the original.
Kate Alley, London, UK
"The Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine Tom Paine's book was very influential but unfortunately the world still has a lot to learn from "The Rights of Man", and from his later work, "The Age of Reason".
Stories like this are just too long, so I dont bother reading them
Though it's not in the same class as the above books, Dan Brow's Da Vinci code is certainly having an affect, it out sells the bible, is constantly a number one best seller, is alway's in the press, it's cotroversal and upset's swathes of the religous community. Like it or not DaVinci Code has made an impact.
Mark Keen, Swindon
Kes by Barry Hines, Animal Farm by George Orwell, anything by Agatha Christie, anything by P G Woodhouse
Katie Hudson, Bristol, England
I would have to suggest J S Mill's "Utilitarianism" which is probably the most significant book in the development of the liberal democracy that we now enjoy.
Jon, High Wycombe, UK
Two books that should be on there - the Koran, clearly. And even if I agree to retain his western-centered viewpoint, how can he ignore The Female Eunuch (Greer)? Or if he wants to do that, then he should at least have A Vindication of the Rights of Women (Woollstonecraft), or The Second Sex (de Beauvoir). Otherwise, half the population is ignored.
beth smith, london
Atomised, and Possibility of an island by Michel Houellebecq, 2 books that didnt so much change my view of the world, but reinforced my view of it, and thanks to M.Houllebecq for the reassurance, by those books, that I wasnt the only one who thought that way.
MR SCHMIDT, NW LANCS/UK
Catch 22 - superb farce, superb humanity.
Margaret, Wellington, New Zealand
Agree with the Wodehouse choice. For me it has to be 'Three Men In A Boat' by Jerome K Jerome. Hilarious, wise and still totally relevant.
Danny Kirk, London
'Samuel Pepys The man in the making' by Arthur Bryant. A superb introduction by a greatly gifted writer and historian to the life of the immortal Samuel. Brian Walden, as always, quick to the point and completely entertaining.
Michael Thompson, Whitmore, Newcastle, Staffs, UK
Plato's Republic is a remarkable read and leads into a love of philosophy. I read it as a teenager and it was a revelation; an entry into a whole new way of thinking. It changed mt life but whether for the better I still don't know!
Martin Ross, Hartlepool, United Kingdom
I consider Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces", a book about the mythic hero that shadows every culture both modern and historical. Mr. Campbell's book showed that the hero is the one with each and every one of us and the hero's journey, is our own journey through life. After reading the book ( I've read it several times) it will change your life, on numerous levels, several of which you are not even aware of; personality, your goals, family, dreams, death life.... it goes on. Amazing book, amazing read.
BillFrey-Mclean, Ok Falls, Canada
G.K.Chesterton is regarded as the best writer of the 20th Century. He has been described as one of the greatest minds that eb=ver lived. He wrote in every literary genre including the last epic poem in the English language "The Ballad of the White Horse" He considered himself primarily a journalist and wrote 4,000 essays for London newspapers. His book: "The Everlasting Man" is one of his finest (some say his best) and I would say that it ranks in any list in the top 5 books in the entire century. It changed C S Lewis and countless others.
Mark Neill, Poole, Dorset
"Cold Comfort Farm" by Stella Gibbons saved my sanity during my A level English course. Just when I began to believe that 'literature' was Lawrence and Hardy and their ilk, and I would therefore be condemned to be low brow forever, along came somethin' nasty in the woodshed and taught me it was OK to love books.
Francesca Compton, London
Books don't change the world, people do!
kevin, Lincoln, UK
Brian Walden's missing the point, isn't he? When saying "But literature doesn't only change history it also enriches our lives" he's changing the context completely. Melvyn Bragg isn't writing about 'literature' he's writing about books, and there isn't a single novel on his list. Interesting though it is to talk about 'literature' it's a different subject all together, much more small-scale and personal.
Chrissie, Oxford, UK
I would nominate "Roots". Popular fiction yes, but it gave an powerful airing of a terrible subject to a mass of people and I think started the ball rolling on many positive (and less positive) developments in multicultural living.
Lesley Doyle, Hope Valley
I nominate West with the Night by Beryl Markham. It is the well-written memoir of a woman growing up in Kenya and her experiences as a bush pilot in the 1930s.
Candace, New Jersey, US
I would include amongst the greatest books ever written Tressell's "Ragged Trousered Philanthropist", "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë and "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo
Barbara Ward, Bordeaux, France
The King James version of the Bible should surely be at the top of the list. Although no longer the most accurate translation, it shaped the English language and directed our history. No other book can be said to have done as much. You could argue that without the KJV, none of the other choices would have come into being.
Paul Cooper, Cambridge, UK
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, published in 1962 had a big impact on government and in mnay ways began the environmental movement in USA.
Dale carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, from 1936, began much of the self help and self improvement literature. With chapters called things like: six ways to make people like you, there is a certain charm to it, AND it makes a wonderful insult as a present for someone you dislike.
paul haynes, Oxford
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