Every reader knows that a book can change your life.
But what about the lives of an entire generation? Can a book change the future?
Miriam Tuliao, assistant director of central collection development at the
New York Public Library, helped us come up with a list of the books that changed the course of history.
We also added a few of our own ideas.
From Shakespeare’s plays to Orwell’s “1984,” these 30 titles have had a major impact (listed here in alphabetical order).
Do you think another book belongs on this list? Let us know in the comments.
Believed to have originated between 620 and 560 BCE
'Aesop's Fables' is a collection of stories that are meant to teach the listener a life lesson. The fables themselves are often credited to an ancient Greek slave and story teller named Aesop (though the origin of the fables remains disputed).
The stories themselves are still important moral lessons and have had a far-reaching impact on literature and common sayings, including 'wolf in sheep's clothing,' 'boy who cried wolf,' 'goose that laid the golden eggs,' and many others.
Believed to have been written sometime between 475 and 221 BCE
Also known as simply 'Analects' or 'Lunyu,' this book is the collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius on how to live a virtuous life and be kind -- what he referred to as ren.
Today, 'The Analects' continues to have a profound influence on Eastern philosophy and ethics, especially in China.
Published in 1947
The book is a compilation of the diary writings of Anne Frank, a young woman who hid with her family for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The family was discovered and taken in 1944, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Since its publication, 'Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl' has been translated into more than 60 languages and remains one of the most famous and influential primary documents from Europe in WWII.
Written sometime between 600 and 500 BCE
'The Art of War' is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, a military general, strategist, and tactician. It's written in 13 chapters, each devoted to an aspect of warfare such as spies, quick thinking, and avoiding massacres and atrocities.
Today, the book still has an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy, and sports for its lessons on how to outsmart one's opponent.
Published in 1970
'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' uncovers the history of Native Americans in the late 19th century, particularly the injustices and betrayals committed by the US government and the Native Americans' forced relocation.
The bestselling book has never gone out of print, and has so far been translated into 17 languages. Through government records and first-person accounts, Brown revealed and continues to reveal the massacre of an entire people in an effort to 'win' the American West.
Published on February 21, 1848
This short publication was written by two of the most famous communists in history. It discusses the class struggle, problems with capitalism, and communism's future potential.
Although its impact wasn't immediate, the manifesto resonated with industrial workers across Europe, the US, and Russia with its rallying cry: 'Working men of all countries, unite!' Today, it continues to impact political parties and is studied around the world.
Published in 1755
This anthology includes 4,000 of the most representative, entertaining, and historically fascinating entries in the English language. It spans fashion, food, science, sex, and more, all with the original spellings and examples from Shakespeare and Milton.
'A Dictionary of the English Language' was used by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, and more, so not only did it influence classical literature, but it continues to offer writers, academics, and publishers a revolutionary take on the English language.
Published in 1580
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and numerous other great thinkers of the world were all influenced by Motaigne's massive collection of influential essays.
The French statesman and writer's ability to blend serious moral questions with casual anecdotes was at the time derided for being 'self indulgent,' but is nowadays regarded as some of the most important literature to come out of the French Renaissance.
Published in 1963
At a time when it was widely accepted women would become complacent housewives, Betty Friedan challenged modern advertising, culture, and misogyny in her book 'The Feminine Mystique,' focusing on the inner turmoil of American women.
The book helped spark second-wave feminism by encouraging women to look beyond marriage and motherhood for their fulfillment, and challenging traditional patriarchal expectations.
Published in 1623
In 1623, a collection of William Shakespeare's plays were published by his friends John Hminges and Henry Condell, known as the First Folio. This included 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'King Lear,' 'Hamlet,' 'As You Like It,' and more.
Shakespeare's contribution to literature and theatre has remained unparalleled, and his influence on genre, plot, and language continues to be felt by future generations of artists.
Published in 1946
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Hersey, 'Hiroshima' tells the stories of six survivors from the Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Their memories speak of extraordinary loss, terror, and courage.
40 years later, Hersey returned to Hiroshima to find the survivors he interviewed and learn their fates. The book will continue to influence future generations considering the use of atomic bombs in world wars and the real-world effects of a nuclear holocaust.
Published in 1890
The late 19th century was not a kind place to New York's industrial workers. They lived in squalid tenement buildings, and journalist Jacob A. Riis made it his mission to show the upper- and middle-class the dangerous conditions the poor faced every day with graphic descriptions, sketches, statistics, and his photographs.
Not only did 'How the Other Half Lives' inspire tangible change to the Lower East Side's schools, sweatshops and buildings, but it was also the basis for future 'muckraking' journalism.
Origins date back to the 3rd or 2nd millennium BCE
Also known as the 'Classic of Changes' or the 'Book of Changes,' I Ching is thought to be an oracle and one of the oldest Chinese classic texts.
The importance of I Ching is phenomenal -- not only do Confucianism and Taoism have common roots here, but people around the world still use it for divination and fortune telling purposes to this day.
Published in 1861
This slave narrative was an in-depth chronological account of Jacobs's own life as a slave, documenting in particular the horrific sexual abuse that female slaves faced: Rape, the pressure to have sex at an early age, selling their children, and the relationship between women slaves and their mistresses.
Though 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl' went relatively unnoticed at the time of its publication due to the outbreak of the Civil War, it reemerged in the 1970s and '80s as an important historical account on the sexualization and rape of female slaves.
Published in 1906
'The Jungle' made the squalor of Chicago factory life incredibly vivid -- the harrowing working conditions, horrors of the slaughterhouse, and crushing poverty and despair that the workers faced on a daily basis.
Upton Sinclair, a US journalist, wrote the book to raise awareness for immigrants to America. It galvanised public opinion and led to a forced government investigation that eventually caused the passage of pure food laws.
Completed in 1611
The King James bible is an English translation of the Christian bible that was specifically made for the Church of England in an attempt to reflect the structure of the new church and its belief in an ordained clergy.
Although originally intended for Anglicans, the translation had an impact on emerging denominations such as Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, and English colonies in the new world. Today, it's still considered a stunning feat of prose, verse, and translation.
Published in 1845
One of the most famous autobiographies written by a former slave, 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass' documents Douglass's own life as a slave fighting for his freedom and the horrific things that were done to him by his so-called 'masters.'
The book was fundamentally influential on the American abolitionist movement, as well as politics in the UK and Ireland where Douglass later spoke publicly about his narrative.
Published in 1859
What was intended to be a short essay by British philosopher John Stuart Mill became one of the most famous books about the utilitarianism of society and the state. In it, Mill emphasised the importance of individuality as well as independence from the government.
'On Liberty' continues to have a major influence on political science and philosophy, and its questions about the nature of individual liberty in a democratic society remain just as pressing and important today.
Published in 1859
Charles Darwin traveled to the Galapagos Islands and discovered one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 19th-century-world -- evolution.
Not only was 'On the Origin of Species' the foundation of evolutionary biology, but the concept of evolution and natural selection continues to have a major impact on modern scientific theories, politics, and religious discourse, particularly in the United States.
Published in 1687
Often referred to simply as 'Principia,' these three books by Sir Isaac Newton were published in Latin in 1687 and quickly became monumentally important in academic circles.
The books contain Newton's laws of motion and classic mechanics, and is considered one of the most important books ever published in the history of science.
Believed to have originated sometime in 500 or 600 CE
The central religious text of Islam and followed by 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, the Qur'an is believed to be the literal word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago.
It describes the acts of many prophets and messengers, including those mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, as well as Jesus and his apostles.
First published around 380 BCE
'The Republic' is written as a Socratic dialogue (in question and answer form). The most famous section is Plato's Allegory of the Cave where he discusses the effect of education and the role of the philosopher.
It continues to be one of the most intellectually influential works of philosophy and political theory, with themes on the definition of justice, the character of a just government, and what makes a good man.
Published in 1791
Paine argues in 'The Rights of Man' that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard its people or their natural rights, and thought the best way to stop poverty was through interventionist programs like welfare and old-age pensions.
In the first few years of publication, between 100,000 and 200,000 copies were sold, and his book remains widely-read today. His ideas also was used by later independence movements among the Irish, Scots, and the Welsh.
Published in 1949
Another massive influence on second-wave feminism, 'The Second Sex' weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and other disciplines to analyse what is a 'woman' and why they are considered inferior.
The book influenced an entire generation of women with the idea that a women's femininity is imposed by a male-constructed civilisation, and continues to have an enormous impact on the women's movement around the world.
Published in 1962
'Silent Spring' documented the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment and human health, and accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation.
The book is widely credited with helping launch the contemporary American environmental movement, spurring revolutionary changes in laws affecting our air, land, and water.
Written between 600 and 400 BCE
Laozi or Lao Tzu ('Old Master'), a record-keeper at the Zhou Dynasty court, is believed to have written this philosophical text about living life simplistically and working for the greater good.
Not only is 'Tao Te Ching' fundamental to Taoism, but it also has strong ties to Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, and Chinese popular culture in general.
Published in 1958
This book follows Okonkwo, an Igbo man in pre-colonial Nigeria dealing with the intrusion of British colonialism and Christian missionaries impacting his family and society.
Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' has become one of the most famous African novels in history. Studied widely around the world, it takes on big topics like nationalism, the African identity, and what happens after colonization.
Origins date back between 600 and 400 BCE
The Torah is the central concept of the Judaism, specifically the first five books of the Tanakh written in Biblical Hebrew with the teachings of God.
Not only is the Torah the central and most important documentation of Jewish customs, but it is also what Christians call the 'Old Testament' and has profoundly influenced the world's religions, history, and culture for well over 2,500 years.
Published in 1776
This economic theory book argues the benefits of the free market. Many of Smith's ideas -- like the 'invisible hand,' division of labour, and a self-regulating market -- can still be found in our society today.
The first edition sold out in six months and can be seen shaping government policies as soon as it was published. Today, Smith's work is fundamental in classical economics.
Published in 1949
Written about a dystopian world nearly 40 years after the second World War, '1984' follows protagonist Winston Smith as he tries to escape the censorship, propaganda, and oppressive government of his futuristic society.
Orwell's book was highly influential on the English language, introducing concepts like Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak, and the Thought Police, among many others. During the 2013 mass surveillance leaks, sales for the book jumped 7,000%.
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