Sunday, March 19, 2006

Books that changed the world

Melvyn Bragg makes a list of 12 British books that have changed the world.

Principia Mathematica (1687) by Isaac Newton
Married Love (1918) by Marie Stopes
Magna Carta (1215) by members of the English ruling classes
Book of Rules of Association Football (1863) by a group of former English public-school men
On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin
On the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1789) by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several versions
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft
Experimental Researches in Electricity (three volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855) by Michael Faraday
Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769) by Richard Arkwright
The King James Bible (1611) by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the king
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) by Adam Smith
The First Folio (1623) by William Shakespeare
I think most people would agree that the changes wrought by these books are largely positive. What about negative change? What books would be on that list? From abroad, we could put down Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which, though more a symptom than a cause, has been a great magnifier). Many would put the writings of Marx, though even someone as anti as I am finds him an equivocal evil. It's much more difficult, isn't it? Appeals so much more to opinion and prejudice.


Anonymous said...

I read your post and was concerned by your casual use of 'evil' in relation to Marx - someone concerned about the exploitation of fellow human beings.
Your use of 'equivocal' suggests you are not really sure whether he is evil or not.
But then you start your post by suggesting Melvyn Bragg might be one of the authors who makes i.e. is included on a list of world changing books. Now that would be scary.
Clarity is always useful but especially when applying terms like 'evil' to an important figure like Marx - a man who wanted the world to be a better, fairer and more decent place.

NoolaBeulah said...

I would distinguish very clearly between intentions and actual results. Remember this is a list of books that have had a great influence on the world. I doubt any of the authors listed could have imagined just what a difference their words made.

That Marx's intentions were, for the most part, quite laudable I do not doubt. The effect of his work, however, was rather different. He put into the hands of tyrants an idealogical weapon with which to wage class warfare targeting entire groups, to justify any act that 'furthered the revolution', to build a one-party state and dictatorship bulwarked by historical determinism, to break entire cultures away from their past and condemn them to backwardness. This is without going into the millions who were slaughtered for the revolution.

I am equivocal only for this reason: Marx also gave people exploited and oppressed by primitive capitalism a language in which to express that. This has been valuable to many.