A Brief History
On January 10, 1776, the pamphlet Common Sense by American patriot Thomas Paine was published. This persuasive document was widely read by Americans, encouraged to declare independence from an overbearing British colonial government. Some books, pamphlets, manifestos, essays, and other written documents over the years have helped mold History. Today we list 12 of those important works. What other writings would you add to the list?
1. Common Sense, Thomas Paine, 1776.
Paine was a radical with little patience of tolerance of those that disagreed with him, and his forceful writings helped convince Americans to finally revolt against British rule. Common Sense is perhaps the best selling (proportionately) American writing ever. Paine later wrote another influential essay, The Rights of Man, 1791, also influential on the masses convincing them of their right to independence and had a profound effect upon the French fervor for revolution. Paine’s ridicule of Christianity helped undermine the influence of the Catholic Church in France during the French Revolution, but also resulted in his own ostracization.
2. Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, 1925-1926.
Written while Hitler was in prison for his failed coup attempt (“putsch”) at Munich, the book served as sort of a bible of the Nazi movement in Germany that ultimately led to World War II and the Holocaust, forever changing History. The work is largely considered one of the most evil written works in History. If the leaders of other countries had read this amateurish work more thoroughly, perhaps they would have had a better picture of Hitler’s intent and prevented World War II. Maybe. Mein Kampf was once again published in Germany in 2016 after being out of print in that nation since 1945.
3. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, 1848.
Marx and scholars that studied this book thought that the corruption inherent in the capitalist system would lead to the revolt of the downtrodden masses in major industrial capitalist powers such as Britain and the United States. Instead, the words of Marx inspired the agrarian masses of Russia and China (most notably) and led to revolutions in those countries that changed History and international relations for many decades, almost the entire 20th Century and into the 21st Century.
4. On The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1859.
Finally, people were given an explanation of why plants and animals are the way they are, and why today’s critters differ from those found in the fossil record, as well as the similarities found. Religious authorities have historically rebelled against scientific discoveries and theories, and this case was no exception, although some theologists and scientists found a way to reconcile religious beliefs with the new science of evolution. Incredibly, even today, in spite of modern knowledge of DNA, genes, mutations and other scientific discoveries, there are those that deny the basis of Darwin’s work. Do you? (Of similar significance are other scientific works by such giants of Science as Copernicus, Einstein, Mendel, Newton, and others.)
5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852.
Eclipsed in world wide sales in the 19th Century only by The Bible, this novel about the evils and sadness of human slavery is believed by many to have had a major influence on fomenting the US Civil War, ultimately resulting in the abolition of slavery in the United States. This book has the distinction of being one of only 2 novels we list among those literary works that changed human History (the other being The Jungle and Atlas Shrugged being an honorable mention).
6. The Art of War, Sun Tzu, 600-500 BC.
No serious student of warfare or politics should neglect the careful reading of this ancient text. The lessons in this series of works that may well be by various authors are still taught in military schools today. Another important work that still influences military thought today is On War by Carl von Clausewitz, written between 1816 and 1830. (For those that treat On War as the definitive treatise on the subject of war, they may be surprised to know von Clausewitz was going to modify his writings but died before he could make the changes.) Another highly influential book about warfare is the Alfred Mahan product, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1890, generally considered the most influential book ever written about naval warfare.
7. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, 1963.
Feminism and Women’s Liberation goes back centuries, so it is unfair to claim this book invented the movement. Still, the book gave a tremendous push toward the modern version of the feminist movement and undoubtedly has helped spur numerous changes and reforms regarding the place of women in society.
8. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 1906.
This muckraking book laid bare to the public the sickening nature of meat processing in America, spurring the creation of inspectors and regulations that presumably have greatly benefitted our general food safety. When I was in junior high school the book was required reading, causing no end of squirming by the students!
9. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, 1962.
Although often criticized by opponents, this book more or less created the environmental movement and was largely responsible for the banning of the pesticide DDT. Critics claim the banning of DDT has cost far more human lives than the value of wildlife the ban could possibly have saved. Still, the overall effect must be a much cleaner, safer environment for people and other critters.
10. Unsafe at any Speed, Ralph Nader, 1965.
This watershed document triggered the revolution in the manufacturing of automobiles and other vehicles to create safer vehicles for the unsuspecting public that had been dealt one death trap after another by greedy industrialists. The influence of this book has spread to other forms of public safety as well. It is telling to know that the auto industry (among others) continues to make every attempt to cheat and circumvent safety regulations at nearly every opportunity, covering up flaws in their products and making corporate decisions to intentionally ignore safety fixes when a problem is identified, choosing to deal with lawsuits seen as less expensive than actually fixing the problem (Ford Pinto gas tank fires, for example). Incredibly, the book indirectly led to the election of George W. Bush over Al Gore in the 2000 US presidential election, when Nader ran as the Green Party candidate, taking votes from Gore who ended up losing a contested tight race, possibly because of Nader splitting the vote, a chance Nader would not have had without his fame from writing the book!
11. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, 1776.
A work that justifies and glorifies capitalism, it is virtually the Bible of capitalists. Since capitalist pretty much rule the world today, it stands to reason that a book stating the basis for their position would be of major influence. Another work often venerated by capitalists is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
12. Torah/Bible/Quran/Tao te Ching/Book of Mormon/Vedas/et al, Various.
The various main books of the largest religions of the world have undoubtedly had massive influence on people as individuals and collectively. Their words have inspired wars, conquest, and many major decisions throughout History. Together, they are the most influential books ever written.
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For more information, please see…
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin Publishers, 1962.
Nader, Ralph. Unsafe at any Speed. Grossman Publishers, 1965.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Doubleday, Jabber and Company, 1906.