4th August 2020
Books that Changed the World
We’re getting a little historical today!
Throughout history various books, manuscripts and even pamphlets have played an important role in shaping our world — as well as our reading experience — today. In this blog post we look at six such texts (out of many) and briefly explore their widespread social, political, and cultural impacts. They’re not *technically* all books, so forgive us the catchy blog title – but they’re all book-relevant!
The Rosetta Stone
Probably one of the most famous hunks of rock after Stonehenge, this granodiorite stele was vital in the translation of hieroglyphics. It is currently stored in the British Museum and is dated around 196BC, when it was once part of a larger stone slab.
The stone itself would have been relatively unimportant at the time of its creation, as it was one of many copies bearing an official decree that the temple supported King Ptolemy V. However, it became more significant at the time of its discovery in 1799, because its message is inscribed three times in three different languages. Scholars were able to use their understanding of Demotic (the native Egyptian script) and Ancient Greek to establish what each of the hieroglyphs symbolised.
This means that if you were to stumble upon an Ancient Eyptian artifact (i your…backyard?), you could actually translate the inscriptions!
This collection of fables is often our first encounter with important moral lessons from “slow and steady wins the race” to “there’s a time for work and a time for play”. The wild stories and funny animal characters provide an easy means to teach young people not only the joy of reading, but also valuable learning lessons that they can carry through to adulthood. Whilst you may reflect on these as childish, they will eventually be useful (perhaps in retrospect) some day in your lifetime.
The fact that the tales written by a slave in ancient Greece are widely known today, highlights how everyone has the ability to impact others with their words – so get writing!
On the Origin of Species
Despite being published in 1859, Charles Darwin’s book continues to be discussed and debated worldwide.
This groundbreaking manuscript details Darwin’s observations of natural selection; how species evolve and adapt to their environment over time through “survival of the fittest”.
At the time of its publication, creationism was the primary explanation for the beginnings of all life. It would have been considered blasphemous to imply otherwise. As such, in his work Darwin presents a fair compromise: a God may have created the first life, but over time all creatures become beholden to the laws of nature. Of course, many still rejected Darwin’s proposal and saw it as an affront to religion.
Even though the initial reception may not have been as positive, On the Origin of Species is well and truly one of the core foundations of science as we know it today
Rights of Man
After having witnessed the French Revolution, Thomas Paine was inspired to write this small political manifesto in defense of a citizen’s right to rebel against governments who no longer served the people.
When it was published in 1791 it caused a great furore (Paine himself was convicted of seditious libel against the Crown) but would ultimately spur on the American Revolution, leading to Paine being remembered as one of America’s “founding fathers” despite being English.
One of the primary arguments of his book was that governments should not be formed by the hereditary succession of those who belong to nobility, an idea that would advance the formation of modern Western democracy.
Without 1984 there would be no Maze Runner, no Hunger Games, no A Clockwork Orange, no Divergent, no Uglies…. You get where this is going? The entire dystopian genre would not exist if it were not for George Orwell’s most renowned novel.
This story has had such a profound impact on our society that most people are aware of the nightmarish future it predicts, despite not having read the book itself. The ideas of “Big Brother”, “doublethink”, and “thoughtcrime” are frequently referred to in political and social commentary reflecting just how well established Orwell’s ideas are in our society.
Besides having launched a platform for thousands of best-selling books, 1984 will always remain a stark reminder of the value to be able to freely express oneself and one’s thoughts, and the drastic cost to society if we lose the ability to do so.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
This list would simply not be complete if we didn’t acknowledge the impact that Shakespeare has had not only on the literary world, but even language itself.
Many are familiar with the ideas and characters of his most famous stories, from Romeo and Juliet, to Macbeth, and Hamlet – most likely because the works of Shakespeare are the most studied plays worldwide. They have established familiar tropes, useful plot devices, and powerful messages that truly resonate with readers.
And if that wasn’t enough for you, Shakespeare is well known for having invented many of the words and phrases in his plays. So next time you are ‘green-eyed’ with jealousy and wish to ‘elbow’ someone, you can ‘swagger’ away knowing that you have just the right words for the occasion..!