The 10 Most Influential Books Ever Written

Not everyone may agree with the books on this list, some might wish to make substitutions and others may not agree with the order in which they are listed, it all depends on people’s views.That’s exactly the reason these books made the list. Most of them are viewpoints from radical thinkers of their time. Viewpoints differ dramatically and one hundred people could read the same book, but each of them might walk away with a different interpretation depending upon their perspective. It may be that these books have already influenced individuals and changed the world or it may be that they still are influencing readers and providing the potential for change in the world in some way.  

Change doesn't always have to be for the best, some of these books might provoke a negative change. The point is that the books on this list were provocative and thoughtful. They made a case about something, a statement that may not have been considered before. Some were not well received in their time and only became popular later. Most of them are very old and have been in circulation for some time yet they are still driving readers to change today. Many of these books are studied and become recommended reading for Universities and Colleges, entire courses might revolve around a single book and what the content conveys. How many books of this nature remain in our future? Who will write the next amazing book that seeds new theories and ideas or encourages a new way of thinking or living? Will it be for the best or the worst? It’s both exciting and terrifying to think of the possibilities yet to come. For now though, let’s take a look at what 10 books could or already have changed the world.

10 The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War guides readers on the winning of conflicts. It offers advice on warfare designed to assist the reader in triumphing over his enemies. It was intended for a military audience, advising on strategy and principles of battle but it has been used beyond its original military significance. Besides military leaders, who were known students of Sun Tzu, such as Yamamoto who was responsible for planning the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mao Tse-tung who gained control of China through guerrilla warfare, General Giap who was the man behind victories over the French and American troops in Vietnam, and General Colin Powell during the “shock and awe” campaigns of Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The Art of War is utilized in business, inspiring wins in trials and negotiations. It’s also applied in coaching and sports, helping teams strategize for the win. Its principles can be adapted in a myriad of ways and although written approximately 500 B.C., it continues to inspire readers today. Rumor has it that it’s general advice and guidance has even been adapted to the battlefield of “dating”.  

9 The Republic by Plato

Plato attempted to answer the question of what motivates man to behave in a just manner. In attempting to answer the question, he set about defining what justice is. His work breaks down the idea of justice and is first to define it in terms of either political or societal. He breaks down society into classes and explains the need for people to fulfill the roles they were meant for. Plato then goes on to define the world in terms of visible and intelligible. He explains the intelligible world is made up of Forms. Although difficult to summarize in just a few words, The Republic attempts to offer a path for those wishing to acquire knowledge and move toward the greater good. As with many of his works the main character is Socrates. This book is considered by many to be Plato’s most important work, originating most likely from the middle dialogues of his teachings after he founded his academy, around 375 - 387 B.C. Plato is considered to be one of the most significant philosophers that ever lived and his work in The Republic formed the groundwork necessary for Western culture and philosophy. It continues to this day to have tremendous influence on modern day philosophers and has provoked deep thought and radical change for many.

8 The Bible by Various Authors

The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1,500 years and by over 40 different authors. The writing started about 1600 B.C. and continued to approximately 100 A.D. The Bible has possibly done more to change the world than any other book. Containing two books, the Old Testament and the New Testament, The Bible is a compilation of stories that explain creation, genealogy, the persecution and freedom of chosen groups, the creation of God’s laws for man in the 10 Commandments, the coming of Jesus Christ, his teachings as recounted from stories told by his Apostles, his crucifixion and resurrection, and much, much more. The Gutenberg version of the bible was the very first book ever published by printing press. This book is responsible for the conversion of millions. According to Global Christianity, “the number of Christians around the world has nearly quadrupled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010 and still rising.” It is estimated that 9 out of 10 people own a Bible. The Bible has been translated into more than 600 languages, including Klingon and Ancient Elvish.The Bible is the only book that claims to be the actual word of God, quoting more than 3,000 times “thus saith the Lord.”  To this day The Bible remains the most purchased book in the world.

7 The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

First published after his death, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince is his most famous work and has been cited as the most popular and influential book ever written about politics.  Its content is as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago. Machiavelli attempts to offer guidance to politicians of time on how to obtain power and the best way to keep it.  The ideas and suggestions stated in the book were so crude and disturbing that his name, “Machiavellian” is used today to describe those that have adopted them, ruthlessly pursuing power. The Prince remains required reading in schools around the world.The philosophy being very different from that written about by prior political writers of the time, it focuses not on morals but on the pursuit of politics as a science, advocating the idea that whatever is necessary is acceptable. Needless to say, the book caused huge controversy and was promptly condemned by Pope Clement VIII, but it remained popular and still is today, making it a definite pick for this list.

6 The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Published in 1776, this work by Adam Smith took about ten years to compile, but it had a significant impact in the United States as well as Europe. The newly independent United States of America inspired the idea that the Feudalistic philosophy of the time was becoming obsolete. The Wealth of Nations served as the groundwork for modern economics, advocating the practice of free markets. It has been stated that this book was the most important document published in the year 1776, winning out over even the Declaration of Independence, due to the far reaching global impact it had.

5 The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

The Rights of Man written in 1791 was Thomas Paine’s assessment of the French Revolution. He was already known for his works, Common Sense and The American Crisis. The Rights of Man took two years to write and looks at the rights that should be granted to every human being including the right to adopt government that benefits their nation as a whole. Paine puts forth the idea that if any institution does not have the welfare of the nation as its goal, supported by its people, it becomes illicit and no institution should be above this ideal including the military or monarchy of a nation.  Paine participated in the French Revolution as a member of the French National Assembly. The Rights of Man caused all sorts of discord and Paine, although not present, was put on trial in his native country of England and convicted of libel against the crown. The rights that Paine discusses in his book opened the doors to the building of civil rights earning it a place on this list.

4 A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

Written in 1792 during a time when women had little or no rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Women argued that women are human beings and should be given the same respect that men are given. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote that women should be allowed the pursuit of education, business and the right to vote. She wrote largely from her own experiences, believing that education could enlighten women and save them from an existence of near slavery, owned by their husbands. She dreamed of a future where men and women would regard each other as equals. A Vindication of the Rights of Women sold out within a year and it was obvious Wollstonecraft had struck a nerve.  Wollstonecraft served as an inspiration to others and her work was a cornerstone for the eventual foundation of the feminist movement.

3 The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

This work written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1847 and published in 1848, explained the principles of Communists. It calls for the revolutionary process necessary to overthrow social order and advocates a classless society, suggesting working men in all countries unite. It has become one of the most influential political writings in all of history. Marx suggests that just as history has seen the evolution of Feudalism into Capitalism, Capitalism will give way to Socialism. This book was published during a time when workers lived in poverty and had terrible working conditions. It is no surprise that it brought hope to the working class man. It remains to this day one of the books with the most impact of all time.

2 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Written in 1851 and published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin depicts the true picture of slavery in the South. The book can be credited with changing the way Americans, especially those in the North at the time viewed slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a call for Americans to live by the principles on which the country was formed, including equality for all. It contributed to the abolitionist movement and eventually the Civil War. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a best-seller, it sold over 10,000 copies in the first week of publication and over 300,000 in its first year in the United States alone. Even today readers relate to this book and it serves as a reminder of human rights.

1 The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Published in 1859, this book had such impact that ripples are still being felt through the scientific and theological communities. In The Origin of Species, Darwin attempts to answer the question of why there is so much diversity of life. He puts forth the idea of evolution by natural selection and that common factors lead to change. He makes the point that although harsh, natural selection is a process that promotes improvement in all living things. According to The Origin of Species, “the extinction of some forms will be inevitable in a world governed by natural selection. Species will often be exterminated by competitors, thus in effect leaving room for the more successful species to multiply.” From Darwin’s work comes new emphasis on the study of nature and the importance of finding a way to share the planet with all species. It is most likely the most important biological book ever written.

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