Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Is the Most Influential Book of All Time?

The other day I came across a blog post by NY Times columnist Ross Douthat ranking the most influential books in his life. That's not the question I'm asking, but it got me thinking...

Leaving out the major religious texts: What would you say was the most influential book of all time? On all of humanity? What book do you think had the biggest impact on the world?

Uncle Tom's Cabin?
The Jungle?
Mein Kampf?
1984?
A Tale of Two Cities?
Herodotus' Histories?
The Communist Manifesto?
The Little Engine That Could?






212 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 212   Newer›   Newest»
Eisley Jacobs said...

For me... it was: To Kill a Mockingbird

amylmaris said...

That's a great question. Darwin's Origin of the Species?

Alyson said...

I would love to say Harry Potter but I'll resist. I wish I knew more about all these books but as as high school sophomore taking a stab in the dark I'd have to put Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales up there. While fiction had been an oral tradition for centuries, where would we be if someone hadn't decided to write down a grand, imagined story?

Geewiz387 said...

Gulliver's Travels had a huge impact because it was thought there were political under tones in all his "travels". GEE

Linda VandeVrede said...

Very thought-provoking. I would say "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had the most dramatic effect on the most number of people at the time.

Personally, I agree with Eisely - "To Kill a Mockingbird" was profound for me.

James Scott Bell said...

As Abe Lincoln said when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe: "So this is the little lady who made this big war."

Lisa_Gibson said...
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Abby Stevens said...

I'm gonna go with Shakespeare, too. So many of our modern archetypes and vernacular phrases come from Shakespeare.

jjdebenedictis said...

Every book.

Think about how amazing it is to have another person's thoughts roll out in your mind.

Triffany said...

As an editorial and impetus for political change through the will of the people, Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" went a long way to changing the way the general public viewed books on the whole and paved the way for more authors to editorialize through fiction.

JTB said...

The Little Red Book or 'The Quotations from Chairman Mao.'

Well over a billion copies in print and though it was only required reading until 1978, it's influence reverberates world wide still.

No book has had an influence on and over so many ever.

traceybaptiste said...
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Lisa said...

My gut reaction was to say "Ulysses," but then I realized that it probably is only influential in English departments. As for all other departments in life, I'm guessing the most influential book is something along the lines of "See Dick Run."

Glen Akin said...

There's no such thing as the most influential book of all time. Most influential books of certain generations? Definitely. Harry Potter for my generation. To kill a mockingbird for some generations.

Sarah Enni said...

Wow! What a question. I think it has to be Homer's Odyssey. It's got pretty much every story line you could ever imagine in there somewhere and it's still inspiring work today, and it was written in the eight century B.C.

Hard to beat that! This is a great conversation-started!

prettyzombiegirl said...

Pride & Prejudice!

Marquita Hockaday said...

Hmmm- that is a hard question to answer. I teach US History so I would say either Uncle Tom's Cabin- or the pamphlet Common Sense by Thomas Paine, it did spark supporters of the Revolutionary War after all- personally, I think books like Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim and Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates are influential b/c they inspire me to become a better writer :)

Jeremy Robb said...

Mein Kampf was the best sleeping pill I've ever tried to read (I couldn't get past page 38). Better than a phone book!

I would have to say the most influential book in history was the Dictionary. Not because it changed the way people act, inspired people to action, or anything like that, but it changed the way we viewed language. All of a sudden phonetic spelling was no longer a sign of intelligence, and a unified dialect became the norm.

Another book I would have to include would be Common Sense by Thomas Paine. That sure changed the landscape of the British Empire at the time, and set the world on a new course with new ideas.

Anonymous said...

I second Homer's Odyssey. We get so much of our language, etc from the Greeks anyway.

Mira said...

What a fun question! :)

Okay, I have a list divided by subject:

For politics:

Marx, Communist Manifesto, with nods to Betty Friedan, Plato and sadly, Darwin (Social Darwinism)

For science:

Einstein, Relativity, with nods to Darwin and Newton

For the human psyche:

Freud: Interpretation of dreams, with nods to Kinsey and Shakespeare

For Reasoning:

Plato: The Republic, with nods to tons of people.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some - I'll have fun reading the comments.

worstwriterever said...

Religious books aside, gotta be The Diary of Ann Frank.

Showed the duality of humanity from viewpoint of the most tragic heroine ever.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Lord of the Flies.

It may not be the most well-liked, but for many, LoTF is the first novel that encourages a closer reading and critical thinking.

mary said...

I think today I'll go with The Epic of Gilgamesh. :-)

Christi Goddard said...

The Mists of Avalon.

It gave me a view into a world I'd never known about, one that exists to this day through the practitioners of Wicca. I was sixteen (so 19 years ago) when I first read it, and I know it changed my outlook on the world, not just religion.

Mira said...

The little engine that could.

Funny.

Although there could be an argument for Aesop's fables.

K.L. Brady said...

Roots by Alex Haley. He shone a painful but necessary light on our history.

And I heard he received like 300+ rejections over eight or so years before he got published. That's perserverance.

Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

anons-

I intentionally said no religious texts because I don't see that ending well. Let's stick to the secular.

Anonymous said...

It is, im sure, The Prince, By Machiavelli

A Paperback Writer said...

If we leave out religious texts, then I'm voting for what has become known as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. His plays have seeped into most cultures and had a HUGE influence in the western world, which chunk of the globe certainly has a pull on all other parts (whether they like it or not).
Yup, that'd be my choice.

reader said...

Read the original post closer, Nathanites -- he said NOT including religious texts, i.e., the Bible.

My answer: I have no idea. Although I think something like The Catcher in the Rye (personally, not my favorite) laid the foundation to create an entirely new category we now call YA. So that's important.

reader said...

I see you beat me to the punch, Nathan. Sorry.

ryan field said...

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is my personal favorite.

John Bunyan's, The Pilgrim's Progress, could be a contender for the most influential book of all time.

Chuck H. said...

The Prince and The Art of War. I didn't limit myself to one since no one else seems to be. If I hadn't read the part about not including religious texts, I would have, of course included The Bible and The Quran.

ryan field said...

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is my personal favorite.

John Bunyan's, The Pilgrim's Progress, could be a contender for the most influential book of all time.

Emily White said...

The first one.

But as no one knows which one that was, I'll put my vote in for Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

I don't know of any other book that has affected the social dynamic of human beings so severely.

Phyllis said...

I'd nominate a couple of books that form society or our knowledge to this day -- at least in the Western World.

Isaac Newton, Principa Mathematica
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
Jean Jaques Rousseau, The Social Contract
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, and Critique of Practical Reason
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

As for the most influential book of fiction, I'd nominate the inventors of genres, like
E.A. Poe, The Purloined Letter, for inventing the detective story,
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, because basically everything fantasy circles around these books
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, okay, he didn't invent the love-story, but is there another one that's that influential?
Bram Stoker, Dracula, the grand-father of Twilight

I'll stop now before this turns into a list of 1001 books to read before you die.

Caledonia Lass said...

Homer's Odyssey. I have to agree on earlier posts with that.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Robinson Crusoe.

I HATED that book, and it still stands as the only time I needed a Cliffs Notes version to pass a test in English, but it's generally considered the beginnings of popular novel-length fiction.

It was the first drop in a very full ocean of great literature that, before then, wouldn't have been considered worth a reader's time. I mean who wants to "waste" time reading something that didn't happen to people who don't exist? Yeah - that'll never catch on.

Kayeleen said...

There's already been some good suggestions. For me personally, the book I come back to is Fahrenheit 451 or 1984.

For the rest of humanity: it's so hard to choose. Maybe Wealth of Nations? Or Origin of the Species.

I agree with whoever it was that said it depends on when you lived. Today, we feel the impact of those great books without even realizing that they affect where we are. When they were first published, though, they inspired controversy and debate. Without that process, they wouldn't have been meaningful.

Keith Popely said...

Wouldn't it be "Don Quixote", which is commonly considered the first proper novel? It was a watershed work that inspired all Western writing since.

Beth S said...

Probably Animal Farm. Or maybe Winnie The Pooh. Tough call.

Joseph L. Selby said...

The Gutenberg Bible, not because it's the bible, but because it was printed on a press with movable type.

Carol Buchanan said...
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Dave Felder said...

I would say any of the "Dick, Jane or Spot" books we all read as first graders, because those books are what whetted our appetites to read. After those introductions to written language, everything else is just chocolate on my Matzoh.

D. G. Hudson said...

"On The Road" by Jack Kerouac. A generation was influenced by that desire to roam, to see, and to experience life.

Also: The Old Man and the Sea (by E. Hemingway). A little book with a lot of impact.

MJR said...

I'm not good at these questions because I can never pick one. Here are a few that I think hit the popular consciousness enough to really have an effect:

SOCIAL CONTRACT
THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
CHRISTMAS CAROL
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
1984
FEMININE MYSTIQUE
THE JUNGLE
SILENT SPRING
DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
DR. SPOCK BABY CARE
BLACK LIKE ME
RAISIN IN THE SUN

Ann Marie Wraight said...

If we leave out religious books, then I thought that Jeremy Robb had a valid argument for The Dictionary. I would also say that Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species would be pretty close to the top of the list. The 'outrageous' claims he made sent ripples all around the world when it was first published.
However, I have to say that my personal number 1 is The Encyclopaedia Britannica. I was the proud of owner of a full set (which had updates sent every year by the publishing company ) in my teens. We take being able to 'google' for granted nowadays. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to access information on wide ranges of topics at home - without the internet?? Scary huh? Well, not so long ago this was how people in many nations researched projects, homework etc - unless you happened to live close to the local library. Of course, it's not ONE book but a series with the same title...BUT....It would be my choice - definitely!

Terry Stonecrop said...

I agree with so many. A lot of books have influenced humankind.

I'll add, Les Miserables.

Steve Masover said...

I'm going to be a joiner on this one: Homer's Odyssey.

Kimber An said...

Besides the Bible?

ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I grew up in a tiny town with a tiny library in a family who didn't care about books. This was one of the only books available to me. Needless to say, my own children have TONS of books!

farspiderwheel said...

more than social contract, i think about the spirit of laws by Montesquieu as a very influential book in humanity thinking, but none more than The Prince, i keep on supporting.

dkfwriting said...

I had many of the same thoughts here -

Darwin, The Origin of Species, because it completely altered modern science
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, because it completely altered modern economics
Cervantes, Don Quixote, because it was the first novel
and the Gutenberg Bible, because even though you disqualified religious texts, the printing press was the single most influential invention in human history.

Christine Macdonald said...

Hard to pick just one. In my 20's, I read Richard Bach's Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. That was the beginning for me...

Krista V. said...

I'm hearing my AP US History teacher's voice right now: "The most influential American book ever written was Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE, because it was the only book directly responsible for the passing of a piece of legislation (the Food and Drug Act of 1906, which created the FDA)."

Matthew Rush said...

Probably Einstein's paper on Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies which first introduced his Special Theory on Relativity. Not a book technically but definitely influential. Not always in good ways either. Without it there may have never been a bomb.

For me personally the most influential book is definitely the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It sparked my love of reading and eventually got me to write.

Bane of Anubis said...

I'll go w/ Beth S. and Animal Farm. Though she's probably more correct w/ some kid's book.

Claire Dawn said...

Wow! So the only book I've read on your list is The little Engine that Could :( Back to the drawing board.

I'm with all the people who say Shakespeare. Although he didn't technically write books. But then, much of the really old stuff wasn't originally a book. Homer, for example, was epic poems...

Since I don't see any non-religious books being leaps and bounds above others, I would also have to add, that I don't think things are universally influential. A book that was influential for English Speakers might never have caught on with non-English Speakers. Books that were important for Jews, might never have been important for non-Jews. Books that changed philosophers' thinking, probably held little sway for non-philosophers.

Sorry to get philosophical :)

Btw, my most influential 3 (personally) are To Kill a Mockingbird, Th1rteen R3asons Why and Le Cosmetique de L'ennemi (which it seems has never been translated).

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...
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Anonymous said...

Blubber, by Judy Blume.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I know this is slightly religious in nature, but 'Little Women'. When it first came out (and you can read this in its history) it was the second (to the bible) most influencial book of its time.

As an adult I would say it influenced me more than any other book (aside from scripture). As a child the Little House on the Prairie series was what interested me the most. It may sound odd to some, but I loved the historical value, learning about how they servived without the technology we have today.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I like many of the answers already, but one that hasn't been mentioned that's had a HUGE effect on modern genre writing:
"The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde."

There were no horror, suspense or fantasy genres at the time and most can trace their roots to that story.

Rowenna said...

The Golden Ass (Metamorpeses) by Apuleius. It's regarded as the world's first novel, it has a fabulous title, it's hilarious, and is wonderfully witty and relevant even 2000 years after written. It even introduces the well-used and well-loved trope of story within a story (in this case, the myth of Cupid and Psyche). Would the novel have emerged without Apuleius? Probably, but you get props for being the oldest surviving novel!

Jared X said...

One I haven't seen mentioned yet is Baby & Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Several generations of humanity have now been raised on these principles and have been, for example, picked up when they cried as babies or treated as individuals with affection.

It's hard to understate how many ways we're all different because of that book.

Bittersweet Fountain said...

I'm really going to have to say "Philosiphiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" (Principia for short) by Isaac Newton. It is without a doubt the most influential book in science/engineering. Without this we wouldn't have the three laws of motion and without that we would have nothing we have today.

mkcbunny said...

I was leaning toward The Odyssey or Don Quixote, and there are a lot of great suggestions.

So, for a new one, I'd like to pitch Frankenstein.

Vacuum Queen said...

For me, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book that made me think about somebody besides myself. Maybe it was the age when I read it, or maybe it was because it was the first book to transport me there.

I assume it meant something to others too, so that's my vote.

Deb said...

Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat or Hop on Pop. Sure beats Dick and Jane for entertainment. And if no one ever got past the notion that reading is drudgery, well then ...

Lt. Cccyxx said...

This is a great question. The answer depends on how you define "influence" and "impact" (also how you define "book") but I think the biggies are those books in political/economic theory that provided the basis - or at least the nominal rationale - for how multiple governments (good and bad) govern the lives of millions and millions of people. I would say the work of Karl Marx and Adam Smith have to be at the top. And beneath those, scientific and social works like Darwin's Origin of Species and the work of Freud that introduced new ideas that have affected the way we see ourselves as humans.

Keith Popely said...

This has been a rather interesting experiment proving that many people cannot follow simple instructions. The question was not "What was the most influential book to you personally?" Yet folks have listed authors from Anne Frank (who wasn't published until 1947) to Judy Blume(!). In addition, there was a very clear direction that religious texts will not be considered, yet more than one person has listed the Bible. (Hurray for the Gutenberg Press. Repeat: religious texts will not be considered.)

After reading these comments, we have a much better idea of why Nathan and every other agent must be so repetetive and strident in giving guidelines on things like query letters. Being an agent must be like herding cats.

Rachele Alpine said...

To Kill a Mockingbird...hands down most influential book of my life

Mayowa said...

I agree about THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. I am Nigerian and we had read this in JSS2 (seventh grade).

That is a great testament to its influence despite the twinge of sadness i feel at Nigerian students reading more Shakespeare than native works.

Pens With Cojones

Dara said...

Uncle Tom's Cabin. I think it made more people aware of the problem of slavery and that spurred more to act against it.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Hopping on the back of the "1st novel", I'll add a vote for Frankenstein - the 1st sci-fi novel.

How many people can spawn an entire genre, off the cuff, as a party game?

Munk said...

the pocket book.

Johnaskins said...

I can't believe nobody mentioned The Joy of Sex! Bookworms!

However, I am going to modestly nominate my own forthcoming novel. Forthcoming as soon as I finish it, that is, and find an agent, and then--

The title? It won't need one. It's going to be that good.

Candice said...

Uncle Tom's Cabin.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

From a pure story viewpoint (no fair not specifying fiction or NF) I'd go with Shakespeare, even though his works were SEEN not READ. But still, he wrote them.

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN had a huge influence on the US obviously, but I'd probably go with one of the classic Chinese texts like BOOK OF CHANGES. I don't know a ton about them, but for sheer "touching the biggest number of people," they might be it. That particular one's a divination text though, so I'm not sure if it counts.

abc said...

This is hard. And I wish I knew a good answer b/c I want to appear smart. Looking at history through my small window of historical understanding, I'm going to choose The Communist Manifesto as my final answer.

And I'm hoping (in delusion) that Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer will be a hugely influential book on us and future generations. OR one of those books that spells out what dummies we are when it comes to our treatment of the earth, animals, and each other.

tentan said...

Can I stretch the definition of "book" a little and go with the Magna Carta?

Ben Hutchins said...

Out of all the non-religious books that I have personally read, Uncle Tom's Cabin was the most influential--for me. Few books have moved me like that one has, and I believe it is one of the greatest books ever written.

Rick Daley said...

The works of Sophocles, such as Oedipus Rex and Antigone. He is a forefather of literature, and I think even Shakespeare owes him a debt of gratitude, as does Jim Morrison. How's that for a wide range?

Given the time of composition ~475 B.C. his works have stood the test of time and have been widely read around the world.

I was going to say the works of Aristotle, but Sophocles pre-dated him by over 100 years (according to my lightning fast glance of a couple Wikipedia pages). Therefore, I can deduce that Sophocles influenced Aristotle.

Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Nope, but yours was a religious comment! Deleted.

Holly said...

Not the MOST influential, but how about The Outsiders- considered the very first purposeful work of young adult literature.

Melissa Gill said...

WOW, Awesome question as always. So many answers come to mind.

A lot of people have said The Odysey and I'd have to agree that any story that's been around that long is bound to have been very influential.

Also a book that Abraham Lincoln credited with starting the American Civil War was certainly influential. (Uncle Tom's Cabin is also a personal favorite of mine.)

Like many others To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book I read that really resonated with me as a child.

But on the other hand so did Gone With the Wind, and it took me a long time to see beyond the unrequited love to the institutionalized racism.

Arik Durfee said...

Most influential as far as affecting the world as a whole? I'd have to go with ANIMAL FARM (or maybe 1984).

Most influential in my own personal life? Definitely ENDER'S GAME. It's still my favorite book of all time, and I keep coming back to it. (THE GIVER takes a close second on my personal list).

Kerry Gans said...

This is a hard question! I do think that there is not ONE most influential book of all time (MIBOAT). I think there are different MIBOATs for different parts of the world.

Having said that, there are a ton of great suggestions here - I keep being wowed as I am reminded of different works.

I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, personally.

For greatest influence on English-speaking/Western society, I would agree with Shakespeare.

I also think C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia have influenced a huge number of children, and still do today.

Derrick said...

Hands down Lord of the Rings. It's second on the best seller list next to [religious text].

I'm not saying it's the best written, but I'm saying that if it has reached the most people, then the answer would obviously be Lord of the Rings.

T. Anne said...

Homer's the Iliad. Although it's a poem, it is filled with symbolism and was touted as a bible of sorts in it's time.

John Jack said...

The most influential book of all time has yet to be realized as such, if it's even been written yet.

I'd nominate Kurt Vonnegut's _Breakfast of Champions_ for its Postmodern message of think for yourself, or, to your detriment, others will think for you. Truly the breakfast of champions.

T.J. said...

It's annoying that I'm about to say this, but Romeo and Juliet is probably the most influential. How many people know the phrase: "Oh happy dagger"? (Oh wait, that's my favorite part.) People know the quotes from this play so well. Interesting that this book/play defined the way actors define themselves (as a Juliet, a Mrs. Capulet, or the maid (or whatever she was.))

Karen said...

Well, if I can't say The Bible, I'm going with 1984. I know of few texts whose vocabulary have become so common in our every day conversations, and whose themes have so closely paralleled what we see today.

Jennifer Spiller said...

I'm going to have to go with The Odyssey (really a poem, though, not a book?) or The Prince. The Prince influenced countless leaders, in turn influencing policy. The Art of War is probably up there as well.

Personally, however, it was Jane Eyre. Hands down. And though I'm a romance writer and reader, it was not the romance that influenced me, but the fact Jane leaves Rochester, even though she loves him desperately, because to stay would be to compromise her true self and beliefs.

Erin McGuire said...

How about Johnny Got His Gun?
And a tie between 1984 and Brave New World, for books that have influenced the past century.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'd say it would have to be The Odyssey, or at least Shakespeare's plays (which, as someone already pointed out, might not count as "books" really). They've both had a tremendous impact on everything that came after, at least out of the western hemisphere.

Serzen said...

While I applaud all the people who chose THE ODYSSEY, I'm going to have to disagree with a minor quibble. If not for THE ILIAD, we would not have THE ODYSSEY. I would put the HISTORIES as a close second.

But, I suppose, an argument can be made for Plato's TIMAEUS and CRITIAS, without which we would not have the legend of Atlantis. And BOB knows that's influenced (roughly) 14 kajillion people.

lora96 said...

Beowulf. Patterning of the heroic quest, long narrative poem used in both oral tradition and written form, prototype for many novels/films.

That being said, y'all are much more well-read than I am.

For myself, East of Eden and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori.

LS Murphy said...

I would agree with "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
Personally, the book that had the biggest influence on me was "Slaughter-House Five" by Kurt Vonnegut.

Ada said...

To Kill A Mockingbird, at least for me.

Teodor said...

Aristotle's "Categoriae" - the reason the world is as we know it.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Dave Daniels said...

Shakespeare, no question. Nothing else is even close.

Laurel said...

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was to Sci Fi what Tolkein was to fantasy. In addition, it was the first novel that took a fictional scientific proposition and explored the unintended consequences of overreaching the laws of nature.

And one more shout out for the Gutenberg Bible...not for religious reasons but because it drove literacy all across Europe. People learned to read specifically because religious text became readily available. Political disruption followed shortly thereafter.

Mary McDonald said...

For me, it's The Grapes of Wrath, especially in these economic times. I can see some parallels. My husband and sons have been laid off/unable to find jobs, and just now, my sons went together to find a job in a warehouse. Three years ago, this job would have paid in the mid-teens/hr, now they can hire for $9 and have no shortage of eager workers.

Ryan said...

Wow. Boo Radley touched a lot of people. This is a tough question because of the "Of All Time" part.

In recent history, I'd say Harry Potter hands down because of the way it has influenced kids to read and is partly responsible for the fantasy deluge. Kids waiting all night to get a book in this day and age. That's influential.

Where the Red Fern Grows got me in middle school. Made me think about hard work, death, and the cycles we endure.

I'm reading Stones into Schools right now, the sequel to Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Incredible story by an incredible man. Just read a part about Taliban visiting one of his schools. They layed down their guns so they could swing on the swing sets. Imagine a life with no swinging, no fun. Made me cry.

Kia Abdullah said...

I love this place. I really really do. Sorry, I know that doesn't contribute much to the thread, but I wanted to put it out there.

I meet so many people that just don't read. I have to admit I don't read as much as I used to, but lately I seem to be meeting so many people who simply can't have a conversation about books. So, once again, I love this place x

Mira said...

I'm having fun, this is the kind of thing I dig.

Lauren, if we're talking forerunners to genres, Sherlock Holmes was influential for mysteries, as was Agatha Christie for the cozy.

Kassandra said...

Gulliver's Travels. Satire that children could read as fantasy.

For me personally, Jane Eyre. First person pov--by a girl? Written by a girl? The world was never the same after that.

Merry Monteleone said...

Like most things in writing, it's kind of subjective. I'm not sure how to measure 'most influential' other than maybe the number of people it influenced... or the amount of social changed it spawned... but then the second could be because the text influenced one person who sought to influence change...

I think most influential, though, would depend on the society. The U.S might point the The Federalist Papers, or THE JUNGLE, or UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, and they all speak universally on a humanitarian level, but I think maybe the impact is larger to US citizens where it's woven into the fabric of our national history...

On a personal note, I can't quite decide between Shakespeare and To Kill a Mockingbird... and that's cutting out a lot of very influential works.

Next time why don't you ask for a list of our favorite titles that most people haven't heard of - I always find good reads I would have missed otherwise in those lists :-)

Genella deGrey said...

I'll put my vote in for The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
:)
G.
Yeah, I'm full of surprises. ;)

Anonymous said...

The Guttenberg Bible, the first book ever printed on a press, opening reading to everyone and not the priveleged few.

BKL said...

I would go with The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu of Heian Era Japan because it is the world's first novel (though in reality this is a completely unfair/unrealistic question since it is driven by our culture/zeitgeist of the moment).

Anonymous said...

For me it was the "Daughter of Time" by Josephine Tey, it taught me that history is questionable and that we should always look beyond what is presented to us as fact.

GK said...

Well, if you want to talk a book that was influential on a completely international level, affecting ALL of humanity and not just primarily the Western world, I actually have to say Harry Potter.

No, its influence wasn't something as tangible as others, but its reach was extremely wide. And in terms of the direct Webster definition of influence, it works very well: "producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command", "the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways."

Mary said...

What may have influenced one person may not have influenced another. I think if it was a required read in high school, and I didn't dread reading it, then it influenced me.

A few favorites:

My Antonia
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Great Gatsby
Of Mice & Men
To Kill A Mockingbird
Dante's Inferno
Lord Of The Flies
The Odyssey

Anonymous said...
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Tere Kirkland said...

Glad to see other people chose the Gutenberg Bible, too. Not for religious reasons at all, but because it totally changed the way books were made and perceived, making them accessible to everyone.

Gotta love the printing press!

Kristi said...

Goodnight Moon.

Sophie Playle said...

The Very Hungry Caterpilla.

Anonymous said...

Grapes of Wrath had a profound effect on me. The horrendous experiences of poverty and starvation were so moving - after I finished the book, we went out to eat. I ordered a turkey dinner with all the trimmings! I NEVER eat like that. But the book made me!

Scott Appleton said...
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shelley said...

Very interesting!
For me, because it has numerous themes interwoven throughout that touch on so many area's of our society, it will have to be To Kill a Mockingbird. The book makes me weep.
And it's in a readable form, which many folks can and do pick up, unlike many of the other books mentioned. So, that does impact society.

Dark Angel said...

Pride and Prejudice!

Or should I say, ANYTHING written by Jane Austen.

And not to mention...Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! ha!

Anonymous said...

I'm sticking with Judy Blume, in spite of Keith Popely's poo-poo. Her writing influenced the way millions of girls saw themselves and how they treated each other. Her stories never told us what to think, but how it felt to be on both sides of the conflict or situation. Diablo Cody says it better here. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20229048,00.html

Lucinda Gunnin said...

I think many people were very literary in their answers. While I agree that many of these are great books and changed the way we perceived writing, the two most popular and influential books in my circle of friends are "Bird by Bird" and "On Writing" by Stephen King.

Redleg said...

I'm probably mangling this story, but I think Freud said Dostoevsky invented modern psychiatry with "The Brothers Karamazov."

GhostFolk.com said...
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GhostFolk.com said...

Wow. What a lot of good thougts and good books. Hard to argue against Darwin and Freud for modern times. Currently, one wonders if Faith of Our Fathers helped elect a president.

Just too much fun to read all the comments! Great blog question, Nathan.

As for >> Bram Stoker, Dracula, the grand-father of Twilight, it is preceded by Polidori's VAMPYRE. You know, Byron's pharmacist.

FRANKENSTEIN is, in my reading, a more important influence than the Vampire stories. Creating and having to bear your own monster is just too archetypal to ignore.

When it comes to influence on written lit and letters, I'd suggest ELEMENTS OF STYLE.

I wonder what John Wilkes Booth was reading before he went to the theatre with a gun in his pocket.

Mister Fweem said...

A lot of answers, surely. But to an unanswerable and meaningless question.

Mira said...

For Sci Fi genre influence, Jules Verne was important.

I know I'm posting too much, last one promise. But I couldn't let that pass.

Mister Fween - unanswerable, maybe. But meaningless? Nay, nay, nay, sir, I must strongly disagree - this is a very important question!!

Writing is the single most powerful tool for social change that exists.

It is very important to remember and acknowledge those books - that even one book - can stand history on its head and change its course forever.

That's the power of the individual. When you look at the world around you, and think: what can I as an individual do - these are the footsteps to follow!

We are writers. We have the power to effect change, whether it's in the course of literature or the course of history.

We are writers.

Anonymous said...

Wrong question: STORY mattered long before books. Ergo, Gilgamesh; Homer; Confuscius...

Books, you'd have to divide into Western/Eastern, even so. The Tale of Genji? Jean Jacques Rousseau?

Impossible to determine, save for one's self. My most important? A wee little nothing of a children's book, A Dog Named Penny, for this is the book where I "got" how to read.

JTShea said...

Some would say the writings of Darwin and Marx and Freud and Mao are latter-day religious texts in disguise. Anyway, I nominate the telephone book!

Anonymous said...

Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Our Bodies, Ourselves. And, The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck.

Jil said...

What about Charles Dickens? He showed that era's cruelty of adults toward children, and how the youngsters still survived and finally prospered. I think his work besides being inspirational also helped form child labor laws.
A Christmas Carol is revived each Christmas and is filled with good messages.

Lani Longshore said...

How about Gandhi's autobiography, The Story of My Experiment with Truth? If I recall correctly, this book was hugely influential for Asian freedom fighters, and also for heroes of the American peace movement (Martin Luther King, for one).

Elaine AM Smith said...

Twilight?


Edgar Allan Poe: Murders in the Rue Morgue

WV: prana? Vital!

Terry Towery said...

Most influential of all time? It's a toss-up between the dictionary and The Complete Works of Shakespeare IMHO.

Sissy said...

I do agree with whoever said that these things tend to be generational, don't they? What might have greatly influenced a previous generation (like On the Road, by Jack Kerouac) may have no great influence on my generation.

Here are some of my contenders:
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and really any Dr. Seuss for making reading fun.

The Diary of Anne Frank, for teaching us that kids can make a difference amidst so much chaos.

Pride & Prejudice, for, well, for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

Romeo & Juliet (technically a play) for the sheer tragedy of it.

And for my personal generation of girls growing up in the 80s, The Babysitter's Club Series. Girls who are self-starters, loyal, eager to learn about friendship, business and boys. And you can't find them in print anymore! So sad.

Great question, Nathan.

Sydney said...

I was thinking about "What Color is Your Parachute?" by Richard Bolles. It's been updated and published every year since the 70s. I guess it came to mind because of the current economy. It has also been influential during other economic down turns. I'm a career counselor and use it often and recommend it to all my students and clients.

Anonymous said...

Considering that books have not been around too long, I must say Descartes's MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY. I could give a term's worth of lectures on why it's arguably the most influential book.

jef said...

The Canterbury Tales

SydneyBG said...

Has to be Winnie-the-Pooh.

AM Riley said...

'Corpus Aristotelicum', Aristotles collected known works, since those influenced philosophers and religious for centuries. And educated many generations of minds in the Western world.

Darwin's 'Origin of the Species', for all the hoopla.

neither of them fun to read.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This is an amazing thread, so many influential books have been mentioned. I was going to say the dictionary, which others have already mentioned. I have a ratty old college version that is both my desk footstool and constant companion. I look at that book more than any other and marvel at what I learn each time I wonder about meaning and nuance. I also say Rick Daley has a point about Sophocles--that's staying power.

Anonymous said...

I hope this is not construed as being contrary to the parameters set by Nathan...It's meant to be objective. That being said, I completely understand the wisdom in keeping religion out of this list. However, it seems to me that it would be fair to exclude specifically political books (e.g. Mein Kampf) as well. Specifically religious books (e.g The Bible) are a huge factor in the development of a persons belief system in the same way specifically political books are. Origin of the Species while not specifically religious has powerful points to be made that many accept in lieu of a god. To an individual that believes in the creator of the Bible, the Origin of the Species can be more grating than possibly any other religious or political opinions. I can only imagine the same would hold true for a person affected by the Holocaust reading that Mein Kampf is being nominated.

Elisa said...

*Green Eggs and Ham*, or another Dr. Suess book. It's what got most people to fall in love with reading.

Sam Hranac said...

Nathan - are you trying to tell us the The Little Engine that Could is secular? Wake up, man!

As for my choice, I would have to say the question cannot be answered. But if you held a gun to my head, I would say the McDonalds Training Manual

Anahita said...

Newton's The Principia.

spaceoperadiva said...

Law Code of Hammurabi.

Courtney said...

Good ole Bill. Where would we be without him?

GO SHAKESPEARE!!!

Mira said...

Anon 4:24, I'm Jewish and I have no problem with the nomination of Mein Kampf as influential.

It was. Extremely.

I also understand that all the books on this list stirred, and may still stir, controversy. That's part of their power.

Okay, I lied before. This is my last post.

Holly said...

i think since it is more a poem/novel, i would have to go with love that dog. it adds humor and simpathy to the story of his dogs death. a very impowering read.

Backfence said...

To Kill a Mockingbird
'How to Win Friends and Influence People
The Butter Battle Book :)
The Diary of Anne Frank
Uncle Tom's Cabin

traceybaptiste said...

Oh dang! Sorry Nathan! I didn't see the non-religious part. Then I'm going to have to say Harry Potter. Yep.

Sprizouse said...

Dude... Nathan, why the hell would you read Ross Douthat?

Come on, you should read much better blogs... like this one.

Sommer Leigh said...

Dante's the Divine Comedy I think has been the most influential.

Although I believe that a lot of the great stories we love now, particularly on the YA shelves, owe their roots to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

:)Ash said...

For me? To Kill a Mockingbird. It made me want to be a lawyer who would fight for the underdog. And now I'm a public defender. :)

therese said...

The Little Engine That Could.

Bhushan said...

I'd vote for 'The Communist Manifesto' for forever changing the destiny (for good or bad) of humankind.

regards,
Bhushan Nigale, Bangalore.

Don Rearden said...

From an Alaskan perspective I would say Going Rogue. I kid! I kid! If the same question was applied to an Alaskan work though, I would say Kantner's Ordinary Wolves.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is worth mentioning, as is Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, in terms of being influential for many who care about the direction of humanity.

Sally Jo said...

Atlas Shrugged rocked my world!

Kate Evangelista said...

Sometimes it's easy to think that maybe any Nobel Prize winning book would do, but then not everyone reads those. Shouldn't the question be: what book has gotten people reading again? In a world filled with the media and visual stimuli, a book that gets people to sit down and read is what's important.

Kaitlyne said...

The Art of War?

Mel Skinner said...

I have to agree with earlier posts and say...

THE ART OF WAR

The fight for power--the game--changed with the introduction of this knowledge.

Victoria said...

Wow. I'm surprised The Lord of the Rings was only mentioned once... I think it is acknowledged as the bestselling NOVEL of all time. (Excluding religious texts).

It began fantasy as we know it today.

qcontinuom said...

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. It reinvented Christmas. Amazing, really.

Brenda said...

Definitely To Kill a Mockingbird.

Steve said...

I think the correct answer should actually be "can not determine from the information given". But I'll enter into the postulated framework of the question and say Plato's Republic.

-Steve

Noriko Nakada said...

Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
To Kill a Mockingbird, In Cold Blood, The Catcher in the Rye.

PacRim Jim said...

The telephone book.

howdidyougetthere said...

Excellent post, love all the books that have influenced everyone either from The Beginning of Recorded Time perspective, which is what I would have gone for (Homer, Plato, Aristotle...)

or moveable type, making the n book accessible to everyone, or even what has been most influential to everyone's life personally, or your own nation historically.

My thoughts were Homer, but I can see Shakespeare and Don Quixote, too.
Kristi

Elliot Grace said...

...throwing any and all statistics out the window, and basing the decision from personal opinion only...it's "Where the Red Fern Grows," by Wilson Rawls. (with a shout out to "Lord of the Flies."

Clay said...

Euclid's Elements

Shannon said...

For the most influential book of ALL TIME I would have to say the first book ever set into type by Gutenburg - making the first book-as-portable-object-with-increased-availability-to-all paved the way for all books to come. At the risk of being deleted, I mean this as a "technology" comment. Not a content comment.

Clay - I LOVE Euclid. I will never forget the day that I got to and realized that I understood Euclid's 47th prop. It was a great epiphany.

Patrick Stephens said...

The Twelve Tables, the first written account of Roman Law. By the end of the twentieth century, the influence of Roman law spread to every country in the world.

Inspire All said...

For me during a difficult time, it was Edgar Allen Poe, all of his works but definitely "The Raven". Their are plenty of influential works in my life but he stands out.

P. Bradley Robb said...

I'm with Phyllis on this one, any book that basically launched a genre.

Wilkie Collin's The Moonstone launched the detective/mystery genre.

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings invented the modern, world-building epic fantasy series.

Or how about Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. He didn't even finish the thing and it's still required reading.

Anonymous said...

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

J. R. McLemore said...

I just finished reading my first Faulkner book, As I Lay Dying. While I initially hated some of the stream of consciousness in the book, particularly Vardaman's, it still resonates with me.

I've found myself going back to the classics now that I'm older and I think books such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and A Handmaid's Tale seem to resonate with me the most.

Secret Love said...

That really is a great question. According to UNESCO 80% of the world's population over 15 can read. There is no figure for how many have actually read a book. But thinking about it, the most influential books influence more than just those who read them.

On a personal, subjective level I would probably pick The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. Objectively, I'd have to go with Darwin's Origin of The Species as the book that gave us the single biggest step forward in the process of understanding ourselves.

Anonymous said...

The Prophet
by
Khalil Gibran

--Jake

Timothy Fish said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

Man oh man oh man. Put up a blog post, establish some parameters for discussion, watch people jump the fence.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

How about an extremely evil book that did an enormous amount of damage? A book that was a lie, purported to be a work of one dark conspiracy, but was in fact the work of another. Millions died, because of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

WitLiz Today said...

"The Wizard of Oz!" Hands down the best children's book I have ever read. That includes The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and Hans Christian Anderson.

That damn tornado not only scared the hell out of me, (I'm thinking for the rest of my life) but, as a kid I used to roam the streets looking for underground shelter whenever the wind picked up. And I lived in a city that had never had a tornado touch down, in like, ever! Which is a good thing, since the houses didn't even have basements. So, in a thunderstorm, I was stuck like a truck going amuck!

What Peter Benchley did for the great white shark, Frank Baum did for tornadoes.

But Frank Baum also transported me into another world; a world of magic and enchantment, a world that said there's hope, there's goodwill, there's peace and happiness everywhere, if you look for it and not let adversity stand in the way. Just follow the yellow brick road, and, as an aside, avoid the wicked witch of the East.

I clearly remember pestering people all day long with questions, like, why are bricks red and not yellow? And they'd say, "because they aren't, or, because they aren't made that way, now go away and join the fly kingdom so I can swat you down." Ok, the last part was an exxxaggeration.

Then there was the ruby red shoes issue. (I had to have ruby red shoes!) The house dropping on a witch issue, (I cried seeing those wicked feet sticking out from under the house), and the, I really need to talk to the Good Witch of the North issue.

And then, of course, I had a lot in common with the munchkins. So I tried to dress like them and talk like them. Sounded like I swallowed my mouth.

Then I tried finding a wizard to stick a brain, a heart, and courage into my stupid, smileyface dolls.

Ah yes, childhood. Could not have done it without
Frank Baum!

mialms said...

I am FLOORED by how many people chose something less than one hundred years old. Even two hundred years old is shockingly short-sighted. Merciful heavens.

Crystal said...

For me it would be a toss-up between 100 Years of Solitude, Atlas Shrugged, or Les Miserables...

Rollie Raleigh said...

Poor Nathan. Even with narrowing, too much ocean was left for so many disparate swimmers.

Sorry for being AWOL yesterday and late to the debate -

Novel - Don Quixote
Writing - Euclid's Elements
Story (epic) - Gilgamesh
Play - Richared III

I agree that nothing remotely modern could be the "most influential of all time" to this point. Those who suppose a far distant future changed by a modern author may have to post their view of that far distant world.

Dan Holloway said...

great topic. It all depends on how you measure influence of course. It'd be hard to come up with many definitions where Gutenberg's Bible didn't win hands down, though - both because of its knock-on effect on the Reformation, the treatment of the New World and so on, but also because of movable type itself.

I'd like to propose Epicurus' On Nature as an alternative for its impact on scientific method and, well, the whole of modernity really

Browneyegirl145 said...

Lord of the Rings...It is still one of the greatest stories ever told and if you really read it, it resinates a very much like our history with the Nazis,
The great battles that are raged...
or the way we are "killing" the planet..."His mind is made of metal"...the symbolisms still apply even today...just a thought...

Constance said...

As a bookoholic, a ravenous reader, I loved reading all the selections. I agree that one book is not reasonable. We are all different, we all live through difficult times. When I was 10, I received "Anne of Green Gables". She became an idol. She never gave up. In high school it was Geogette Heyer because at 19 she wrote a hilarious love story for her sick brother. Then before my husband died w/a brain tumor, someone thoughtfully gave me "For the Caregiver;" I didn't realize how much I needed that until I began to read. I've read all the books by the author of the Red Parachute books.Then my father died and the Garegiver book was pulled out again, my mother iis 91. I did that for another 12 years, then my daughter decided I should have a life of my own and take care of myself.
As a drama teacher, Shakespeare's Plays are fabulous, especially when you use the originals because they haven't been toned down for the 9th grade lit class. We did "Comedy of Errors" and over 500 people in a town of 35000 attended.
Now I'm retired, I'm returning to writing scifi romances. I had 4 books published in the late 70' but had to have some jobs to pay all the medical bills, and raise 3 teens:1 in college,11th, 9th. and I taught night classes at the jr. College with a Masters in Communication so I rather wished I'd had "Interpersonal Communication" classes before I got married or stepped out the front door. For my mother's generation here inthe southwest she read Zane Grey & Grace Livingston Hill. My kids loved all Dr Seuss books and find Waldo, the middle school are caught up in Harry Potter, StarWars.
The highschool: Twilight Series.The only books that have crossed all our lives to some extent are the Bible, either for or against and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" made thinking people realize that we are all equal and changed people's thinking except for those who thought they deserved to be waited on.

on Chris said...

Lord of the Rings

Marla Warren said...

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. If we exempt religious books, then it is difficult to think of any other single book that has had as much impact. The Communist governments of the Soviet Union, China, and other countries came about in large part because of the ideas of that book. Those governments in turn have had significant influence on the entire planet.

In contrast, I don’t believe democracy can be traced to any one single book or author.

As far as American history goes, I think Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin were extremely influential. Common Sense helped bring about the American Revolution, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to bring about the American Civil War.

Jane Rainwater said...

The Alchemist, By Paul Cohelo and The Illiad and the Odyssey.. I did my first "serious" drawings as illustrations...

girlgeum said...

Jane Eyre.

Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado said...

Not a lot of people have read "Earth and High Heaven" by Gwethalyn Graham. It tells the story of an unlikely romance between Marc Reiser, a Jew from a small mining town in northern Ontario, and Erica Drake from a well-respected family in Montreal Society. Their romance is met with resistance from all sides. The author absolutely captures how underlying racism dictates the boundaries of our worlds. It FORCES the reader to look honestly at the prejudices still lurking in even the most liberal hearts. This book totally opened my eyes to my own and shaped the rest of my life. I still go back to it the way some people go to Scripture passages. It keeps me true

Haley said...

Catcher and the Rye - no doubt!

Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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