A very interesting question this week, and one that the more I think about, the less certain I am of the answer.
Let’s get the easy part out of the way and state the question: Do you think there are any books that have changed history?
My initial gut feeling was to say yes. Books are such a major influence on my own life that I could not possibly imagine that there wouldn’t be at least one which changed history. But then I tried to think of an example, and I can’t find one.
Let’s try and pick the most obvious one: the Bible. It is the source of a religion, right? If that doesn’t change history, what does?
Well, the one problem with that is that Christianity did not come from the Bible, the Bible came from Christianity. The religion existed at least two centuries before someone thought to bundle all the various teachings of the various apostles together into a comprehensive book (and I use comprehensive in its loosest sense here – see my Bible reading posts for more on that). I suppose it can be argued that the way Christianity evolved after the Bible came into play could be construed as history changing, but how certain can we be that it all would have been vastly different without the Bible?
I remain on the fence on this one.
Less obvious books I just can’t think of. My very first thought actually went to The Lord of the Rings, but can I honestly say that it changed history? Is England today much different from what it would have been if some linguistics professor hadn’t decided to write a book denouncing war, idealising the English countryside and showcasing his love of languages? Somehow I don’t think so.
I think the books that may have changed history are those that inspired a single individual to do something they otherwise might not have done, which in turn wrought some massive change in the world. You know, if Marie Curie had read some book that made her choose to do scientific stuff rather than become a housewife. This isn’t true, of course – her endeavours into science were inspired by her father, but if.
There may be such books, but I do not know of them.
On the other hand, I do believe that books are inspiring. Not to everyone, and certainly not to everyone at the same level, but I’m sure every avid reader has at least one book that has somehow changed their life. It may not be history on a grand scale, but personally I’m happy to take the small scale.
See other people’s views on this in the original post on Jay Dee’s website.
(Which just goes to show, because I would actually agree that On the Origin of Species changed the course of history. But I deliberately don’t read other people’s views until I’ve expressed my own, to avoid being influenced.)