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The World Library Book Beat Blog : What is the Most Important Book that has Ever Been Written?

by johnguagliardo 2. May 2012 19:02

The World Library Book Beat Blog
Volume 2, Number 5
Wednessday, May 02, 2012

by John Guagliardo
Founder, World Public Library

What is the Most Important Book that has Ever Been Written?


A few weeks ago, I was having a meeting with some visiting dignitaries that were in town for the APEC Conference and one of them asked me, “What is the most important work of literature there is?”. I thought about it for a few moments, and replied that “importance” is too subjective to each person, group, and culture. I pointed out that I couldn’t possibly wish that what was an important book to me would have to be of any importance to anyone else. Unfortunately, my guest was not going to be satisfied with my reply. I am sure they all felt it to be too vague and noncommittal.

Thus, I would have to say that “importance” in this case is equivalent to “influence”, meaning that what makes a book important is, first, its influence on the readers of the book, and consequently, influence in world events.

One could make an argument that for each period in history there was an event that was the catalyst of the period, and that quite often a book was the influencing factor behind the event. I guess that the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, does have some truth to it.

Sometime ago, I came across a list of the 100 Most Influential Books of All Time. It is a fantastic list of books. Each and every book in the list is arguably just as important as the next one in forming the world as we know it.

Think about it, Einstein’s Principles of Relativity, formed the core set of principles that modern-day physics and technology is based on, yet without Newton’s Laws of Motion Einstein could not have written his theory. It would be almost impossible to say which one is more important. The interconnectivity of literary thoughts and scientific theories is what enables succeeding generations to build their worldviews. I mean how can we say that Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems is less important than Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

However, if I had to name a book, I would have to say, there is only one book, or collection of works, that had especial influence for me. That is to say, after studying these works, I had to go back and re-examine what I had previously thought of as certainties. It led me to a significant change in my perception of history and the world. For me, I would say it is the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I realize that might seem illogical, because for the most part they were unknown for two thousand years (the discovery occurring from 1947-1956), and therefore, being so recent, it could not yet have had significant enough influence on the world as we know it today. Additionally, after their discovery not much more than a few academic papers have been written about them. However, for me, the Dead Sea Scrolls changed my world. And did so by profoundly influencing a change in the way I viewed books and works I had previously read. And, I now had to go back and re-examine and re-read many canonical works with a different critical read than before.

When I think of the events of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the selection of Gospels that was to form the New Testament, I can’t help but think of how things would have turned out differently if The Gospel of Judas or The Gospel of Mary were included.

I don’t know if I had surprised my guests by choosing the Dead Sea Scrolls as my answer, or if they had thought that I was just trying to be politically correct. Either way, I encourage others to take a fresh look at these precious finds and enjoy the possibilities that the discovery of these scrolls may signify.

100 Most Influential Books of All Time



Chinese Classic Texts I Ching 5th century BC
Jewish Scripture Hebrew Bible 8th–4th century BC
Homer Iliad and Odyssey 8th – early 7th century BC
Hindu Scripture Upanishads 9th[1] – 6th[1] Century BC
Lao Tsu Tao Te Ching 3rd century BC
Zoroastrian Scripture Avesta 3rd century BC – 3rd century AD
Confucius Analects 5th–4th century BC
Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War 5th century BC
Hippocrates Works 400 BC
Aristotle Works 4th century BC
Herodotus Histories 5th century BC
Plato The Republic 380 BC
Euclid Elements 280 BC
Theravada Buddhist Scripture Dhammapada (Path of the Dharma) 252 BC
Virgil Aeneid 19 BC
Lucretius De Rerum Natura 55 BC
Philo of Alexandria Allegorical Expositions of the Holy Laws 1st century
Christian Scripture New Testament ca. 50–100 AD
Plutarch Parallel Lives 120 AD
Cornelius Tacitus Annals, From the Death of the Divine Augustus 120 AD
Marcus Aurelius Meditations 167
Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Pyrrhonism 150–210 AD
Plotinus Enneads 3rd century
Augustine of Hippo Confessions 400 AD
Muslim Scripture Quran 7th century
Moses Maimonides Guide for the Perplexed 1190
Text of Judaic mysticism Kabbalah 12th century
Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1266–1273
Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy 1321
Desiderius Erasmus In Praise of Folly 1509
Niccolò Machiavelli The Prince 1532
Martin Luther On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church 1520
François Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel 1532 & 1534
John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion 1536
Nicolaus Copernicus On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres 1543
Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote 1605 & 1615
Johannes Kepler Harmony of the Worlds 1619
Francis Bacon Novum Organum 1620
William Shakespeare First Folio 1623
Galileo Galilei Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems 1632
René Descartes Discourse on Method 1637
Thomas Hobbes Leviathan 1651
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Works 1663–1716
Blaise Pascal Pensées 1670
Baruch de Spinoza Ethics 1677
John Bunyan Pilgrim's Progress 1678–1684
Isaac Newton Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy 1687
John Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1689
George Berkeley Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge 1710, revised 1734
Giambattista Vico The New Science 1725, revised 1744
David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature 1739–1740
Denis Diderot (ed.) Encyclopédie 1751–1772
Samuel Johnson A Dictionary of the English Language 1755
François-Marie de Voltaire Candide 1759
Thomas Paine Common Sense 1776
Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations 1776
Edward Gibbon The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 1776–1787
Immanuel Kant Critique of Pure Reason 1781, revised 1787
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Confessions 1781
Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790
Mary Wollstonecraft Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792
William Godwin An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice 1793
Thomas Robert Malthus An Essay on the Principle of Population 1798, revised 1803
George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Phenomenology of Spirit 1807
Arthur Schopenhauer The World as Will and Idea 1819
Auguste Comte The Course in Positive Philosophy 1830–1842
Carl von Clausewitz On War 1832
Søren Kierkegaard Either/Or 1843
Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels Communist Manifesto 1848
Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience 1849
Charles Darwin The Origin of Species 1859
John Stuart Mill On Liberty 1859
Herbert Spencer First Principles 1862
Gregor Mendel Experiments on Plant Hybridization 1866
Leo Tolstoy War and Peace 1868–1869
James Clerk Maxwell Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism 1873
Friedrich Nietzsche Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1883–1885
Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams 1900
William James Pragmatism 1908
Albert Einstein Relativity 1916
Vilfredo Pareto The Mind and Society 1916
Carl Gustav Jung Psychological Types 1921
Franz Kafka The Trial 1925


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