For many centuries, books have been one of the central forms of entertainment for humankind. Readers around the world invest countless hours escaping into new and unique worlds, losing themselves in the words and pages of books from various genres. While all books affect readers in different ways, history has shown that some books have a way of reaching and impacting large groups of people so that they are forever changed. These books can share knowledge, inspiration, and discoveries in various fields. They teach, influence, and alter the way we think. Sometimes these books are so important and enlightening that they help the world and its people evolve. The following books have done just that. By educating and informing readers in the areas of politics and government, creating new standards in literature, challenging societal norms, and advancing academic thought in the schools of science and religion, these are top 50 books that changed the world.
Politics and Government
These titles represent some of the most influential books that examine politics, economics, and philosophy. Each of these texts had an impact on the way we understand governance.
- The Republic, Plato. Written around 380 BCE, this text is considered to be one of the most influential pieces ever written. The Republic observes justice in man and politics and discusses the role of the philosopher in society. Many of the intellectual concepts contained in The Republic are still discussed today, but the text is also an important historical document that provides historians with a snapshot of Greece at the time of its writing.
- The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. One of the most recognized and popular political texts ever written, The Communist Manifesto details the class struggle that exists in society and traces its beginnings in history. The document highlights the problems of capitalism and capitalist production and how these structures impact the political and societal landscape.
- The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine. The Rights of Man argues that political revolution is acceptable and permissible when a government fails to perform its duty of protecting the natural rights of its citizens. Written as a defense of the French Revolution, Paine’s 1791 book was widely circulated and challenged all societal institutions that don’t benefit the nation overall, including institutions such as monarchies and aristocracies.
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Published anonymously in 1776, this pamphlet supported the Americans in their fight for independence from the British during the American Revolution. The pamphlet encouraged the people in the American Colonies to resist the leaders from Great Britain and push for an egalitarian government. Still today, Common Sense is one of the all-time best-selling American titles.
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. In what was originally meant to be an observation of the American prison system, Democracy in America is a look at American society and institutions overall and the reasons why American democratic equality exists and thrived at the time of the writing. Alexis de Tocqueville traced the historical evolution of equality and suggested that specific conditions, such as widespread economic opportunity and the abolition of primogeniture, led to the American democratic revolution.
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Considered to be one of the first works of modern political philosophy, The Prince is a political treatise from 1513 that offers advice on how aspiring leaders can survive and thrive in the contentious political landscape. While the intent of the book is still debated, the result is one of the most unabashed meditations on political power and what is required in order to make it last.
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Written by the famed orator and former slave, Frederick Douglass, this narrative is considered the most famous of pieces written by former slaves and one of the most influential texts during the abolitionist movement in the United States. In the text, Douglass recounts his life as a slave on his way to freedom.
- On Liberty by John Stewart Mill. This philosophical work is considered a foundational text for modern liberal political thought. The text applies ethical utilitarianism to society and state governance, arguing that more importance be placed on the consequences of actions as they relate to the interests of others than one’s own interests.
- The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, describes how and what builds a nation’s wealth. Largely viewed as the foundational text for classical economics, The Wealth of Nationsexplores the economic system and suggests that a free market is able to automate and regulate itself. These functions are only limited by the privileges given to certain members within the economy.
- Orientalism by Edward Said. Primarily a work of postcolonial cultural studies, Orientalism discusses how cultural representations of the Eastern world are bound to the structures and societies that create them. Since these patronizing and exaggerated depictions of difference are designed in such a way that Western superiority is highlighted in comparison, Orientalism becomes a critique of Westerns politics and power.