Our favourite books impact us in a way that no other form of media can come close to. Even long after we’ve forgotten the intricate details, we’re filled with a sense of awe and wonder when we think of certain works of literature. Much like waking up from an immersive dream, they leave a lasting impression on us.
To quote The History Boys by Alan Bennett: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
In some cases, books have changed our lives. In even rarer cases, books have changed the world. These exceptional works of literature have shaped our values, aided technological and social advancements, and formed our understanding of the world and people around us.
Here are five books that changed the world:
Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is set in a future England within a fictional superstate ruled by Big Brother - the figurehead of an omnipresent, all-powerful party. The novel follows the terrifying ordeal of Winston Smith, a re-writer of history in the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for propaganda and falsifying historical events. Readers all over the world recognised 1984 as a comprehensive exposé of totalitarianism, where governments cling to power by creating fear, distorting facts, and preventing individual autonomy. No other novel has resulted in so many widely-used, popularised terms. Since Nineteen Eighty-Four was published, terms like “thoughtcrime”, “Thought Police”, “Big Brother” and “2+2 =5” have served as critical labels to denounce corrupt politicians and leaders across the world.
The Iliad and The Odyssey - Homer
These two ancient Greek epic poems are among the most influential and groundbreaking texts for all forms of art, thought, and music in Western civilization. Opening nine years into the Trojan War, The Iliad primarily focuses on the great warrior Achilles. The poem depicts the human condition in all its technicoloured wonder, such as grief and suffering, love and friendship, honour and glory, and mortality. The Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, after the fall of Troy. It’s one of the greatest examples of storytelling and another timeless depiction of human nature and our drive to persevere in the face of adversity.
The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
The autobiographical story of Anne Frank has reached millions of people across the globe. The diary is an inspiring and tragic account of an ordinary life lived in extraordinary circumstances: a coming of age tale of a young Jewish girl in hiding during the Nazis’ occupation of the Netherlands during World War 2. As well as being a classic of War literature, the book is also a source of inspiration and hope. In the midst of horrific adversity, Anne poignantly wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” The diary has been translated into 70 languages with over 30 million copies sold.
Shakespeare’s First Folio
The First Folio, printed in 1623, is the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays, produced seven years after his death. 18 of his plays can be sourced back to this folio and we’d have lost half of his plays forever had it not been printed. Imagine a world without “All the world’s a stage”; without Hamlet’s psychological complexity; without the most iconic star-crossed lovers; without the ethereal scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Shakespeare mastered every kind of drama, from laugh-out-loud comedies to tear-jerking tragedies. His plays are timeless works of art that are every bit as relevant, profound, and life-affirming now as they were 400 years ago.
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