16 books that changed the world (according to Robert B. Downs)
16 books that changed the world (according to Robert B. Downs)
1. THE PRINCE (1517) by NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI
In its 26 chapters, this political treatise studies power – how to get it and how to keep it. Rulers of the past are used as examples and Cesare Borgio is cited as a model prince. A realist, Machiavelli tells his reader that it is more impotant to retain power than tob e loved, that virtue is commendable but it may not be practical. In sum, the end justifies the means.
2. DE REVOLUTIONIBUS ORBIUM COELESTIUM (1530, 1543) by NICOLAUS COPERNICUS
The Polish astronomer laid the groundwork for modern astronomy when he upset the Ptolemaic teachings. On the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies – finished in 1530, but not published until 1543 – theorized that the earth was not the center of the universe. In fact, the earth and all the other planet revolved around the sun in separate orbits, meanwhile rotating on thei axes, said Copernicus. Theologic opposition tot his theory was immediate and violent since man could then no longer be viewed as the ultimate creation.
3. DE MOTU CORDIS (1628) by WILLIAM HARVEY
Published in 1628, this treatise explained a discovery that Harvey had made in 1616: that the blood in animals circulates. This was a major step forward in the study of physiology and anatomy.
4. PRINCIPIA (1687) by SIR ISAAC NEWTON
Newton divided his work into three parts: ‘The Motion of Bodies’, ‘The Motion of Bodies in Resisting Media’, and ‘The System of the World’. He advocated reasoning by use of physical events, and he also proposed a new law of gravitation. Hence the book marked the start of scientific exploration and experimentation.
5. COMMON SENSE (1776) by THOMAS PAINE
This outspoken pamphlet – bought by over 100.000 colonists in the first few months following its publication – advocated separation from England and helped set the scene for the Declaration of Independence. Tried in absentia for treason by the English, made an honorary citizen by the republicn government of France, British-born Paine died in the newly formed U.S. in poverty and obscurity.
6. WEALTH OF NATIONS (1776) by ADAM SMITH
In this important work on economics, Smith proposed the laissez-faire system, one embracing a totally free economy, for modern governments.
7. ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION (1798) by THOMAS ROBERT MALTHUS
The same year thathe became a curate of the Church of England, Malthus put forth his now famous doctrine that population increases in a geometric ratio while food supplies, etc,, increase arithmetically. Also he suggested that the evils of society – crime, pestilence, war – are needed to hold down the increas in population. In 1803, as an afterthought, Malthus proposed moral restraint as an additional check for population growth.
8. CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE (1849) by HENRY DAVID THOREAU
This essay is the source of the familiar statement: ‘That government is best which governs least.’ Thoreau also put being true to onseself above being loyal to a man-made government. Among his famous followers was Mohandas K. Gandhi, whoese version of civil disobedience became known as ‘passive resitance’ and was reimported into the US as ‘sit-ins’.
9. UNCLE TOM’S CABIN by HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Subtitled Life Among the Lowly, the book is remembered today fort he Yankee overseer Simon Legree, the death of Little Eva, and the flight of Eliza over the ice. Actually, the book was a fairly balanced treatment of the southern slave problem. Mrs. Stowe expressed admiration in it fort he humane slaveholder, and her villain is a displaced northerner form Vermont. Although the book was not written by God – despite Mrs, Stowe’s claim – it contributed substantially to the abolitionist movement.
10. ORIGIN OF SPECIES by CHARLES DARWIN
A revolutionary theory in ist day, the theory of evolution is now accpeted by most people. Darwin proposed that species evolve form earlier species, and that evolution is controlled or determined by natural selection. That is, the plant or animal that adapts through positive mutation to its surroundings is the one most likely to survive and reproduce its kind.
11. DAS KAPITAL (1867-1895) by KARL MARX
Written in London, Volume I of Das Kapital, was Marx’s major work. (Volumes II and III were completed by Friedrich Engels form Marx’s notes). A study of capitalistic society, the book went on to espouse dialectical materialism. Marx believed in class struggle as the basic force in shaping history, and that the world’s increasing industrialization – controlled by the capitalists – would inevitably lead to over revolution of the proletariat and a classless society.
12. THE INFLUENCE OF SEA POWER UPON HISTORY (1890) by ALFRED THAYER MAHAN
Written by an American naval officer/historian, this book thought to prove the importance of naval power in a nation’s defenses. Mahan was a lecturer in naval tactics at Newport War College. His ideas were influential in shaping naval policy in the U.S., England, and Germany.
13. THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS (1900) by SIGMUND FREUD
An early report on Freud’s findings, after his long study of the subconcious. Dream interpretation was one of the tools Freud used in analysis. A patient recounted his dreams and they were explored fort heir symbolic meanings. Freud thought that these dreams reflected repressed emotions, which in turn caused neuroses.
14. THE GEOGRAPHICAL PIVOT OF HISTORY (1904) by HALFORD J. MACKINDER
Mackinder, a geopolitician in later life, encouraged the revival of interest in geographical learning in Britain while he was still at Oxford. After establishing geography as an academic subject when he taught at the University of London, he became director of the London School of Economics. ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’ was a 24-page paper later developed into a book, Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919), which viewed Eurasia as the ‘geographical pivot’ and the ‘heartland’of history. The U.S. and Great Britain ignored this theory before WW II, but Germany used it to support Nazi geopolitics.
15. RELATIVITY: THE SPECIAL AND GENERAL THEORIES (1905, 1916) by ALBERT EINSTEIN
A German-Swiss-U.S. physicist, Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, his general theory of relativity in 1916. While these complicated theories made possible the splitting of the atom and the atomic bomb, they did not win a Nobel prize for Einstein.
16. MEIN KAMPF (1925) by ADOLF HITLER
This autobiographywas dictated to Rudolf Hess while Hitler and Hess were imprisoned following the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The unsuccesful uprising in Munich had thought to overthrow the Bavarian goverment. In addition to being an autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) outlined Hitler’s plan to achive political control of Germany.
Robert Bingham Downs (May 25, 1903 – February 24, 1991) was an American author and librarian. Downs was an advocate for intellectual freedom as well. Downs spent the majority of his career working against, and voicing opposition to, literary censorship. Downs authored many books and publications regarding the topics of censorship, and on the topics of responsible and efficient leadership in the library context.
The Book of Lists, 1978