Books that changed history
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Barack Obama is a known bookworm and has regularly publicized his book recommendations. His book lists are eclectic – history, current events, sociology, political science, philosophy, memoirs, literary fiction, thrillers and science fiction. After all what better way is  there to learn about the current state of the world, to absorb the lessons of history and to understand the varieties of human experience than by reading books.

It is not only political leaders and academicians who highly value reading books as the key to their success. Bill Gates reads about 50 books per year, Mark Cuban reads three hours  every day, Mark Zuckerberg resolved to read at least 24 books per year, and Warren Buffett spends 80 percent of his day reading.  

Aside from enriching our lives, a select number of books have influenced the history of humankind. This is the theme of the book BOOKS THAT CHANGED HISTORY: From the Art of War To Anne Frank’s Diary.  Penguin Random House, 2017.

 In the foreword James Naughtie writes: “Old or new, the books selected for this volume have changed lives, and remind us who we are. They are both mirror and lamp – reflecting us to ourselves with remorseless honesty and also shining light in dark places, the unknown or the these pages, we find many of the books that have shaped our world. They are wise and revelatory, radical and even outrageous, some of them surprising in the impact they have made and many of them still inspiring. Some of them represent the best of us, and others do not, but collectively they remind us that the book is a friend that will never let you go.”

Over 75 books are examined and explained in this unique encyclopedia. Every book is presented with fantastic illustrations or photos and a brief biography of the author or its origin if the author is unknown. The books are divided into five chronological groups: 3000 BCE-999CE; 1000CE-1449CE; !450-1649;1650-1899;1900 – ONWARDS. Many of the books were familiar to me; but, many were also unfamiliar. The most obvious entries in the list were the books that became the foundation the world’s great religions were built upon. The book narrates:

“They were said to record ancient stories and beliefs. Some works even helped local beliefs to develop into major religions by spreading the definitive words of a great prophet far and wide and through time from generation to generation. Christians spread Christ’s words through the Bible, Jews studied the Torah,while Muslims followed the Qur’an, Hindus the Mahabharata, and Taoists the I Ching.” Confucius wrote commentaries on the “I Ching” because he viewed it as a manual by which to live in order to attain the highest level of virtue.

Many books that had a profound impact on humankind were written by scientists. They were not best sellers but they changed the way people thought. Some examples of these books were Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in which he introduced the laws of motion and showed that the entire universe was not a “...magical divine mystery, but that it ran on precise mechanical laws which could be studied and understood by scientists. There is Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which introduced the theory of evolution; and Albert Einstein’s  Theory of Relativity.

Among the books that changed history are children’s books which included Aesop’s Fables, Lewis Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Antoine de Saint-Euxpery’s The Little Prince, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, and Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. These books help shape the  way readers, in their formative life, view life.

Several works of fiction are included in the book. It includes classics like the books of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.The crowning glory of Japanese literature is the Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu, a high born Japanese writer, poet and lady in waiting. There are Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

I also found fascinating the number of books that I am not familiar with like  the Diamond Sutra, the oldest complete printed document in the world. “Sutra” is the name for the teachings of the founder of Budhism Sidharrtha Gaautama, the Buddha or the “Awakened One.”

Harmonice Musices Odhecaton (One Hundred Songs of Harmonic Music)  published by Ottoviano Petrucci was the first book of polyphonic music – where several melodic lines combine to produce harmonies. Polyphony is now a common musical texture and one that is universal; but in the 15th century it was a novelty.

One book that is still widely referred to but, actually read by very few people is the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas written over a period of time – 1265 to 1274. This is his summary of the teachings of the Catholic Church and was intended as an instructional guide for students of theology. It is most famous for its five arguments for the existence of God, the nature of Christ and man, and incarnation. 

Books have the power not only to change lives but also to change history.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on June 1, 22, 29 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email

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