Could a book change your life? Many popular books promise that. “Read this book and it will change your life.” Millions of books have been written. Few endure. But some books have changed society. They have changed the world we live in. This week I have read 12 Books That Changed The World: How words and wisdom have shaped our lives by Melvyn Bragg. What impressed me was not only that these people wrote books, but their total commitment to their cause. These people both set their minds to their cause and wrote about it. They took action on their passion. They put no limits on their mind, their energy or their times. It was total commitment… and they changed the world. They set into motion forces that initiated new ways that we think and live.
A book that has influence over time comes immersed in a story. Each author writes out of his or her social context. There was a highly motivated person whose time had come. Their ideas still perpetuate themselves today. It is like a rock thrown into a pond creating concentric ripples over the surface. These twelve stories were written by authors with drive. There was the drive to inquire and know. There was a drive that came from a painful social experience. And lastly, there was a drive to bring order in the form of laws and rules.
Isaac Newton was fascinated by the universe. In Principia Mathematica his inquisitive mind mathematically explained how it operated. Scientific pursuit of knowledge became a basis of how we know.
Marie Carmichael Stopes had a drive to change how men view women in a married relationship. In her book wrote Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties she changed the discussion on sex and reproduction.
The Magna Carta was written in reaction to the abuse of power of kings. Upon this document the idea of basic human rights was established effecting constitutional foundations for many governments.
The Rule Book of Association Football may seem not to fit the list. But the chaos and violence of this sport pushed a group of educators to script a set of rules that could be used universally. So now globally the sport of football or soccer for Americans has wide appeal.
Charles Darwin upset the world with his theory called On the Origin of the Species. His inquiry drove him to formulate a cohesive theory of the different species. Today evolution in an assumed theory for most scientists and taught with authority in our schools.
William Wilberforce’s speech called On The Abolition of The Slave Trade combated the terrible conditions of the slave trade. His identification with the humanity of the slaves pricked the conscious of nations and brought a halt to slavery (eventually).
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women adding impetus to the women’s suffrage movement. She wrote out of her own personal experience of repression in a male dominated society and desired relationships between the sexes to be mutually affirming.
In Experimental Researches in Electricity byMichael Faraday we are introduced to a man who was fascinated by the natural world and how it worked. His research made possible technological inventions for years to come.
Richard Arkwright was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit. He revolutionized manufacturing and made possible the industrial revolution. His patent specification for the spinning machine made possible the production of goods in a massive scale.
The King James Bible was made possible by more than one person’s initiative. The drive was to have an English version for the church that was accepted by the king and used in all churches. Some of the results were: the ability of the masses to think theologically for themselves, the basis for civil rights, and affected the vocabulary we use.
Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations from a conviction that people are motivated by moral and social desires, not just natural appetites. His drive to know how wealth was created formed his philosophy of self-interest and productivity. From it the foundations of the capitalistic economy were formed.
William Shakespeare’s genius as a writer is well known. What motivated him is not as apparent. But he was an insightful observer of human nature and political passions. He spoke well for all humanity about our common condition of both comedy and tragedy.
These books may have not been my choice, nor do I think the change they brought about was favorable. But books do change the world. Here are my observations for leadership.
- To lead is to be driven by something that is larger than oneself. Each of these authors had no idea how impactful their work would be. But they followed their passions that resonated with many in their generation. We, too, follow the passion of our hearts and cannot let that die. Replete though scripture is the injunction to persevere. Those who persevere in their passions do not let conflict, distraction or pain stop their pursuit.
- Leading comes out of a social context. We lead out of our personal stories. The discontent about the way things are, the things that don’t make sense, or things that provoke interest can drive us to bring about change.
- Written ideas matter. A book whose time has come can effect lasting change. These twelve books wrought both positive and negative change. We are all part of a grand story of humanity. We are shaped by the thinking of people who have gone before us. Sometimes a solution brings more questions. Sometimes they bring forth results the authors neither wanted nor imagined.
What about you? What is a book that changed you world? What do you sense is the one message that you can leave for people that will last years to come?