Major shifts in history are a combination of a variety of elements which would include contemporary political and economic climate, needs and aspirations of the populace, available technology etc. The tipping occurs with a single individual or a group of people with a vision of transformation, passionately committed to something they firmly believe in, willing to take the risks to see its fulfilment and possess the skill to articulate and communicate it.
12 Books That Changed the World by Melvin Bragg is quite a facscinating compilation of a few of those historic landmarks that have paved the way for life lived by a good part of the world. Arguably, the title is somewhat a misnomer, it is misleading and from my perspective a bit too presumptuous. First of all, the list comprises of writings that have emerged from Britain alone. And then, one must not forget that millions around the world still remain, totally unaware and oblivious to the existence of these “books” and untouched by the changes that Bragg claims they have produced. Thirdly, as the author himself apologetically includes: “This may seem, at first glance, a curious addition to the list of twelve (Bragg 2006, 239).” I would argue that at least a couple in the list, may not fall under the category of “books” in themselves. Nevertheless, what cannot be argued is the fact as Northrop Frye rightly said: “The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book (Inspiring Quotes n.d.).” The written word has always held enormous power to effect change whether it is for the better or for the worse. In stating his case for the inclusion of Richard Arkwright’s Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769), Bragg admits: “His patent is not a flower of English prose but, like many other examples in this book, it proves the force of the written word and its ability to spin its web around the globe and transform it (Bragg 2006, 257).” My strong recommendation to the author and the publishers is to bring out the next edition with a more appropriate title.
Now, having cried my heart out about the title, let me add that I found the contents fairly absorbing and engaging. Bragg’s accounts of each context and even a few minute details manifests his brilliance; the time invested in studying and investigating and articulating these details certainly need to be applauded. It was important for me to be reminded how life is impacted and changed by a combination of a variety of circumstances and yet directed by intentional individuals. My take away from the reading: The difference my life will make in history will not even be a proverbial drop in the ocean; it is nowhere in comparison to the those enumerated by Bragg, nevertheless how I live my life with intentionality and a commitment to the values of God’s reign and transformation of people’s lives might render the tiny insignificant things I do worth the effort. I fully agree with Christena Appleyard’s judgment that “This book is a delight. It can charm almost anyone of any age (Back cover).” In Niall MacMonagle’s words: “An inspiring, fascinating and stimulating book (Ibid).”
Bragg, Melvyn. 12 Books That Changed the World. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006.
Inspiring Quotes. http://ebookfriendly.com/50-most-inspiring-quotes-about-books-and-reading/ (accessed April 12, 2014).
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