The title of this week’s reading is 12 Books That Changed The World by Melvyn Bragg and the title he chose made me think about books I have read that had a significant influence on my life. Mutiny on The Bounty impacted me and also Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. The introduction of Bragg’s book is important as it explains why the title is not “The” 12 Books That Changed The World and also how he determined the books he chose. Using the definite article would have caused more criticism than he would already receive! He chose books representing various disciplines and aspects of culture within the context of the United Kingdom. He wrote, ““I eventually saw that a number of books by British authors had a fair claim to have changed the world” (page 2). I did not read the entire book but skimmed various books and then I chose three to read completely.
I chose to read Magna Carta because of its contribution to the law in the United States. It was fascinating to learn more how the Magna Carta came into being in the context of a poorly administrated kingship. Bragg wrote, “Magna Carta came out of the failings of King John” (page 71). His comment that the document “is in the bloodstream of our politics; it is the bloodstream” (page 70). It was particularly interesting to me to learn that the due process expressed by the 5th amendment and the timely justice mandate of the 6th amendment both come from the Magna Carta (page 81).
I watch a news oriented opinion show occasionally which has a segment in which a reporter goes into various communities and asks questions to see how people are informed. I remember the reporter asking people if there were any document(s) that were foundational to our government and legal system. Many people who were asked did not even mention the Constitution, let alone the Magna Carta. However, the Magna Carta has indeed provided many governments of the free world the basis upon which to frame a culture of law.
I also read the chapter on The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Bragg wrote of Darwin’s book “The core of it is Darwin’s theory of natural selection” (page 124). It was interesting to read how that the book immediately received both praise and rebuke (page 137). Bragg related that the book stirred passion in every reader and usually ended up causing polarizing effects upon the readership. I read with interest how Karl Marx referred to the book, “’Although developed in the crude English fashion,’ he wrote, ‘this is the book which in the field of natural history provides the basis for my views … Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historic class struggle’” (pages 140-141). I was surprised how that Bragg often used the word “theory” in relation to the idea of natural selection and in the context of the competing idea of intelligent design (pages 147-148). I would have thought he might not use the word theory since he seemed to try to distinguish a non-scientific position over against a scientific position (natural selection). If indeed it were true science then the word “theory” need not be used.
The third chapter I read was about the book An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I found this the most interesting to me personally. Adam Smith was an amazing individual whose “mind was said to be an immense library, his memory phenomenal” (page 293). He was well read and educated and his acquaintances included David Hume and Voltaire. Smith’s first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments is the precursor to the book discussed in this chapter. In “Sentiments” he lays out his personal moral philosophy which serves as a foundation for his economic ideas, even though “he not regard himself as an economist but as a philosopher” (page 296).
I always wondered where “trickle down economics” came from. Smith wrote, “they (the rich) divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements” (page 297). I am presently very interested in how capitalism might fare into the future and how it can be improved to benefit more of society. Bragg was similarly curious and wrote, “Did Smith fully attend to the reality of the lives of those at the bottom of the heap?” (page 297). The idea behind Smiths construct of trickily down economics, according to Bragg, was “Scottish Enlightenment’s optimism of the human nature and the force of self interest” (page 298). Like Bragg, I am a bit cynical concerning the optimism of the human nature and agree with him that the hellish wars and inhuman tirades of the twentieth century do little to encourage one that there is a winning innate drive towards betterment (page 298).
I was disappointed that Bragg did not say more about the relationship between Smith’s economic construct and his faith perspective. I would like to read more about Smith’s theology to find more connections to his economic theory if any exist.
What books have changed your life? How?
Would you have not chosen any that Bragg chose? Why?