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12 Books That Changed the World [Paperback]

Melvyn Bragg
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
RRP: £10.99
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Book Description

8 Feb 2007

When we think of great events in the history of the world, we tend to think of war, revolution, political upheaval or natural catastrophe. But throughout history there have been moments of vital importance that have taken place not on the battlefield, or in the palaces of power, or even in the violence of nature, but between the pages of a book.

In our digitised age of instant information it is easy to underestimate the power of the printed word. In his fascinating new book accompanying the ITV series, Melvyn Bragg presents a vivid reminder of the book as agent of social, political and personal revolution. Twelve Books that Changed the World presents a rich variety of human endeavour and a great diversity of characters. There are also surprises. Here are famous books by Darwin, Newton and Shakespeare - but we also discover the stories behind some less well-known works, such as Marie Stopes' Married Love, the original radical feminist Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - and even the rules to an obscure ball game that became the most popular sport in the world . . .

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (8 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340839821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340839829
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 264,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Bragg writes with passion...and once again, shows his capacity to make science and technology both exciting and accessible. (Independent)

'Bragg has established himself over the past decades as a fearlessly dedicated, popular educator . . . a highly and easily readable book.' (John Sutherland, The Sunday Times)

'It can charm almost anyone of any age . . . yet again Bragg has displayed his extraordinary and unique gifts as a communicator' (Christena Appleyard, Daily Mail)

'This is an inspiring, fascinating and stimulating book with marvellous illustrations' (Niall MacMonagle, Irish Times)

Book Description

Melvyn Bragg explores a controversial selection of British books and their huge impact on history

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't feel guilty about skipping chapters 6 April 2008
I like this book, but I've only rated it 3. If I could I'd rate half of it 5 and half of it 1. Its not all great but you don't have to read the bits you don't like. Each chapter stands apart, giving an overview, context and commentary on one of Bragg's chosen 12 most important pieces of English Literature.

If they made history and literature this accessible and interesting at school then our society would be better for it. I wasn't on the planet while the women's rights movement was in full swing and it was too recent history for me to learn at school - so Bragg's inclusion of Mary Wollstonecraft's 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' was welcome and interesting.

The Magna Carta is more relevant today than ever since the Human Rights Act entered English law and we unquestioningly use its fundamental principles in our judgement of contemporary issues like Guantanamo Bay and house-bound Chinese activists. Yet who would get a copy out of the local library?

Dip in and out of this book at will, you'll be better for it and don't feel guilty about skipping chapters.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Got through it eventually 28 July 2006
Bought this a few weeks ago, the title being sufficiently persuasive to cause me to ignore my misgivings about reading something authored by Mr Bragg (sorry, I can't take the Lord thing seriously) and ploughed through it on the train to work over a fortnight.

While interesting generally, I found it a bit annoying in places. Some chapters I raced through: Wilberforce, Smith, Stopes, Newton, Darwin and Faraday in particular were quite fascinating.

Others however were hard going. The Rules of Association Football left me surprisingly cold, I wanted more from Arkwright and the King James Bible was a real struggle, though this may be due to the fact that Mr Bragg kept getting in the way with his views on word usage.

All in all money well spent and I'll probably dip into it again from time to time. In other words it will go into the bookcase, not under the corner of the sofa that has a leg missing.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bragg's Twelve 22 Aug 2011
Although it may be too late, an interesting exercise before reading this book is to select your own list of twelve books; if it isn't too late and you don't know his list, look away now and get writing. (Bragg's list is at the bottom of the page; scroll down to find it.)
I made my personal list and there was little correlation. Therein lies the interest and the problem many have had with this book. They expected their twelve and were disappointed not to find them; Bragg never claims it to be other than his personal list and does not claim it is THE twelve, a comprehensive list or the list others would choose.

However, it is worth reading just to consider another's view, especially one so well read. If readers don't like one of his choices, it does not have to be read.


"Principia Mathematica"
"Married Love"
"Magna Carta"
Rule Book of Association Football"
"On the Origins of Species"
"On the Abolition of Slavery"
A Vindication of the Rights of Women"
"Experimental Research in Electricity"
"Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine"
"The King James Bible"
"An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations"
"The First Folio"
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shawn 10 Jan 2008
This is a really nice book and easy to read. The writer in no way in attempting to exhaust the the topics he is writing about. He does, however, stimulate the reader into wanting to investigate further into the subject matter contained in the book. Any book that makes me want to read more is a great book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable 5 Sep 2007
By Davywavy2 VINE VOICE
I'm not a fan of Melvin Bragg. I've always found his TV presenting on the South Bank show to be offputtingly smug and more suited to Pseuds Corner than my living room. So it was that I came to this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I'd seen one episode of the TV series (about the football rules) and was sufficiently surprised that I enjoyed it to be prepared to give the book a go - and I'm glad I did.
It's a personal list of a dozen books that Bragg feels changed the world. He says in the introduction that he's tried to avoid just covering the obvious choices like religion (so we only get the King James Bible, and not the Ko'ran as well, for instance) and instead tried to find a dozen books which cover many different aspects of contemporary society - from football to economics to sexual equality and so on - and then to illustrate how they helped create that society. It's a good list, and is sufficiently broad a topic that it can lead to ' I wouldn't put that book in, I'd've had this book instead' debates, which is always fun.
Bragg shows himself an incisive reviewer of books, offering both an illuminating precis of the content of each, how they came to be written and his judgement on the effects they had. I still don't like his TV persona, but Twelve Books that Changed the World, for it's length, is highly informative and accessible, and may well have inspired me to read more of the list it offers.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking snapshots 13 April 2007
By VivMac
Previous reviewers having been so negative thought it worth pointing out the Bragg doesn't pretend this selection is anything other that a personal choice. I think he justifies the "books" fairly well and I enjoyed the snapshot way they were presented. I am unlikely to ever read all of them in full, in the original, so enjoyed the chance to skim through some Newton, Faraday and Stopes inter alia.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about books: very enlightening!
This is an unusual book, a book about books. That said, some of the 'books' chosen by the author are not books in the usual sense but scientific papers. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Tomer
4.0 out of 5 stars 12 Books is enthusiastic and educational in equal measure
Unlike Melvyn Braggs usual writing, I found this slightly less poetic in style, not quite so compelling to read. Read more
Published 15 months ago by AE
4.0 out of 5 stars Better informed in places
When taking on the challenge of bringing light to 12 influential works spanning centuries there was always a chance I was going to be left standing on the platform of knowledge on... Read more
Published 19 months ago by jcom
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't put this book down!
My son gave me this book 3 years ago as a Christmas present. Having read it cover to cover I then passed the book on to 2 relatives and haven't seen it since! Read more
Published 21 months ago by Trevor Charman
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading group
Recommend during a reading group. great book brought lots to share with others. Great book of history any many books
Published 23 months ago by Janet Allman
4.0 out of 5 stars It took a total of 159 years before slavery was universally...
I'm not sure that these are the twelve books I would have chosen, but starting with those that I agree most profoundly with (and we are all entitled to an opinion on this so I'm... Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2012 by Eileen Shaw
2.0 out of 5 stars to much of himself
not something that has made me feel very different about our history apart from women's emancipation and magna carta both of which are so relevant to now
Published on 5 May 2012 by Nima
2.0 out of 5 stars Anglo-centric opinion
A better title would be 12 books that changed England. This book is a typically Anglo-centric view of the world, and the choice of books contained, whilst on the whole interesting,... Read more
Published on 8 May 2010 by Cricket Mad
3.0 out of 5 stars Bragging Rights
A dozen essays on an eclectic selection of influential British written works.

If you are a fan of Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time" Radio 4 show, you will probably enjoy this... Read more
Published on 17 April 2010 by Rotgut
2.0 out of 5 stars 12 British(!) "books" that "changed" the world
The book provides light reading, digging very shallowly indeed into the history of science, sociology, culture, and football. Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2010 by GunillaB
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