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12 Books That Changed the World Paperback – 8 Feb 2007

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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 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,559 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

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Eclectic Reader on 6 April 2008
Format: Paperback
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By RR Waller TOP 500 REVIEWER on 22 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Robin Johnston on 28 July 2006
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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 sure your choices would be different from mine), Newton's 'Principia Mathematica' stands out as unarguably the most astonishing and wonderful creation from one man's mind that there has ever been. 'Nature and Nature's Laws lay hid in night:/ God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.' Alexander Pope's brilliant couplet summed up the awe and profundity with which Newton's work came to be held as a unique body of genius. Without his work, life would be unimaginably poorer in so many fields, medicine, physics, biology, astronomy, to name just a few.

'Married Love' by Marie Stopes set out to demystify and give practical advice to women and men about sex. In her own life she admitted in her preface to the book, that she "paid a terrible price for sex-ignorance that I feel that knowledge gained at such a cost should be placed at the service of humanity." Amen to that.

'The Magna Carta', though strictly not a book, was the basis for an abiding sense of just government, society, liberties and rights. For the first time a piece of writing was recognised as a law above the King, which he had no right to disregard or break. It embodied a respect for law which has endured for almost eight hundred years and led to the foundation of democracy in America, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and in other countries wanting to shake off tyranny and found their state on a basis of laws and liberties equally available to all.

'The Origin of the Species' by Charles Darwin, began the great debate that is still alive today about our origins.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rotgut VINE VOICE on 17 April 2010
Format: Paperback
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 book, which is similarly wide ranging and authoratative. The various chapters are self contained essays which give a potted history of the author/authors rather than the books themselves.A short timeline for the actual works ends each chapter, but these are somtimes of dubious relevance (e.g. the timeline for "Experimental Researches In Electricity" ends "2003...Power blackout in ..Canada." (!))

There are two main problems with this book, in my opinion, both of which, to be fair, Bragg acknowledges himself. Firstly, some of these works are not really "books" in any meaningful sense...a patent application and a codification of sporting rules cannot be compared to "The Origin of Species" or "Principa Mathematica"; Even Wilberforce's anti-slavery campaign was started by a famous speech in Parliament, even if this was later published in written form surely it should be described as one of "12 Speeches That Changed The World"? More damagingly, it seems to me, with the exception of Shakespeare and The Bible, it is hard to see any of these works being read today for genuine pleasure. Has anyone sat down to enjoy the Magna Carta or Marie Stopes' "Married Love" lately ?

Bragg does address this last (obvious) criticism in the last chapter, listing various novels he could have chosen but puts the point that he was describing books that have had a concrete and lasting effect on the world. Still, I feel, a pity that we could not have had a work of poetry (Blake ? Milton?) or a novel (Dickens? Austen? Lawrence?) if only to remind us that books, above all, are a joy.

The list includes some really exceptionally influential books, Darwin, Newton, Adam Smith, and is all the more impressive as it is chosen only from the body of British literature.
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