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This review is from: 12 Books That Changed the World (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.