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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 August 2012
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. Rather than belief in Bible stories, Darwin set out, with scientific proofs, and dealing almost exclusively with the genealogy of plants and animals, a comprehensive system for the basis of life on earth. The arguments still rage, of course, but now the arguments have to take place in the light of two beliefs, one based on science and one on faith.

The abolition of the slave trade was, as the historian G M Trevelyan wrote, `one of the turning circumstances in the history of the world.' The man who was responsible was William Wilberforce, a quietly unassuming MP who worked towards abolition tirelessly after delivering a four hour speech in the house of Commons on 12 May 1789. This was rapidly printed and disseminated throughout the country, although it took a good deal longer for the entrepreneurs and plantation owners to take any notice. It was not until 1833 that the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed, bringing into effect the gradual abolition of slavery in all British Colonies. It took a total of 159 years before slavery was universally abolished, and for more than a generation of slaves, it came too late.

'The First Folio' of Shakespeare's plays contains all his major works - the Comedies, the Histories and the Tragedies. His plays and his poetry are acknowledged throughout the world, in every country which has scholars competent to translate, he has been translated. His work is often misogynistic, racist and sometimes, more brutal and bloodthirsty than one may feel happy with. But it is undoubtable, surely, that his plays are unparalled. The beauty of the language, the intelligence of it, the splendour and the glory of it - there is nothing better in the creative canon.

Of the books I hesitate over, chosen by Melvyn Bragg, I haven't considered replacements for all of them. Bragg's choices continue with the 'Rule Book of Association Football'; Mary Wollstonecraft's 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?' (I felt this was too obviously politically correct and to be honest it isn't that inspirational. 'The Female Eunuch' would be more timely - it is from the publication of Germaine Greer's book that I remember an upsurge of activism amongst women). 'Experimental Researches in Electricity'; 'Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine'; The King James Bible. Rather than the Bible, for instance, I would prefer a recent Biographical Dictionary - I'd prefer my history of the world to feature more than religious figures. What about, in place of Michael Faraday's researches in electricity, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking? - a book that makes physics at least fathomable in a way no other book does.

No novels are included in Bragg's list either. Should there be one? What about 'Middlemarch', 'Tess of the D'Urbevilles', 'Vanity Fair', 'Bleak House', or 'Persuasion'? Or something further off the wall such as 'A Confederacy of Dunces' by John Kennedy Toole. I'm sure you will all have your own preferences.
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on 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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on 22 August 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.

MELVYN BRAGG'S LIST

"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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on 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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VINE VOICEon 5 September 2007
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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on 15 January 2013
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! So the first book I bought on my new Kindle (also a present) was this book which I am re-reading. At my age (80) I found this book a good read and an excellent reference book. I think that this is a book for all ages; from school students contemplating a scientific career through to pensioners like myself . Although the book has the title '12 Books That Changed The World' it is important to remember that a number of these books would not have made their impact but for the brilliant, dedicated people behind them;.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2010
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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on 25 March 2013
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 occasions and so it turned out. While I enjoyed the read there were times when it was bit more a ploughing competition but in the main part it was an opportunity well taken to inform about the context and the detail of the works in question. This book has sat on a shelf for a number of years before I took up the challenge to read it and I am glad that I did.
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on 10 January 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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on 17 March 2010
The book provides light reading, digging very shallowly indeed into the history of science, sociology, culture, and football. I understand it started as a radio series, and that is probably a better format for it. Another good format would have been Sunday science pages in the newspapers, because that is what they read like. Nothing wrong with that, so if that is what you like, buy it. But I wanted much more. If you write about the importance of Faraday, SOME science would have been nice. Not just what his lab looked like, how he was as a lecturer, and his private life. And then listing many machines that use magnetism. Could the readers not be trusted to be at least a little interested in electromagnetism itself? This goes for all entries, but is (of course?) most noticeable for the "difficult" scientific stuff. The "books" included starts with Magna Charta and ends with Married Love, via Newton, Darwin, and Shakespeare. And includes the rules of association football.
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