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A Short History of the World in 50 Books

A Short History of the World in 50 Books

The book has a unique status as an emblem of human culture and civilization. It is a vessel for sharing stories, dispersing knowledge, examining the nature of our extraordinary species and imagining what lies beyond our known world. Books ultimately provide an invaluable and comprehensive record of what it means to be human.

This volume takes a curated list of fifty of the most influential books of all time, putting each into its historical context. From ancient game-changers like the Epic of Gilgamesh, through sacred texts and works of philosophical rumination by the likes of Confucius and Plato, via scientific treatises, historic ‘firsts’ (like the first printed book) and cultural works of enduring impact (think Shakespeare, Cervantes and Joseph Heller), these are volumes that are at once both products of their societies and vital texts in molding those same civilizations.

It would take a lifetime and more to read and absorb all of them. But this volume allows you to become ridiculously well read in just a fraction of the time. This isn’t a celebration of the canon, it’s about the books that have changed how we think and live – and which have changed the course of history.


Part I: The Ancient World

The Epic of Gilgamesh • Author unknown

Tao Te Ching • Laozi

Iliad • Homer

Aesop’s Fables • Aesop

The Torah • Moses

The Art of War • Sun Tzu

Analects • Confucius

The Republic • Plato

History of Animals • Aristotle

The Elements • Euclid

Bhagavad Gita • Vyasa

On the Subject of Cooking • Marcus Gavius Apicius

Geographia • Claudius Ptolemy

Part II: The Middle Ages

The Qur’an • Associates of the Prophet Muhammad

Book of Kells • Jerome of Stridon and unidentified monks

The Pillow Book • Sei Shonagon

The Tale of Genji • Murasaki Shikibu

Magna Carta • Stephen Langton

The Divine Comedy • Dante Alighieri

Jikji • Baegun

Revelations of Divine Love • Julian of Norwich

The Gutenberg Bible • Various / Johannes Gutenberg

Madrid Codex • Unknown

Part III: The Early Modern Age

The Four Classic Novels • Various

The Prince • Niccolò Machiavelli

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha • Miguel de Cervantes

The Complete Works • William Shakespeare

Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems • Galileo Galilei

Principia • Isaac Newton

On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Right • Jean-Jacques Rousseau

A Dictionary of the English Language • Samuel Johnson

Common Sense • Thomas Paine

The Wealth of Nations • Adam Smith

Part IV: The Nineteenth Century

Faust • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ • Edgar Allan Poe

On Liberty • John Stuart Mill

On the Origin of Species • Charles Darwin

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl • Harriet Jacobs

Das Kapital • Karl Marx

War and Peace • Leo Tolstoy

The Interpretation of Dreams • Sigmund Freud

Part V: 1900 Onwards

General Theory of Relativity • Albert Einstein

The Diary of a Young Girl • Anne Frank

Nineteen Eighty-Four • George Orwell

The Second Sex • Simone de Beauvoir

Catch-22 • Joseph Heller

Silent Spring • Rachel Carson

Why We Can’t Wait • Martin Luther King Jr

A Brief History of Time • Stephen Hawking

Long Walk to Freedom • Nelson Mandela


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