Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Most Influential Books

I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird, and I can only say it deserves all the accolades it has ever received. The book is so much more than a story. It is a mirror reflecting the distortedness that infected our culture as a result of racism. The writing is beautiful and vivid, and the manner in which the story is told is singular. Thank you again, Ms. Lee.

Interestingly enough, To Kill A Mockingbird never made it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, which was birthed on August 9, 1942.

I mentioned last week that Mockingbird was named in a 1991 survey as one of the most influential books of all time. You might be interested to learn some of the other books on that list in the order they were listed. NYT #1 Bestsellers are in bold.

1. The Bible, whose Revised Standard Version and New English versions were both #1 when released.
2. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand ("Who is John Galt?")
3. The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck
4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
6. Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
7. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
8. The Book of Mormon
9. The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
10. A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
11. Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl (tie)
12. Passages, by Gail Sheehy (tie)
13. When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harrold Kashner

It's been said that the biggest influences on our lives are the people we meet and the books we read. So a list of most influential books is also a good barometer of the culture. If I were a betting man, I would guess that a number of these books would not appear on a list compiled today, 19 years later.

Actually, with a simple Google search you can come up with all kinds of lists of "influential books", but most seem to be individuals conjecturing on what books were most influential in history, or others outlining their own personal lists (eg. NY Times blogger Ross Douthat) which can often make a good starting point for your next reading program.

Lists like this can also be very personal, and a book that I found influential might not have any significance for the next person. For example, unless you're ambition is to be an influential writer yourself I doubt the book You Can Tell the World will be on your list.

The manner in which the list is assembled will certainly influence the outcome, too. The list above was assembled in conjunction with the Book of the Month Club, few of whom were compelled to include Marx or Thoreau on their lists, authors whose influential works have produced worldwide reverberations.

In the meantime, what's next on your reading list? There really are too many books, and so little time.

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