Ten books that changed the world

This year we are looking at how art can change the world, and literature's no exception.

Ten books that changed the world

While there are many religious and political texts which have revolutionised the way we think about the world - some have even affected history - there are also many fictional stories and novels which have had a very significant impact. Here are my top ten:

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

While all of Shakespeare's work in the publication known as the first Folio has changed the world, Hamlet is his most famous work and perhaps the one with the most impact. Shakespeare has changed the way we speak, and even think, with many common English words and phrases first appearing in his works. It is not only the English language that Shakespeare has shaped but also entire literary traditions and the very nature of theatre and drama.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

Admittedly the whole series could be included but that would be cheating. Rowling has changed the reading habits of a generation, and likely many more to come too. Before Harry Potter big series franchises weren't common, especially not ones that included movies, spin off books and now a play. The books have united adults and children, engaged non-readers and have their own language that is commonly understood. We all know what a muggle is right?

1984, George Orwell

I'm sure everyone will recognise the idea of 'Big Brother', a metaphor for being watched by the authorities, this phrase had even been taken on by the reality TV show. Equally, 'Orwellian' is now used to describe a world like that in his novel, where everyone is watched and controlled. As well as giving us these concepts this book has been used for decades to think about the societies we are living in.

The Arabian Nights, Unknown

The Arabian Nights tales are still hugely well-known and popular, inspiring many of their own adaptations, from books, to TV and film. The original tale is a frame narrative, featuring a king who spends one night with each woman then kills her. The incredibly clever Scheherazade manages to buy herself time by telling the king a story each night, then leaving him with a cliff-hanger so that he will need to keep her alive to listen to the next part of the story. Sounds quite a lot like what they do on Netflix now doesn't it? Not to mention that for the culture and time period Scheherazade is a brilliantly powerful heroine.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Depicting the realities of slavery, this novel is seen as one of the forces that began to change North American views, eventually leading to the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Despite the positive effects which it has had it is also considered responsible for many of the black stereotypes we now see in literature and TV. While its legacy is complicated there is no doubt about the effect this book has had.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

One of the first African novels written in English to receive global acclaim, this book explores the history of a Nigerian man and the effect of Colonialism upon his community. Written in the 1950's this was revolutionary in the way that the legacies of colonialism were viewed by the public. Even today when we learn about colonialism in schools it is often done from a political or geographical perspective, while Achebe offers us a very personal view.

A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf

Long before debates about the wage gap or female representation in certain jobs began, Virginia Woolf had recognised the difficulty of being a female artist in a male dominated sphere. This narrative essay illustrates her argument that in order to achieve success women must have a dedicated space to work in. This seems obvious now but it was the start of a long struggle featuring women at work which we still haven't seen the end of today.

The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank

We are all taught about the war at school, but this is a real first-hand account of the personal experiences and suffering of a girl and her family trying to evade persecution. It is a difficult and sad story but one that has helped generations since the war to understand what people went through.

Paradise Lost, John Milton

This is a very long book so I am not recommending reading all of it but definitely look up some extracts. Milton's epic poem is an early form of the novel, depicting characters and a storyline. More important is what Milton does with the biblical story of Genesis. Milton's Satan becomes a larger than life character, almost the protagonist of the story, setting up the tradition for every anti-hero and sympathetic bad guy to follow.

Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence

This book was banned for dealing with taboo subjects when it was first published and, though it may not seemed scandalous now it was part of a revolution in British attitudes. Featuring a woman who has an affair was incredibly improper at the point of publication, and while we think we have moved on a lot since then it is still common to see women being demonised for this kind of desire, making this book still very relevant today.


Think you've made a piece of art that could change the world? Check out our competition here.

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Author

Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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