Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The 100 Most Influential Books


Since I wrote about my favorite movies in the last entry, I should tip my hat to literacy by noting that I stumbled across this list, inspired by a whole book on the  topic, of what are (arguably) the 100 most influential books of all time.  It’s both humbling and inspiring.

(You could do far worse than to simply read all these books and declare yourself an educated person — and perhaps Michele Carlo will make a point like that when she argues “no” one week from tonight at our Oct. 3 [8pm] Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Is the Ivy League Superior?”)

I couldn’t resist asking myself who my twenty favorite thinkers on the heavily philosophy-oriented list of 100 are, and having done so, I have to give the biggest props to my main men (in no particular order):

•Smith (though he made a few pro-government arguments I shouldn’t just dismiss)

Second-largest props must be bestowed upon these ten (in no particular order):

•Voltaire (though I suspect his Philosophical Dictionary had more practical impact than Candide)

And I’d round out my favorite twenty with these four (in no particular order):


And lest I seem indiscriminate with the praise, rest assured that I’m so picky that I’m hesitant to endorse almost anyone else on the list of 100, save perhaps Newton or Bacon.

Mmmmm — bacon.

My thanks to the boss, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, for drawing my attention to the bacon alarm clock, and my thanks to Michel Evanchik and Lefty Leibowitz for indirectly making me aware of the 100 — by each pointing out to me this comic book version (this doesn’t count as a relapse into comics-reading!) of one of the books on the 100 list: Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

To get back to bacon for a moment, though: Shouldn’t they do a Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation and have it actually star Kevin Bacon as the husband?  Seems like a no-brainer.

As for actual bacon, so beloved is it that, bizarrely, chunks of it were scattered via hot air balloon over Loch Ness once in a vain attempt to draw out the mythical Monster — with the organizer’s explanation being not some sophisticated rationale about the Monster perhaps being a plesiosaurus and thus liking a certain texture of meat, etc., but rather the simple, apparently trans-species statement that “Everybody loves bacon.”  Perhaps.


Laura said...

Lots of places have bacon-of-the-month clubs, but my favorite is this one, from a Jewish-ish deli in Ann Arbor, which includes a bacon chocolate bar with your first delivery:

Laura said...

Oh, and your list of favorite empiricist philosophers could almost be called “six degrees of Francis Bacon” …

Todd Seavey said...

On another weird-food note: What the hell is up with that Domino’s “Oreo Dessert Pizza”? As with the invention of spaghetti pizza, I’m left wondering if focus groups of five-year-olds come up with these things.

I was also alarmed by the Glazed Donut Double Cheeseburger, a joint project a couple years ago of Krispy Kreme and some midwestern sports stadium — far weirder than the relatively sensible and efficient Jimmy Dean’s Chocolate Chip Sausage and Pancake on a Stick.

But everything in moderation, as Aristotle might say — and speaking of influential intellectuals, maybe Montaigne’s skepticism deserved more of a nod above.

Todd Seavey said...

By the way, I should thank for making me aware of the cheeseburger and stick-sausage items I just mentioned — and thank PoF editor Meredith Kapushion, of Colorado, for making me aware of all the goings-on in Denver noted in my prior blog entry.

Jacob T. Levy said...

What a goofy list. No modern work of fiction except War and Peace? Arbitrarily, Aristotle gets “Works” and Shakespeare “first folio” while Plato’s Republic stands by itself– it seems so that no author will get more than one place on the list, even though Aristotle would certainly get 5-10 and Homer 2 and Shakespeare a half-dozen at least.

A good number of the works are the book form of some of the most influential *ideas*– but Einstein’s Relativity qua *book* wouldn’t make the list, the work of “influence” was done by the three articles. It’s rigorously multicivilizational through 200 BC, and then the non-European world disappears until Mao– and several works (Bunyan, Johnson) are included when their influence is almost entirely in the English-speaking world. No Gita, no Norse Eddas, no Morte d’Artur. Hume’s Treatise is one of the *greatest* books, but it’s hard to think of it as one of the most influential when it “fell stillborn from the press.”

Todd Seavey said...

All very good points, though still an interesting list. An aside: Bryan Talbot’s _Alice in Sunderland_ (described in my Sept. 5 entry) notes that the second most-often quoted English writer after Shakespeare is Lewis Carroll, an interesting reminder how mainstream the weird is.

Laura said...

Actually, it makes a lot of sense that Shakespeare is represented by the First Folio. Its publication in 1623 marked the first time that the plays were collected in book form under Shakespeare’s name (and one of the first times that a playwright’s “collected works” were published together), in a format that was associated with quality (as opposed to the quartos, which were flimsy copies of individual plays, often reconstructed by actors who had been in them), and authorized by his associates. And, it means that Shakespeare is represented on the list by 36 works — all of his plays except for Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen (which was a much later attribution anyway). We have a First Folio here, and it’s breathtaking, especially in contrast to the quartos. For more on this, I recommend a great article by Jonathan Bate that was in the TLS this past April.

Laura said...

And, to bring everything back around again, as Todd so loves to do, one cannot fail to mention the “Baconian theory,” which is goofy enough that you might as well learn more about it from the Wikipedia entry.

toddseavey said...

Ah, and just to turn the full circle into a Mobius strip, this may be as good a time as any to note my Transitive Theory of Materialist-Religionist Unification via Shakespeare Conspiracies, to wit:

–Many blame Bacon for the rise of a materialistic, scientistic epoch in human history.

–Some think Bacon actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

–Some think Shakespeare secretly wrote the King James Bible.

So if all these theories are true, the author of the King James Bible is also to blame for the secular-scientistic bent of modernity. QED.

And if any of that were true, Bacon would certainly leap to the top of the “influential” list. But it’s not.