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Mike, Which books do you think benefited society the most?

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  • Mike, Which books do you think benefited society the most?

    Mike, Which books (ever written,in all of history) do you think benefited society the most?

    Not only books that have influenced lives and impacted on human behavior,
    but those rare books that have actually changed all of us for the better, for having them with us in this world to read and learn from,or to enjoy as an art form!

    What books contain something unique that has helped people as a whole or aided them as an individual? (What one would call important books)

    I was going to say the top 20 or so, but I really did not want to place a limit on what your thoughts were on the subject. (I looked up some lists of books on what others feel are influential books. but that information was not what I sought.)

    Mike,I would really enjoy reading what your opinion is on this theme!

    Please,I am very excited to hear what everyone's response is on this topic.

    So,please,join in! I'm ready to listen and learn!

    Thanks!


    -Joe

    "With a deep, not-unhappy sigh, Elric prepared to do battle with an army." (Red Pearls)
    - Michael Moorcock

  • #2
    Blimey!
    Well, I suppose we can rule out most of the monotheistic religious books, since they appear to have done more harm than good, though the New Testament, with its amalgam of various ideas and philosophies, is probably the basis for the liberal humanism most of us value, these days.
    Marcus Aurelius ? Confucius ? Thomas Paine ? I suspect everyone's response would be different. An important book for me, as I've mentioned elsewhere, was Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, from which I learned that one story could contain several meanings. I also like the message about setting moral goals and resisting the temptation to avoid their implications, to rationalise excuses. Various strands of philosophy are attractive to me but not necessarily to others. I was largely self-taught, so found books like Winwood Reade's The Martyrdom of Man very helpful, along with other books designed to help the 'working man' teach himself. Wells's The Outline of History was another formative book for me. Later I found Sartre and through him other existentialists helpful. I was also attracted to pre-Leavis English scholars like Quiller Couch and Walter Raleigh. In fact, I still have a very considerble enthusiasm for the mid- and late-Victorians who made it their business to educate those who could not normally afforde an education. I think Das Kapital is an important book as much for the reaction it received as for its message. By this I don't mean that I think, say, Mein Kampf is a good book (it's a stupid rant by a fifth-rate mind) but that many of the great twentieth century reforms were a result of the power of Das Kapital. I think the American transcendentalists are important, too -- an amazing explosion of intellectual activity centred on a relatively small part of New England. Philosophy is an ongoing debate, so I'd be inclined to include all the great works since the Greeks (whose influence on Arab thought was also important). I am admirer of Sufism. We could make a list, probably, of fiction which had had an benign effect on the world. For my own part, I am a product of the European moral tradition, but that doesn't mean I believe it's the only moral tradition or that it's the best. It's the best for me, because of how it dovetails with the rest of my inherited culture. Not all the great writers in that tradition are necessarily of European extraction.
    European Jews, for instance, had probably had a disproportionate influence on European moral literature.
    Shakespeare ? Moliere ? Goethe ? Tolstoy ? Happily, the list is the endless. Not every one of those authors has exemplified the kind of moral life they have argued for. That's part of the attraction of humanity, for me.
    Have any of those authors changed the world for the better ? Hard to say. Most of those who have done the most damage to the world haven't necessarily been keen readers of anything but the most trivial sorts of fiction. I suppose it's naive of me to trust a politician who has read widely and deeply, since you could argue that all that has happened there is that they have learned to be even more devious and subtly self-seeking. But I DO prefer a representative who is well read.
    That said, many would argue that there has NEVER been a book which necessarily affected change for the better.
    To my mind, the author's function in society (if they have one at all) is to give voice to an ongoing debate. That's why fashions in historical figures change, I suspect, and why great writers are constantly open to reinterpretation. We use our writers, much as we use our myths, as ways of framing what we, as individuals, want from the world. Nobody 'needed' the visionary work of William Blake in his lifetime. He had to wait until Rosetti bribed a book thief to steal some of his work from the British Museum...
    Maybe our myths are our most important literature. Maybe that's why I get irritated by claims that pseudo-mythologies (which simplify, sentimentalise and sensationalise our experience) are
    great works of literature. The great inherited epic mythologies of the world are constantly open to change, interpretation, changing function. But they are not always used for 'good', as we know. Could you name twenty books which have changed your life (rather than changed the world ?). Maybe that's the only answerable question.
    Last edited by Michael Moorcock; 10-21-2006, 02:54 PM.

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    • #3
      Mike,

      Thank you very much!

      That was a marvelous and outstanding answer to my question!

      That was exactly what I was looking for!

      Yes,I agree,a better wording of the question would be:

      Michael Moorcock wrote:
      Could you name twenty books which have changed your life (rather than changed the world ?).
      Michael Moorcock wrote:
      Happily, the list is the endless. Not every one of those authors has exemplified the kind of moral life they have argued for. That's part of the attraction of humanity, for me.
      Have any of those authors changed the world for the better ? Hard to say.
      Yes,this is something I will be thinking about for a very long time.

      It would be good,I think,to live by a certain moral code, and not accept excuses by those who break it. I think this is one of your meanings?

      If someone agreed to follow a set of "Guidelines", then they should be expected to always follow them,not abandon them when things get difficult or for any other reason, or have them apply to the rest of the world and not
      themselves?

      Of course,when rules are bent, it does make things and that person kinda fun and more interesting. haha! (in some cases)

      It is an attraction, as you say.

      Strange,is it not? That we as humans, can clearly see (most of the time)
      what is good or bad for us, but it is hard for us to live up to our own ideals and morality? I don't really know what to make of things,sometimes. That is why I ask alot of questions!

      Maybe in the near future, we will have more or all representatives who take the time to learn things and are well read.

      I wonder what kind of things a person like Thomas Paine read in his day. I suppose everything that was available at the time. He sure did alot in his life and was a great intellectual. I am certain that you know far more about the man than I do.

      I see,every day now,with examples like this,how important education really is.

      I think the schools and colleges are due for a change,they need to get
      the right material out there to the students!

      I for one,could have made changes for the better by knowing and talking about subjects like this.

      Being self taught is an extraordinary thing!

      Mike, has anyone ever asked you to teach at a college?

      I sure would sign up for that class before my pen touched the paper!

      I learn and get more from one of your posts, than anything ever taught to me
      in school! hehe!

      (I am not asking),just commenting hypothetically,that if we had a virtual classroom,it would be amazing how much knowledge we could learn from you, say, during one hour every two months!

      Please forgive me for being so excited, I was just awestricken once again,by one of your fine replies!

      This will all give me something to think about and research. Now I have a foundation to go by.


      Cheers!


      -Joe

      "With a deep, not-unhappy sigh, Elric prepared to do battle with an army." (Red Pearls)
      - Michael Moorcock

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