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THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOKS

What are your favorite books?

Many bloggers have a single blog where they list their top 10, top 25, top 100 or 1000 books.  I’ve found that I just can’t do that because there are so many wonderful books out there that I’ve read.  I also find that my predisposition toward a book, like a film, is to like it.  A book has to work hard to make me not like it because I have so much goodwill toward the writer.  I always want the writer to succeed.  So, instead of listing my top books ever, I am instead putting together a series of blogs that cover my top three books in certain categories.  Today I launch with the top three most significant books in the world.  In my opinion, at least.

The Bible

Without a doubt, it is the single greatest influential piece of literature, religion, philosophy and history in the whole world.  Yes, that includes the non-Western world too, for there are probably more Christ-followers in China than in the United States and Asia and Africa are now filled with Bible teaching churches.

For many of us the Bible is more than literature, it is a way of life and the guide to knowing God.  However, if we just think about it as a literary piece, it is the greatest literature ever.  Whether you believe it or not, the stories in the Bible are gripping, heartbreaking, inspiring, and usually very crisp.  Most of us forget how short Jonah is, or how brief the gospels are.  Besides, we could barely speak if we stripped our language of every metaphor that emerged from the Bible.

The Iliad, Homer

The Iliad Cover

War, Women, and Wandering

Okay, we’ll throw in The Odyssey as well.  For the ancient Mediterranean world, The Iliad and The Odyssey served an analogous function to the Bible today.  It was memorized, adored, quoted, and believed as a religious guide.  Most everyone rejects the religion of the stories today, but the narrative necessity of great heroes like Hector and Achilles, tragic kings, battles, and then the epic journey of discovery that is Odysseus’ destiny are the pillars of a great deal of storytelling.  One can scarcely wonder what world literature would be like if The Iliad and The Odyssey never were.

Confessions, St. Augustine

Thomas Cahill, in his classic work How the Irish Saved Civilization, points out that St. Augustine’s Confessions was the first time, really, that anyone ever picked up a pen and wrote the word “I” and meant it as the subject of a book.  Not many people today have read St. Augustine, and those that do usually gravitate toward his theology.  Certainly there is theology in Confessions, but it is the first true autobiography, so the next time you pick up that overpriced hardback at Costco where a celebrity spills his or her guts about all their trials, tribulations and debauchery before finally cleaning up their act you need to thank St. Augustine because he literally invented that genre.  He also gave us, in Confessions, one of the most interesting prayers ever uttered:  “Lord, make me sexually pure, but not yet.”

In the coming weeks I intend to blog about my favorite books from other genres–history, preaching, classical literature, sci-fi, fiction, and so forth.  But these are, in my opinion, the most important and influential books in the world.  I would be interested to know what you think are the three most influential books?

 

image from simania.co.il

19 replies »

  1. I don’t have much opinion as to the most influential in the world, but the most influential to me are 1) the Bible, 2) Lord of the Rings & 3) The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee (I book I have not often read, but find myself referencing frequently).

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    • those are all good ones Eeyore. certainly in our world right now the LOTR have taken on a very important and influential status so you are in good company. thanks for reading and commenting.

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  2. Very interesting. I would be at a loss to pick three most influential books in the world, though the Bible seems indisputable. I think it helps to think of the most influential books in your own life rather than your favorite books. Influential books need not be books that you enjoy per se; sometimes books you don’t enjoy have more influence because they nag at you. On my blog I put a list of the books that most altered me, rather than my favorites.

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  3. I agree with two of the three. The Bible, Confessions…I’d have to suggest “The Epic of Gilgamesh” might have more of global influence as opposed to Homer’s work which influenced the west without a doubt. But I might throw in “Don Quixote” as a genre creating pioneer has had a profound impact on the western world of literature. But maybe you will get to more of these later in your series. And may I just say that Thomas Cahill is a stud?

    Good stuff, Jamie. Looking forward to these.

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    • gilgamesh is important, but my take on it is, and some in the academic world may think this blasphemy, is that gilgamesh was not nearly as important in the ancient world as we make it out to be. the only real significance it has is today, where scholars attempt to align bits and pieces of it with biblical narrative. therefore, gilgamesh is only important, imho, because of the importance of the Bible. don quixote, yeah, i can give you that as a genre creator and as an influential work. it doesn’t make my top three, but it is a vital piece of literature.
      thanks for reading and commenting joe. oh, one more thing–yes indeed, cahill is an absolute stud.

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