UK survey: the Bible noses out Darwin as the book most valuable to humanity, but not by much

Well, it could have been worse: the Bible could have beaten The Origin decisively. As it is, in a Folio Society poll of books voted “most valuable to humanity” (see the Guardian’s report here), Darwin came second to the Bible by only 2%.  Of course, this poll was taken in the UK (2,044 British adults weighed in). Had it been in the U.S., the Bible would have won by seven lengths.

Readers didn’t just choose the books out of thin air: they were given a pre-selected list of 30 titles from which to choose. Among the books that didn’t make the top-ten cut were Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The list of winners is below:

The 10 books voted most valuable to humanity:

1) The Bible (37%)

2) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin (35%)

3) A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (17%)

4) Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein (15%)

5) Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell (14%)

6) Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (12%)

7) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (10%)

8) The Qur’an (9%)

9) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (7%)

10) The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson (6%)

And a comment from a macher at the Folio Society:

“The first question I had was whether the similar figure for Darwin and the Bible does show a continuing polarisation between the realms of science and religion, or whether in fact it reveals a more balanced approach to ideas for the modern reader,” said Tom Walker, editorial director at The Folio Society. “They are the two ideas which have clashed in the 20th century – this shows, I think, that we can take understanding from both of them.” The Qur’an, he added, is “probably relatively recent to many UK people’s top 10 because of the impact of global debates around Islam”.

The publisher also asked respondents why they plumped for their choices: the Bible was chosen largely because it “contains principles/guidelines to be a good person”, the publisher said, while On the Origin of Species was cited because it “answers fundamental questions of human existence”.

I don’t see how the equality of votes for Darwin and the Bible shows anything like a “balanced approach to ideas”. Those ideas are inimical and incompatible, one book adumbrating natural causes for life and its diversity, the other offering untenable supernatural explanations for not only those phenomena, but everything else. What it shows is that half of Brits are science-friendly, and the other half can’t extricate themselves from the quicksand of superstition. And if someone voted for both, well, God help them.

As for the Bible telling us “how to be a good person,” well, maybe, but only if you ignore Deuteronomy and Leviticus, as well as the statements by Jesus such as the duty of leaving your family and loved ones to follow him. Where people get the idea that the Bible is a good textbook for ethical behavior eludes me. More than half of it, in fact, adumbrates a philosophy of murder, rape, misogyny, and genocide, as well as a bunch of stupid rules that nobody believes in (i.e., he who gathers sticks on the Sabbath should be killed). Have those people even read the Bible? What they’re doing, of course, is cherry-picking the precepts of the Bible that accords with their own sense of good behavior.

As for the winner of This Month’s Admission of the Obvious Award, Walker wins it, too:

Walker said that the list perhaps revealed “which books are perceived as having influence or giving understanding, rather than those which we personally read in order to understand the world around us”, citing A Brief History of Time as “surely one of the most underread bestsellers ever written”, and adding that the readership for Newton’s Principia Mathematica is probably “pretty thin”.

“Pretty thin” indeed! I’ve read 7 of the 10, but never essayed Einstein, Newton, or Adam Smith. Certainly as far as influencing people, the list isn’t bad, but in terms of “value,” well, let’s just say that I don’t see the Bible or Qur’an as being particularly salubrious. But take heart, for five of the ten books are about science or math. That shows that the voters, at least, perceived science as being more valuable than Scripture, or even fiction.

And now, dear readers, what books would you vote for (you don’t have to choose stuff on the list of 30)? But clearly Darwin belongs there, and for the reasons given: it answers fundamental questions of human existence. The Bible and Qur’an pretend to, but their answers are disparate, and neither answers the question of where we came from, which Darwin does.

h/t: Aaron

156 Comments

  1. Nicholas
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Subscribe.

    • GBJames
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      sub

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        //

  2. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. From what I can tell, the Muslim population of England is less than 5%, which implies that 4% or more of the respondents aren’t Muslim, yet still consider the Quran as the most valuable book to humanity. I wonder their reasoning…

    • GBJames
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Maybe the poll isn’t a representative sample? i.e.: bad methodology?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      The summery above doesn’t describe the survey selection in any detail, so I strongly suspect a self – selection effect.

    • h2ocean
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      I suspect it isn’t representative, and it might have been bombed by Muslims who heard of the poll (similar to how PZ Myers asks his readers to go vote on BS online polls). Let’s assume that ISN’T the case. One interpretation is that the Quran’s over-representation on this list means that MORE Muslim’s see the Quran as the most valuable compared to Christian’s opinion of the Bible. That is, the make up a relatively small percent of the population, but the one’s that came out to vote were very likely to check off the Quran.

      • Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        But if they survey’s representative of the general population, than even if every single Muslim voted for the Quran, there’d still be a 4 percentage point gap that needs to be filled. So either proportionally more Muslims were surveyed, or there are non-Muslims who think the Quran is the most important book. If the latter, I’d really like to know their justification.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

          Supposing that (A) it’s an exactly representative sample and (B) every single Muslim put the QKouran #1, all it takes is for HALF the rest of the sample to put ANYTHING BUT THE BIBLE OR QKOURAN.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

            No that’s wrong, I retract it (like a ‘communicated’ paper in PNAS)

  3. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Most people don’t know what’s in the Bible, and they assume it only contains stuff like “Love your neighbor”. They can be forgiven for thinking the book has been of value to humanity.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I not sure that’s forgivable, and certainly no longer excusable, since there may be as many apps for the bible as there are for porn.

      • Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Why would they devote the time to it? It’s not a reasonable expectation just to be able to answer polls correctly.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        I shall encourage the porn industry to get more apps out there. After all, a fair case can be made that the porn industry drove the popularisation of the Internet.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

          Right. List of books of value to humanity, in order.

          1. Origin of Species.
          2. The Blind Watchmaker, R. Dawkins.
          3. Animal Farm, Orwell.


          633. Penthouse (any issue)
          634. Playboy (ditto)


          997. Lady Chatterly’s Lover.
          998. The Happy Hooker.
          999. The Bible.
          1000. The Qur’an.

          • Dominic
            Posted November 14, 2014 at 3:02 am | Permalink

            You think the religious books deserve any inclusion???

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

              Lots of sheets of paper ; generally tough enough that your fingers won’t go through it. There’s a place for the bible (and Koran) : on a nail, within reach.

          • Posted November 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            Lady Chatterly should be up much higher. Real litterature, doncha know.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Give me the New Testament purged of the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Book of Acts, the late letters of Paul, and the Book of Revelation, and I might be willing to squeeze it in near the bottom of the list.

      Oh, and per Ben Goren, take out the 19th chapter of Luke also. (I still like the Sermon on the Mount better than he though.)

  4. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Surely, “The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, And Ducks Built A Dynasty,” is in the running.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Praise be to Eris, but no! The Folio Society is very British (lovely editions. Bloody expensive though.)

    • Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      Ethel the Ardvark Goes Quantity Surveying

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    What!? Cicero got NO votes? Poor Cicero! I can’t find the list of 30 but these are the books I’d select:

    The Communist Manifesto – so everyone knows what communism is.
    Mein Kampf – so everyone knows Hitler wasn’t an atheist and his writing sucked
    Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – not only does this show a sympathetic portrayal of the other in the “wretch” but also makes the reader think about the Romantics anticipation of technological changes in the coming years that the Victorians only whined about. They actually think about consequences and ethics.
    Cicero’s Orations – Cicero was the best orator in the Western world.
    Carl Sagan’s books – many will probably suggest The Demon Haunted World but I liked reading The Dragons of Eden
    Orwell’s Ninteen-Eighty-Four for understanding how evil people in power can be and also for making room 101 jokes about your boss.
    Pinker’s book – Better Angels of Our Nature because it is not only great in its main thesis but explains how statistics works.
    Dostoyevsky – anything by him because you should read existential type Angst books
    Jean-Paul Satre’s works – I know they aren’t books but still should be read.
    NOT THE BIBLE. Instead The Aeneid, The Iliad and The Odyssey.

    • Charles E. Jones
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      When it comes to Marx, I preferred Marx’s German Ideology, just because it gave a compelling way to view history.

      • Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:37 am | Permalink

        Marx was just another state-worshipper…

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Dostoyevsky – anything by him because you should read existential type Angst book

      I shall get the tungsten teaspoons heating, up to a green heat. For scooping out my own eyeballs, in preference to reading more Dostoyevsky.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Dostoyevsky – anything by him because you should read existential type Angst book

      I shall get the tungsten teaspoons heating, up to a green heat. For scooping out my own eyeballs, in preference to reading more Dostoyevsky.

      • Posted November 13, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        My gr 13 high school teacher made me read him on my own as an independent study when I told him his course was a bird course. 😀 it was. English was easy.

        • merilee
          Posted November 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          What’s so bad about ol’ Fyodor?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted November 14, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink

            Nothing. I liked reading him. My teacher just gave me something hard as an independent assignment. He also gave me Beowulf. LOL!

            • merilee
              Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

              Yup, I was given Beowulf in 9th grade, which was a bit of a challenge…

            • Diane G.
              Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

              So, your Br’er Rabbit strategy worked!

              (“Please sir, whatever you do, don’t give me any classics to read!”)

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

                LOL! Didn’t you just love those Uncle Remus stories? I have a cassette of Danny Glover reading them, and also the original books from my day – or maybe even my mother’s.

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                Sure did, but I haven’t thought about them for a long time.

                When my kids were little I was afraid they’d be perceived as racists if I gave them those books. Although I did let them read Dr. Doolittle.

              • Merilee Olson
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                How racist can they be if Danny Glover reads them? Loved the movie Song of the South, too, but I’m not sure you can get it any more.

                Typo ergo sum Merilee

                >

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                Oh, I totally agree!

                Not sure that recording was out when my kids were little…I’ll bet it’s great.

              • merilee
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

                Song of the South as a whole was not out on video, but I did have a tape of excerpts from various Disney movies, with one number from Song of the South, one from The Jungle Book, etc.

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

                Oh, I was referring to your Danny Glover recording.

                I seem to remember that we were able to rent Song of the South…VHS? Betamax?

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, I realize you meant the audio tape. I kind of changed the subject. Sorry. In fact I copied the audio tape from a friend’s. Maybe your kids are older thsn mine ( 27 and 29), but I could not find hide nor hair (hare?) of the entire Song of the South. Maybe you had it on Beta, which technology I never had ( nor 8-track).

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

                Mine are 23 & 29!

                Yeah, we had Betamax…until it went extinct and we had to go VHS instead…

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

                My last VCR has croaked so got all our family “home movie” videos put on DVD ( including actual original home moviesold-style).

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:02 am | Permalink

                I’ve gotta do that too. Although maybe I should wait and see what supersedes the DVD.

              • Posted November 16, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

                Don’t wait too long because tape corrodes.

              • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                Ours are 23 and 23.

                /@

              • merilee
                Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                Actual twins, or Irish twins, as I’ve heard them called?

              • Posted November 15, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

                Actual, with the best birthday for twins: 2 February.

                /@

              • Posted November 15, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                Even better if those twins become ballet dancers.

              • merilee
                Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

                Groundhog Day?

              • Posted November 16, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

                Well, there’s that but I was thinking only of “2-2”.

                /@

              • Posted November 16, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

                Since one is still a man, possibly not. He might find it too, too embarrassing.

                /@

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                And ditto on Song of the South. 🙂

              • merilee
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

                Zippity do dah, zippity ehhhhhh
                My oh my what a wonderful daaaaaayyyy
                (OK, I’ll cease and desist;-)

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

                That would be … satisfactual.

                /@

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

                🐰. ( no bluebirds…)

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

                🐋👤!

                /@

              • Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                Whale man???

              • Posted November 16, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

                Blue whale on my shoulder.

                /@

              • Posted November 16, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

                Bit of a stretch, but OK…
                Mr. Bluewhale on my shoullllllder
                It’s da troof
                It’s actual
                Everything is satisfactual🎶

              • Posted November 16, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

                😀

                >

              • merilee
                Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

                I had forgotten how much Br’er Rabbit looks like Bugs.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          I tried reading Dusty several times in my 20s. Never got much beyond the axe murder (C+P, of course), after that it just seemed to degenerate into incomprehensible mush.
          Kafka is the same. I’ve tried wading through The Castle three times now on paper, and it just escapes me. I can be reading a page and put the book down for a piss … then not be able to locate where I was to within a hundred pages. It’s just so numbingly repetitive. I tried The Castle as an audiobook a year or so ago – same experience, but I did get further into it before getting punch drunk.
          [Shrug] [toss] Pick up this week’s New Scientist – much more engaging.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            I had to read Kafka in German. Imagine how that was? It thankfully wasn’t the whole thing but my prof would give us translations and none of us could stand it. Then we found out that it was Kafka and we realized it wasn’t really our German it was a combination of our German skill and the fact that it was Kafka.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Oh, and I’d better juggle the teaspoons by the hot ends. Don’t want to take the chance of accidentally picking up a Braille “Dusty”.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          I’ll be fair – I managed a single Tolstoy (Haji Murad) and feel no need to return to his work ; the various chick lit of the 19th century (Austin, Elliott), I’ve never got beyond the first few paragraphs of any of them. I forced myself through Dicken’s “Xmas Horrorfest”, and I think a few random chapters of Pickwick before putting him back up on the shelf. Me and Victorian novels just don’t seem to get along. Get into the 1920s and 30s and things become much more manageable. But to be honest, I hardly ever pick up a novel of any sort these days, apart from anthologies of new SF.

  6. Charles E. Jones
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    In terms of value to humanity, I would have to rank works that led to the Enlightenment pretty high. Does anyone know which book or books most profoundly influenced Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson?

    • rickflick
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Wikipedia: “In France, Enlightenment was based in the salons and culminated in the great Encyclopédie (1751–72).
      “It was also very successful in the United States, where its influence was manifested in the works of Francophiles like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among others…with contributions by hundreds of leading intellectuals who were called philosophes, notably Voltaire (1694–1778), Rousseau (1712–1778) and Montesquieu (1689–1755).”

  7. merilee
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    sub

  8. Frank Wagner
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I nominate Shakespeare’s First Folio, the Federalist Papers and On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, by Copernicus. I agree with 2, 4, 6 and 9 on the reader’s list.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Putting ‘Hamlet’ alone up against whole tomes is clearly THE major distortion in the list of options. The Bard was nobbled.

  9. Kevin
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Clearly, having read the books is not part of the deal…just having heard about them. I am the only person I know who has read Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and it is opaque compared to later contributions by Eddington and then much later by Wheeler, Thorne, and Misner.

    Any book list will have to include Feynman, Darwin, Shakespeare, Homer, and probably Cormac McCarthy if we are to have any hope to preserve humanity.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Einstein’s Theory is back beside my bed. I find base-16 sud OK us easier reading.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Bloody auto-discorrect. “Sudokus”, not “Sud OK us”
        Pub quiz in Eddyboro on Tuesday had a team titled “Autocorrect is my worst enema”. Quite good, by undergraduate standards.

  10. eric
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how the equality of votes for Darwin and the Bible shows anything like a “balanced approach to ideas”. Those ideas are inimical and incompatible…And if someone voted for both, well, God help them.

    I initially read “valuable” as “important,” as in a book that has had a lot of impact. In which case I would vote for both.

    Now, that interpretation would be a mistake on my part. But I bet it was a common mistake amongst survey subjects.

    • GBJames
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      I did the same thing. I assumed the question was about “impact on humanity”.

      • eric
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Now, if the other interpretation of “valuable” is used and we talk about the single book or document that it would be most important for humans to have access to…a couple of chemistry, physics, or biology texts might qualify. For that matter, I have a “In case you go back in time” t-shirt that summarizes (in small print) the basic principles of most of the major medical and technological advances of the modern and industrial age. Everything from how to build and airplane to how to reconstruct antibiotics from scratch. Now THATS valuable. If extremely derivative. 🙂

  11. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Plato’s Socratic Dialogues, which maybe is technically 30 books.

    • worried secularist
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely agree re Plato. And add David Hume’s A Treatise of Human nature and the subversive Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      and to temper Plato – Nietzsche.

      Also William Blake.

      Also the pre-socratics.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Plato was a mystic, destroying a trade based empirical period [Sagan].

      So, no.

  12. David Harper
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s true that few people read Newton’s Principia these days, but the fundamental ideas it contains are still used in engineering, physics and astronomy. That’s not bad for a book which is more than 300 years old.

  13. Joe
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    A vote for Galileo, Dialog Concerning the two Chief World Systems, written in Italian in 1642, not in Latin like the Principia. I’d wager there isn’t a single physicist in the world today who has read the entire Principia.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I’ve tried a few times, but I’m still a student, maybe by the time I’m a physicist. The last few years I’ve used it to top my Christmas tree and then I try to read it. It’s really hard work, never finished it.

    • colnago80
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:56 am | Permalink

      Neil Tyson claims to have read it cover to cover.

  14. Joe
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    sorry, 1632

  15. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The Joy of Sex. Anyone agree?…anyone?

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Only with its original, hairy Chris Foss art.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Where are my teaspoons?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      I went to a lot of wedding showers in my 20s and 30s. This book was always given as a gift & I always managed to take it and add thought and speech bubbles to the pictures. It’s pretty funny and it was a lot of entertainment that the older guests frowned on.

  16. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    People said Darwin and the Bible. What they read was Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Gray.

    The survey’s pretty worthless when the choices are from 30 preselected books.

    I’ve read Orwell, Marx, Einstein and Hawking so a definite bias towards left wing politics and hard physics.

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      The books I call influential are the books I hope everyone else is reading, so they can save the world while I’m in my room masturbating to vampire erotica.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        I spent a whole 10 minutes watching one such film (Twilight is the trademark?) Then I deleted the recording and moved on to Walkabout.

  17. Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I hope Malthus continues to be read. I have run into lots of people online who regret the decline in population growth, or who oppose attempts to reduce the rate.

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      MALTHUS May be too much for the godling on the street. Too many idiots. My wife is occasionally drawn by such goddiferousness. It doesn’t change resource levels, nor get my tubes anywhere nearer an urologist.

      • rickflick
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        In recent news, (I forget where I saw it) population control is essentially a lost cause. The numbers are overwhelming. There’s nothing we can do. (why does it always seem that nothing can be done? Like global warming, I’m afraid its essentially too late for that too).

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          If we don’t do it ourselves, Nature will do it.
          Nature will be a lot less gentle and caring about exerting population control than I will. If that doesn’t make you afraid for yourselves, your children and grandchildren, it should do.

  18. Konrad
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    No mention of Euclid’s Elements? By most definitions of influence (nr of editions published, world-wide readership throughout history, etc) it is second only to the Bible. And in terms of “value to humanity” it beats everything on the list hands-down – without it we wouldn’t even have had the Renaissance. Not having it among the pre-selected choices makes the whole thing a joke.

    • aljoc
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      I agree, it is still just as valid as when it was published, and just as wonderful (despite the error in the very first postulate).

      • aljoc
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, the first proposition, not postulate.

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      A mathematical truth is a truth for ever; everything else is just provisional.

      • Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        That’s just because pure maths deals only with imaginary things.

        Once you step into the real world (in everything except counting countable objects), then it’s all statistical probabilities and distributions.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

          Jbillie, meet 1st through 3rd laws of Thermodynamics. Let us know when you

          • Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

            What’s the tolerance on your measuring device and when was it last calibrated? 🙂

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      I got to view a first English edition of Euclid at an Edward Tufte lecture. That was a moving experience.

  19. Marion Hansen
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I can only say which book influenced me most: Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. In fifth grade I began asking myself, if I hadn’t been raised to believe this, would it still make sense? I discovered The True Believer in my early 20’s and finally recognized that I was an atheist and always had been.

    Marion

  20. Mark P
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    For me personally, it was the God Delusion. Also the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      The Decline and Fall …, I believe.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted November 13, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Gibson is fun to read but his stuff is outdated.

        • Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          I liked Neuromancer a lot! 🙂

          • Mark R.
            Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

            The Sprawl trilogy, which includes “Neuromancer”, “Count Zero”, and “Mona Lisa Overdrive” is one of my favorite sci fi series. I enjoy Gibson’s savvy, smart-ass characters and his illustrative, raw and efficient writing style. I also like the fact that he coined the term “cyberspace” in 1982. I think he coined other information age words too, but they escape me. No time for google at the moment.

            • Mark R.
              Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

              aha…I didn’t read the first part of the thread that the Gibson here was the historian. Face palm. I just saw “Neuromancer” on a follow-up comment and jumped right in. 🙂

  21. Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I think that this list has a lot of people voting for a book because it symbolizes a lot of important work. Einstein’s book is not particularly scientifically important — his work on relativity is, but that was presented in scientific papers. Similarly for Hawking’s book: it is not where Hawking’s scientific work was actually published. You probably all know that the book The Double Helix did not in itself revolutionize molecular biology the way the 1953 Nature paper did.

    However, Newton’s Principia really was the place he published his work on laws of motion and on the calculus. Similarly for Darwin.

  22. Kiwi Dave
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    The book which most directly influences my and my fellow citizens’ daily behaviour is possibly The Road Code, but perhaps that’s a bit too low-faluting.

  23. Jeff Rankin
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    A few picks:

    Why I am Not a Christian
    Twilight of the Idols
    The Psychology of Everyday Things

    …and just for fun:

    The Lord of the Rings

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      And how could I forget:

      Cosmos
      The Story of Philosophy

  24. Blue
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    For me … … only one: my particular scripture is researched and written by “Prophetess” Dr Rosalind Miles in its second edition, April 2001, “The Women’s History of the World” here http://www.rosalind.net/who_cooked_the_last_supper.htm with within its Chapter Five thus: “When man made himself God, he made woman less than human. ‘A woman is never truly her own master,’ argued Luther. ‘God formed her body to belong to a man, to have and to rear children.’ In the grand design of the monotheistic male, woman was no more than a machine to make babies for him, with neither the need nor the right to be anything else:
    ‘Let them bear children till they die of it.’ Luther advised. ‘That is what they are for.’ ”

    Yeah. Page 102.
    Blue

  25. Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Aristotle
    Plato (Dialogues)
    Newton
    Einstein
    Darwin, The Origin
    Julius Caesar (Gallic War, Civil War)
    Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
    Tactitus, The Annals
    Homer, The Iliad
    Carson, Silent Spring
    King James Bible (influence only)
    Orwell, 1984
    Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    Paine, Common Sense, The Rights of Man, The Age of Reason

    • Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      You missed Herodotus!

      • Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Yeah; but I think Thucycides was more influential to subsequent historians.

  26. Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    After Darwin, my vote would go to William Blake. A few lines from “A Little Boy Lost” might suffice. (It’s a small boy’s innocent answer to a priestly admonition to love God above all.)

    Nought loves another as itself,
    Nor venerates another so,
    Nor is it possible to thought
    A greater than itself to know.

    ‘And, father, how can I love you
    Or any of my brothers more?
    I love you like the little bird
    That picks up crumbs around the door.’…

    I love the idea that the most that a child could promise would be to try and love God as much as he loves a small bird. So many of Blake’s poems have these strange, haunting lines in them.

    The rest of the poem, a few more verses, is (here). Its description of the priest’s reaction is, sadly, still quite true.

  27. Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    🔰

  28. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    If you had to start civilization over with only ten books, it would be wonderful if neither the Bible nor the Qur’an were among them.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Rame… You know, never mind.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Thin paper, so lots of pages. Very useful.

  29. Mike Paps
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I nominate A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

    • merilee
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      excellent book!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      Agreed.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Too bad that the most influential book merited a mere #6 position.

    Oh, well. At least Newton himself was pretty clear on that he single handed ushered in science. =D

    I’ve read 7 of the 10, but never essayed Einstein, Newton, or Adam Smith.

    Apparently a modern reader can’t make head and tails of Newton’s Principia. The context has changed too much.

    E.g. Newton was likely aware that his “absolute room” could be relative. But he needed to make a separation between space and the objects inhabiting it that was unfamiliar to his society. Before him people saw the space between a table and a chair as different than the space between the chair and the wall, because the table, chair and wall was their reference frame.

    Hence “absolute” in “absolute room” is (as I understand it) more a marker of existence than anything else. Newton was literary moving earth and sky to make himself understood, and could only take it so far. Compare Darwin, which though a genius happened to have predecessors as well as a contemporary in Wallace. Newton was a rare singularity.

    And on, and on, making Principia an impossible read.]

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      As I understand it, he deliberately made it impossible for most of his contemporaries to read too, to avoid being criticized by ignorant busybodies. Very kind of Darwin not to do the same.

  31. Henry Fitzgerald
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that I have a personal answer, but I’d like to propose a general candidate that might otherwise be overlooked: J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.

    I’m not trying to open the door to musical compositions generally. Bach’s book – it really can be called a book – is a special case: it’s not a composition but an anthology of compositions; it’s designed for the person reading it, sitting down at a keyboard, and not for public perforance; and in addition to aesthetic value, it served a strong didactic purpose (which Bach may not have intended, but I think that’s beside the point). And it was a reference work for countless future musicians.

    • Posted November 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      It also served as a campaign for moving away from mean-tone (inter alia) temperaments, so that one could visit remote keys without retuning your instrument.

      Much of Bach’s music was indeed written with didactic intent. He includes this preface on the title page of the Orgelbüchlein:

      “Little Organ Book
      In which a beginning organist receives given instruction as to performing a chorale in a multitude of ways while achieving mastery in the study of the pedal, since in the chorales contained herein the pedal is treated entirely obbligato.

      In honour of our Lord alone,
      That my fellow man his skill may hone.”

  32. Tess
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Emily Dickinson and Pablo Neruda. I agree with others listed above by others, but want to add these two.

  33. Posted November 13, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    “Most valuable to humanity” is a pretty tall order, too tall. And too vague. It’s not like asking “After the collapse of civilization, what ten books would we need to restart things?” or “Which ten books represent the world’s literary treasure?” Those are two very different questions about value. I wouldn’t put Plato in either list but I believe I’d put Shakespeare’s works in both.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      That’s also, approximately, my response to Jerry’s question at the end of his post. Does “most valuable to humanity” mean “most influential”? Or “most influential in a positive sense”? Or “most important” (and if so, in which context?)? Or “most representative of human variety and/or creativity”? Or “most popular”? Or some weighted average of these and other factors? My list would be different for each of these interpretations of the meaning of the original question.

    • Sean
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      “After the collapse of civilization, what ten books would we need to restart things?”

      The would obviously preclude all religious texts, and most fiction in general.

  34. Rod
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. A how-to book that describes what to do to set up a functioning “society”.
    Technologist’s dream!

  35. Walt Jones
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Catch 22. If I couldn’t laugh at irony, I wouldn’t survive in the corporate world.

    • merilee
      Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      We wouldn’t last in any world!

  36. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Excluding scientific works, I’ll go for

    Complete Works of Shakespeare
    Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason”
    Nietzche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”
    Goethe’s “Faust” (maybe)
    Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”
    Albert Camus’ “The Plague”

    • Mark R.
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      “The Plague” is one of my all-time favorite novels. I appreciate Hitchens’ analyses of some of Rieux’s final observations in the introduction to “The Portable Atheist”.

  37. AR.
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    How about a list of books to “Send back in time” (to a time before they were first printed)

    Darwin.
    Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
    Something by Alan Turing.
    ….
    Probably best to leave Einstein in the present.

  38. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    If the books were being rated for anything else, such as good literature, or best moving from a book, To Kill a Mockingbird is the winner. Value to humanity it’s Darwin.

  39. Posted November 13, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I love this kind of exercise. It’s impossible to give a decisive list, but here goes one attempt. As a couple people mentioned above, much of the most important scientific work has not come in the form of a book, per se. But there are still plenty works throughout history that have, so it’s still an interesting question to ask. The 10 books “most valuable to humanity,” listed chronologically:

    – Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (arguably one work)
    – Plato’s Republic
    – Euclid’s Elements
    – Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci
    – Newton’s Principia
    – Euler’s Introduction to Analysis of the Infinite (or his Elements of Algebra; really hard to separate the value of these two texts from each other)
    – Paine’s Rights of Man
    – Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women
    – Darwin’s Origin of Species
    – Fisher’s Statistical Methods for Research Workers (no modern statistics without this, and no modern quantitative science)

    I have purposely conflated value with indispensability, something I think is important. Religious texts have no business appearing on “most valuable” lists in my opinion. They have certainly been influential, but if those texts had been replaced with some other random collection of parables and fallacies when they were created, little would be appreciably different today. That kills any intrinsic value they could have. The same can’t be said for most of science.

  40. Posted November 13, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    My #1 book would be The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
    A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value — you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble‐sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand‐to‐hand‐combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

  41. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    That’s a strangely mixed list. Origin, Relativity, Wealth of Nations and Principia Mathematica are groundbreaking theoretical works, whereas Brief History of Time and Double Helix are much lighter popular narratives. I find their inclusion a trifle odd. (Much as I like reading them).

    • Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      It is all about selling the Folio Society.

      If you want groundbreaking surely Herodotus should be there, Homer maybe as well for the fiction, Cicero…

      • Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        Also – for I am (probably) an English-Celt, Beowulf, the Mabinogion, & Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which was largely fiction but hugely influential in the Middle Ages…

  42. Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    If it were still 1800, Alexander von Humboldt’s Kosmos would probably be up the top of the list. And I guess of it were still the Bronze Age, the Bible might deserve a place too.

  43. Jeff L
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    Don Quixote probably deserves some mention. It’s second only to the Bible in number of languages it’s been translated into, and certainly had a huge influence on literature.

  44. Harbo
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I re-nominate “The Profit” by Kellogg Allbran

    • Posted November 14, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      Are cereal stories allowed?

      /@

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        Sounds flakey to me.

  45. Robert Seidel
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    There’s a very interesting article related to this, about a little treatise published in 1764, which single-handedly ended the use of torture by the judicial systems in Europe:

    http://www.exurbe.com/?p=2339

  46. Weemaryanne
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

  47. Mark R.
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I’m late to this party, and agree that the most valuable books I believe are in the realms of science- the ones already noted being standouts. Though I haven’t read Newton, Watson or Einstein.

    I wanted to add the importance of short novels and novellas (>200 pages) which is one of my favorite genres. They usually don’t make the “top 10” lists of the most valuable book probably because of their diminutive page count. Many of these I read in my youth, but they still resonate when I reread them.

    In no particular order.

    Abe- The Woman in the Dunes
    Bellow- Dangling Man
    Camus- The Stranger
    Duras- The Lover
    Marquez- Chronicle of a Death Foretold
    Coetzee- Life and times of Michael K
    Tolstoy- The Death of Ivan Ilyich
    Steinbeck- Of Mice and Men
    Johnson- The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia
    Morrison- Sula
    Wilder- The Bridge of San Luis Rey

  48. Zach Donaldson
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. No understanding of world history is sufficient without it.


%d bloggers like this: