In compiling this short list of the most influential books we placed the emphasis on their influence, not necessarily their literary merit.
It might seem an almost impossible task, considering the enormous variety of books published in this period. Almost by definition, such a selection is subjective and, in terms of influence, 50 years is not a long time.
It can be logically argued that older books, published even in past centuries, have proven their influence over time. It is difficult to dispute the influence of the Bible, for example, or – at the opposite end of the spectrum – the works of Charles Darwin.
Nevertheless, our Life Daily editors feel that the influential books we have selected, though limited in number, have already had a considerable effect on the way people think, and will continue to do so in the future.
Some titles you will immediately recognize, while others will be less familiar; but all of them have had a great effect on those who have read them.
Now, browse our list, and see what you think. They are not arranged in any sequence, so the numbering is not an indication of their influence factor.
1. Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), revolutionized science fiction, making it both sociologically incisive and funny.
2. Robert Atkins – Dr Atkins’s New Diet Revolution (1992, last edition 2002), promoted the low-carbohydrate diet revolution. The concept has been emulated in numerous other diet programs.
3. Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion (2006), drew on his background as an evolutionary theorist to promote science at the expense of religion. It was influential in the resurgence of the atheist movement.
4. Allan Bloom – The Closing of the American Mind (1987), questioned political correctness and the reassertion of a “canon” of Western civilization.
5. Dan Brown – The Da Vinci Code (2003), as well as being an entertaining thriller, his book proved enormously influential in getting people to think that Christianity is all a conspiracy.
6. Dee Brown – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), changed the way we view native Americans in relation to their lost lands, lives, and dignity, following the expansion of white social and military pressures.
7. Stephen Covey – Seven Habits of Highly Successful People (1989), became the standard for books on leadership and and how to be effective in business.
8. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (1980), uses the background of a mystery at a medieval monastery to explore the key themes of premodernity, modernity and postmodernity.
9. Milton Friedman – Capitalism and Freedom (1962) argued that capitalism is a necessary condition for political liberties and paved the way for the conservative economics of Ronald Reagan in the US, and Margaret Thatcher in the UK.
10. John Gray – Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992), explored the differences between men and women in their relationships, and challenged the idea that gender differences are socially constructed.
11. Alex Haley – Roots (1976), personalized the tragic history of American slavery through the story of Kunta Kinte, and highlighted racism in America.
12. Stephen Hawking – A Brief History of Time (1988, updated and expanded 1998), by one of the world’s great physicists, attempted to answer the big questions of existence,and how the universe got here.
13. Joseph Heller – Catch-22 (1961), gave to the public a deep skepticism of bureaucracies, which he depicts as self-serving and soul-destroying.
14. Harold Kushner – When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981), attempted to change people’s view of God by exonerating God of evil and making him less than all-powerful.
15. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), preceded the civil rights advances of the 1960s and portrayed race relations from a new viewpoint. This was the view of an innocent child untainted by endemic racism and bigotry.
16. Ralph Nader – Unsafe at Any Speed (1965), attacked the car industry’s lax safety standards. It’s initial effect was to improve the safety of cars. Subsequently, the concept of consumer protection was expanded into a whole range of products.
17. Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged (1957), became a key inspiration for conservative economics in challenging entitlements and promoting unimpeded markets.
18. J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter Series (seven volumes, 1997-2007), might be surprising to find on such a list, but it set the standard for contemporary childrens’ literature. The books are loved by children, even if heavily criticized by many literary critics.
19. Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses (1988), underscored the clash between Islamic fundamentalism and Western civilization. Its publication resulted in Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issuing a death edict (fatwa) against Rushdie, and the author was in hiding, under heavy protection, for many years.
20. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – The Gulag Archipelago (in three volumes, 1974-78), exposed the totalitarian oppression of the former Soviet Union and, more than any other book, was instrumental in the eventual resignation of the government.
21. Benjamin Spock – The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946, last edition 2004), sold 50 million copies and revolutionized the way Americans raise their children.
22. Mao Tse-tung – The Little Red Book (Quotations From Chairman Mao) (1966), was mandatory reading throughout China and epitomized his political and social philosophy.
23. James D. Watson – The Double Helix (1969), explained how, with his colleague, Francis Crick, they had discovered the structure of DNA – one of the 20th century’s greatest scientific discoveries.
24. Malcolm X – The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), was written posthumously by Alex Haley from interviews. It depicts a complex activist for human rights at a difficult time in American history.
How many of these books have you read?
Do you agree that they are among the most influential books of the past 50 years?
Lets us know what you think by using the comments feed provided below.