The World Library Book Beat Blog
Volume 2, Number 5
Wednessday, May 02, 2012
by John Guagliardo
Founder, World Public Library
What is the Most Important Book that has Ever Been Written?
A few weeks ago, I was having a meeting with some visiting dignitaries that were in town for the APEC Conference and one of them asked me, “What is the most important work of literature there is?”. I thought about it for a few moments, and replied that “importance” is too subjective to each person, group, and culture. I pointed out that I couldn’t possibly wish that what was an important book to me would have to be of any importance to anyone else. Unfortunately, my guest was not going to be satisfied with my reply. I am sure they all felt it to be too vague and noncommittal.
Thus, I would have to say that “importance” in this case is equivalent to “influence”, meaning that what makes a book important is, first, its influence on the readers of the book, and consequently, influence in world events.
One could make an argument that for each period in history there was an event that was the catalyst of the period, and that quite often a book was the influencing factor behind the event. I guess that the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, does have some truth to it.
Sometime ago, I came across a list of the 100 Most Influential Books of All Time. It is a fantastic list of books. Each and every book in the list is arguably just as important as the next one in forming the world as we know it.
Think about it, Einstein’s Principles of Relativity, formed the core set of principles that modern-day physics and technology is based on, yet without Newton’s Laws of Motion Einstein could not have written his theory. It would be almost impossible to say which one is more important. The interconnectivity of literary thoughts and scientific theories is what enables succeeding generations to build their worldviews. I mean how can we say that Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems is less important than Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
However, if I had to name a book, I would have to say, there is only one book, or collection of works, that had especial influence for me. That is to say, after studying these works, I had to go back and re-examine what I had previously thought of as certainties. It led me to a significant change in my perception of history and the world. For me, I would say it is the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I realize that might seem illogical, because for the most part they were unknown for two thousand years (the discovery occurring from 1947-1956), and therefore, being so recent, it could not yet have had significant enough influence on the world as we know it today. Additionally, after their discovery not much more than a few academic papers have been written about them. However, for me, the Dead Sea Scrolls changed my world. And did so by profoundly influencing a change in the way I viewed books and works I had previously read. And, I now had to go back and re-examine and re-read many canonical works with a different critical read than before.
When I think of the events of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the selection of Gospels that was to form the New Testament, I can’t help but think of how things would have turned out differently if The Gospel of Judas or The Gospel of Mary were included.
I don’t know if I had surprised my guests by choosing the Dead Sea Scrolls as my answer, or if they had thought that I was just trying to be politically correct. Either way, I encourage others to take a fresh look at these precious finds and enjoy the possibilities that the discovery of these scrolls may signify.
100 Most Influential Books of All Time