This novel explores the mind of an individualistic person from within, challenging the rules of crime and punishment as they apply to the main character and the people around him. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The theme of preserving cultural history in the face of Western domination in this novel gave voice to the oppressed people in Africa and caught the attention of the world. This novel, written in , is still widely read and studied as an example of the damage of colonialism. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust is a tragic play, but it has long been considered the single greatest work in German literature.
The tale tells of Faust selling his soul to the devil for worldly knowledge and pleasures. The influence this story has on art, literature, music, and thought is immeasurable. Beloved by Toni Morrison. The Lord of the Rings by J. Not only is The Lord of the Rings one of the best-selling novels in the world, it also helped form and shape the high fantasy genre. While many of the themes from the story were adapted from earlier mythologies, The Lord of the Rings itself became the foundational text for all fantasy readers and authors.
This landmark book is built from the actual diary kept by Anne Frank, the young daughter of a Jewish family hiding during the Nazi takeover in the Netherlands. The innocence of this young girl so full of hopes and dreams is held in sharp contrast to the reality of her situation at the hands of the Nazis. This book has become a strong symbol and reminder of the impact of racial persecution. She argued that women are deserving of an education that is proportionate to their position in society, that of educators and companions.
Wollstonecraft demonstrated that inequality is not only morally and ethically wrong, but is also economically and socially irresponsible. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Without the freedom, the education, or the financial rewards of male authors, females are barred from creating a literary tradition of their own.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau wrote the results of his experience with self-sufficiency and simplicity in Walden , which has subsequently become a source of inspiration for those seeking a life removed from the business of society. Considered the most influential dictionary of the English language, Johnson compiled this book over seven years all by himself. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
Even though Upton Sinclair set out to write a novel about the lives of immigrants in America in the early 20th century, The Jungle ended up gaining popularity because it highlighted the unsanitary practices in the meatpacking industry. By depicting countless health violations and stories of the unfair treatment and pay of migrant workers, Sinclair was a major contributor to the reformation of the meat inspection laws in America. Over time, he gained more recognition for influencing standardized wages as well. Native Son by Richard Wright. Often regarded as the father of Black American Literature, Richard Wright wrote Native Son as an attempt to demonstrate the harsh realities of being a black person in white America.
It was one of the earliest and most successful books to observe the racial divide in the country from the perspective of the minority, and it highlighted black culture in a way that had not been done before.
Science, Math, and Geography These works are some of the most influential books because they began or at least represent the beginning of entire movements and schools of thought in the fields of science, math, and geography. This book set the stage for modern studies of both math and physics. The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein. While many of the ideas were presented in different forms prior to the publication of this book, The Meaning of Relativity remains one of the most important collections of ideas ever put together.
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. This work by Darwin laid out the foundation for the theory of evolution. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Carson wrote on the topic of environmental justice in this book that inspired readers to think more seriously about their relationship to the Earth.
Silent Spring helped the modern environmental movement get off the ground and led to the nationwide ban on DDT. Ptolemy wrote and mapped the world according to the knowledge he had available to him in the 2nd century. His maps and methodologies were used for hundreds of years afterward. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. Freud included the basics of his theories on psychoanalysis in this landmark work that is still read and studied worldwide. In this work, Freud introduced the concept of the unconscious and demonstrated how his theories are used to interpret dreams.
Religion These religious texts are some of the most influential books ever written, serving as spiritual and lifestyle guides for countless people around the world. This sacred text brought Christianity to the world and has continued to serve as a source of inspiration for millions of people. It is the most translated and the most frequently purchased book in the world. A number of American writers also produced great poetry during the nineteen twenties. Probably the most famous work was "The Waste Land," a poem of sadness by the writer T.
Often regarded as the father of Black American Literature, Richard Wright wrote Native Son as an attempt to demonstrate the harsh realities of being a black person in white America. Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition". The forms of satire are as manifold as those of literature itself—from those of the mock epic to the biting epigram. The Crying of Lot 49 Kurt Vonnegut: Sometimes the pretense of purely abstract intellectual rigour is in fact a literary device.
There also were important changes in American painting during the nineteen twenties. Economic growth gave many Americans the money to buy art for their homes for the first time. Sixty new museums opened. Slowly, Americans learned about serious art. In nineteen-oh-eight, a group of New York artists arranged a historic show. These artists tried to show real life in their paintings. They painted new kinds of subjects. For example, George Bellows painted many emotional and realistic pictures of the sport of boxing.
His work, and the painting of other realistic artists, became known as the "Ash Can" school of art. Another important group of modern artists was led by the great photographer Alfred Stieglitz. This group held a major art show in nineteen thirteen in New York, Chicago, and Boston.
The show presented modern art from Europe. Americans got their first chance to see the work of such painters as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. The show caused a huge public debate in the United States. Traditional art critics accused the organizers of the show of trying to overthrow Christianity and American values. Former president Theodore Roosevelt and others denounced the new art as a threat to the country. However, many young American painters and art lovers did not agree. They became very interested in the new art styles from Europe.
They studied them closely.
Soon, Charles Demuth, Joseph Stella, and other American painters began to produce excellent art in the new Cubist style. John Marin painted beautiful views of sea coasts in New York and Maine. And such artists as Max Weber and Georgia O'Keeffe painted in styles that seemed to come more from their own imagination than from reality.
As with writing, the work of many of these serious modern painters only became popular many years later. The greatest American designer of buildings during the nineteen twenties was Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright believed that architects should design a building to fit its location, not to copy some ancient style. He used local materials in new ways.
Wright invented many imaginative methods to combine useful building design with natural beauty. But again, most Americans did not know of Wright's work. Instead, they turned to local architects with traditional beliefs. At the other extreme, the style of the early 20th-century American novelist Theodore Dreiser —bumbling, clumsy, dogged, troubled—perfectly embodies his own attitudes toward life and is, in fact, his constant judgment of his subject matter. Sometimes an author, under the impression that he is simply polishing his style, may completely alter his content.
As Flaubert worked over the drafts of Madame Bovary , seeking always the apposite word that would precisely convey his meaning, he lifted his novel from a level of sentimental romance to make it one of the great ironic tragedies of literature. Yet, to judge from his correspondence, he seems never to have been completely aware of what he had done, of the severity of his own irony. Literature may be an art, but writing is a craft, and a craft must be learned.
Talent, special ability in the arts, may appear at an early age; the special personality called genius may indeed be born, not made. But skill in matching intention and expression comes with practice. They wrote spontaneously whatever came into their heads; but they wrote constantly, voluminously, and were, by their own standards, skilled practitioners.
There are certain forms of literature that do not permit such highly personal behaviour—for instance, formal lyric poetry and classic drama. These structures are, however, quite simple and so cannot be said to determine the content. Yet their plays, and the poetry in which they are written, differ completely. Corneille is intellectually and emotionally a Neoclassicist—clear and hard, a true objectivist, sure of both his verse and the motivations of his characters. Racine was a great romantic long before the age of Romanticism. His characters are confused and tortured; his verse throbs like the heartbeats of his desperate heroines.
He is a great sentimentalist in the best and deepest meaning of that word. Verse on any subject matter can of course be written purely according to formula. The 18th century in England saw all sorts of prose treatises cast in rhyme and metre, but this was simply applied patterning. Works such as The Botanic Garden [2 vol. Neoclassicism , especially in its 18th-century developments, confused—for ordinary minds, at any rate—formula with form and so led to the revolt called Romanticism. A similar revolution in taste was taking place all over Europe and also in China where the narrow pursuit of formula had almost destroyed poetry.
Each had his own personal form. Time passes and the pendulum of taste swings. All form in literature is expressive. All expression has its own form, even when the form is a deliberate quest of formlessness.
The automatic writing cultivated by the surrealists, for instance, suffers from the excessive formalism of the unconscious mind and is far more stereotyped than the poetry of the Neoclassicist Alexander Pope. Form simply refers to organization, and critics who attack form do not seem always to remember that a writer organizes more than words. Thus, his organization stretches far back in his mental process.
Form is the other face of content, the outward, visible sign of inner spiritual reality. In preliterate societies oral literature was widely shared; it saturated the society and was as much a part of living as food, clothing, shelter, or religion. Many tribal societies remained primarily oral cultures until the 19th century.
In early societies the minstrel might be a courtier of the king or chieftain, and the poet who composed liturgies might be a priest. But the oral performance itself was accessible to the whole community. With the invention of writing this separation was accelerated until finally literature was being experienced individually by the elite reading a book , while folklore and folk song were experienced orally and more or less collectively by the illiterate common people.
Elite literature continuously refreshes itself with materials drawn from the popular. Almost all poetic revivals, for instance, include in their programs a new appreciation of folk song, together with a demand for greater objectivity. On the other hand folk literature borrows themes and, very rarely, patterns from elite literature. Many of the English and Scottish ballads that date from the end of the Middle Ages and have been preserved by oral tradition share plots and even turns of phrase with written literature. A very large percentage of these ballads contain elements that are common to folk ballads from all over western Europe; central themes of folklore, indeed, are found all over the world.
Whether these common elements are the result of diffusion is a matter for dispute. They do, however, represent great psychological constants, archetypes of experience common to the human species, and so these constants are used again and again by elite literature as it discovers them in folklore. There is a marked difference between true popular literature, that of folklore and folk song, and the popular literature of modern times.
Popular literature today is produced either to be read by a literate audience or to be enacted on television or in the cinema; it is produced by writers who are members, however lowly, of an elite corps of professional literates. Thus, popular literature no longer springs from the people; it is handed to them. Their role is passive. At the best they are permitted a limited selectivity as consumers. Folk songs and folk tales began somewhere in one human mind. They were developed and shaped into the forms in which they are now found by hundreds of other minds as they were passed down through the centuries.
Folk song has always been popular with bohemian intellectuals , especially political radicals who certainly are an elite. Since World War II the influence of folk song upon popular song has not just been great; it has been determinative. Popular fiction and drama, westerns and detective stories, films and television serials, all deal with the same great archetypal themes as folktales and ballads, though this is seldom due to direct influence; these are simply the limits within which the human mind works. The number of people who have elevated the formulas of popular fiction to a higher literary level is surprisingly small.
The latter half of the 20th century witnessed an even greater change in popular literature. Writing is a static medium: In radio , television, and the cinema the medium is fluent; the audience is a collectivity and is at the mercy of time. It cannot pause to reflect or to understand more fully without missing another part of the action, nor can it go back or forward.
Marshall McLuhan in his book Understanding Media became famous for erecting a whole structure of aesthetic, sociological, and philosophical theory upon this fact. But it remains to be seen whether the new, fluent materials of communication are going to make so very many changes in civilization, let alone in the human mind—mankind has, after all, been influenced for thousands of years by the popular, fluent arts of music and drama. Even the most transitory television serial was written down before it was performed, and the script can be consulted in the files.
In a sense it was more fluent than music, because it was harder to remember. Man in mass society becomes increasingly a creature of the moment, but the reasons for this are undoubtedly more fundamental than his forms of entertainment. Literature, like all other human activities, necessarily reflects current social and economic conditions.
Class stratification was reflected in literature as soon as it had appeared in life. Among the American Indians , for instance, the chants of the shaman, or medicine man , differ from the secret, personal songs of the individual, and these likewise differ from the group songs of ritual or entertainment sung in community.
In the Heroic Age, the epic tales of kings and chiefs that were sung or told in their barbaric courts differed from the folktales that were told in peasant cottages. The more cohesive a society, the more the elements—and even attitudes—evolved in the different class strata are interchangeable at all levels. In the tight clan organization that existed in late medieval times at the Scottish border, for example, heroic ballads telling of the deeds of lords and ladies were preserved in the songs of the common people.
But where class divisions are unbridgeable, elite literature is liable to be totally separated from popular culture. An extreme example is the Classical literature of the Roman Empire. Its forms and its sources were largely Greek—it even adopted its laws of verse patterning from Greek models, even though these were antagonistic to the natural patterns of the Latin language—and most of the sophisticated works of the major Latin authors were completely closed to the overwhelming majority of people of the Roman Empire.
Printing has made all the difference in the negotiability of ideas. The writings of the 18th-century French writers Voltaire , Rousseau, and Diderot were produced from and for almost as narrow a caste as the Roman elite, but they were printed. Within a generation they had penetrated the entire society and were of vital importance in revolutionizing it. Class distinctions in the literature of modern times exist more in the works themselves than in their audience. The elite who read serious literature are not necessarily members of a social or economic upper class.
It is a curious phenomenon that, since the middle of the 18th century in Europe and in the United States, the majority of readers of serious literature—as well as of entertainment literature—have been women. The extent of the influence that this audience has exerted on literature itself must be immense.
Hippolyte Taine , the 19th-century French critic, evolved an ecological theory of literature. He looked first and foremost to the national characteristics of western European literatures, and he found the source of these characteristics in the climate and soil of each respective nation. His History of English Literature 5 vol. It is doubtful that anyone today would agree with the simplistic terms in which Taine states his thesis.
It is obvious that Russian literature differs from English or French from German. English books are written by Englishmen, their scenes are commonly laid in England, they are usually about Englishmen and they are designed to be read by Englishmen—at least in the first instance.
But modern civilization becomes more and more a world civilization, wherein works of all peoples flow into a general fund of literature. It is not unusual to read a novel by a Japanese author one week and one by a black writer from West Africa the next. Writers are themselves affected by this cross-fertilization.
Certainly, the work of the great 19th-century Russian novelists had more influence on 20th-century American writers than had the work of their own literary ancestors. Poetry does not circulate so readily, because catching its true significance in translation is so very difficult to accomplish.
Nevertheless, through the midth century, the influence of French poetry was not just important; it was preeminent. The tendentious elements of literature—propaganda for race, nation, or religion—have been more and more eroded in this process of wholesale cultural exchange. Popular literature is habitually tendentious both deliberately and unconsciously. It reflects and stimulates the prejudices and parochialism of its audience. Most of the literary conflicts that seized the totalitarian countries during the 20th century stemmed directly from relentless efforts by the state to reduce elite literature to the level of the popular.
The great proletarian novels of our time have been produced not by Russians but by African Americans, Japanese, Germans, and—most proletarian of all—a German-American living in Mexico, B. Government control and censorship can inhibit literary development, perhaps deform it a little, and can destroy authors outright; but, whether in the France of Louis XIV or in the Soviet Union of the 20th century, it cannot be said to have a fundamental effect upon the course of literature.
A distinguishing characteristic of modern literature is the peculiar elite which it has itself evolved. In earlier cultures the artist, though he may have felt himself alienated at times, thought of himself as part of his society and shared its values and attitudes. Usually the clerkly caste played a personal, important role in society.
The writer shared few of the values of the merchant or the entrepreneur or manager. And so the literary and artistic world came to have a subculture of its own. The antagonism between the two resultant sets of values is the source of what we call alienation—among the intellectuals at least the alienation of the common man in urban, industrial civilization from his work, from himself, and from his fellows is another matter, although its results are reflected and intensified in the alienation of the elite.
For about years now, the artistic environment of the writer has not usually been shared with the general populace. The subculture known as bohemia and the literary and artistic movements generated in its little special society have often been more important—at least in the minds of many writers—than the historical, social, and economic movements of the culture as a whole.
Even massive historical change is translated into these terms—the Russian Revolution, for instance, into Communist-Futurism, Constructivism, Socialist Realism. Western European literature could be viewed as a parade of movements—Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Futurism , Structuralism , and so on indefinitely. Some of the more journalistic critics, indeed, have delighted to regard it in such a way. At first, changes in literary values are appreciated only at the upper levels of the literary elite itself, but often, within a generation, works once thought esoteric are being taught as part of a school syllabus.
Today his methods and subject matter are commonplace in the commercial fiction of the mass culture. A few writers remain confined to the elite. His subtleties are ultimately grounded in his personality. Literature has an obvious kinship with the other arts. Presented, a play is drama; read, a play is literature. Conversely, the techniques required in writing for film have influenced many writers in structuring their novels and have affected their style.
Many ballets and modern dances are based on stories or poems.