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Celebrate World Book Day with These 10 Trailblazing Authors

Find your own inspiration in these books that have shaped historical and contemporary thinking about the world and ourselves.
by Joshua H. Phelps | Apr 23 2018

They have been called beneficent and enlightening or provocative and dangerous. Some of them have changed the world. They sit on shelves or coffee tables, in purses, backpacks, or satchels, or hover in the cloud, or as PDFs in desktop folders, ready to inspire with either a glint of insight or a supernova of rich and dense text. “They,” as you might have guessed, are books.

world-book-day-10-trailblazing-authors

In 1995, UNESCO chose to celebrate the power books have had in the world. The organization chose April 23rd to commemorate the anniversary of Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’ passing away in 1616. Many influential authors have gifted us with their words in the time since then, furthering our understandings in science and philosophy and society and ourselves. In the list below, we have gathered a selection of works that have helped to advance humanity.

1. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Klein, a documentarian and writer, casts a wide net in this book. By examining the scientific, cultural, and political thinking around climate change, she provides a clearer picture of the forces at work that hamper progress on this critical issue. She also shows how a volcanic eruption inspired a potential solution to rising global temperatures.

2. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Darwin’s book sent our thinking about our place in the universe into a state of tumult we have never really left. His description of the mechanism of natural selection, through which species of plants and animals better adapt to their environments over time, challenged the notion that the world had been created perfectly from the start, never to be altered over time.

3. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela dedicated the vast majority of his life to forming a more just society in his native South Africa. His efforts demanded sacrifices of him that are difficult to imagine. In providing an example of how such a system of oppression as Apartheid can be overcome in modern times, Mandela earned the accolades bestowed on him by generations of world leaders.

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

We like to believe we know ourselves well. And yet we also manage to surprise ourselves more often than we’d like. Kahneman brings decades of research to bear and reveals the mental mechanisms that power our conscious and unconscious thinking. Kahneman’s work won him the Nobel Prize and has been formative in our current understanding of human psychology.

5. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

We are told the Universe is infinite, yet Hawking managed to provide us with a bird’s-eye view of it. Despite the complexity and density of the ideas and mathematics he grappled with, he reined them in. Because of this, we are better able to marvel at the wonders beyond our world.

6. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

You can vehemently agree with him or you can vehemently disagree with him. Richard Dawkins does not seem to inspire much of a middle ground. His radical blending of evolutionary biology and morality raised debates within the scientific and philosophical fields. And, with each new book he puts out, he shows no signs of winding down his tendencies to stir things up.

7. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Feminism has forged a road to the center stage of contemporary thinking and one of the authors who laid the foundation for the path that led there was Simone de Beauvoir. de Beauvoir’s research for this book included history, biology, and mythology, to examine women’s undervaluation in society and to offer suggestions for improvement.

8. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

Numerous uprisings and revolutions occurred in Europe in 1848, so perhaps it is appropriate that in the same year Marx’s Manifesto was published. In it, he outlined a socio-economic/philosophical contrast to the capitalist system. Since 1848, this volume has influenced diverse fields in art, politics, and social theory, among others.

9. Orientalism by Edward Said

Swarthy villain or sensual temptress or backward Bedouin. These are some of the Western images that Edward Said pushed back against in Orientalism. By drilling down to the historical and social factors that contributed to the creation of these ideas, Said forces the reader to consider their role in perpetuating these stereotypes.

10. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

While Klein’s This Changes Everything looks at where we’ve been in terms of climate change, Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction shows where we might be heading. Building on a few different schools of thought, Kolbert looks at previous periods of mass extinction in Earth’s history and then asks what role humans are playing in what is potentially another such event happening right now.

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