An academic group based in San Antonio, Texas, USA, calling itself SuperScholar, has listed prolific Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe’s, bestseller, ‘Things Fall Apart’, now a movie with veteran Nigerian actor Pete Edoche starring as the lead character Obi Okonkwo, as one of the ‘50 Most Influential Books of the last 50 years’.
The group’s editors named Achebe’s first novel, incidentally the only one in the full list authored by a full bred African, published in 1958 and translated into more than 60 languages, as one of the 50 most influential books, among books by other world acclaimed writers.
Books written by other acclaimed writers, some of which have been embroiled in controversy since their publication, were listed as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code published in 2003, which has been enormously influential in getting people to think that Jesus Christ is not who Christians say he is, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses published in 1988, which led Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a death edict (fatwa) against Rushdie, Mao Tse-tung’s The Little Red Book, also known as Quotations From Chairman Mao published in (1966) and Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X published in 1965.
Some other books worthy of note are Alex Haley’s Roots printed in 1976, which personalised the tragic history of American slavery through the story of Kunta Kinte, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series that has set the standard for contemporary children’s literature and Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life of 2002, which has crossed boundaries and even led to Warren giving the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration.
Explaining how they came by the list, the editors at SuperScholar said they “tried to provide a window into the culture of the last 50 years.”
“Ideally, if you read every book on this list, you will know how we got to where we are today. Not all the books on this list are “great.” The criterion for inclusion was not greatness but INFLUENCE. All the books on this list have been enormously influential,” they added.
According to the group, in arriving at the final list of 50, they had to make some hard choices, as influence tends to be measured in years rather than months and, it is much easier to put older books (published in the 60s and 70s) on such a list than more recent books (published in the last decade).
“Older books have had more time to prove themselves. Selecting the more recent books required more guesswork, betting on which would prove influential in the long run,” they replied candidly.
“We also tried to keep a balance between books that everyone buys and hardly anyone reads versus books that, though not widely bought and read, are deeply transformative. The Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa never sold as many records as some of the ‘one-hit wonders,’ but their music has transformed the industry. Influence and popularity sometimes don’t go together. We’ve tried to reflect this in our list,” SuperScholar stated.
The full list of the literature and the reasons for their selection are as follows:
1. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart written in 1958, and as the most widely read book in contemporary African literature, focuses on the clash of colonialism, Christianity, and native African culture.
2. Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy published in 1979 which reinvented the science fiction genre, making it at once sociologically incisive as well as funny.
3. Robert Atkins’ Dr Atkins’s New Diet Revolution published in 1992 with its last edition in 2002, which launched the low-carbohydrate diet revolution, variants of which continue to be seen in numerous other diet programmes.
4. Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion printed in 2006, which drawing on his background as an evolutionary theorist to elevate science at the expense of religion propelled the neo-atheist movement.
5. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind made available in 1987 set the tone for the questioning of political correctness and the reassertion of a “canon” of Western civilisation.
6. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code made public in 2003, which is an entertaining thriller, but has been enormously influential in getting people to think that Jesus is not who Christians say he is and that Christianity is all a conspiracy.
7. Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee published in1970, transformed the way we view native Americans as they lost their land, lives, and dignity to expanding white social and military pressures.
8. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring printed in 1962, which more than any other book helped launch the environmental movement.
9. Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures published in 1957, which laying out his ideas of transformational grammar, revolutionised the field of linguistics and at the same time dethroned behaviourism in psychology.
10. Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, printed in 1989, set the standard for books on leadership and effectiveness in business.
11. Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box made public in 1996, which although roundly rejected by the scientific community, epitomises the challenge of so-called intelligent design to evolutionary theory and has spawned an enormous literature, both pro and con.
12. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel published in the year 1997, which while employing evolutionary determinism as a lens for understanding human history, reignited grand history making in the spirit Spengler and Toynbee.
13. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose made available in 1980, also examines, in the context of a mystery at a medieval monastery, the key themes of pre-modernity, modernity and postmodernity.
14. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning printed in 1962 also provides a particularly effective answer to totalitarian attempts to crush the human spirit, showing how humanity can overcome horror and futility through finding meaning and purpose.
15. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique printed in 1963, in giving expression to the discontent women felt in being confined to the role of homemaker, also helped galvanise the women’s movement.
16. Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, published in 1962 argued that capitalism constitutes a necessary condition for political liberties and thus paved the way for the conservative economics of the Reagan years.
17. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence made available in 1995, showed clearly how skills in dealing with and reading emotions can be even more important than the cognitive skills that are usually cited as the official reason for career advancement.
18. Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man printed in 1971, in relating her experiences with chimpanzees in the wild, underscored the deep connection between humans and the rest of the animal world.
19. John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus published in 1992), in highlighting and elevating the differences between men and women in their relationships, challenged the contention that gender differences are socially constructed.
20. Alex Haley’s Roots printed in 1976, which by personalising the tragic history of American slavery through the story of Kunta Kinte, provided a poignant challenge to racism in America.
21. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time published in 1988, updated and expanded in 1998 by one of the age’s great physicists, attempts to answer the big questions of existence, not least how the universe got here.
22. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 epic of 1961, also etched into public consciousness a deep scepticism of bureaucracies, which in the book are portrayed as self-serving and soul-destroying.
23. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions first printed in 1962 with the last edition in 1978, changed people’s view of science from a fully rational enterprise to one fraught with bias and irrational elements.
24. Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People published in 1981, transformed people’s view of God, exonerating God of evil by making him less than all-powerful.
25. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird printed in 1960, served as prelude to the civil rights advances of the 1960s by portraying race relations from a fresh vantage to the vantage of an innocent child untainted by surrounding racism and bigotry.
26. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude published in 1967, as an example of magical realism, epitomises the renaissance in Latin American literature.
27. Alasdair McIntyre’s After Virtue first published in 1981 with its latest edition in 2007, is one of the 20th century’s most important works of moral philosophy, critiquing the rationalism and irrationalism that pervade modern moral discourse.
28. Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved printed in 1987 provides a profound and moving reflection on the impact of American slavery.
29. Abdul Rahman Munif’s Cities of Salt published from 1984-89, is a quintet of novels in Arabic focusing on the psychological, sociological, and economic impact on the Middle East of oil.
30. Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed printed in 1965, in attacking car industry’s lax safety standards, not only improved the safety of cars but also mainstreamed consumer protection which are taken for granted now.
31. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks’ The 9/11 Commission Report of 2004, which though not the final statement on the 9/11 disaster, encapsulated the broader threat of terrorism in the new millennium.
32. Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind published in 1988, on the other hand provides a sweeping view of 20th century’s scientific advances while at the same time challenging the reductionism prevalent among many scientists.
33. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged of 1957, has also become a key inspiration for conservative economics in challenging entitlements and promoting unimpeded markets.
34. John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice first printed in 1971 with the last edition in 1999, is the most significant effort to date to resolve the problem of distributive justice and has formed the backdrop for public policy debates.
35. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series comprising seven volumes published from 1997-2007, loved by children, panned by many literary critics, has nonetheless set the standard for contemporary children’s literature.
36. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses printed in 1988, which led Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a death edict (fatwa) against Rushdie, underscored the clash between Islamic fundamentalism and Western civilisation.
37. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos of 1980, based on his wildly popular PBS series by the same name, inspired widespread interest in science while promoting the idea that nothing beyond the cosmos exists.
38. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation printed in 2001, details the massive impact that the U.S. fast food industry has had on people’s diets not just in the U.S. but also across the globe.
39. Amartya Sen’s Resources, Values and Development first published in 1984 with the last edition in 1997, develops an approach to economics that, instead of focusing on utility maximisation, attempts to alleviate human suffering by redressing the poverty that results from economic mismanagement.
40. B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity of 1971, attacked free will and moral autonomy in an effort to justify the use of scientific (behavioural) methods in improving society.
41. Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago written in three volumes and printed from 1974-78, relentlessly exposed the totalitarian oppression of the former Soviet Union and, more than any other book, was responsible for its government’s subsequent dissolution.
42. Hernando de Soto’s The Mystery of Capitalism printed in 2000, argues that the absence of legal infrastructure, especially as it relates to property, is the key reason that capitalism fails when it does fail.
43. Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care first made public in 1946 but last published in 2004, sold 50 million copies and revolutionised how Americans raise their children.
44. Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan printed first in 2007, and last published in 2010, provides the most trenchant critique to date of the financial and monetary backdrop to the current economic crisis.
45. Mao Tse-tung’s The Little Red Book, aka Quotations From Chairman Mao printed in 1966 was required to be read by everyone throughout China and epitomised his political and social philosophy.
46. Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life of 2002, though addressed to the American evangelical culture, has crossed boundaries and even led to Warren giving the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration.
47. James D. Watson’s The Double Helix published in 1969, in presenting a personal account of his discovery, with Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA, not only recounted one of the 20th century’s greatest scientific discoveries but also showed how science, as a human enterprise, really works.
48. E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology of 1975, challenged the idea that cultural evolution can be decoupled from biological evolution, thus engendering the fields of evolutionary psychology and evolutionary ethics.
49. Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X printed in 1965 and written posthumously by Alex Haley from interviews, portrays a complex activist for human rights at a complex time in American history.
50. Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor first produced in 1999 and published again in 2007, lays out how “micro-lending” made it possible to provide credit to the poor, thereby offering a viable way to significantly diminish world poverty.
SuperScholar basically assists students to excel in their courses of study, in finding the right career and in pursuing success and happiness, by finding them top-quality, cost-effective education that is fully accredited and fits their life situations.
By Edmund Smith-Asante