14 Books that Changed Humanity Forever

We can trace back huge historical milestones to the publishing of these books.

History has been marked by men and women performing extraordinary deeds that would end up transforming their realities. Many did it through power and force, while others achieved it through letters and books. Here are a series of books that changed the world forever thanks to the importance of their contents, the transforming nature of their proposals, and the great criticism made to the powerful institutions of their times.

Geographia by Ptolemy

Also known as Atlas of the World, the astronomer Ptolemy wrote this text in the 2nd century B.C. It presents methodologies for cartographic works and projections, a catalog of 5,000 places in the world, and 27 maps of the world until then known. The importance of the book lies in the fact that it laid the foundations for the elaboration of maps that made it possible to increase the boundaries of the ancient world. Although the original book is lost in history, an Arabic translation dating from the 9th century and a Latin translation from 1406 laid the foundations for the cartographic development and maritime exploration of the European Renaissance and the medieval Caliphate.


Aesop’s Fables

Fables such as “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Hare and the Tortoise,” and “The Cicada and the Ant” originate from a series of fables attributed to Aesop who lived in Ancient Greece around the 5th century B.C. While much is unknown about Aesop’s historical identity, he is a character that has references within the works of Aristophanes, Plato, and even Herodotus. The fables have reached our days, with multiple translations and adaptations but maintaining the essence of the same; the morals that speak to us of something timeless, the character of the human being.

Elements by Euclid

Better known as Euclidean geometry, it consists of a mathematical and geometric treatise written by the Greek mathematician Euclid. In thirteen volumes, the mathematician compiled much of the mathematical knowledge of his time: plane geometry, ratios and proportions, and geometry of solid bodies. The knowledge emanating from the book, rediscovered in the 15th century from an Arabic translation, is still used today as a basic introduction to geometry to learn about geometric figures, types of angles, and types of triangles or quadrilaterals.


On the Motion of the Celestial Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus

Questioning the Ptolemaic system regarding the position of the celestial bodies, Copernicus wrote this book where he proposed a new model: the heliocentric. Despite challenging the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants alike and even being labeled as sacrilegious and having its text among the forbidden books, the system prevailed during the 17th century. Johannes Kepler extended and perfected the model until he presented the one that is accepted today.

Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes de Saavedra

This work represents the world’s first modern, polyphonic novel and, in the years to come, would end up greatly influencing the European narrative. Cervantes de Saavedra’s text demystifies the tradition of the knightly and courtly tradition due to its burlesque treatment of the subject. Don Quixote would also inspire hundreds of stories and characters and would be present in all the fine arts throughout the centuries.


Discourse on the Method by René Descartes

This is one of the works with the greatest implications for the development of philosophy and science. In this treatise, Descartes proposed a new method through which to unify all human knowledge. Moreover, having been published in French, it inaugurated the trend of making knowledge accessible to the greatest number of people. From then on, the paradigm of the old European universities collapsed, and human knowledge had its own revolution based on the method.

The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu

One of the most transcendent books of political theory in history, where the then Baron Montesquieu proposes an ideal model of government to serve as a banner against despotism. In this new model, he proposes the separation of powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) that would serve as counterweights among themselves and before the figure of the king, a system inspired by the British one that presented “born balancers” such as monarchy, aristocracy, and popular representation. The Frenchman’s theory would be partially adopted as a model for the establishment of new political systems after the political revolutions of the 19th century.


The Encyclopedia by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond D’Alembert

Published between 1751 and 1772, it is one of the greatest works ever made by man, which was intended to contain the synthesis of the main knowledge of the time. The Encyclopaedia was the standard of the Enlightenment where, through a great book, knowledge was brought closer to anyone who could read. Largely influenced by Descartes, the editorial team also challenged the power of the church by praising Protestant thinkers and calling religion a branch of philosophy. The magnum opus also brought together some of the most outstanding minds of its generation with the collaboration of Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, Daubenton, and D’Holbach.

Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

The Prussian text contains the questioning of reason as the faculty of knowing and awareness of the limitations of philosophy itself. It also contains a discussion of whether metaphysics can be considered a science like mathematics, a fact that represented a real battle between empiricism and rationalism as the dominant structures of thought in 18th-century Europe. Today, Kant’s book serves as a starting point for the study of multiple areas of human knowledge.


The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Considered by many as the first modern book on economics, this book supports, through an analysis of the prosperity of England and the Netherlands, a series of economic theories that would shape the capitalist and consumer mentality of the coming centuries. The text also proposes a “system of natural liberty” that could result in the free exercise of individual interest benefiting the “common good” through free enterprise, free competition, and free trade.

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

A text that would end up shaping the French Revolution and the subsequent revolutions of the 19th century in America. In this book, the French thinker addresses the issues of freedom and equality of people under the figure of a State constituted based on a social contract. However, the State must maintain certain guarantees so that the group of people who have agreed to the social contract does not decide to break it and dissolve the State.


The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

A precursor of scientific literature, this is the book that serves as the foundation of the theory of evolutionary biology. In this text, Darwin introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve throughout generations through a process we know today as natural selection. The language of the book was selected to address non-specialist readers. Beginning in 1940, almost 100 years after the publication of the text, evolutionary theory became the cornerstone of modern evolutionary theory.

The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

This book introduces Freud’s theory regarding the unconscious and the interpretation of dreams, where dreams represent “forms of wish fulfillment,” that is, attempts of the unconscious to resolve a specific conflict. As part of one of Freud’s eight revisions of the text, he included a translation of the meaning of each type of dream.


The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

This book is one of the most influential political treatises in history, first published in London in 1848. In this text, which gathers the ideological conclusions of both theorists, it is expressed that the history of humanity has been determined by the modes of production and the socioeconomic formations derived from them. Consequently, social classes have resulted in class struggle and they stipulate that the proletariat is the only social class whose liberation will mean the liberation of all humanity through the communist revolution. Such a revolution would end with the abolition of private property, the bourgeoisie, social classes, and the State. This manifesto would be the ideological pillar of the Bolshevik Revolution that would eventually establish the Soviet Union.

Which other book would you add?

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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