1. 1984 by George Orwell
Published in 1949, George Orwell’s 1984 saw the world turn into a surveillance state run by the terrifying Big Brother. Many of the novel’s major themes have had a huge effect on modern society and vocabulary.
In an age where our communications aren’t always as secure as we think, Orwell’s 1949 novel reads like a warning to some and a possible look at the future for many others. Whether you love it or hate it, it was undeniably one of the 20th century’s most influential books.
2. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin’s 1859 work created one of most important modern scientific fields: evolutionary biology. Darwin’s book was a groundbreaking work that turned many of the mid-19th century’s theories on human development upside down.
Criticized by some, adored by others, it’s undeniable that Darwin’s book kick-started a lot of modern science. How many other 150-year-old science books continue to be the subject of debate today?
3. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
This iconic political work divided the world for half a century. Written in 1848 by a German philosopher, Marx’s controversial political tome had a far greater effect in other countries than his native Germany.
While the communism espoused in Marx and Engels’ book promised a society free of “capitalist dictatorship,” the reality wasn’t as promised. The Communist Manifesto’s influence on the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and other countries makes it one of the world’s most influential books.
4. The Republic by Plato
Forget 20th century politics – let’s travel back to 380 BC. The Republic is considered the definitive Western text on political life and philosophy, discussing what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s just.
While Plato’s work might seem overly complicated and difficult to read for today’s audiences, it remains an important political and philosophical work that influences much of the philosophy and ethics we have today.
5. Geographia by Ptolmeny
Ptolmeny is responsible for some of history’s most important texts on astronomy and mapping. Geographia, his guide to cartography, is considered the world’s first true attempt at creating a map of the world.
While Ptolmeny’s idea of the world might not look like the modern globe’s we have access to today, it’s still an impressive piece of work for the 2nd century. Many of the modern mapping techniques we use today still depend on the innovations made by Ptolmeny in his iconic treatise.
6. The Bible
From culture and society to law and order, the Bible is the source of a huge amount of the Western world’s culture and values. The world’s highest selling book, it’s hard to deny the incredible influence that the Bible has had on everything from science to politics.
Translated into several different books and published in a wide variety of different editions, the Bible sells an estimated 100 million copies each and every year.
7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
When it comes to dystopian futures, the literary world is split between support for two incredible 20th century books: 1984 and Brave New World. Written by Aldous Huxley in 1931, Brave New World argues that technology and distraction will end up controlling humanity instead of authoritarian surveillance.
Banned from hundreds of American high schools due to its “negative” outlook on life, Brave New World warned millions of people of the possibility of technology taking over our lives almost 70 years before the Internet emerged.
8. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
Some books change the world for the better. Others change it for the worst. During his 1924 imprisonment in Landsberg Prison, Adolf Hitler wrote a political manifesto that would end up being the blueprint for a devastating global war, a horrible ethnic genocide, and a complete reorganization of the European continent.
What’s most alarming about Mein Kampf isn’t its style (the book itself is difficult to read and barely edited) but its reaction. Despite knowing that Hitler was a serious threat to global stability, Western political leaders ignored his terrifying goals until they had already been put into action.
9. Guerilla Warfare by Che Guevara
Written in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara’s guide on underground, guerilla warfare was the blueprint for some of the 20th century’s most revolutionary political movements. In his warfare guide, Guevara draws parallels between modern guerilla fighting and the techniques used during the Spanish Civil War.
From Latin America to South Africa, the book became the de-facto strategic manual of revolutionary political movements around the world, and influenced hundreds of conflicts during the 20th century.
10. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
How relevant can a warfare manual written in 500 BC really be? Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was written with ancient Chinese armies in mind, but its lessons in strategy and life influenced many of the 20th century’s most powerful and terrifying leaders.
Divided into 13 chapters, the book covers every aspect of successful warfare, from a carefully planned initial strategy to the importance of planning for unforeseen and dangerous situations. From Sengoku era Japan to the Vietnam War, The Art of War was the strategic blueprint for hundreds of historically significant battles.