Books That Changed the World by Book

Scholar Robert B. Downs selects the "great works that revolutionized our ideas about the universe - and ourselves".

  1. The Iliad by Homer

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    The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set in the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and e...


  2. The Odyssey by Homer

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    The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work traditionally ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the m...


  3. The Persians by Aeschylus

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    The Persians is an Athenian tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. First produced in 472 BCE, it is the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre. It dramatises the Persian respon...


  4. The Suppliants by Aeschylus

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    The Suppliants (Greek: Ικέτιδες / Hiketides; also translated as "The Suppliant Maidens") is a play by Aeschylus. It was probably first performed sometime after 470 BC as the first play in a trilogy...


  5. Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus

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    The Seven against Thebes (Greek: Ἑπτά ἐπί Θήβας, Hepta epi Thēbas) is the third play in an Oedipus-themed trilogy produced by Aeschylus in 467 BC. It concerns the battle between an Argive army led ...


  6. Oresteia by Aeschylus

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    The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus which concerns the end of the curse on the House of Atreus. When originally performed it was accompanied by Proteus, a satyr play t...


  7. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

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    The History of the Peloponnesian War is an account of the Peloponnesian War in Ancient Greece, fought between the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) and the Delian League (led by Athens). It was ...


  8. Ajax by Sophocles

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    Ajax is a play by Sophocles. The date of its first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, about 450 BCE to 430 BCE (J. Moore, 2). It chronicles the fate of the warrio...


  9. Antigone by Sophocles

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    Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written before or in 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first.[1] The play expands on the Theban legend that preda...


  10. Medea by Euripides

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    Medea is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Jason and Medea and first produced in 431 BC. The plot centers on the barbarian protagonist as she finds her position ...


  11. Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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    Oedipus the King is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BC. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chron...


  12. Hippolytus by Euripides

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    Hippolytus (Ancient Greek: Ἱππόλυτος, Hippolytos) is an Ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides, based on the myth of Hippolytus, son of Theseus. The play was first produced for the City Dionysia of Ath...


  13. The Clouds by Aristophanes

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    The Clouds (Ancient Greek: Νεφέλαι Nephelai) is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the Ci...

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  14. The Histories of Herodotus by Herodotus

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    The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serve...


  15. Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus

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    Prometheus Bound is an Ancient Greek tragedy. In Antiquity, this drama was attributed to Aeschylus, but is now considered by some scholars to be the work of another hand, perhaps one as late as ca....


  16. Trojan Women by Euripides

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    The Trojan Women (Ancient Greek: Τρῳάδες, Trōiades), also known as Troades, is a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides. Produced in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War, it is often considered a...


  17. The Birds by Aristophanes

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    The Birds (Greek: Ὄρνιθες Ornithes) is a comedy by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BC at the City Dionysia where it won second prize. It has been acclaimed by mod...


  18. Lysistrata by Aristophanes

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    This classic comedy — from the 5th century BC — concerns the vow of Greek women to withhold sex from their husbands until the men agree to end the disastrous wars between Athens and Sparta. An exub...

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  19. Women of Trachis by Sophocles

    Image of Women of Trachis

    Women of Trachis (Ancient Greek: Τραχίνιαι, Trachiniai; also translated as The Trachiniae) is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles.


  20. Electra by Sophocles

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    Electra or Elektra (Greek: Ἠλέκτρα / Ēlektra) is a Greek tragic play by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes (409 BC) and the Oedipus at Colonus...


  21. Philoctetes by Sophocles

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    Philoctetes is a play by Sophocles (Aeschylus and Euripides also each wrote a Philoctetes but theirs have not survived). It was first performed at the Festival of Dionysus in 409 BC, where it won f...


  22. The Bacchae by Euripides

    Image of The Bacchae

    Electra or Elektra (Ancient Greek: Ἠλέκτρα, Ēlektra) is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes (409 BC) and the Oedipus at Colo...


  23. Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

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    Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles. It was written shortly before Sophocles' death in 406 BC and produced by his grandson (also called Sophocles...


  24. Corpus Aristotelicum by Aristotle

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    The Corpus Aristotelicum is the collection of Aristotle's works that have survived from antiquity through Medieval manuscript transmission. These texts, as opposed to Aristotle's lost works, are te...


  25. The Complete Works of Plato by Plato

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    Plato (pronounced /ˈpleɪtoʊ/) (Greek: Πλάτων, Plátōn, "broad") (428/427 BC[a] – 348/347 BC), was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the ...


  26. The Dyskolos by Menander

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    Dyskolos (Greek: Δύσκολος, translated as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous) is an Ancient Greek comedy by Menander, the only one of his plays, an...

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  27. Hippocratic Corpus by Hippocrates

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    The Hippocratic Corpus, Hippocratic Collection, or Hippocratic Canon, is a collection of around seventy early medical works from ancient Greece strongly associated with the ancient Greek physician ...


  28. The Works of Archimedes by Archimedes

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    Archimedes of Syracuse (/ˌɑːkɪˈmiːdiːz/; Greek: Ἀρχιμήδης; c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) was an Ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life...

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  29. De Rerum Natura by Lucretius

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    De rerum natura is a first century BC epic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. The poem, written in dactylic hexam...


  30. Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories by Sallust

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    The only surviving works from one of the world's earliest historians, in important new translations Sallust's first published work, Catiline's War, contains the memorable history of the year 63, in...

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  31. Titi Livi Ab urbe condita libri by Livy

    Image of Titi Livi Ab urbe condita libri

    Ab Urbe Condita Libri—often shortened to Ab Urbe Condita—is a monumental history of ancient Rome in Latin begun sometime between 27 and 25 BC by the historian Titus Livius, known in English as Livy...

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  32. Natural History by Pliny (the Elder)

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    The Natural History (Latin: Naturalis Historia) is an early encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to...

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  33. Histories by Cornelius Tacitus

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    This edition, first published in 2002, provides a commentary suitable for students on the Latin text of Histories Book II.

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  34. Annals by Cornelius Tacitus

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    The Annals (Latin: Annales) is a history book by Tacitus covering the reign of the four Roman Emperors succeeding to Caesar Augustus. The parts of the work that survived from antiquity cover most o...


  35. Parallel Lives by Plutarch

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    Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral vi...


  36. Confessions by Augustine

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    Confessions is the name of an autobiographical work, consisting of 13 books, by St. Augustine of Hippo, written between AD 397 and AD 398. Modern English translations of it are sometimes published ...


  37. The City of God by Saint Augustine

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    De Civitate Dei (full title: De Civitate Dei contra Paganos, translated in English as The City of God Against the Pagans) or The City of God is a book of Christian philosophy written in Latin by Au...

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  38. Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas

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    The Summa Theologica (Latin: "Summary of Theology" or "Highest Theology") or the Summa Theologiæ or simply the Summa, written 1265–1274) is the most famous work of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), al...


  39. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

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    Il Principe (The Prince) is a political treatise by the Florentine public servant and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. Originally called De Principatibus (About Principalities), it was origi...


  40. On the Fabric of the Human Body by Andreas Vesalius

    Image of On the Fabric of the Human Body

    De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Latin for "On the fabric of the human body in seven books") is a set of books on human anatomy written by Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) and published in 1543.

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  41. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus

    Image of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres

    De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), first printed in 1543 in Nuremberg, is the seminal work on the heliocentric theory of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicu...


  42. The Bible by Christian Church

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    The Authorized King James Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible begun in 1604 and completed in 1611 by the Church of England. Printed by the King's Printer, Robert Barker, the fi...


  43. An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings by William Harvey

    Image of An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings

    Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings) is the best-known work of the physician William Harvey...


  44. Principia Mathematica by Issac Newton


  45. Common Sense by Thomas Paine


  46. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

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    An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (generally referred to by the short title The Wealth of Nations) is the magnum opus written by Scottish economist and moral philosophe...


  47. An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Robert Malthus

    Image of An Essay on the Principle of Population

    The book An Essay on the Principle of Population was first published anonymously in 1798 through J. Johnson (London). The author was soon identified as The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. While it ...


  48. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

    Image of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

    A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792), written by the eighteenth-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of...


  49. Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau


  50. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

    Image of Uncle Tom's Cabin

    Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African America...


  51. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

    Image of On the Origin of Species

    Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published on Thursday 24 November 1859, is a seminal work of scientific literature considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Its full title...


  52. Das Kapital by Karl Marx

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    Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (German pronunciation: [das kapiˈtaːl]) (Capital, in the English translation) is an extensive treatise on political economy written in German by Karl Ma...


  53. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 by Alfred Thayer Mahan

    Image of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783

    The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783 is a history of naval warfare published in 1890 by Alfred Thayer Mahan. It details the role of sea power during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen...

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  54. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

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    This book introduces Freud's theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation. Dreams, in Freud's view, were all forms of "wish-fulfillment" — attempts by the unconscious to resolve a...


  55. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

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    Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson and published by Houghton Mifflin in September 1962. The book is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement. When Silent Spri...


  56. Theophrastus: His Psychological, Doxographical, and Scientific Writings by William Wall Fortenbaugh, Dimitri Gutas

    Image of Theophrastus: His Psychological, Doxographical, and Scientific Writings

    Theophrastus (/ˌθiːəˈfræstəs/; Greek: Θεόφραστος; c. 371 – c. 287 BC[1]), a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young ...

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  57. Anabasis by Xenophon

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    Xenophon was born in the fifth century b.c. near Athens. His Anabasis, or “Up-Country March,” an account of his life as a Greek soldier, has endured through the ages.

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  58. The Histories by Polybius

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    Polybius’ Histories (Greek: Ἱστορίαι Historíai) were originally written in 40 volumes, only the first five of which are extant in their entirety. The bulk of the work is passed down to us through c...

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