15 of the Most Influential Books of All-Time

Influential writing, like most everything else in the world, is purely subjective. What I consider influential might not be what you consider influential – and that’s fine. However, while not everyone will agree, most will agree that there are certain works that were created throughout the course of history that tend to go on every list of most influential books. For instance, it’s widely agreed that The Holy Bible is one of, if not the most influential book in the history of literature regardless of your personal beliefs and religious affiliation. Read on to find out which 15 books are among the most influential.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

This book was written in 1851 and published only a year later. It’s not a pretty read, but it is one that provokes great thought and contemplation. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a real-life look at the lives of slaves in the mid-1800s. Stowe does not sugarcoat the lives of slaves in the South, what they endure and how they are kept by their owners and masters. The book was one of the contributing factors of the abolitionist movement, and it was one of the reasons cited behind the civil war. It was one of the best-selling books of its time.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1937 it was virtually unheard of for an African American woman to publish a book that touched on both slavery and women’s rights. In a time when racism and segregation was becoming even worse than it was in previous years, Zora  Neale Hurston took it upon herself to do just that. Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of a woman who grows up an unimportant girl and transforms her life. The book follows Janie, the main character, through three marriages and her cognitive ability to stand up for herself against the men in her life and become a better person.

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The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Written in 1951, this book is no longer one only for adults. It’s one many teens find influential today, because the story touches on the difficult lives of teens. The main character, Holden Caulfield, is expelled from an exclusive prep school and the following days discuss in detail his life and his adventures in dealing with growing up. It’s a book of extreme teen angst that is beautifully written, following Holden as he explores New York City and engages with a number of people from all walks of life who help him in his quest.

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick is one of the most captivating stories of all time. It follows the life of a man by the name of Ishmael who boards a ship to find work. The ship comes complete with a very mysterious captain, Ahab, who walks around on a peg leg fashioned from the jaw of a sperm whale. He recounts the story of the loss of his leg to a sperm whale who goes by Moby Dick, and he takes his crew on a man hunt to find and kill the whale he considers evil. The harrowing tale is one considered highly influential.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens really nails the story of so many in his famous novel, Great Expectations. Pip is an orphan from the UK who becomes an exceptionally wealthy man filled with arrogance and attitude. During his rise to wealth, he makes the decision to abandon those who’ve always been by his side in favor of those who are not his true friends. As events in Pip’s life begin to unfold, he is greatly humbled. Add to that the fact that this is the book that introduces the world to Miss Havisham, and you have one influential novel.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Written in 1925, The Great Gatsby is one of the most influential books of all time. The cast of characters are truly inspirational and entertaining, and the plot is on point. The book is set in the 1920s and follows the theme of change, decadence and indulgence. Jay Gatsby is a mysterious and very young millionaire obsessed with a socialite. The scene is a fictional Long Island town in 1922, and the storyline is filled with idealism and social upheaval. It’s one of the most prolific stories of all time, adapted only recently into a famous movie.

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte died only a year after her only novel was published, which is a crying shame as her talent is immeasurable. In Wuthering Heights, we follow the story of Heathcliff, a man so in love with a woman by the name of Catherine that he is willing to destroy anyone and anything that comes in between him and the love of his life. The story of true love is epic and unforgettable, and it’s the perfect example of the power that greed and jealousy has over a person’s life and its destructive abilities.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

There are few tales that are as captivating and interesting as Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen brings to the table a rare and interesting story of a woman by the name of Elizabeth Bennet, who deals heavily with issues many people might not consider important today, but provide insight into what could be the cause of the downfall of basic etiquette, good manners and a healthy upbringing. Reading this novel, you’re inspired to believe that these basic forms of etiquette could actually change the world in a manner so necessary in current times.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte is the sister of Emily Bronte, the author Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre is a story that is inspiring and influential, and has so far stood the test of time. Jane Eyre endures a difficult life being raised by her cruel aunt after losing her parents until she is sent to boarding school where her life becomes much more enjoyable. She grows up a teacher and eventually decides to take on a different career and falls in love with her mysterious employer, eventually agreeing to marry him. The story of Jane Eyre continues to come with twists and turns no one expected to see, and follows her life with abandon.

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This iconic and classic American novel follows a poor family who loses their home and their farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Left with nothing but hopeless despair, the family is left wondering where to go and what to do, making the ultimate decision to head west for California. As the story unfolds, readers are taken back to a time when life might not be so different than what it is today. The story is so influential it is one of the most assigned reading assignments in college and high school courses throughout the country.

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Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is the ultimate story of love. The main character is madly in love with a woman by the name of Dulcinea, who inspires him to leave his village and employ himself as the kind of man who does good deeds and acts of chivalry. It’s a simple look at the life of a man in love, and his personal story. The book was written in the early 17th century and remains one of the most influential books of all time, often being assigned in college courses to those who want to further their education.

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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Set in 1805 Russia, War and Peace is the story of a handful of characters of different financial upbringing morals and ethics. The story follows their lives in the midst of Napoleon’s conquest of Western Europe. As the story unfolds, we see the loss of fortune, the loss of marriage and love, the beginning of change and the beginning of a war that will forever change the lives of the characters introduced at the beginning of the novel. The story is infuriating, touching and impossible to put down until you complete the novel. It remains one of the most influential books of all time.

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The Republic by Plato

Written somewhere around the time of 380 BC, Plato, one of history’s greatest philosophers, wrote The Republic. The book is widely read, even today. About law, justice and order, the book was an answer to the question of what motivates people to make the decisions they make and behave in the manner they do. The book explores the culture and society as it was then and remains largely still today, defining the class system and the desire of people to fulfill the roles they were born to play. It’s an intelligent, well-written theory.

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The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

This particular book is one of the most famed political writings in history, as well as one of the most influential. While it was written by Niccolo Machiavelli, it was five years after his death before the book was published in 1537. Politics and ethics have been one of the main themes of contention and confusion throughout the history of mankind, and this book explores those contentions. At the time it was written, it directly contradicted the popular Catholic beliefs of the same subject. However, it was considered the first novel that delves into modern politics and philosophy.

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The Bible

Written by more than 40 people over the course of 15 centuries, The Holy Bible is the most sacred book in the world, without question. Those who are not affiliated with religion even agree on this simple fact. The Bible is the account of the world when Jesus lived and walked, his deeds and his ultimate sacrifice. Broken down into two testaments, the New and the Old, the Bible recounts the story of Jesus’ life and crucifixion as told by his 12 Apostles, who were firsthand witnesses to his glory and his existence. It’s the most-read book in the world.

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