Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Books inspire us.

  • They teach us.

  • They let us escape into new worlds.

  • But some books do much more than this.

  • These books hit a collective nerve,

  • and have had a profound and lasting effect on society.

  • What are the titles that had this impact?

  • There are many, many books that fit this definition,

  • but we've managed to narrow it down to five books

  • that have truly shaped our world.

  • ...wrote Robert Burton in his enormous 900 page book,

  • The Anatomy of Melancholy.

  • Which was first published way back in 1621.

  • So in the 17th Century,

  • there weren't books about melancholy,

  • or as we would call it today, depression.

  • It looks as if Robert Burton himself suffered from depression.

  • And there's a real sense

  • as he writes it, that he's writing himself into a position

  • of expertise about depression, so he can help himself

  • as well as other people.

  • And it's remained such a kind of influential book

  • over the centuries since then.

  • Not simply because of its subject matter,

  • it's the way it's written - it explores inner life

  • in a way that hadn't really been explored before.

  • So it's the patient's voice.

  • And one of the things that we've learnt over the last 20 years

  • is the importance of the patient's voice,

  • in targeting research and clinical treatment.

  • To 1960s America now,

  • where many people still thought that a woman's place was in the home.

  • Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963,

  • and in the introduction describes it as,

  • "The problem that has no name."

  • It was a book writing about the experience and aspirations

  • of women in suburban America.

  • It stood out as a book at this time because the experience of women

  • wasn't being written about in this way for the general population.

  • It stood out because she was standing up and saying,

  • "We need to acknowledge that there is more to life for these women

  • than being the perfect wife, the perfect mother."

  • She developed the idea that women needed to become politicised,

  • they needed to think about their experience at home.

  • However, and there is a big however,

  • the biggest criticism came from her exclusion of women of colour.

  • Poor women's experience was excluded, she also excluded lesbians.

  • Despite these shortcomings,

  • this book had real impact at the time.

  • It bought feminism to a very wide audience and that's a huge positive.

  • Bill McKibben's 1989 book, The End of Nature,

  • is considered to be the first book to bring global warming

  • to a general audience.

  • The End of Nature is about how humans are changing the planet.

  • It's a sad lament on human destruction.

  • In the 1980s, people had been talking about global warming,

  • but it hadn't entered the public consciousness as something

  • that we should be really concerned about,

  • and we should be already acting on.

  • What he did with this book is really wake people up

  • to this dramatic change that we are having globally on the natural world.

  • And which now is taken for granted by everybody,

  • we all are very aware of the impact we're having.

  • And it's largely due to books like this.

  • Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe,

  • was one of the first African novels in English

  • to gain global recognition and acclaim,

  • and it is still read and studied all over the world to this day.

  • Africa was always seen through the eyes of the white colonials.

  • It was like a door opening

  • into a world that white Europeans never understood

  • and even as it was published

  • people were astonished by the beauty of the book.

  • Here comes a man who's talking about Igbo villages in Nigeria

  • and their lives and their inner thoughts

  • and their hopes and desires and we'd never seen that.

  • And for Africans - and that's the more important point -

  • there were emerging writers,

  • they knew their time was now,

  • they knew that the world was ready

  • and it was that book that convinced them that it was.

  • And finally, to post-war Britain,

  • a time when many items were still rationed,

  • and to Elizabeth David's A Book of Mediterranean Food.

  • Britain already had a reputation for poor food,

  • plain food, grey food.

  • She wrote it as a memoir almost, of her time spent in southern Europe

  • before and during World War Two.

  • She wrote it really as a yearning for these wonderful places

  • and the colours and the scents and the flavours.

  • These days we completely take for granted ingredients like chickpeas,

  • lemon, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil.

  • But then, when this book was published,

  • none of those ingredients were really available.

  • I mean, if you wanted to buy olive oil,

  • you had to go to a chemist's shop

  • because it was sold for treating earache.

  • She triggered a movement which we still feel today

  • which is one where food becomes something important

  • not just to our daily routine of nourishing ourselves

  • but saying a little bit more about who we are.

  • So there's now multiple generations

  • of food writers and cookery presenters

  • whose existence now would not have been possible without that book.

  • Words on a page can do so much more than entertain.

  • Some books have imagined, explored and introduced ideas

  • which have had a lasting impact on our society

  • which we experience to this day, even if we haven't read them.

Books inspire us.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 impact depression wrote burton experience melancholy

Five books that shaped our world | BBC Ideas

  • 27 2
    Summer posted on 2021/09/30
Video vocabulary