Uno: We begin our inquiry with the first book of laws, the Five Books of Moses, better known as the Pentateuch, and proceed directly to the mature rendition encompassing both the Tanakh and New Testament. The Bible, la Biblia, la Bible, die Bibel, βιβλίο — from the Latin Vulgate read aloud by priests as uncomprehending masses stared on to the explosive King James version that allowed the Word out into the world of man. The most influential book of all time, bar none.
Dos: From a purely statistical viewpoint, and without intending to start an extended discourse on comparative religion, the Koran is equally compelling, sparking as it did the conquest of Spain, jihad, and other events on par with Christianity’s own benighted Crusades. Torture, mayhem, war, and disruption are the legacy of both books, though I suspect the fault lies in man rather than the books themselves. Ontological disputes breed conflict — a truism, but nonetheless true.
Tres: Copernicus’ epochal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published just before his death in 1543, and often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the scientific revolution. His heliocentric model, with the Sun at the center of the universe, demonstrated that the observed motions of celestial objects can be explained without putting Earth at rest in the center of the universe. His work engendered what is often referred to as the Copernican Revolution, which led to Galileo’s imprisonment and untimely demise at the hands of the Jesuits.
Quattro: Shakespeare’s Complete Works. From the love poems to the plays, the most significant works of literature in the history of the world (barring a resurgence of pre-Atlantean drama). Every child knows the story of the star-crossed Romeo & Juliet, has heard Hamlet’s midnight lament to his father’s ghost, and shivered as the witches pronounce poor Macbeth’s doom. And who hasn’t followed the antics of Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Or sat in despair as Othello, Iago, and Desdemona destroy and are destroyed . . . . watched Lear lose all through foolish trust . . . and gladly sped through the tale of Hotspur, Falstaff and Prince Hal on a soft summer’s day?
Cinque: Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (usually called the Principia), published in 1687, is undoubtedly the most important scientific book ever written. It lays the groundwork for most of classical mechanics, and provides the mathematical equations for universal gravitation and the three laws of motion. I throw this in as my favorite from Sir Isaac, though I must confess that I’m awfully fond of his work on calculus as well.
That was five, but just for good luck I leave you with Darwin’s The Origin of Species, which was as earth-shattering to the pious as Copernicus’ theories about heliocentricity were centuries before. Man, an evolving creature, and not perfect? Prey to the forces of natural selection and mutation, not to mention genetic manipulation? That’s a lot to swallow from studying a flock of finches.
And now my time is spent and thus, mutatum mutandis, I bid you adieu.