LONDON, 13 November 2014—Throughout history, books have disseminated the ideas and discoveries of the world’s most influential thinkers. Whether focused on science, technology, religion, family or society, books have always had the capacity to change the way we think.
But, which books could claim the title of ‘the most valuable to humanity’? Today, The Folio Society, publishers of fine editions of the world’s greatest works for over 65 years, reveal the definitive list as chosen by the British public, and in doing so have re-ignited the age-old debate of science vs religion.
Nationwide, The Bible (37%), The Origin of Species (35%) and A Brief History of Time (17%) were selected as the most valuable books to the human race. Interestingly southerners voted for Charles Darwin’s seminal scientific tome, On The Origin of Species (37%), as their most important book, but northerners opted for the Bible (41%).
The study, conducted by YouGov for The Folio Society, asked over 2000 members of the British public which three books from a list of 30 they considered to be the most valuable. The measure for selection was not by popularity or by the enjoyment experienced in reading the book, but rather respondents were asked to rate the influence and significance their selected books have had on the modern world.
It wasn’t just a battle between religion and science, as classic works of fiction were also included: George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four came in overall in fifth place (14%) and Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning classic To Kill A Mockingbird is at number seven (10%).
Among the most popular reasons for selecting a book: it answers fundamental questions of human existence (78%), it ponders the meaning of life and explores answers (64%) and it contains principles / guidelines on how to be a good person (56%).
Tom Walker, Editorial Director at The Folio Society, says, ‘The results of the survey highlighted some interesting dynamics, with A Brief History of Time on the list (surely one of the most under-read bestsellers ever written); relatively little on economics despite the financial climate; and only two, overtly political, fiction titles in the list.
‘The first question I had was whether the similar figures for Darwin and the Bible does show a continuing polarisation between the realms of science and religion, or whether in fact it reveals a more balanced approach to ideas for the modern reader.
‘How different might the survey have looked a hundred, or even thirty years ago? How might it look in another thirty years—will Darwin have taken over; will the worrying rise of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s relevance continue; might the Qur’an continue to rise in significance in the UK; or might advances in DNA technology mean that The Double Helix grows in stature?
‘Is it perhaps a list of which books are perceived as having influence or giving understanding, rather than those which we personally read in order to understand the world around us? Given the age of the majority of titles perhaps our greatest influence on how we understand the world is nowadays as much through media as through books.’
In an age when there are so many competing sources of information vying for the public’s attention, there is ample evidence that the special relationship between readers and their books endures.
The ten books voted most valuable to humanity
1) The Bible (37%)
2) The Origin of Species (35%)
3) A Brief History of Time (17%)
4) Relativity (15%)
5) Nineteen-Eighty-Four (14%)
6) Principia Mathematica (12%)
7) To Kill a Mockingbird (10%)
8) The Qur’an (9%)
9) The Wealth of Nations (7%)
10) The Double Helix (6%)
* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,044 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 24th October 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).