We all like lists – books, films, people, just about anything for which a top ten can be compiled has been compiled into a top ten. And, although it’s possible to get a bit sniffy about the current obsession with listmania, these lists can – and do – generate discussion and interest in their subject – which is no bad thing.
CHARLES DARWIN, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, 1859
The book sold out on the day it was published. Darwin was labelled the most dangerous man in England by theologians for his book, which challenged contemporary beliefs, destroying the idea that all creatures were immutably made during the seven-day Creation.
MARIE STOPES, MARRIED LOVE, 1918
Marie Stopes wrote a sex manual for women after consulting medical books which led her to realise she was a virgin despite being married a year (her husband was impotent). The first book to suggest that women should enjoy sex as much as men, it was fiercely opposed by doctors, the press and the Church.
WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, SPEECH TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, 1789
On 12 May 1789, the MP William Wilberforce made his first speech against the slave trade. He became one of the leaders of the movement despite the fact that most of his fellow Tory Party members were against any limits to the slave market.
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT, A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN, 1792
In the first great piece of feminist writing, Wollstonecraft sought to trade “soft” descriptions of women that denoted weakness, such as “susceptibility of heart” and “delicacy of sentiment” for strength. She argued intellect would always rule.
MAGNA CARTA, 1215
Rebellious British noblemen forced King John to sign a document which contained 63 clauses defining his feudal rights. From that moment, the king was no longer permitted to change anything without the barons’ permission. The meaning of certain clauses is still a cause for dispute.
THE KING JAMES BIBLE, 1611
Controversial because it was a translation into the English spoken by the common people. It had a profound influence on ensuing translations and on English literature as a whole. Works by John Bunyan, John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden and William Wordsworth were inspired by it.
MICHAEL FARADAY, EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH IN ELECTRICITY, 1855
Faraday’s research into electricity and magnetism established him as the foremost experimental scientist of his day. By inventing the dynamo, he made the generation of electricity possible, thereby paving the way for modern technology.
THE FIRST RULE BOOK OF THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION, 1863
The first game ever played under the rules took place on 9 January 1863 at Battersea Park in south-west London. The Football Association’s book regulated the game in and around London but in the provinces clubs continued to follow their local rules for some time.
PATENT SPECIFICATION FOR ARKWRIGHT’S SPINNING MACHINE, 1769
Richard Arkwright, a barber from Bolton, moved to Nottingham, and in July 1769 he enrolled the specification of his famous first patent for spinning by rollers. James Hargreaves had invented the spinning jenny in 1964, but only patented it in July 1770.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, FIRST FOLIO, 1623
The first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623, contains plays we would otherwise have lost, including Macbeth and As You Like It. These plays were not attributed to Shakespeare until the date of publication, seven years after his death.
ADAM SMITH, THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, 1776
The Scottish economist Adam Smith wrote his groundbreaking thesis in the earliest phases of the Industrial Revolution and set the foundation for modern economics. He supports the theory that the less government interferes with business, the more prosperous the nation will be.
ISAAC NEWTON, PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA, 1687
Generally regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science, the Principia sets out Newton’s laws of motion which formed the basis for his law of universal gravitation. It also contains the Hypotheses non fingo (“I do not assert that any hypotheses are true”).