Just for fun, a list of novels that have had special impact on modern culture. The books that shaped the world as we know it, on Shelley’s premise that writers are the world’s unacknowledged legislators: Not in any order:
Lost Horizon – James Hilton
Probably responsible for the current romantic fascination with Tibet; aka “Shangri-La.” “Glory” Conway also sounds like a prototype of James Bond. I doubt its effects were intended by the author. In terms of quality, just a good thriller.
1984 – George Orwell
Would that it were even more influential. But it has given us a lot of catchwords: “newspeak,” doublethink,” and so forth. Folks are wrong to think that Orwell’s prophecy did not come true. It was not a prophecy. He was describing the situation at the time of writing.
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Every “unconventional” idea that formed the beats of the fifties, the hippies of the sixties, and the conventional wisdom of today, came from this book and its successor The Dharma Bums. It is a matter of record that Kerouac himself was horrified by the influence the book had. It was completely misinterpreted.
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The case against war, which grew into the Vietnam anti-war movement.
Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
More a personal than a social statement, and so more personal than social in its visible effects; but it has formed the worldview of a great many people, I believe, since the early fifties. A modern Man of Feeling or The Sorrows of Young Werther.
All indications are that Salinger continues to write, although not to publish. Everything goes into a vault n his home, to be released after his death. I think there is a very good chance that, when eventually published, these manuscripts will change the world.
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand seems to have had a massive influence, though she represents a minority position within the culture. I must admit I haven’t read her. Perhaps I should, to better understand my times.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The case for civil rights in the South. Published in 1960.
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
The case for free love and hostility to religion. To my mind, a very badly written book, with traces of Fascism in its worldview.
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The case against colonialism. But I don’t think that was the point Conrad meant to make. Note its influence in Apocalypse Now. A classic for the ages.
Watership Down – Richard Adams
May have much to do with the modern sentimentality towards animals—the ecology movement, the anti-sealing movement, and so forth. Haven’t read it; the dog ate my copy.
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
It has created our image of the depression. I understand its image is quite false, but it has superseded the reality. Steinbeck is one of the true greats, though.
Demian – Hermann Hesse
Demian, and not Steppenwolf, because I think Steppenwolf did not influence, but was appropriated later. Demian, though, probably had a lot of influence on the rise of Nazism in the 1920s, the New Age, and the eventual “counterculture.” This was, though, more or less the opposite of Hesse’s intention.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The case for drug use. An appallingly bad little book, I’ve always thought.
I’ve omitted Lord of the Flies, after consideration, because I think it has been generally appreciated, but its message ignored. It has strikingly not left an impression on the culture as a whole.
I welcome further suggestions.