Ten Rare Books That Changed The World
The course of human history has been altered and elevated by numerous ideas, philosophies, theories and inventions. Here we take a look at ten books which can claim to have helped change the world, and their biggest auction sales to date.
10) Experimental Researches in Electricity by Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday is one of history’s most influential scientists, whose work built a foundation upon which mush of modern science was built. His discoveries of magnetic fields, electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis helped paved the way for the use of electricity as a common energy source.
A first-edition printing of his pioneering 1832 work Experimental Researches in Electricity sold at Sotheby’s in December 2011 for $59,375.
9) The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud’s theories on dreams and the subconscious gave birth to the discipline of psychoanalysis, and helped influence both philosophical and creative ideas throughout the 20th century.
A rare first edition copy of his 1899 book The Interpretation of Dreams sold at Christie’s in June 2008 for $16,250.
8) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft’s book, first published in 1792, was one of the earliest works regarding women’s rights. A forerunner to the suffragette movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman continues to inspire feminist philosophy around the world.
A first edition copy of the book sold at Sotheby’s in October 2010 for $11,861.
7) Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Paine’s Common Sense is regarded as one of the most popular and influential pamphlets in U.S history, and its rational argument for freedom from British rule widely credited with inspiring nationwide support for the Revolutionary War.
First published anonymously in 1776, the pamphlet’s basic language and style made it a bestseller and introduced the idea of political involvement to common Americans. It helped create a political identity which remains prevalent in the United States to this day.
In June 2013 a rare original copy of the pamphlet’s first printing sold at Sotheby's for $545,000.
6) The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
First published in London in 1848 by a group of German political refugees, The Communist Manifesto became one of the most influential political texts in world history.
Written by the German political theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the book inspired the Communist movement which drastically shaped 20th century history and led to the Cold War.
An original copy of the first printing was sold at Sotheby’s in June 2006 for $169,969.
5) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking work on natural selection forms the basis of our current understanding of evolution. It caused enormous controversy upon its release in 1859, and its contradiction of religious theories including Creationism provokes heated debate to this day.
One of just 23 author's presentation copies, inscribed by Darwin himself, sold at Sotheby's in December 2007 for $325,000.
4) A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson’s remarkable Dictionary of the English Language was first published in April 1755, after almost nine years of work.
Johnson single-handedly produced a book which would define the English language for close to two centuries, and which had an enormous influence on American lexicography.
A rare first edition copy of Johnson’s two-volume work was sold by Christie’s in October 2010 for $248,612
3) Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton’s ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’, commonly known as the ‘Principia’, is regarded as one of the most important scientific works in human history.
First published in 1687, the series of three volumes laid the groundwork for modern physics with Newton’s Law of Motion, upon which Classical Mechanics is founded. It also documented Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, and featured groundbreaking use of mathematic principles.
A presentation copy of the first edition owned by King James II, the patron of the Royal Society to whose fellowship the work is dedicated sold at Christie’s in 2013 for $2,517,000.
2) Geographia by Claudius Ptolemy
Geographia was the world’s first printed atlas and the first book to feature engraved illustrations. The contents were based on the work of Claudius Ptolemy, who compiled the geographic knowledge of the Roman Empire to produce his map of the world in the 2nd century A.D.
Ptolemy’s work has influenced cartographers ever since, and set standards for map-making that continue to this day. In 2006, a copy of the first 1477 printing (one of just two in private hands) sold at Sotheby’s for $3.9 million.
1) The Gutenberg Bible
Unlike the other titles on the list, it was not the contents of the book which changed the world – but the way it was printed.
Produced by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was the world’s first book printed with moveable type. The invention led to the mass publication of books, and the spread of literacy, education and information across the globe.
An original copy of an Old Testament Gutenberg Bible, one of just 48 known to still exist, sold at auction at Christie’s in New York for $5.4 million in 1987.