The Impact of Books, From Banned to Popular Culture

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The Impact of Books, From Banned to Popular Culture

Books are a powerful medium for communication, whether they’re filled with fanciful imaginings wholly fictitious in nature or they contain critical discoveries in scientific fields. Whether one devours books or casually peruses the latest titles on the shelves, it’s impossible to deny that well-known books have an enormous impact on the world. For those working toward a library science degree online, studying important books can mean better understanding the value of literacy in nearly every aspect of culture and society.

Sharing Religion

An image of a Bible.

Books have always played a crucial role in religion. From the Bible to the Torah to the Quran to the Book of Mormon, written texts have long defined the way people worship. When Gutenberg’s printing press made books widely available to the masses, people were able to take more ownership of their faith, examining scripture for themselves rather than accepting it only as it was shared by their religious leaders.

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. According to Guinness World Records, the Bible has been translated into 349 languages, and at least one book of the Bible exists in 2,123 languages. It’s impossible to track the exact number of Bibles printed and sold, but estimates put the number over five billion.

Shaping National Identity

Many famous books have played a significant role in shaping America’s identity. The message of these books encouraged thoughtful dialogue. They defined the shape of society at the time of their publication and often spurred critical change for the future.

In an interview with NPR, Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress discussed Congress’s “Books That Shaped America” exhibit. Dimunation noted that Uncle Tom’s Cabin “changed the way that Americans talked about race, both at the time of the Civil War and after.” He called Catcher in the Rye “one of the works that ushered in an understanding of the beat generation and alienated youth.”

Well-known books throughout history have shaped the way people view themselves, their culture, and those around them. They’ve served as universal talking points that cross barriers and unite people.

Sparking Debate

Many of the most influential books in history have also been points of feverish debate. The “Books that Shaped America” exhibit includes many controversial titles that were banned or challenged at some point in their history. The Call of the Wild by Jack London was banned in Yugoslavia, Italy, and Nazi Germany for its radical tone. Gone With the Wind was banned for its realistic yet highly sensitive portrayal of slavery and southern plantation life. Books like these highlight issues that are most sensitive to society and often shine a light on issues that need more attention.

While books that highlight critical real-world issues often see a great deal of pushback, those that are wholly fantastical can stir up protests as well. A prime example is the Harry Potter series. Some Christian sects have decried the books for promoting witchcraft and non-biblical values.

These protestors may fear that young readers cannot properly discern the difference between fantasy and reality. However, psychologists Amie Senland and Elizabeth Vozzola performed a study that revealed few children believed the fantastical magic performed in the books could be real. On other topics, young readers interpreted the information in a variety of ways and disagreed on points such as whether Dumbledore’s treatment of Harry Potter was fair.

Defining Popular Culture

Books play a critical role in shaping popular culture. Pop culture can be influenced by particular books of a period as well as the ideas, music, and mass media that prevail during a certain age. However, these other elements often have literature as their root. The Lord of the Rings saga inspired a series of songs published in 1967 as well as Johan de Meij’s Symphony No. I “The Lord of the Rings” in 1988. In the 60s and 70s, youth used phrases like “Gandalf for President” to represent their countercultural views.

The mass popularity of the films saw a revival in the early 2000’s with the release of three films based on the book series. In 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring had the second-highest domestic gross, behind only Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ranked second at the box office the next year, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the highest grossing film of 2003. The books that influence culture often go on to have a tremendous presence in theaters, music, and other aspects of culture.

Determining Schools of Thought

Critical schools of thought in math, science, philosophy, and geography have been shaped by influential literature. The written word has shaped our discoveries and thought processes throughout time. In the second century, Geographia by Ptolemy set forth mapping techniques that still influence the efforts of today. Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity sums up the genius’s Princeton University lectures of 1921. The theory of evolution was spearheaded in Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species.

Modern physics was born in large part from the complex book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, by Issac Newton. This 1687 book covers the laws of motion, the paths of comets, and even discusses how the moon’s orbit is influenced by gravity. Pieces such as these have had a monumental impact on later discoveries and inventions that have reshaped the world. We can access these works today because of the preservation work of the librarians of yesteryears, as well as the digitalization efforts of librarians today.

For those fascinated by the impact that books have on the world around us, devoting a career to examining and exploring these printed pieces of history is possible. With a Master of Management in Library and Information Science, students can delve deeper into the field of library science and earn qualifications for an influential management role in this field. Understanding and studying the impact of books on the world means keeping a finger on the pulse of the evolving literary landscape and diving into the past in a vivid new way.


10 Most Influential Sacred Texts in History –

What Impact did the Invention of the Printing Press have on the Spread of Religion? – Classroom

Best-Selling Book of Non-Fiction – Guinness World Records

How Books Shaped the American National Identity – NPR

Banned Books that Shaped America – Banned Books Week

What did Protests about Harry Potter Books Teach Us? –

2001 Domestic Grosses – Box Office Mojo

2002 Domestic Grosses – Box Office Mojo

2003 Domestic Grosses – Box Office Mojo

The Lord of the Rings – The Book’s Influence After 60 Years – Tolkien Library

The 50 Most Influential Books of All Time – Online Education Database

25 Greatest Science Books of All Time – Discover Magazine