The hundred most influential books since the war?
By MICHAEL CAINES
The novel of oh dears, an aside, a deviation, a digression, a pulling-back of the camera:
It's not so long ago that the phone would ring with a request for a photocopied page or two from the archives. A colleague could be sensibly firm if such requests unluckily came through to him ("no, we're not a public service. Goodbye!"); if you diplomatically helped out, you were marked out as a soft touch. I remember sending somebody a copy of the TLS review of Casino Royale. He called the next day with a request for me to track down the reviews of every other novel by Ian Fleming . . . .
For a little while, the single most frequently requested item was a list – the first part of which is reproduced below, along with its rationale – of the hundred most influential books published since the war (I hope one list every year or so isn't clickbaitishly overdoing things; I mean, this is my first since, oh, 1898).
As you'll see if you read on, this list, published twenty years ago, isn't the TLS's "official" selection – as if there could ever be such a thing – and it can only be understood, in context, as the compilers' "consciously arbitrary" jeu d'esprit. "Works of fiction" – my particular interest here, and the reason I went to look at it again for myself – "are included only when they had a wider impact." That wider impact may be partly a question of time passing, and lasting influence becoming obvious – hence the falling away of novels of ideas in this list, from the expected presence of George Orwell, Albert Camus et al in the earlier decades, to Milan Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting in the 1980s. Would you even describe Kundera's show of fragmented virtuosity as a novel? And so the discussion that's really the point of such lists, that gesture towards objective certainties, goes on.
The TLS history editor David Horspool wrote a few years ago about how such a list might look today, and of course there are numberless variations on the list-making theme – our International Books of the Year, for example – offering many possible answers. The Selfish Gene and Orientalism, as David suggested, appear in such answers with unerring regularity. Economics disappeared for a while, but Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century alone would surely represent its return to a wider, anxiety-driven prominence. And I suspect that today it would be, to put it mildly, somewhat odd to limit the acknowledgement of feminism since the war to The Second Sex.
As for the novel – or even the chimerical "novel of ideas" – did it carry influence during the Cold War alone, as a vehicle for political outrage? Or would signs of a resurgence figure in a new account of the intellectual landscape of the recent past?
Let's start with the 1940s; I'll post the subsequent decades over the next week or so. That should be enough time for us to catch up on the titles we may have failed to be influenced by thus far, of course . . . .
This list first appeared in the TLS of October 6, 1995.
Most people enjoy making lists. But who would produce a list of "A hundred books which have influenced Western public discourse since the Second World War"? A brief explanation is called for.
In 1986, a diverse group of writers and scholars came together to try to assist independent East European writers and publishers both at home and in exile. The Chairman was Lord Dahrendorf, Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford. Other members were the French historian Francois Furet; Raymond Georis, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam; Laurens van Krevelen of the Dutch publishing house Meulenhoff; the Swedish writer Per Waestberg, at the time President of International PEN; the European correspondent of the New Yorker, Jane Kramer; and the historian and commentator, Timothy Garton Ash. It was envisaged that support would take two forms: first, to ensure publication in the original languages, and second, to encourage more translations.
One of the basic tenets of this initiative, which came to be known as the Central and East European Publishing Project (CEEPP), was that the geopolitical division of Europe the Iron Curtain was then still very much a reality had interrupted the normal and healthy flow not just of people but also of books and ideas. Its aim, in the words of Ralf Dahrendorf, was to foster a "common market of the mind" throughout the whole of Europe. After 1989, CEEPP was able to expand its activities and organize workshops and in-house training for those involved in publishing, but its main concern remained to facilitate the publication of worthwhile books and journals.
At Trustees’ meetings, titles submitted by publishers for consideration were scrutinized for their quality and relevance. Not surprisingly, there were, among the Orwells, Poppers and Hannah Arendts, some very odd works, and also some strange omissions. Inspired and provoked by the perusal of these lists over the years, the Trustees decided that in their final year of activity (the Project disbanded at the end of 1994) they would respond to the challenge of producing, as a jeu d’esprit, a consciously arbitrary list of the 100 books which have been most influential in the West since 1945. (This list is included in the forthcoming book, Freedom for Publishing: Publishing for Freedom: The Central and East European Publishing Project, edited by Timothy Garton Ash. 201pp. Budapest: CEU Press; distributed in the UK by OUP. 1 85866 055 6.)
An initial list was put together by a small panel consisting of Robert Cassen, Dahrendorf, Garton Ash, Michael Ignatieff, Leszek Kolakowski and Bryan Magee. It was then revised, following an extensive discussion at the last meeting of CEEPP Trustees. Works of fiction are included only when they had a wider impact. Titles are grouped in decades by the date of their first appearance. In all cases, the English title is mentioned first and the original title in brackets. Within decades the order is alphabetical.
Certain seminal works which were published before the Second World War but which have had a major influence since the war were set aside. That list would certainly include:
Karl Barth: Credo
Marc Bloch: Feudal Society (La Société féodale)
Martin Buber: I and Thou (Ich und Du)
Norbert Elias: The Civilizing Process (Uber den Prozess der Zivilisation)
Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur)
Elie Halévy: The Era of Tyrannies: Essays on socialism and war (L’ire des tyrannies: Etudes sur le socialisme et la guerre)
Martin Heidegger: Being and Time (Sein und Zeit)
Johan Huizinga: The Waning of the Middle Ages (Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen)
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
Franz Kafka: The Castle (Das Schloss)
John Maynard Keynes: The Economic Consequences of the Peace
John Maynard Keynes: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
Lewis Namier: The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III
Jose Ortega y Gasset: The Revolt of the Masses (La Rebelion de las masas)
Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Logik der Forschung)
Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus logico-philosophicus (Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung)
The final list was:
BOOKS OF THE 1940s
1. Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (Le Deuxieme Sexe)
2. Marc Bloch: The Historian’s Craft (Apologie pour l’historie, ou, Metier d’ historien)
3. Fernand Braudel: The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (La Mediterranee et le monde mediterraneen a l’epoque de Philippe II)
4. James Burnham: The Managerial Revolution
5. Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe)
6. Albert Camus: The Outsider (L’Etranger)
7. R. G. Collingwood: The Idea of History
8. Erich Fromm: The Fear of Freedom (Die Furcht vor der Freiheit)
9. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno: Dialectic of Enlightenment (Dialektik der Aufklaerung)
10. Karl Jaspers: The Perennial Scope of Philosophy (Der philosophische Glaube)
11. Arthur Koestler: Darkness at Noon
12. André Malraux: Man’s Fate (La Condition humaine)
13. Franz Neumann: Behemoth: The structure and practice of National Socialism
14. George Orwell: Animal Farm
15. George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four
16. Karl Polanyi: The Great Transformation
17. Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies
18. Paul Samuelson: Economics: An introductory analysis
19. Jean-Paul Sartre: Existentialism and Humanism (L’Existentialisme est un humanisme)
20. Joseph Schumpeter: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
21. Martin Wright: Power Politics