Darwin’s book on evolution has been voted the most influential academic text in history

By a landslide.
By a landslide.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species—the 1859 work upon which our understanding of evolution rests—has been voted the most influential academic book in history.

To mark the start of Academic Book Week, booksellers, librarians and publishers were encouraged to submit books that have changed the world. A committee of experts assembled by the Booksellers Association and The Academic Book of the Future project compiled the top 20 books. The public was then given the chance to vote on the most influential academic book.

On the Origin of Species was the firm favorite, securing 26% of the vote. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto came in second, with The Complete Works of Shakespeare coming in third. Plato’s The Republic and Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant rounded up the top five. There were over 900 votes in the online poll.

“It’s not in the least surprising, and completely right, that On the Origin of Species won,” said Alan Staton of the Booksellers Association. “No work has so fundamentally changed the way we think about our very being and the world around us.”

The list has caused some controversy, with some arguing that it was not a list of academic-authored titles. And they have a point, Darwin’s Origin was never solely an academic work; over the years, it has been read and used by different political groups.

But this debate is exactly what the organizers wanted. Samantha Rayner, of a two-year investigation called the Academic Book of the Future Project, said: “Academic books are ideas captured in text that connect people to each other—and this campaign proves, by the responses it has had, that though definitions of ‘academic’ may vary wildly, the right of these shortlisted titles to be considered as books that have changed the world is easier to agree with!”