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World Book Day 2020

John Baird
Thu 5 Mar, 2020

It’s World Book Day so let’s celebrate some of the Notts literature that has shaped the world.

Nottinghamshire writers have built a better world with words and they continue to do so. But which Notts-related literature do you think has had the biggest impact on the world?

Here are some World Changing Works (with a local connection).

Darkest England and the Way Out (1890)

by William Booth

'Helping the Homeless'

The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth, was born in Nottingham and lived here until the age of 20. As a teenager Booth was called ‘boy preacher’ as he used to stand in the street on a chair bringing God’s word to those unwelcome in church. ‘Darkest England and the Way Out’ highlighted the desperate straits many ordinary people found themselves in. It acted as a rallying cry for preventing and acting against stark poverty, describing the mass degradation of the poor. Stories include those rescued from neglect, the out of work, and those living with alcohol and substance abuse problems, to petty criminals seeking to reform their ways. The money made from the book helped Booth fund projects that helped the homeless, like running a soup kitchen, a shelter and training centre for the unemployed. In the year this book was published, William’s wife Catherine died. He threw himself into his work and The Salvation Army soon spread around the world.


Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928, 1960)

by D H Lawrence

'A Profound Social Impact'

First published in Italy in 1928, the book was not available in Britain until after the 1960 Chatterley Trial, a seminal case in British literary and social history. The year before, the government had introduced the Obscene Publications Act that stated that any book considered obscene by some, but that could be shown to have ‘redeeming social merit’ might still be published. After a six-day trial at the Old Bailey, Penguin Books was acquitted for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and so came an important victory for freedom of expression allowing the 60s to swing. The world would never be the same again.


Zoonomia (or, The Laws of Organic Life) (1794–1796)

by Erasmus Darwin

'The Theory of Evolution'

This book destroyed the reputation of Erasmus Darwin, one of the late 18th century’s most respected poets, a man born and bred in Notts. In the work, Darwin expanded upon his theory that life could develop without the guiding hand of a Creator, adding that the “strongest and most active animal should propagate the species, which should thence become improved”. Darwin’s idea that that life had developed over millions of years, from microscopic specks arising spontaneously in primeval seas, through fishes and amphibians, to land animals and humankind, was a coherent theory of evolution. One that his grandson Charles would later advance and publish.

A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612)

by Thomas Helwys

'Human Rights'

This book argued for complete liberty of conscience in matters of religion for all people. Split into four books, this was one of the earliest English Baptist documents. For Helwys – a layman from Askham who later lived at Broxtowe Hall - any relationship with God should be both personal and voluntary, and he stated that by forcing a single interpretation upon the people, the Church of England was guilty of spiritual tyranny. Helwys sent a copy of his book to King James, for which he was arrested and sent to Newgate prison where he died. The argument that there should be a separation of state and religion - and that anyone should be allowed to change religion (or have no religion) - crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, eventually making its way to the first line of the American Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” and paving the way for Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq. (1842)

by Luigi Federico Menabrea, with additional notes and translation by Ada Lovelace.

'The First Computer Program'

Impressed by Babbage’s Analytical Engine design, Ada Lovelace translated an article by an Italian mathematician, supplementing it with notes of her own that became longer and more important than the memoir itself. In these translated and additional notes, Ada Lovelace included the world’s first computer program devising a formula for calculating Bernoulli numbers (a complex sequence of rational numbers often used in computation and arithmetic). Her famous ‘notes on the translation’, which followed her collaboration with Babbage, is arguably the most important paper in the history of digital computing pre modern times, setting out an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Thrumpton Hall became a welcoming home to Ada on her visits to Nottinghamshire and she is buried beside her father, the poet Lord Byron, at St Mary Magdalene Church in Hucknall.


The Children’s Encyclopaedia (1908-1964)

by Arthur Mee

'Ground-breaking Children’s Education'

Stapleford-born Arthur Mee was a Nottingham journalist who went on to found The Children’s Encyclopaedia, Children’s Newspaper, Children’s Shakespeare and Children’s Bible. The son of a militant non-conformist, Mee produced over a million words a year and refused an honorary title several times during his life. His Children’s Encyclopaedia broke new ground in its approach to education, aiming to make learning interesting and enjoyable. With clearly-written articles it intended to develop character and a sense of duty. “It is a Big Book for Little People, and it has come into the world to make your life happy and wise and good” wrote Mee in one of his introductions which he called ‘greetings’. The fortnightly magazine was published in the U.S. under the name The Book of Knowledge.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818)

by Lord Byron

'The First Byronic Hero'

Emily Bronte's Heathcliffe, Charlotte Brontë’s Mr Rochester, Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy; the Byronic hero is one of literature’s most important archetypes. Historian and critic Lord Macaulay described the character as "a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection." The Byronic hero first found an audience through Lord Byron's semi-autobiographical epic narrative poem ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage’. The work appeared between 1812 and 1818 as Byron wrote about countries he was visiting at the time. Like his hero, Byron was a travelling member of nobility, fighting against the norms of society.


The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour (1967)

by Michael Argyle

'Great scientific and practical importance'

A breakthrough in the analysis of social behaviour, this Penguin book was the biggest-selling psychology paperback. Born in Sherwood Rise, Michael Argyle, a former Nottingham Boys’ High School pupil, was the most internationally respected British social psychologist, known for his studies of conscience, non-verbal communication and happiness. A pioneer in the advancement of social psychology as an academic field, the professor believed that people could benefit from improved relations if only they developed something he called, social skills. Widely translated, this book became the textbook of social psychology. From Argyle ’s work came a host of training programmes: for psychiatric patients, for the workplace and for everyday interpersonal relationships.


The Book of Common Prayer (1549)

by Thomas Cranmer

'Marriage and Death'

Originally published during the reign of Edward VI, the Book of Common Prayer, compiled by Thomas Cranmer, was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome, something Cranmer had played a significant role in as Henry XIII’s first Archbishop of Canterbury (it was Cranmer that pronounced the King’s marriage to Catherine null and void). Cranmer was born in Aslockton and was schooled at Southwell and/or Bingham. A second, 1552 version of the book, has remained in daily use in Anglican churches for hundreds of years and contains the great familiar liturgies of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the order of service for Holy Communion, the Athanasian Creed, and the special prayers for baptism, confirmation, marriage, burial and the other church services. The Book of Common Prayer brought us many significant phrases such as 'love and cherish' and ‘ashes to ashes’ and it has had a great influence on a number of other denominations. Copies are to be found in churches throughout the world.

Reasons to Stay Alive (2015)

by Matt Haig

‘Surviving Mental Illness’

Born and bred in Notts, Matt Haig’s world caved in when he was 24 and he could see no way to go on living. Reasons to Stay Alive is his inspiring account of his life with anxiety and depression. The accessible, life-affirming memoir tells of his struggles and how he triumphed over the mental illness that almost destroyed him, and learned to live again. The result is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive. You’ll appreciate life all the more for it. Haig’s follow up, Notes on a Nervous Planet, shows how the world is messing with our minds. It’s a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the twenty-first century. Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.


The Spider and the Fly (1828)

by Mary Howitt

‘A Life Lesson’

Mary Howitt considered herself ‘bound to no class’ and her writing was popular with both adults and children. She translated the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson for a British readership and the novels of the feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer. Her famous poem The Spider and the Fly tells of a cunning Spider who ensnares a Fly through the use of seduction and flattery. Widely translated, the poem teaches children to be weary against those who use flattery and charm to disguise their true evil intentions. The gruesome ending in this cautionary tale is used to reinforce the important life lesson.


The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife (2018)

Edited by Chris Packham, Robert Macfarlane and Patrick Barkham

‘For the Wildlife of Tomorrow’

Robert Macfarlane’s formative years were spent living in the beautiful Nottinghamshire countryside and much of his bestselling work has been about landscape, nature and place. This ‘People’s manifesto’ has been compiled to help save British wildlife from mass extinction. Capturing the issues facing our wildlife today, it challenges all of us to look again at how we can collaborate to do more. The writing includes proposals for education, social inclusion and diversity, and there are sections on nature-friendly farming and reducing pesticides, ideas for rewilding, urban greening and dog-free nature reserves.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958)

by Alan Sillitoe

'Kitchen-Sink Realism'

The late 1950s saw a new cultural movement, stories that portrayed how the working class really lived. Books and films were now depicting characters adapting to a changing Britain, refusing to conform to traditional expectations, and expressing themselves on their own terms. This was social realism and controversial subjects were being explored. Written over seven years, Sillitoe’s novel focused on working class Nottingham and the Seaton family. The author portrayed ordinary people as he knew them and, in this book more than any other, he found his true voice. The 22-year-old Arthur Seaton aims to cheat the world before it can cheat him. He is unlikable and fascinating: as one reviewer put it, he ‘has the charm of a naughty dog’. Sillitoe’s debut shifted over a million copies. His other masterpiece, ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ was a great influence on Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, and how the world might have been different without his creations.

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