Books and Revolution
“Revolutions can, and often have, begun with reading.”
“The Doctor and the Saint”
― Arundhati Roy
I read this book recently and my mind stuck on this quote. Let me make it clear, I am not a fan of Roy. Not yet. This was the first book of her that I read. May be, after reading four-five books, I can give some definite views about her ideology.
By referring this quote, I just wanted to say how important reading books was at every stage in history and how relevant it is today, and, I am hopeful, it will be relevant in the future also. Revolution doesn’t mean always to be political. It can be social, cultural or within your self- a revolution to change, encourage or inspire yourself.
Let’s have a look on history how great books brought the unprecedented change. You must have heard about the French Revolution (1789). It is taught in highschool books. Well, there were many reasons behind this great historical event but the literature written by Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau motivated it a lot. Treatise on Tolerance (1763) by Voltaire educated people about tolerance between religions, religious fanaticism, and religious superstitions. Another work, a play, Brutus (1729) depicted the horror of a tyrannical government and it had such a profound impact on the revolution that many slogans of the revolution were borrowed from it. Rousseau’s political theory On the Social Contract , published in 1762, argued that it is absurd for man to surrender his freedom for slavery; thus, the participants must have a right to choose the laws under which they decide to live.
The most pivotal revolution of human civilization in modern world that changed the social and economic mindset of people, the first Industrial Revolution, had a strong literary support. Among many causes, appearance of Capitalism as a dominant idea was the main. Adam Smith (1723-1790), the Scottish writer and economist, is credited to lay the foundation of capitalist theory in his book The Wealth of Nations (1776). It boosted up the Industrial Revolution. Besides, rise of ‘Novel’ as a literary genre in Victorian era and the emergence of Industrial Revolution were closely connected. This was the time when people were going through ‘readingmania’.
Nowadays, population of communists or left-wingers or anti-nationalists is increasing rapidly in India, so much that whosoever tries to oppose the government comes automatically in this ambit by the government representatives or pro-government people. I am not a virtuoso of the leftist political tune, but as far as I know, equality, liberty, egalitarianism, idea of welfare state, freedom of speech and expression, equal rights for women etc; approx ninety percent of enlightening ideas are deeply rooted in leftist values. And if you care to analyze, you will find that almost all the literature, except religious and dogmatic books, is full of these ideas. Hardcore leftist politics has its own dark history, I agree, but the indulgence of its values in literature is still intact. It’s a good thing to be conscious about your political and social rights, and if it comes by Reading, there is nothing better than that. To name a few books in this line which revolutionized politics and society all over the world are: The Communist Manifesto (1848) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Das Kapital (1867) by Karl Marx, On Liberty (1859) by J.S. Mill, On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin, Orientalism (1978) by Edaward W. Said, The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir etc, and there are a lot of other such books which brought a concrete change.
Besides social, political and economic change, books have always helped people in their personal growth. Almost all billionaires, great speakers, politicians (yes who are actually great), social-workers read a lot. The famous quote that goes around the world, when someone asked Warren Buffet about the key of success, he said, “Read 500 pages everyday. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee, not many of you will do it.” Bill Gates reads almost 50 books in a year. Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and many other personalities who don’t belongs to academic world, reads a lot. They credit their reading habit as the main factor for their personal growth.
So, in the last, I just want to say, if so many changes have already been brought by reading books, why don’t you pick up any book (yes, any book of your choice) and read it. Try to complete it. Make reading a hobby, then transform it in a habit. I am sure you will make a change, for yourself and others. Happy Reading!
Note- the article was first published in the online journal www.indianperiodical.com