I ran across an interesting, but old, set of discussions about the most important invention of the last 2000 years. It included a lot of good, interesting answers. My first thought was the steam engine, but after reading one of the early answers, I changed my mind to be the printing press. Without that, cheap plentiful books, papers and such would not have been possible. And books have literally changed my life several times.
The first time is 1957. I was eight that Christmas when my grandparents gave me three of the Golden Books series: Astronomy, Science and Geography. I still have all three books, worn but still loved. In October, just two months before that, the world and especially the US was shocked when the USSR put Sputnik 1 into orbit followed a month later by Sputnik 2 carrying Laika, a dog.
I’d already had an interest in space ‘stuff’ but those events, especially that book, lit a fire in me. I read and reread that book until I could recite it from memory. I read everything on astronomy the library had that I could even remotely comprehend at that age. By my ninth birthday I’d resolved to become an astronomer. I understood what that meant and what I had to do to get there. Just over 12 years later, I graduated with a hybrid astronomy-physics degree and a budding interest in computers.
Actually, I didn’t go on to become the astronomer. Instead the interest in computers and the Viet Nam war steered me down a different path. Astronomy stayed with me but as an interest and hobby. Although I sometimes wonder about the “path not taken,” I’ve no regrets in that regard and the twists of life aren’t the point here.
Nope, the point is the huge influence that single children’s science book had on me. It gave me a life-long passion for science in general and the cosmos in particular. My grandparents knew I had an interest in science but it wasn’t until years later that they’d see the impact that Christmas gift to an eight-year-old boy would have.
So, yes, I’ll change my answer and go with the “printing press.” Maybe not the most important to you or many others but that book (and a few since then) changed my life. That puts it at the top of my list.
What book(s) influenced you?