Exorbitant claims are inherent in another title genre: things that have changed the world. That list includes books, ideas, beliefs, decisions, inventions, plants, bridges, gigs, battles, speeches, photographs and molecules. Some authors prefer a single item: the ocean (Atlantic), voyage (the Mayflower’s), car (Model T), corporation (East India Company), business strategy (franchising), telescope (Galileo’s), painting (Picasso’s “Guernica”) and Olympics (Rome, 1960). Others favor a set: the 5 equations, the 10 geographical ideas, the 12 books, the 50 battles, the 100 maps, the 1,001 inventions. . . .
Ultimately, the best locutions are those that credit quotidian, trivial objects with earthshaking influence, like “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World,” by Mark Kurlansky. The more obvious the significance of the subject, the less successful the title. After all, where’s the element of surprise or wit in “A Man Without Equal: Jesus, the Man Who Changed the World”?
Some of the more unlikely candidates endowed with superhuman powers by authors include “Tea: The Drink That Changed the World,” “Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World,” “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World” and “Sugar: The Grass That Changed the World.”