Video: Gregory David Roberts

Posted on 13th October 2015 by Gregory David Roberts
Waterstones exclusive: Gregory David Roberts talks about the power of books

Watch the world renowned author of Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts, talk passionately about the important role the book has played at every pivotal moment in history.

Roberts' new book, The Mountain Shadow, is a sequel to the enormously successful Shantaram. Find out what happens next.

The Power of the Book

Gregory David Roberts


On Tuesday 7 July 2015, Gregory David Roberts gave a talk to a group of booksellers. It was the only event he did for his new book, The Mountain Shadow, and it ranged across a number of subjects. Below is a transcript of what he had to say about books and bookselling.


You guys – publishing books, selling books – in my view, are doing the most important thing in the world. This is, without a doubt, the world’s most important industry. No doubt.

Compare it to any other industry. On the first level: we’re not selling guns. Or drugs. Or beer. Hello – we’re selling books. We’re creating books, publishing them, selling them. So that’s number one. This thing that we’re doing is largely benign.

Secondly, the industry that we’re involved in is the wellspring, the crucible of all evolutionary development in culture. Every great movement in history began with a book. From the laws of Hammurabi, which is a book; right through to Magna Carta, just recently celebrated; through to the Declaration of Independence – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’; through to the United Nations Charter on Human Rights, arguably the most important document ever put down on paper in our human history, to say human beings have rights – inalienable rights – and here they are, these are the rights of humans. (I wish and hope that extended to animals too one day, but at the moment it’s for humans, and that’s at least a good step.)

These are all documents which are in essence books, and every great movement, whether a book was nailed to the door of a church, or whether a book was opened in a church, whatever it was, every great movement throughout history has begun with a book. Every great change in our thinking, whether it’s the Communist Manifesto, or whether it’s Thomas Piketty with Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

And here’s the third aspect. The virtue of the book is its profundity, its density. It is the diametrical opposite of the quick fix. It is the diametrical opposite of Twitter.

And that’s because novels are deep. Novels have depth. They have something within them that is stronger, and more profound. That cannot be reduced to a certain number of characters, that cannot be reduced to a sound bite.

In a fragmented, fractured world, where it’s me against you, you against me, us against them, literature is that one field that reaches out and says: ‘you know what, we are all one human being. We are all one soul, we are all one heart, we are all one family and we really, really  must find those things that we have in common and connect on the basis of our common humanity.’

So you guys are involved in the most important work that exists today. It’s the most important industry on earth.

I’ll give you a slight parallel. Maybe people like tennis. If you took every tennis court in the world and it just suddenly disappeared overnight. Gone. No more tennis courts. And all the tennis rackets and all the tennis balls – gone. The world would be minutely diminished.

But if you took out every bookshop and every book in the world, we are impoverished. We are absolutely impoverished – it’s the end of us as a species. There is nothing left. That is the repository of our wisdom. It’s the repository of our love. It’s the repository of our understanding of ourselves. It’s the repository of our evolutionary knowledge of what we are and what we could be. Of where we can go and how great we can be as a people, as a species, as an entity in this universe into which we’ve been born with a self-aware consciousness.

Of how great we can be, how amazing and wonderful and astounding.

That’s in books.



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