Other Lists of Great Books
Great (and Good) Books
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Ed. by Peter Boxall. New York: Universe Publishing; London: Cassell, 2006. (Find it in a library)
The title is a misnomer. The books listed here do not include all kinds of books. The introduction discusses novels, and that term, loosely defined, could apply to virtually all the books listed. There are some interesting exceptions — pre-novel fiction (such as Aesop's Fables), stories in verse (such as Ovid's Metamorphoses), even non-fiction (Thoreau's Walden). However, many books that would be on almost any list of those "you must read before you die" are not represented. Neither the Bible, nor Homer, nor Shakespeare, nor Confucius are listed. The list is similary limited in time. Very few titles were published before 1700; about 80 percent are from the 20th century. With these caveats in mind, most readers could find many good suggestions, including some unfamiliar to them. Each title has a short description by a noted scholar. Titles listed at Lists of Bests
Allen, James Sloan. Worldly Wisdom: Great Books And the Meanings of Life. Savannah, Ga.: Frederic C. Beil, 2008. (Find it in a library)
Allen's book doesn't list a lot of the Great Books, but he does provide many reasons why one might want to read the Great Books — learning about human nature, ethics, and the "good life"; learning how to live in the social and political world; learning how to absorb the promises and perils of aesthetics, imagination, and romance.
Beare, Emma. 501 Must-Read Books. London: Bounty Books, 2006. (Find it in a library)
The chosen books are categorized as children's fiction, classic fiction, history, memoirs, modern fiction, science fiction, thrillers, and travel . Titles listed on LibraryThing
Bauer, Susan Wise. The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. Updated and expanded edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016. (Find it in a library)
Bauer, author of home-school guides and a multi-volume history of the world, advises lifelong learners on techniques for serious reading, then gives specific advice for several genres. For each genre — novels, autobiographies and memoirs, history and political philosophy, drama, poetry, and science — she gives a brief history, tips about what to look for when reading that genre, then a list of some of the great books in that genre. Almost an update of Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. There's a list of Bauer's book choices at the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks blog
Dickinson, Asa Don. The World's Best Books, Homer to Hemingway: 3000 Books of 3000 Years, 1050 B.C. to 1950 A.D., Selected on the Basis of a Consensus of Expert Opinion. New York: Wilson, 1953. (Earlier editions under the title One Thousand Best Books)
Dickinson gives one- to two-sentence annotations for each book on his list, which actually goes up to Norman Mailer. He includes a few non-Western works, mostly spiritual classics. Arranged by author; indexes by date, nationality, and type of literature
- Downs, Robert B.
- Books That Changed America. New York: Macmillan, 1970
- Books That Changed the South. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, 1977
- Books That Changed the World. Chicago: American Library Association, 1978
- Famous American Books. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971
- Famous Books, Ancient and Medieval. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1964
- Molders of the Modern Mind: 111 Books That Shaped Western Civilization. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1961
Downs, a librarian, isn't so much concerned with the Great Books, though many of them have landed spots on his lists. He's more concerned with books that have been influential in history
- Estell, Doug, Michele L. Satchwell, and Patricia S. Wright.
Reading Lists for College-Bound Students. 3rd ed.
New York: Arco/Thomson Learning, 2000. (Find it in a library)
Lists of books recommended by more than 100 colleges and universities, lists of the 10 most-recommended authors and 100 most-recommended books, and lists of books by subject and award winners.
- Gilbar, Stephen. Good Books. New Haven, Conn.: Ticknor and
Gilbar groups his book lists into seven broad categories — the World, Nature, People, Society, Work, Culture, and Time — fiction and nonfiction mixed together. The book's eccentric organization can lead to some interesting juxtapositions. Under "Middle Ages in Europe" (within the Time section) fall Italo Calvino, Barbara Tuchman, and Sigrid Undset. Under "New York City" (within the World section), you will find the Michelin guide, Edith Wharton, and E. B. White
- Good Reading: A Guide for Serious Readers. Ed. by Arthur Waldhorn, Olga S. Weber, Arthur Zeiger. 23rd ed. New York: Bowker, 1990.
- Harvard Classics.
Ed. by Charles W. Eliot. New York: P.F. Collier, 1909-1917.
The classics, as chosen for a "five-foot shelf of books" by the president of Harvard at the turn of the last century. Click on the link above to get a list of titles included and the full texts. For more information, see "The 'Five-Foot Shelf' Reconsidered" by Adam Kirsch, Harvard Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2001. [Thanks, J Baumgart] For an account of reading the collection, see Christopher Beha's book, described below.
- Martin, William Patrick. A Lifetime of Fiction: The 500 Most Recommended Reads for Ages 2 to 102. Landham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. (Find it in a library)
Recommended books for preschoolers, early readers, middle readers, young adults, and adults. Compiled from best books lists and award winners. The inclusion of award winners results in a bias toward more recent books.
- Newman, Sandra. The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverant Guide to the Classics from Homer to Faulkner. New York: Gotham Books, 2012.
Humorous descriptions of great works of Western literature and their authors. Books are graded on a 10-point scale for importance, accessibility, and fun.
- Outline of Great Books. Ed. by Sir J. A. Hammerton. New York: Wise and Company, 1937.
Four- to five-page summaries of 250 great books in their authors' own words
- Porter, Noah. Books and Reading, or What Books Shall I Read
and How Shall I Read Them? New York: Scribner, [various editions,
1871-1887; reprinted 1972].
Porter, president of Yale, explains how to read different genres, from imaginative literature to newspapers and periodicals. It's something like a 19th century version of Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, but with a moralistic tone. In 1881, an appendix was added listing books recommended by James M. Hubbard of Boston Public Library. The 4th edition (1877) is available online through the Making of America project; however, it does not have the appendix
- Queneau, Raymond, ed. Pour une Bibliothèque Idéale. Paris:
Results of a survey of French authors and critics asked to list the hundred greatest books. The List (Bureau of Public Secrets)
- Recommended Reading: 500 Classics Reviewed from the Editors of
Salem Press. Pasadena, Calif.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, 1995.
This selection is based on high school and college reading lists, with an emphasis on 20th century works. For each entry, a one-sentence summary and a few paragraphs on the plot and significance of the work are provided
- Raphael, Frederic and Kenneth McLeish. List of Books. New
York: Harmony Books, 1981.
A small, but judicious compendium of good books in most subjects, including the classics
These books list not only the great books, but also good books in many subjects
Great Books Lists on the Web
- Reader's Advisory for book lists compiled by libraries for their users
- Access the Great Books
Based on the Great Books of the Western World set; copious links
- Amazon.com's 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime
Chosen by Amazon.com editors. "We wanted the list to cover all stages of a life (which is why you'll find children's books in here), and we didn't want the list to feel like homework."
- Best in the West:
- Best 100 Novels
Ongoing online poll
- Big Read
Top 100 books nominated in the BBC's 2003 competition to select the U.K.'s best-loved novel
- GoodReads Top 100 Literary Novels of All Time
Chosen by GoodReads members
The Guardian newspaper asked experts to choose 10 essential books in each of the following subjects: fiction, history, memoir, biography, science, classic poetry, fiction in translation, travel, politics, and art & music
- Internet Classics Archive [MIT]
Archives of works from the classical literature of Greek, Latin, Persian, and Chinese — all in English translation
- Life-Changing Books: Your Picks
Chosen by readers of Open Culture.
- Malaspina Great
Books, Malaspina University, Nanaimo, British Columbia
A database of great authors, dramatists, artists, musicians, scientists, film directors, and historical figures, all searchable by name, art form, and time period, plus chat room
- My Favourite Book
A list of 100 books chosen by Australians
- Newsweek's Top 100 Books: The Meta-List
A list derived from other lists of great books, as transcribed at LibraryThing
- 100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by Women
Another response to the Modern Library list (archived)
- 100 Greatest American Novels, 1893-1993
- Outstanding Books for the College Bound (and Lifelong Learners)
Lists from the American Library Association. Most are good recent books, not classics per se
- Redwood Couch Orchids
A reading group in Humboldt County, California, reading the Great Books together since 1993. Their reading lists are available at the site
- Reading Rat
by Terrence Berres
What to read, who says so, where to find it, what of it. Berres adds new texts and links frequently
- A Reading List for English Majors
Major works of English and American Literature (Rutgers)
- Top 100 Best Books of All Time
Choices of Canadian readers
- The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read
From Esquire, a list of manly books. Only one of them was written by a woman.
- The Greatest Books
A list of "the greatest books," derived from many great books lists using a weighted algorithm. Author Shane Sherman includes all the lists and explains his methodology.
- Great Books Index: Book Links
Links to more Great Books sites
- Ten Best Top 100 Books Lists
As compiled by BookRiot
- Bookspot: Lists
Award winners and various best books lists
More Lists of Great Books:
Great Books Schools
- Gutenberg College, Eugene, Oregon - "A Great Books education from a biblical world view"
- Mercer University, Atlanta
- New Saint Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho - "Classical. Christian. Liberating Arts"
- St. John's College, Annapolis, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M
- Reading list
- Graduate Institute in Eastern Classics, Santa Fe campus: 1st semester, 2nd semester, 3rd semester
- Shimer College, Waukegan, Ill
- Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, Calif
- University of Chicago, Graham School of General Studies
The reading lists of St. John's College and Thomas Aquinas College are included on my main Great Books Page
- Barnes and Noble Classics
- Everyman's Library (Random House)
- Harvard University Press:
- Loeb Classical Library - The great works of ancient Greek and Latin, in the original languages side-by-side with the English translation
- Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library - Great works of the Middle Ages in Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, Old English, and other languages
- I Tatti covers the Latin classics of the Italian Renaissance
- Murty Classical Library of India
- Modern Library (Random House)
- Norton Critical Editions
- Penguin Classics
- World's Classics (Oxford University Press)
- Library of America - The great American writers in nice uniform editions
- Bohn's Library - 1909 title list from a publishers whose titles lean toward classical (i.e., Greek and Roman) classics
Accounts of Autodidacts, Readers' Memoirs, etc.
- Beha, Christopher R. The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else . New York: Grove Press, 2009. (Find it in a library)
The author decides to read the "five-foot shelf," the Harvard Classics. Over the course of a year, he learns much about life.
- Calvino, Italo. "Why Read the Classics?" In: The Uses of Literature: Essays.
Trans. by Patrick Creagh. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. (Find
it in a library) Also in: Why Read the Classics?. Trans.
by Martin McLaughlin. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999. (Find
it in a library)
The complete essay, with Calvino's 14 reasons for reading the classic is available from New York Review of Books.
- Hirschberg, Cornelius. The Priceless Gift. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1960. (Find
it in a library)
Hirschberg, a salesman with little formal education, writes about how he learned about history, literature, art, music, mathematics, and science through reading. This book was an inspiration to me and should be read by anyone who embarks on a life of self-education and reading the great books. No matter how much education you've had, you can learn something from this book. There are reading lists throughout the book and in two appendices (the St. John's reading list of 1960 and some recommended novels), which are worth checking, but in areas such as science and history, they are dated
- Graham, Sheilah. College of One. New York: Viking, 1967. (Find
it in a library)
A Hollywood writer in the 1930s, Graham was the "college of one" studying with her teacher and lover, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Includes some reading lists — weighted towards novels — that are somewhat dated now
- Hailey, Kendall. The Day I Became an Autodidact: And the Advice, Adventures, and Acrimonies that Befell Me Thereafter.
New York: Delacorte, 1988. (Find
it in a library)
Kendall Hailey, the teenaged daughter of writers Oliver Hailey and Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, decides to become an autodidact. Her account is a little breathless at times, but it may inspire younger readers
- Hill, Susan. Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. London: Profile Books, 2009. (Find it in a library)
An author decides to read only books she already owns.
- Martin, Roger H. Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman
Again. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. (Find it in a library)
A college president on leave does a year at the Great Books school, St. John's College in Annapolis, Md.
- Miller, Andy. The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. (Find it in a library)
A 40-ish Englishman decides to read 50 books he has meant to read (and even lied about reading). He doesn't write about all 50 of them, but he does include the "list of betterment" in an appendix, along with lists of "the hundred books which influenced me the most" and "books I still intend to read" (as inspired by Henry Miller, see below).
- Paul, Pamela. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017. (Find it in a library)
Paul, now the editor of the New York Times Book Review, has logged her reading in a "book of books" (the "Bob" of the title) since she was a teenager. She recounts how her reading and her logging of the books she has read have shaped her life.
- Queenan, Joe. One for the Books. New York: Viking, 2012. (Find it in a library)
Author recounts the eccentric reading challenges he has set himself over the years.
- Rose, Phyllis. The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. (Find it in a library)
The author decides to read everything on a particular shelf of the fiction section of a library in New York.
- 1001 Days of Dreaming - Account of a project to read the books on Harold Bloom's Western Canon list
- The Classics Circuit - Readers choose a theme to "tour" (such as the Ancient Greeks or Anthony Trollope), then write about relevant books on their own blogs
- A Literary Odyssey - Allie's course through 250 classics
- Lifetime Reading Plan - Blog about a project to read the books on Clifton Fadiman's list
An autodidact is one who is self-taught. Autodidacts often give themselves a better education than is received by those who attend the best schools. These books should inspire anyone with any amount of formal schooling
Great Books Readers' Blogs:
- Bowie's Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie's Life by John O'Connell. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.
Based on a list compiled by the rock star in 2013 as a companion to a retrospective exhibit of his life's work curated by the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is "the hundred books Bowie considered the most important and influential — not, note, his 'favorite books' as such — out of the thousands he had read during his life."
- Brown, Rita Mae. Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer's Manual. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Novelist Rita Mae Brown's writing guide includes "an annotated reading list" (pp. 215-254) of books she believes will be useful for aspiring writers. It's in chronological order, from Caedmon and Beowulf to Anthony Burgess and Alice Walker.
- Five Books
Experts select the five books you should read in many subjects
- Garfunkel, Art. Library
Singer Art Garfunkel lists all the books he's read since 1968. On a separate page, he lists favorites.
- Harvard Guide to Influential Books: 113 Distinguished
Harvard Professors Discuss the Books That Have Helped to Shape Their
Thinking. Ed. by C. Maury Devine, Claudia M. Dissel, Kim D.
Parrish. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.
There are some high-powered people here — such as John Kenneth Galbraith, W. V. Quine, and E. O. Wilson — as well as lesser known Harvard-ites. It's fascinating to see what books inspired these academics to aim for the tops of their fields
- Jefferson, Thomas. Letters In: Writings. New York: Library of America, 1984.
- To Robert Skipwith, August 3, 1771
- To Peter Carr, August 19, 1785
- To Peter Carr, August 10, 1787
- To James Madison, September 1, 1785
- To John Garland Jefferson, June 11, 1790
Acting as a mentor, Jefferson in these letters advises younger men on reading for their educations. His lists emphasize Classics, history, and philosophy; his literary recommendations often have a didactic purpose (e.g., King Lear to teach "filial duty")
- Kakutani, Michiko. Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread New York: Clarkson Potter, 2020.
Kakutani, former chief book critic for the New York Times, gives her personal list of classics and contemporary books. "I'm trying to encourage you to read or reread these books, because they deserve as wide an audience as possible. Because they are affecting or timely or beautifully written. Because they teach us something about the world or other people or our own emotional lives. Or simply because they remind us why we fell in love with reading in the first place."
- Lingua Franca's Breakthrough Books
Specialists select the books that were major breakthroughs in their fields
- Miller, Henry. The Books in my Life. Norfolk, Conn.:
New Directions, 1950?
A series of essays on books and reading, including "Reading in the Toilet" (Miller doesn't recommend it), followed by lists of "The Hundred Books Which Influenced Me Most" and "Books I Still Intend to Read."
Read it online (Internet Archive)
- Pearl, Nancy. Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment,
and Reason. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2003. A sequel:
More Book Lust (Sasquatch Books, 2005).
Librarian Nancy Pearl recommends books under more than 100 categories, from "A ... My Name is Alice" (fiction writers named Alice) to "Zero: This Will Mean Nothing to You" (books on the origin of the zero in mathematics). Includes a number of lesser-known authors who are "too good to miss." The book comes across like tips from a well-read friend
- Perrin, Noel. Reader's Delight. Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth
College, University Press of New England, 1988.
Perrin writes that there is "a large category of books just short of classic status that are known only to handful of lucky readers. Almost anyone who reads a lot is apt to have come across at least one such book — something not in the canon, not famous, probably not even in print — but all the same sheer delight to read." This is his list of such books. Some fascinating discoveries: Essays in Idleness by Kenko, A Casual Commentary by Rose Macaulay, "The Exequy" by Henry King
- Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. New Haven: Yale University Press,
In this cranky little book, the modernist poet presents his views on literature and the best authors. True to form, some of Pound's opinions are at odds with those of most critics (e.g., that Chaucer was a greater writer than Shakespeare), and specialists reject his translations of Chinese poetry. But who can argue with his formulation, "Literature is news that STAYS news" (ch. 2)?
- Sabine, Gordon and Patricia. Books That Made the Difference:
What People Told Us. Hamden, Conn.: Library Professional
The Sabines, a husband-and-wife team working for the Library of Congress, interviewed 1,382 Americans to find out what books made a difference in their lives. Excerpts from the best of these interviews make up the bulk of this book. Indexes by author and title of books and by hometown and occupation of interviewees; tips for librarians who want to conduct similar surveys
- There have been some similar books published recently:
- The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them. Ed. by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen. New York: Gotham Books, 2006. (Find it in a library)
- The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and Other Remarkable People. Ed. by Bethanne Patrick. New York: Regan Arts, 2016. (Find it in a library)
- For the Love of Books: 115 Celebrated Writers on the Books They Love Most. Ed. by Ronald B. Shwartz. New York: Putnam, 1999
- I Hear America Reading: Why We Read What We Read. Ed. by Jim Burke. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1999
- Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission. Ed. by Michael Ondaatje, et al. New York: Knopf, 2000
- McCrossan, John A. Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans: A Biographical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000
- The Most Wonderful Books: Writers on Discovering the Pleasures of Reading. Ed. by Michael Dorris and Emilie Buchwald. Minneapolis, Minn.: Milkweed Editions, 1997
- Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading. Ed. by J. Peder Zane. New York: Norton, 2004
- Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love. Ed. by Anne Fadiman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. (Find it in a library)
These books don't claim to be the Great Books, but good books strongly recommended by certain readers. Some of the choices in these books are a little obscure or eccentric, but that only results in serendipitous discoveries for you, the reader.
- Reader's Catalog: An Annotated Selection of More Than 40,000
of the Best Books in Print in Over 300 Categories. 2nd ed. New York:
Reader's Catalog, 1997.
The size of a small phone book, the Reader's Catalog is just what its subtitle says it is. Invaluable and worth owning for any serious reader
- Reader's Adviser. 14th ed. New Providence, N.J.: Bowker, 1994.
At six volumes, this is strictly something to consult at the library. Use it to find the best editions and translations or to get a book list when beginning to read in a new subject area
- Waterstone's Guide to Books. 2nd ed. London: Waterstone & Co., Ltd.,
The British bookshop chain Waterstone's issued a big book catalog before the first edition of the Reader's Catalog. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have been updated since 1988