Greater Books

In 1886, during a lecture on the "pleasure of reading," the British scientist, politician, and man of letters John Lubbock spoke of his wish for a "a list of a hundred good books"; in the absence of such, he offered his own selection. Over the next several decades, fellow democracy-minded scholars and public figures, complementing or countering Lubbock's notion, offered their own lists, generally called One Hundred Best Books. Lubbock's and several other of these lists were motivated in part by the large number of books available, then still a novel development of modern times. In other cases, extensive series of books and anthologies, most famously Charles Eliot's Harvard Classics, were developed in the interest of adult "self-culture."

By the 1950's, the literary works included on such lists were called Great Books. The lists often took the form of class syllabi, their purpose increasingly being formal education and canonization. The men who crafted Great Books programs, most prominently John Erskine, Mortimer Adler, and Scott Buchanan, promoted the idea that the reading of classics was a task meant for all students, at all levels, even if the works were translated from their original language. At several colleges, the curricula of undergraduate programs came to be based upon the reading of these Great Books.

Despite persistent critiques and revisions, and the overall decline, of Great Books programs, by the Twenty-First Century, canons, reading plans, and other lists of classics—of all forms and languages, and from the entirety of recorded history—are more plentiful than ever. This site collects the lists that hew to defined criteria, collating them to form a master list. The user can also view the original lists and eventually will be able to limit the master list by several search parameters, such as form, date, language, and the removal or combination of certain lists. Ideally, even those who disparage the Great Books movement, and those wary of list-making in general, will find this site useful, enabling them to show what kind of literature has been excluded or the inevitable failures of turning human knowledge and creativity into quantifiable entities. In other words, if there are Great Books, there are also Greater Books.

Throughout the site, the number in dark blue next to the title tells you how many lists in which the work is included out of 47 total. Please read first an explanation of the guidelines used to determine the inclusion of these lists, any one of which is quite different in its original purpose from the others. Then you can review the master list, arranged alphabetically by author; and which provides basic information about each work, such as original, translated, and alternate titles; and notes the lists that each work appears in. Or visit a short list of the works that appear in the largest number of lists before consulting the master list. You can also study any of the distinct lists that constitute the master list. Or peruse a list of lists excluded from Greater Books based on the guidelines. Finally there are some relevant links.