Greater Books

Guidelines

The lists included in Greater Books so far must meet the following criteria:

Several other potential sources of lists for the Greater Books project are excluded because they serve more as anthologies or directories. I'd like to include these, as well as lists consisting of the titles published over the years by "classics" imprints such as Norton Critical Editions or Oxford World's Classics, but such an approach would require much bibliographic and archival research. That said, many anthologies include shorter works in order to fit a larger number of authors in a single book or series of books; as a result, the selection of works cannot be said to represent the editor's choice of the greatest or most representative. In other cases, they present a large number of excerpts or condensed versions of works, in addition to essays or whole books providing historical background, in contrast to the model, set by Harvard Classics and The Great Books of the Western World, limiting the number of excerpts.

Macroscopic 2013, the blog documenting this site's creation, includes posts on several of the excluded lists:

What if we were to include the lists excluded based on our guidelines? We would have to make several distinct versions of the master list. For example, Modern Library's much-publicized lists of 100 fiction and non-fiction works, besides their obvious genre restrictions, are limited to the Twentieth Century and the English language. If one wanted to see how the works in those lists match up with English-language Twentieth-Century fiction and verity works included in the Greater Books master list, you could simultaneously scan the lists here and the Modern Libray lists to see which works appear in both. However, such a task becomes considerably more difficult if you were also interested in, say, Le Monde's Les Cent Livres du Siècle, which is only limited temporally. Instead, the forty lists documented here would need to serve as the foundation for derivative lists defined by what they exclude. Whenever this site's functionality allows the user to limit the master list by language, date, or genre, in doing so it could also simultaneously expand the list. That is, if a user chooses to view only the English-language novels and non-fiction of the Twentieth Century, the Modern Library lists could be included, thus also changing the tallies of certain works (as seen in blue font next to the title). The Le Monde list would be included as well, as would any other list that includes novels and non-fiction in the English language written in the Twentieth Century.

Brief notes on other excluded works:

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The master list only includes monographic works, which for our purposes includes:

Whole anthologies or any other sort of work consisting of distinct contributions from multiple authors (such as Diderot's encyclopedia, the Federalist Papers, or the Three Hundred Tang Poems; as compared to collectively-written works, such as Manufacturing Consent or The Evolution of Physics) will be included in the sub-master list, which will mostly include works published as part of periodicals or anthologies, excerpts of works, and indeterminate selections of texts. That last category is excessively long; too many of the listmakers included so far will list, say, Plato's Dialogues, or the poetry of Robert Frost, referring to them as "books" without specifying distinct works.

Precisely because of this ambiguity, all selections in the forty lists documented here are referred to as entries. Some of these unclear selections are open to interpretation; for example, Lubbock lists the "plays" of Molière. Though I could count all of Molière's plays as entrants, we cannot say with certainy that Lubbock intended to include each play at the same level as the rest of his entries, especially since he offers several other vague recommendations, such as "poems" by Hesiod. Any selection of a kind of literary work (novels, essays, etc.) is assumed to be a "selected" choice, and any listing of an author alone or an author's "works" is assumed to be "selected works." Another example comes from Lubbock's inclusion of Walter Scott's "novels." Though for James Baldwin, who listed the "Waverley novels," I am including all 26 novels in that category, for Lubbock I am not, despite all of Scott's novels being "Waverley novels." This seeming contradiction has its excuse: each listmaker takes a different approach, and I've tried to exercise a limited degree of editorial discretion based on how the listmaker defines that project and the number of works he includes. In this case, Baldwin has vague selections like Thackeray's "novels" similar to Lubbock's, but chose to specify "Waverley novels," so my inclusion of all of those novels corresponds to the greater nuance of that selection.

Only a few listmakers have included the "complete works" of an author; that designation is also ambiguous at times because of works of disputed authorship, recently-published posthumous works, writings disclosed in archival collections, and minor works that the listmaker probably did not intend to include.

Nearly every list has presented new difficulties in collating its entries with those of the other lists. Further clarification of these issues is available at the Macroscopic blog posts linked-to below, as well as many of the posts for the included and excluded lists. [1] [2]