The lists included in Greater Books so far must meet the following criteria:
- The list does not exclude a major form of literature as defined by this sitenamely: poetry, theatre, fiction, and verity. (What's verity?)
- The list is not limited to a certain era; practically speaking, most lists excluded for this reason failed to include ancient literature. The original listmaker, John Lubbock, excluded authors living at the time, but such a restriction cannot be considered too seriously given that a list made in, say, 1950 obviously excludes all works published since then and that most of the listmakers included here (but certainly not all of them) seem to have been wary of including an excess of contemporary authors.
- The list is not limited to works from a certain nation, race, or any cultural tradition; or of a certain language. The exception herea major exceptionis that lists confined to the broad distinction, the West (or the East), are included, simply because if we did not make this exception, we would have hardly any lists to work with. Several of the included lists are explicitly limited in such a way, or only include a token number of non-Western works, but several others essentially exclude non-Western works, or again only include a few tokens, especially from China and India.
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:
- Frank Parsons - The World's Best Books: A Key to the Treasures of Literature (1889)
- Frederick W Farrar - Great Books (1898)
- Charles Dudley Warner with Hamilton Wright Mabie, Lucia Gilbert Runkle, and George Henry Warner, eds. - Library of the World's Best Literature (1898)
- Albert Ellery Bergh, Timothy Dwight, Julian Hawthorne, Justin McCarthy, Richard Henry Stoddard, and Paul Van Dyke, eds. - The World's Great Classics (1902)
- Arthur Mee, J A Hammerton, and S S McClure, eds. - The World's Greatest Books (1910) - a massive anthology of readings, which, like the two listed immediately above, for the time being would present an excess of work to collate with the other lists documented here
- Jesse Lee Bennett - What Books Can Do for You (1923)
- John Erskine - The Delight of Great Books (1928)
- Thomas H English and Willard B Pope - What to Read (1929)
- Christopher Morley - Golden Florins (1931)
- A C Ward - Landmarks in Western Literature  - This book is intended for British readers, of "foreign," but Western, literature; thus, it has sections on Greece, Rome, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, and America, but it does not cover Britain
- Asa Don Hutchinson - 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 (1953)
- Lionel Trilling - The Experience of Literature (1967)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - Tentative List of Representative Works of World Literature (1972)
- Die Zeit - Bibliothek der 100 Bücher (1978-84)
- Ian P McGreal, ed. - Great Literature of the Eastern World: The Major Works of Prose, Poetry and Drama From China, India, Japan, Korea and the Middle East; Great Thinkers of the Eastern World: The Major Thinkers and the Philosophical and Religious Classics of China, India, Japan, Korea, and the World of Islam [1996; 1995]
- Kenneth McLeish and Nick Rennison - Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide, 5th ed. (2001)
- Ken Knabb - Gateway to Vast Realms (2004)
- Peter Boxall, ed. - 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 2nd ed. (2012)
- and the many "classics" publishing houses or larger firms' "classics" imprints
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:
- John Canning, ed. - 100 Great Books: Masterpieces of All Time  would be ideal for Greater Books, but inexplicably Canning excludes plays and "books of poems" (that is, some works of epic poetry are included); perhaps these are excluded because, unlike the rest of our listmakers, Canning takes the usage of the word, book, literally, with plays, though generally considered to be monographical works, not counting as whole books
- Thomas Craughwell - Great Books for Every Book Lover: 2002 Great Reading Suggestions for the Discriminating Bibliophile  features lists of books defined a wide variety of categories, some quite obvious, others vague, e.g. American Classics, The Book Is Always Better Than the Movie, Classics of the Stage, Fresh Translations, High Culture, Notable Biographies, Real-Life Disasters, Wise Guys; though this book could result in a single list that meets our criteria, for the time being such directory-like reading lists are excluded; several similar examples are listed above
- Andy Miller - The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life  nearly warrants inclusion, but The List of Betterment, consisting of the 50 works that are the main subject of the book, does not include any theatre
The master list only includes monographic works, which for our purposes includes:
- Works originally published as monographs.
- Works originally published serially in periodicals but which were written as singular works and subsequently published as monographs; many novels of the Nineteenth Century fit into this category.
- Works originally published in a periodical or anthology but which were subsequently published as monographs; many novellas were originally published in an anthology or a single issue of a periodical but have tended to be published on their own when reissued.
- Works originally published serially in periodicals or as a monographic series which have come to be regarded as singular works, generally because of common subject matter or some other unifying trait. Many of the essay collections included in the master list serve as examples of this category: Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia and Last Essays of Elia, Walter Pater's Studies in the History of the Renaissance and Imaginary Portraits, etc. Many of the serialized novels of the Nineteenth Century were published in installments, not in periodicals.
- Works published before the rise of the modern printing press which have come to be regarded as singular works, though they were not necessarily originally presented as such. Many religious texts fit into this category.
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.