The Lists

The 47 lists compiled and collated at this site span the years, 1886-2016, and are nearly as varied in purpose, persons involved, and final result. Some of them rank the literary works, but most do not, insteading arranging them chronologically; alphabetically by author or work; or—most often—topically. In this context, topical arrangement more often than not means that the list derived from a book about books, not intended to be a canon or list of classics, but often presenting the works discussed in list form, or lending itself to be easily made into a list: what I call a book-as-list.

The guidelines explain the criteria used to determine which lists to include. Suffice to say, the master list created from the 47 individual lists allows the user to see which literary works have appeared most frequently on lists of books that cover all literary history, or at least the literay history of the "West" or "East." Unfortunately, many of these lists have implicitly been confined to West European (and, to a lesser extent, Central European) nations and languages, and are often dominated by English-language works. Moreover, most of the lists have originated in the United States, in some such cases certainly suggesting an unsurprising bias in favor of U S writers. However, in recent years, lists representing a wider selection of cultural traditions have appeared.

The links here take the form of a one-word tag for each list; these tags are also used in the master list to indicate which, of the individual lists, each literary work appears in. The page for each list has a brief description of the provenance of the list, and will eventually feature a transcription of how it was presented in the original document. The descriptions also at times clarify how the ambiguous or broad selections made by the listmaker (in some cases, these are a significant number of the selections) were interpreted.

Finally, for formality's sake, please note that the titles of monographical works are not italicized within lists. Though I would generally prefer otherwise, such titles being in italics would perhaps be too distracting given the amount of information contained in each entry, especially those with multiple tites (these also would require more effort to code because the alternate titles are contained within a different set of H T M L tags) and of course only add to the already-enormous data size of the Master List (it can more easily be searched and edited as long as it remains a single page).

In the summer of 2020, the submaster list was completed and the 47 individual lists were proofread, checked against both the master list and the submaster list. As each list was updated, edits were noted. There were a few mistakes here and there in the tallies for certain literary works; and at times the lists in which a work is included were not noted correctly in the work's entry. During the summer of 2021, these corrected versions of the lists will be used to double-check the S Q L tables already in use at the Search page, the hope being in later years to improve the searching apparatus.

A list that we originally hoped to include, derived from Ian P McGreal's Great Thinkers of the Eastern World (1992) and Great Literature of the Eastern World (1996), currently presents too much of a challenge in terms of bibliographic research. The relative obscurity of many of those works (from the perspective of an English speaker in the United States, that is) means that we would not be able to ensure for their listings the modicum of accuracy currently maintained at this site. Read more about it at the excluded lists page.

The 47 lists:

John Lubbock, The Choice of Books (1896)

James Baldwin, The Book Lover: The Guide to the Best Reading (1910)

Charles W Eliot, Harvard Classics: The Five-Foot Book Shelf (1910; 1917)

John Cowper Powys, One Hundred Best Books (1922)

Will Durant, One Hundred Best Books for an Education (1929)

Huntington Cairns, Allen Tate, and Mark Van Doren, Invitation to Learning (1941; 1944)

Alan Willard Brown and Members of the Faculty of Columbia College, Classics of the Western World (1943)

The Jasper Lee Company, Have You Read 100 Great Books? (1946)

Raymond Queneau, Pour une Bibliotheque Ideal (1956)

Robert B Downs, Famous Books Ancient and Medieval (1964) and Molders of the Modern Mind: 111 Books That Shaped Western Civilization (1961)

Kenneth Rexroth, Classics Revisited (1965-1969)

Floyd Zulli, The World's Great Classics: An Invitation to Great Reading (1969)

Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book (1972)

Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish, eds., The List of Books: A Library of Over 3,000 Works (1981)

Philip Ward, A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books (1982)

*Van Doren*
Charles Van Doren, The Joy of Reading: 210 Favorite Books, Plays, Poems, Essays, Etc.: What's in Them, Why Read Them (1985)

Wm. Theodore de Bary, Ainslie Embree, and Amy Vladeck Heinrich, A Guide to Oriental Classics (1989)

Frank Magill, Masterpieces of World Literature (1989)

Mortimer J Adler and Robert Hutchins, The Great Books of the Western World (1990)

Arthur Waldorn, Olga S Weber, and Arthur Zeiger, Good Reading (1990)

The Learning Channel, Great Books (1993-2002)

Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994)

The Editors of Salem Press, Recommended Reading: 500 Classics Reviewed (1995)

Clifton Fadiman and John S Major, The New Lifetime Reading Plan (1997)

The Great Books Foundation, A Reading List (1998)

Robert Kanigel, Vintage Reading: From Plato to Bradbury: A Personal Tour of Some of the World's Best Books (1998)

Martin Seymour-Smith, The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written: The History of Thought From Ancient Times to Today (1998)

Louise Cowan and Os Guinness, eds., Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read (1998)

Utne Reader, The Loose Canon: 150 Great Works to Set Your Imagination on Fire (1998)

W John Campbell, The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics (2000)

The Norwegian Book Club, Verdensbiblioteket (2002)

Michael Dirda, Classics for Pleasure (2007)

Kevin Hill, The Great Books List (2007)

The Guardian, Books You Can't Live Without: The Top 100 (2007)

Anthony O'Hear, Great Books: From the Iliad and the Odyssey to Goethe's Faust: A Journey Through 2,500 Years of the West's Classic Literature (2007)

J Peder Zane, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (2007)

The Globe and Mail, 50 Greatest Books of All Time (2008)

Jane Mallison, Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days (2008)

Andrew Taylor, Books That Changed the World: The 50 Most Influential Books in Human History (2008)

The Daily Telegraph/ Sunday Telegraph, 110 Best Books: The Perfect Library (2008)

The Harvard Book Store, Top 100 Books (2010)

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (2011)

anonymous, World Canonical Texts (2011)

The Book Depository, Best Books Ever (2012)

Sandra Newman, The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, From Homer to Faulkner (2012)

Russ Kick, The Graphic Canon: The World's Great Literature as Comics and Visuals (2012-2013)

Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had [2016]

The next four lists to be added:

Another potential list comes from the book Printing and the Mind of Man: A Descriptive Catalogue Illustrating the Impact of Print on the Evolution of Western Civilization During Five Centuries [1967], published as a counterpart to, and expansion upon, the famous 1963 exhibition of the same name. This exhibition, split into three parts, accompanied the Eleventh International Printing Machinery and Allied Trades Exhibition ("IPEX") in London. Its Supervisory Committe states, "The purpose of the historical exhibitions annexed to IPEX 1963 is to illustrate the internal development of that invention [printing], in the technical progress of printing as a craft; the external development, in the finest achievements of printing as an art; and, beyond the limits of the art and craft of printing, to demonstrate the impact of printing on the mind of man and the effect it has had on the history of the last five hundred years." The first and third of these was displayed together at Earls Court, the second at the British Museum. Accordingly, a single catalog covered the Earls Court show. Its title: Catalogue of a Display of Printing Mechanisms and Printed Materials Arranged to Illustrate the History of Western Civilization and the Means of the Multiplication of Literary Texts Since the XV Century. The title of the second part of the exhibition, at the British Museum, was An Exhibition of Fine Printing.

The larger 1967 book includes only the items from the third part of the exhibition (that is, to be clear about how confusing this set-up is, the part about "the impact of printing on the mind of man," that is, one part of the two-pronged Earls Court portion of the exhibition), but with some edits. No items from the exhibition were excluded, but, as the editors state, "in certain cases [...] we have substituted as the main entry a more representative publication by the author included or an edition more significant for our purpose than the one exhibited; in others [...] we have combined two entries under one heading; in a number of cases [...] we have added, as sub-entries, publications by other authors, for the fuller exposition of the subject; and there are twelve additional entries." While the items in the first part include different types of presses, type moulds, and so on, the second part includes many items suitable for a list at this site. However, those entries were chosen because of the design of the printed object itself, not the historical significance of the literary work. Thus, the 1967 book alone would be used to construct a list; but it has 424 entries, and given that several of those include multiple works, it would make for one of the longer lists at Greater Books. It is on hold for now.