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The 110 Best Books—According To The Daily Telegraph

May 6, 2008

When the spring term is about to end, I’ve noticed that academics like to start thinking about what they’re going to read over the summer. They come up with reading lists. I have mine—at least in my head, if not in the form of actual books lying around my desk. I’m sure you have yours. It’s fun to compare and contrast these lists.

With vacation reading in mind, I present to you a non-academic “best books” list. On April 6, the U.K. Daily Telegraph‘s weekly Seven magazine published a list it called “110 Best Books: The perfect library.” Although the original list was annotated, I present to you only the books and subgroups. Here goes:

——————————
CLASSICS

1. The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer
2. The Barchester Chronicles, Anthony Trollope
3. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
4. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
6. War and Peace, Tolstoy
7. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
8. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
9. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
10. Middlemarch, George Eliot

POETRY

11. Sonnets, Shakespeare
12. Divine Comedy, Dante
13. Canterbury Tales, Chaucer
14. The Prelude, William Wordsworth
15. Odes, John Keats
16. The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot
17. Paradise Lost, John Milton
18. Songs of Innocence and Experience, William Blake
19. Collected Poems, W. B. Yeats
20. Collected Poems, Ted Hughes

LITERARY FICTION

21. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
22. A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust
23. Ulysses, James Joyce
24. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
25. Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh
26. The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark
27. Rabbit series, John Updike
28. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
29. Beloved, Toni Morrison
30. The Human Stain, Philip Roth

ROMANTIC FICTION

31. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
32. Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas Malory
33. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos
34. I, Claudius, Robert Graves
35. Alexander Trilogy, Mary Renault
36. Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian
37. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
38. Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
39. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
40. The Plantagenet Saga, Jean Plaidy

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

41. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
42. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
43. The Lord of the Rings, J.R. R. Tolkien
44. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
45. Babar, Jean de Brunhoff
46. The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
47. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
48. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
49. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
50. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

SCI-FI

51. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
52. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
53. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
54. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
55. 1984, George Orwell
56. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
57. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
58. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
59. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
60. Neuromancer, William Gibson

CRIME

61. The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
62. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
63. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
64. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
65. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
66. Red Dragon, Thomas Harris
67. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
68. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allan Poe
69. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
70. Killshot, Elmore Leonard

BOOKS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

71. Das Kapital, Karl Marx
72. The Rights of Man, Tom Paine
73. The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
74. Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
75. On War, Carl von Clausewitz
76. The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
77. Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
78. On the Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
79. On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
80. L’Encyclopédie, Diderot, et al

BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR WORLD

81. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
82. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
83. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
84. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
85. The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
86. How to Cook, Delia Smith
87. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
88. A Child Called ‘It’, Dave Pelzer
89. Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss
90. Schott’s Original Miscellany, Ben Schott

HISTORY

91. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
92. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill
93. A History of the Crusades, Steven Runciman
94. The Histories, Herodotus
95. The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
96. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence
97. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
98. A People’s Tragedy, Orlando Figes
99. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Simon Schama
100. The Origins of the Second World War, A.J.P. Taylor

LIVES

101. Confessions, St Augustine
102. Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius
103. Lives of the Artists, Vasari
104. If This is a Man, Primo Levi
105. Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Siegfried Sassoon
106. Eminent Victorians, Lytton Strachey
107. A Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell
108. Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves
109. The Life of Dr Johnson, Boswell
110. Diaries, Alan Clark

——————————

Wow, I’m reasonably well read, but have some work to do: I’ve only read 23 of these entries. Of course several volumes are hidden in some entries (i.e. Lewis, Holmes, Tolkien, Rowling, O’Brian (20 books!)). I mean, if you count volumes, 5 of those entries turn into about 50 books for me!

Still, how is it that I have a Ph.D. in history, and love philosophy, literature, and the great books in general, but have only read 23 of the entries?

First, the list is slanted toward fiction. Seven of the categories—the “classics,” poetry, literary fiction, romantic fiction, children’s books, sci-fi, and crime—all deal with works of the imagination. Four of the categories, representing 40 entries, deal with topics I rarely touch: romantic fiction, children’s books, sci-fi, and crime. I did read the Rowling books last year, but I never read crime or romantic fiction. I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Emma, which could conceivable fit into any of three categories: the classics, literary fiction, or romantic fiction. But Emma isn’t on the list. Sigh.

The list is also slanted toward English authors and topics. How many folks in the U.S. have bothered with The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle? A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill? The Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope? I might get to these or others above, eventually, but they’re not high on my list.

So where do you think the Telegraph hit or missed? Do you have other critiques? – TL

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5 Comments
  1. oops, “but Dave Pelzer gets in”

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  2. Well, I'm at 29. Not bad for a “non-reader” – but I've listened to all of those. I don't mind the focus on fiction – which Americans have forgotten but other English-speaking folks still pay attention to, and yeah, it's The Telegraph. It's Brit Lit. Low on Irish fiction, on other “colonial fiction” – No “The English Patient” by Dave Pelzer gets in. Winston Churchill but not Seamus Heaney. No Fitzgerald? I couldn't do a “best list” without Gatsby or without Portrait of the Artist either. Maybe not without DosPassos USA Trilogy. But lists like this are to argue about. That's the point.

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  3. I'm by no means a sci-fi buff, but the omission of Frank Herbert's “Dune” is an insult to that category.

    And I'll concur with narrator regarding the lack of Heaney; He is a genius.

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  4. Andrew permalink

    In descending order–

    1. I'm completely stunned that neither Catch-22 nor Slaughterhouse-Five made the list.

    2. I'm reasonably shocked that Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land didn't at least make the science fiction list.

    3. I'm somewhat surprised that, on a British list, the “Books That Changed the World” section omits the two authors who (IMHO) most changed Great Britain — John Locke and John Stuart Mill.

    4. I'm less surprised (but still somewhat miffed) that the “Books That Changed The World” section also omits Bertrand Russell.

    5. I'm amused that in the science fiction category, someone would pick Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep instead of the vastly superior The Man In The High Castle. Most people (myself included) thought that the screenplay for Blade Runner (adapted from Androids) was superior to Androids itself. Plus, Rutger Hauer rocks. But I digress.

    6. I wouldn't expect this from a British list, but personally, I think Robert A. Caro has changed the way in which we read biographies. I'd put either The Power Broker (about Robert Moses) or The Path To Power (Lyndon Johnson) on my own personal list in the “Lives” category. And really, Suetonius? That's the first real sign of pretense for pretense's sake.

    7. I was expecting a bit more Shakespeare. Weren't you?

    8. On a personal note, I've always thought that Tess of the D'Urbervilles was the worst novel ever written, a kind of “blearh, I'd rather have eye cancer than read another fifty-three pages describing the greenness of this meadow” testament as to how to best torture the human soul.

    9. Notwithstanding #7, I think the Telegraph pretty much nailed the Classics and Poetry lists, though.

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  5. Ira: I meant to include another point in my post about how many of those books I've come to understand via film (excluding the ones I've already read, like Tolkien and Rowling). My count on the books I've “seen” and not read is 10 (including entries like The Talented Mr. Ripley). I also meant to count authors who I've read, without having completed the specific work in question. My count there is 16.

    On sci-fi, Lunchbox, what of “A Clockwork Orange,” or something by Vonnegut (with Andrew here)?

    To another point by Andrew, there should've been an explicit philosophy section.

    On biographies, I would've included something by McCullough. Or what of Plutarch's Lives?

    On poetry, no “greats list” is complete without Whitman. Period.

    And not even one book from the Bible? Psalms or Proverbs or Song of Songs? Hmm… This is a Western-culture oriented list, yes?

    Back to Ira's last point: “But lists like this are to argue about.”

    Yes and no. If you're going to make a list, of any kind—and especially one as vaguely titled as this one, you should also list your selection criteria. For instance, just say that you mean for this list to pertain primarily to the peoples of the United Kingdom. How hard is that? – TL

    PS — If you're really interested, follow the Telegraph's link and check out the comments. The number of replies was extensive. – TL

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