The Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors

from brain pickings

“Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work,” Jennifer Egan once said. This intersection of reading and writing is both a necessary bi-directional life skill for us mere mortals and a secret of iconic writers’ success, as bespoken by their personal librariesThe Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books asks 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers — including Norman MailerAnn PatchettJonathan FranzenClaire Messud, and Joyce Carol Oates — “to provide a list, ranked, in order, of what [they] consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time– novels, story collections, plays, or poems.”

Of the 544 separate titles selected, each is assigned a reverse-order point value based on the number position at which it appears on any list — so, a book that tops a list at number one receives 10 points, and a book that graces the bottom, at number ten, receives 1 point.

In introducing the lists, David Orr offers a litmus test for greatness:

If you’re putting together a list of ‘the greatest books,’ you’ll want to do two things: (1) out of kindness, avoid anyone working on a novel; and (2) decide what the word ‘great’ means. The first part is easy, but how about the second? A short list of possible definitions of ‘greatness’ might look like this:

1. ‘Great’ means ‘books that have been greatest for me.’
2. ‘Great’ means ‘books that would be considered great by the most people over time.’
3. ‘Great’ has nothing to do with you or me — or people at all. It involves transcendental concepts like God or the Sublime.
4. ‘Great’? I like Tom Clancy.

More here.

3 Responses to The Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors

  1. Andres Arcila February 12, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

    Writing has being a big deal since humanity exists. early humans use to write in stones to leave in “images” or “text” what they were leaving. Literature is a more advanced level of writing, people read novels for fun, before going to bed and free time. I personally am not a big fan of reading but people would get more excited reading a novel than watching a movie.
    This article includes a list of the best books to read written by the best writers so it is an interesting article that can help you have a fun vacations. Reading is useful to kill time and at the same to you are learning things while reading. Technology is ending with physical books so now it is even easier to read through tablets or computers. so it is not like you have to carry a book with you all day, you can have it in your phone or tablets and take it out and read whenever you find it convenience.
    The recommendations are made by important people that know about literature, so it is a well done work classifying books in order to make easier making a decision at the time of deciding what book to begin reading.

  2. Daniel Hernandez February 27, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

    Since around second grade I have been an avid reader. I will admit that lately the number of books I have been reading has been steadily diminishing and I do not read nearly close to the amount I did as a teenager, but I always enjoy reading a great novel. Many of my favorite books have been brought to life through the big screen, but the novels are almost always better. When I read a book I try to imagine myself in the shoes of the main character and decide if I would take the same actions if I were in that position. My favorite part of books are when ambiguous situation or elements arise and are left up to the interpretation of the reader. One of the most positive effects of reading for me is the continuous advancement in the level of my writing.

    A person’s opinion of a book is very subjective; what one reader believes is a great book, might not be for others. Maria Popova, a columnist for writes an article titled “The Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors”. The article revolves around a book titled “The Top Ten”, in which “125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers” pick their all-time favorite books. I expected to see such classics as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby Dick” and they made the list for the top works of the 19th century.

    Other lists are posted in the article as well such as the top ten works of the 20th century, top ten authors by number of books selected, and top ten authors by points earned. It was so intriguing to see this list because the votes were from some of our current greatest writers. It was these admirable writers that chose which books they believe to be the best of the best. I found it interesting that I was familiar with almost all of the books on the 19th century list and much more unfamiliar with some of the books on the 20th century list. Many of these books I read for school, I specifically remember “War and Peace”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and “Great Expectations”. Thanks to this article, I now have a few options for summer reading.

  3. Courtney Achille March 12, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    The article discusses the literature and the authors who have affected culture the most in the last 200 years and a list was created in order to show the greatest works and authors during this time period. The best writers of the modern era were given the task to determine what the greatest books of all time are. Initially, people who were currently working on a novel were eliminated for fairness but then the panel had to decide what is and is not considered to be great. The word “great” is a very vague definition to something and many different opinions can impact whether a book would make it to the top 10. The panel decided to define “great” works as books that have been enjoyed by both the individual and other people over a period of time, and also a book that relays a meaning of transcendental concepts. I agree with many of the selections made by the panel because all the books listed have definitely made a significant impact on society as a whole.

    The Great Gatsby was listed number two on the list, and it is one of the most well-known books because of its impacts in movies, school, etc. I have always loved this book and I think the story provides a strong meaning that goes beyond just the romance of the story and this contributes to the books placement on the chart. The Great Gatsby is the only book I have ever heard of that was placed in the 20th century list and probably overtime more people will pay more regards to the other books on the list. Most of the works from the 19th century list I knew because they are mentioned in society all the time but although I recognize their titles, I have not personally read them. The first person on the list of top ten authors by number of books selected is unsurprisingly William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s works have contributed significantly to modern literature and people of all ages are still enjoying the plays written by Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Macbeth created the first knock-knock joke, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet have inspired several parodies and his other plays have impacted other parts of culture. Most high schools and colleges require students to read Shakespeare’s works because the institutions regard Shakespeare as one of the greatest writers of all time. Charles Dickens was also another author who I was not shocked to see on the list because many of his works are still read avidly today, such as A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. All of the books and authors mentioned have definitely earned their place in the top ten because all of them have had significant effects on society.

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