100 Books to Read before You Die: Creating the Ultimate List

Joel Patrick
Jan 4, 2015 · 21 min read
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/

[UPDATED Januar 8, 2021] One of my aims is to begin catching up on all the reading I’ve neglected for, well, the majority of my life. So, I started by googling several combinations of ‘books to read before you die,’ ‘100 most important books,’ ‘books everyone should should read in a lifetime,’ and so on. I discovered that quite a few reputable (and a few not-so-reputable) sources have published such a list. Nice, but it still leaves me at a loss for what to do next. Which list do I go with?

After carefully reading through what was on offer I decided to take the collective wisdom from the various sources by painstakingly comparing (well, I hired ‘Vi’ from Vietnam via Elance to painstakingly compare) all of the lists to determine how much overlap existed between them. I used this information to create a new list of the top books based on the number of times the book appeared as one of the list’s recommendations. The more the book was referred to by the lists, the more the experts agreed, and the more securely that book’s place became in my new and improved books-to-read-before-you-die list.

The Lists

Here are the 8 lists I started with, amalgamated, and culled.

Creating the List

And now for the books. Surprisingly enough, there were 520 books from the 8 lists, which meant there was less overlap than I expected. 65 of the books were pretty straightforward as they were mentioned at least 3 times (with The Great Gatsby and Catch-22 being the only 2 making it on all 8 lists). To make up the remaining 45 books, since my list had to be 100 books long, I simply needed to choose those books that made it onto at least 2 lists. Unfortunately, 91 books were on at least two lists. So, I decided to further cull those 91 by focusing on the books that were mentioned at least twice by The Guardian, Amazon, Harvard, Time and The Telegraph. That left me with the right number of books and, voila, the greatest list ever created now lives. Lucky for me most are available on Audible ❤. Enjoy!

The Ultimate List: 100 Books to Read before You Die

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/azrasta/

Fiction novels

All titles below are links to where you can grab a copy for yourself. You can also see an image of each book cover below.

Going deeper: 500+ books to read before you die

Several people have requested, not just the list above, but the full list of 500+ works that were mentioned by the 8 lists. If you want to show me some love for all this work you can buy me a coffee or 20 ;) here.

The spreadsheet with all 500+ books listed on it with their rankings and what list they appear on is here.

How to get through the list of 100 books without taking a lifetime to do so

If you don’t have time to sit and read -I don’t- then you can ‘read’ on the go with Audible. I’ve made it through countless books this way and swear by it. Audible offers a free 30 day trial. I highly recommend giving it a try.

There is a certain kind of snobbery that exists about ‘reading’ books, and while I think sitting and reading is a superb discipline, there’s also something to be said for hearing them. Not everyone learns the same way. I actually retain more information by hearing than seeing and therefore have loved Audible and have been using it for the better part of seven years.

In addition to that, not all books are created equal and therefore don’t deserve the same attention. Audible allows you to do something about that. As such, with Audible you can listen to books at 1.25x, 1.5x, or even 2x the speed.

Get inspired: How Bill Gates reads books

Bill Gates on reading books

All 100 books to read, browsable by book cover

I thought I’d provide an additional resource: the list of 100 books, browsable by book cover. You can see all 100 book covers here.

Lord of the Flies, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Great Gatsby book covers
Charlottes Web, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill A Mockingbird book covers

More from Joel Patrick

How to Write Something Meaningful

World Literature

Literary criticism and theory.

World Literature

Literary criticism and theory. Voices and visions that have contributed to human culture, from ancient epics to postmodern parodies.

Joel Patrick

Written by

Texas-born, London-based. Investing time/energy in startups. Former CPO of health social network @HealthUnlocked. https://joelpatrick.co @joelapatrick

World Literature

Literary criticism and theory. Voices and visions that have contributed to human culture, from ancient epics to postmodern parodies.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store