Creating the Ultimate List: 100 Books to Read before You Die
[UPDATED August 2018] 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.
Here are the 8 lists I started with, amalgamated, and culled.
- The Guardian’s The 100 greatest novels of all time.
- The BBC’s Big Read Top 100.
- Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime
- Harvard’s Book store top 100.
- Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
- Time’s All-Time 100 Novels.
- The Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read.
- The Art of Manliness’ (hey, why not) 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library.
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
- The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Catch-22 Joseph Heller
- On the Road Jack Kerouac
- To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
- The Lord Of The Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
- Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
- The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
- Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
- Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
- Ulysses James Joyce
- Lord of the Flies William Golding
- The Grapes Of Wrath John Steinbeck
- 1984 George Orwell
- Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
- Moby-Dick Herman Melville
- Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf
- A Passage to India EM Forster
- Brave New World Aldous Huxley
- Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
- One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez
- Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
- Animal Farm George Orwell
- Crime And Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Beloved Toni Morrison
- Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
- Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut
- The Stranger Albert Camus
- Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
- Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
- Frankenstein Mary Shelley
- The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
- David Copperfield Charles Dickens
- Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë
- Little Women Louisa M Alcott
- The Call of the Wild Jack London
- The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
- Scoop Evelyn Waugh
- The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
- Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
- If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller Italo Calvino
- A Bend in the River V. S. Naipaul
- Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
- Atonement Ian McEwan
- His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
- Great Expectations Charles Dickens
- Middlemarch George Eliot
- Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
- Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
- Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
- The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton
- The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
- The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
- To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
- White Noise Don DeLillo
- The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
- The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
- Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
- I, Claudius Robert Graves
- Go Tell It On The Mountain James Baldwin
- A Dance to The Music of Time Anthony Powell
- Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
- Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
- Under The Net Iris Murdoch
- Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
- Tom Jones Henry Fielding
- Clarissa Samuel Richardson
- Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne
- The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
- The Portrait of a Lady Henry James
- The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson
- Nostromo Joseph Conrad
- In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust
- The Rainbow D. H. Lawrence
- The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
- The Trial Franz Kafka
- As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
- Charlotte’s Web E. B. White
- The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
- Herzog Saul Bellow
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carré
- Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
- Money Martin Amis
- Oscar And Lucinda Peter Carey
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories Salman Rushdie
- American Pastoral Philip Roth
- Austerlitz W. G. Sebald
- A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle
- Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret Judy Blume
- Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Michael Chabon
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz
- The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
- The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
- Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
- Watchmen Alan Moore
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
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. You can have the full list of 500+ books with their rankings below. If you want to reward me for my effort you can buy me a coffee here.
The spreadsheet with all 500+ books listed on it with their rankings and what list they appear on is here.
Need help knowing where to start?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of books, but definitely want to get going then let me make it easy for you: just go with one of these (they’re all linked):
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.