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


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[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.

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

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Fiction novels

  1. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Catch-22 Joseph Heller
  3. On the Road Jack Kerouac
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
  5. The Lord Of The Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
  6. Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
  7. The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
  8. Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
  9. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
  10. Ulysses James Joyce
  11. Lord of the Flies William Golding
  12. The Grapes Of Wrath John Steinbeck
  13. 1984 George Orwell
  14. Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
  15. Moby-Dick Herman Melville
  16. Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf
  17. A Passage to India EM Forster
  18. Brave New World Aldous Huxley
  19. Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
  20. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
  21. One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez
  22. Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
  23. Animal Farm George Orwell
  24. Crime And Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  25. Beloved Toni Morrison
  26. Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
  27. Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut
  28. The Stranger Albert Camus
  29. Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
  30. Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
  31. Frankenstein Mary Shelley
  32. The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
  33. David Copperfield Charles Dickens
  34. Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë
  35. Little Women Louisa M Alcott
  36. The Call of the Wild Jack London
  37. The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
  38. Scoop Evelyn Waugh
  39. The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
  40. Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
  41. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller Italo Calvino
  42. A Bend in the River V. S. Naipaul
  43. Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
  44. Atonement Ian McEwan
  45. His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
  46. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
  47. Great Expectations Charles Dickens
  48. Middlemarch George Eliot
  49. Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
  50. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
  51. Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
  52. The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton
  53. The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
  54. The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
  55. To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
  56. White Noise Don DeLillo
  57. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
  58. The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
  59. Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
  60. I, Claudius Robert Graves
  61. Go Tell It On The Mountain James Baldwin
  62. A Dance to The Music of Time Anthony Powell
  63. Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
  64. Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
  65. Under The Net Iris Murdoch
  66. Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
  67. Tom Jones Henry Fielding
  68. Clarissa Samuel Richardson
  69. Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne
  70. The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
  71. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
  72. The Portrait of a Lady Henry James
  73. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson
  74. Nostromo Joseph Conrad
  75. In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust
  76. The Rainbow D. H. Lawrence
  77. The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
  78. The Trial Franz Kafka
  79. As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
  80. Charlotte’s Web E. B. White
  81. The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
  82. Herzog Saul Bellow
  83. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carré
  84. Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
  85. Money Martin Amis
  86. Oscar And Lucinda Peter Carey
  87. Haroun and the Sea of Stories Salman Rushdie
  88. American Pastoral Philip Roth
  89. Austerlitz W. G. Sebald
  90. A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle
  91. Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret Judy Blume
  92. Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
  93. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Michael Chabon
  94. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz
  95. The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
  96. The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
  98. Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
  99. Watchmen Alan Moore
  100. 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):

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

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.

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