About This Project

A good book thickens the air, can curve a flat horizon, and at its best will raise fresh shudders and shocks beneath the skin. A good book lets dammed river run.

In 2005, I inherited a stack of leather-bound instant collectibles published by the Easton Press, and which had been sitting on my childhood home’s old bookshelf for years. Books like War and Peace and The Divine Comedy. Books so ponderous and intimidating I don’t think anyone in the house had bothered to open them. I decided to read each of those books in memory of my mother, who died too young but not before passing on to me her great love for literature. It took four years. And even though I would occasionally cringe at the thought of spending a month boring through yet another 19th century doorstop, I realized as I was finishing the last one that I didn’t want to stop. Many of these books had been fantastic! Their characters breathed, and their ideas crackled. Where could I find more?

It turned out many people – publishers, newspaper editors, college profs – had tried forming a list of the Greatest Books of All Time. I found twenty-four lists, though there are plenty more. The problem was that none of the lists agreed with each other. There was overlap, but plenty of disagreement. Literally thousands of books only appeared on one of the twenty-four. I decided to combine everything that I’d found and build a master list where only books appearing on more than one list made the cut. This blog is the end result. 1055 works, from Aesop to Zadie Smith. It is a good working draft of the literary canon. Here you will find mythology, philosophy, science fiction, magical realism, biography, poetry, plays, graphic novels, and (ugh) a few, very old, science textbooks. Don’t get angry if your favorite didn’t make the list – a bunch of mine didn’t either. Take a look at the “Orphans” list for books recommended by only one of the twenty-four lists. Good chance is you’ll find your beloved there.

15 Responses to “About This Project”
  1. hillary says:

    kev-blo! this is a great idea. my favorite, infinite jest, made the list. maybe i will reread it along with you when you get there.

  2. Molly Altman says:

    Awesome Kev! What a cool and well planned project. I look forward to reading about the journey!

  3. Great idea. I started thinking about reading the western canon in college, back in the early 90’s. Never thought to gather the books until around 2005, which I acquired a bunch of leather bound hardcovers from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Still haven’t had a chance to read much of them. One of these days! One suggestion: have a link to the Gutenberg.org for downloading those ebook formats for the books you have listed. And an easier search to the legends you provided to those abbreviations you had on the top lists of books to read.

  4. Even though I graduated with a degree in English, I still feel very under read. Your blog has inspired me to join you on your journey through the Western Cannon. It’s why I’ve nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Please click the link to my blog to read about it. http://mydailyminefield.com/2012/12/29/very-inspiring-blogger/

  5. snypylo says:

    Not sure how often you read this, but I thought I’d thank you for making the Master List, I’ve been following it for a few months and it’s been utterly fantastic.

    • Thanks. I hope you’re finding some good reads. I don’t think I would have picked up some of the books I have if I wasn’t taking cues from the list. Case in point what I’m reading right now, Gaddis’ The Recognitions.

  6. Dana Laviano says:

    Hey there. I’ve printed out your Master List and am having fun seeing how much I’ve already read, but my heart quails when I see what is still left! Been re-reading Chaim Potok lately and just finished a re-read of David Copperfield. Question: does it still count as having been read if you know you read it but don’t remember much of it? Let’s just say yes…
    Hope you and C. and E. are well.

  7. Claire O'Brien says:

    What a beautiful idea. I’m so excited to find this site after being torn over which “100” list I want to start reading. Thank you!

  8. Gene Hanson says:

    Can’t say I enjoyed Infinite Jest, much less considered it a “classic,” but I am interested in reading, ,or re-reading, great literature. May I ask where you are on your list?

  9. Roy Johnston says:

    This is an amazing feat. Thank you for doing this! It has simplified what I want to do with my own reading enormously! It doesn’t look like you have updated in a while. I hope you are still going through the lists.

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