100 books to read in a lifetime

There is something quite alluring about lists, especially if they are lists of things that one cares about. Sites that specialize in ‘listicles’ (articles that are lists of things) are sometimes accused of using them as click bait and I must say it is a successful strategy at least some of the time for me.

I myself am partial to lists of films and books and yesterday I came across a list of 100 books that one must read in a lifetime. It is not meant to be a list of great or classic books but simply a varied list of things that presumably give one a rounded experience. The list has been compiled by Amazon’s book editors so the self-interest is obvious.

Of course such lists can never be definitive. All they are are guides as to how close one’s own tastes coincide with those who compiled the list.

As with all such lists of books and films, I checked to see how many I had read and the number was 42. So that’s what Douglas Adams was calculating! Uncanny.


  1. Chiroptera says

    Well, I’ve read 27 of those, and about 5 are buried in the piles of books in my house waiting to be read. Plus, another couple I’ve made a definite decision to eventually read but have yet made a purchase (or checked out of the library). One I started, but could not force myself to finish.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    29.5 for me, including one I consider to be the biggest waste of my time in the past 10 years. My brother in law gave me “Diary of a wimpy kid” one year, and it irks me to no end that I actually finished it. Hated everything about it, but thought “he gave it to me for a reason; there must be some redeeming quality…” no. no, no, a thousand times no. I want to know who put it on the list, so I can never trust any list that person has a hand in ever again. I want to sow that person’s (and the author’s, of course) lawn with salt. I want…

    *deep breath*

    Just because a book is on this list, does not mean it should be used for anything other thank starting fires.

  3. Nick Gotts says

    I’d read 30, but it’s a very unbalanced selection: mostly fiction, only a handful science-related (very broadly defined), no pre-20th century history (unless you count Guns, Germs and Steel or biography, almost no politics, no visual arts or music, very little that’s not American or British.

  4. says

    Wow. I only hit 22, and I love reading. Granted, school has limited my recent reading to mostly journal articles, but damn. I’ve only read 22% of what Amazon says I ought to read. I.. I… I’m a failure.

  5. hyphenman says

    If you really want to be depressed

    I’ve often thought that if I could make a Faustian bargain, it would be to live until I’ve read every book I wanted to read.

  6. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    21, that’s just sad. It would be higher if I was was giving myself points for watching the movie. Of course, any such list that does not contain the Hitchhiker’s Guide isn’t worth worrying about.

  7. noastronomer says

    19. Not an avid reader, and when I do it’s usually non-fiction. No Into Thin Air on the list? Personally I think some of those books simply don’t belong, and no fair including four Harry Potter books!


  8. tbrandt says

    Hmm, by my count, there are only three books that were not originally written in English: The Stranger, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Love in the Time of Cholera. And, no Shakespeare, no Cervantes, no Moby-Dick, no Bible (an essential read if you want to understand literature, in spite of all of its faults), no south Asian literature, a single Latin American novel (and it isn’t One Hundred Years of Solitude!), and not a single Russian novel. This is a much better list, at least of fiction. It includes a rich and global tradition, rather than being overwhelmingly focused on recent American and British writers.

  9. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    noastronomer, I dunno what list you’re reading, but the one I see only has a single Harry Potter book.

  10. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I’m confused. Is his book in his book of the books you MUST read? Cause if you don’t read his book then you don’t know which books to read so you have to read his book. So shouldn’t it be 1002 Books to read?

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    … and not a single Russian novel.

    My impression has always been that Russian authors must get paid by the word, because Russian novels tend to be very long.

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    I recently re-read A Wrinkle In Time. I know I read it when I was young, but about all I could remember is the title and the word “tesseract.” This time I was put off by the religiosity of it.

  13. Reginald Selkirk says

    I think I’ve read 24 of those, although I can’t be sure because some I think I must have read back in childhood but don’t actually remember any details of them (wind in the willows). Also, I’m not sure if I read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, but I know I read the book of the same title by H.G. Wells. I should get some kind of credit for that.

    And I read a lot, so I’m a bit surprised my tally wasn’t higher.

  14. Al Dente says

    I’ve read 28 of those books. Some of those books were a waste of time. Valley of the Dolls was a potboiler with few redeeming features. Portnoy’s Complaint should have been called Portnoy’s Self-Indulgent Whine. Middlesex needed a better editor than it had. Make that a much better editor than it had.

    Still there are some good books in the list.

  15. Mano Singham says

    @Al Dente,

    I did not read Valley of the Dolls but I did see the film based on the book and it was one of the worst that I can remember. I saw it with some friends and we were just howling with laughter at how bad it was.

  16. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I’ve never read Valley of the Dolls, but the list inspired me to start re-reading Slaughterhouse Five, in which the protagonist is forced to read Valley of the Dolls because there’s nothing else. He thinks it is pretty good in spots.

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    Of the books on the list which I haven’t read (about 2/3), the only one I might read is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, if I ever feel sturdy enough. I’ll be spending my retirement re-reading a pile of old favourites, catching up on Iain Banks and a couple of other authors, and trying in vain to keep up with a few tiny patches of science.

  18. noastronomer says

    @Dave #9

    The list I see has:

    #5 HP and the Sorcerors Stone
    #53 … and the Deathly Hallows
    #68 … and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    #75 … and the Half Blood Prince

    Also, in reference to your other comment HHTTG is #30 on my list.

    @tbrandt #8

    Not orginally in English (including two Russians):

    One Hundred Years of Solitude #90 (which you mentioned in your comment!) (I checked with my wife, who has read almost every book on that list)
    The Brothers Karamazov at #92
    Anna Karenina #56

  19. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    Fascinating. The list I see is alphabetical by book title, is not numbered, has only HP and the Sorcerers Stone, and doesn’t have One Hundred Years of Solitude, the Brothers Karamazov or Anna Karenina on it. I wonder how many people are seeing different lists.

  20. dogfightwithdogma says

    Read 11 of them. Need to generate my own list so I will look more literate and well-rounded. Was happy to see at least one Vonnegut book on the list. My favorite fiction author. Was introduced to him in a freshman college course in which we read a series of sci-fi novels. Started with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and ended with Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Included works by Asimov, Heinlen, Clarke, Bradbury and others. Fell in love with science fiction as a result of that course. And became a Vonnegut fan. Read every one of his books after that. Began devouring Asimov and the others as well. In fact, it was this course that more than anything else led me to the career as a science teacher from which I just retired this year. The love of science fiction I developed during this course eventually led me to start reading science, a subject I did not pay too much attention to in high school. Fell in love with science and changed my career from journalism to science teaching 25 years ago.

  21. estraven says

    Well, I read 55 of them, and a couple of the others I read partly but never finished. I don’t know why I’m suckered into these lists, though.

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