All the great books on this site illuminate something; explain the world we live in and how we created it. They describe emotion; explain the origins of the religions and political systems that dominate our world. They can be tragic and comical. They can link us to the past and show that our predecessors thought on, worried over and cared about the same things we do. They show a struggle to explain the world and a need to express ideas. They can be dense, they can be poetic, they can be bright and fun and complex and difficult. Each presents challenges, but each explains an aspect of our world.
Will it make me a better person? With apologies to Aristotle, if all you did was read the great books of “liter-ra-ture!” and pontificate on the subtleties of Aristophanes then you’ll have few friends and you’ll spend more Saturday nights in with your great books than out with friends having a good time. No one likes a snob.
Still, if you never read anything from this list, are not curious about why some books are considered great, then you’ll missing out on something interesting, exciting and valuable.
There’s a happy medium. It’s not for everyone. Some people are just not interested and that’s fine, but for others you owe it to yourself to explore at least a couple of the great books listed here.
There is a reason that many works have stood the test of time. Great Books lists do, however, change and evolve. A work that a reader of one hundred years ago would have thought of indispensable can slip off the list and be replaced with a newer novel that reflects current ideas. A list complied in 1910 contains no Maya Angelou or Chinua Achebe no Nabokov or Rushdie.
It’s a valid criticism that most of the Great Books lists represent the views of dead white guys who are mostly Greek, Roman, English and American. Admittedly, males make up the vast majority of writers on this list, although that reflects a reality — that ‘without a room of their own,’ women were not able or allowed to write for most of history. With this list I tried to include as many important women writers as possible while still remaining true to the intent of the list. I have also tried to include works from all over the world – from Asia, Africa and South America. All, I believe fit the criteria and diversify the great book canon without pandering to political correctness.