In 1886, during a routine college lecture on the "pleasure of reading," the British scientist, politician, and man of letters John Lubbock expressed a desire for a "list of a hundred good books"; in the absence of such, he offered his own selection. Over the next several decades, fellow scholars and writers, complementing or countering Lubbock's suggestions, offered their own lists, generally titled One Hundred Best Books. Lubbock's and several other of these lists were motivated in part by the large number of books availablethen still a novel development of modern times. In other cases, extensive series of books and massive anthologies, most famously Charles Eliot's Harvard Classics, were developed in the interest of adult education and "self-culture."
By the 1950's, the literary works included on such lists were called Great Books. They often took the form of class syllabi, their purpose shifting from Lubbock's recreational emphasis to formal education and canonization. The men who crafted Great Books programs, most prominently John Erskine, Mortimer Adler, and Robert Hutchins, promoted the idea that the reading of classics was a task meant for all students, at all levels, even if the works were translated from their original language. At several colleges, the curricula of undergraduate programs came to be based upon the reading of Great Books.
Despite persistent critiques and revisions of what literature is included in such curricula, and the decline of Great Books programs (or perhaps precisely because of such) by the Twenty-First Century, canons, reading plans, and other lists of Classicsof all forms and languages, and from the entirety of recorded historyare more plentiful than ever. Indeed, too plentiful. This site collects the major lists and collates them to form a master list arranged by author and including original titles as well as alternate and translated titles. The user can also view the original lists and eventually will be able to make shorter lists defined by form, date, language, and other search parameters (including the omitting or combining of certain lists). Hopefully, even those who disparage the Great Books movement or the making of book lists generally will find this site useful, enabling them to show what kind of literature has been excluded. In other words, if life gives you Great Books, make Greater Books.
To begin, we list on this page the works that appear in the largest number of lists, the title given being the most common in the English language. Throughout the site, the number in blue next to the title tells you how many lists the work appears in. View the master list, which provides basic information about each work and notes which lists that work appears in; or go to any of the forty distinct lists. But first read a short explanation of the guidelines used to determine the inclusion of these lists, any of which can be quite different in its original purpose from the others, and our frequently-asked questions. I've also provided some pertinent links.
And so, without further ado, the Greater Books, split into three groups based on the (current) number of lists in which they appear: