The lists included in Greater Books so far must meet the following criteria:
Several other potential sources of lists for the Greater Books project are excluded because they serve more as anthologies or directories. Following the guidelines strictly these could be included, as could lists consisting of the titles published over the years by "classics" imprints such as Norton Critical Editions or Oxford World's Classics, but such an approach would require extensive bibliographic and archival research. That said, many anthologies include shorter works in order to fit a larger number of authors in a single book or series of books; as a result, the selection of works cannot be considered the editor's choice of the greatest or most representative. In other cases, they present a large number of excerpts or condensed versions of works, in addition to essays or whole books providing historical background. Both of these approaches contrast with the model, set by Harvard Classics and The Great Books of the Western World, of limiting the number of excerpts and shorter works.
What if we were to include the lists excluded based on our guidelines? We would have to make several distinct versions of the master list. For example, Modern Library's much-publicized lists of 100 fiction and non-fiction works, besides their obvious genre restrictions, are limited to the Twentieth Century and the English language. If one wanted to see how the works in those lists match up with English-language Twentieth-Century fiction and verity works included in the Greater Books master list, you could simultaneously scan the lists here and the Modern Libray lists to see which works appear in both. However, such a task becomes considerably more difficult if you were also interested in, say, Le Monde's Les Cent Livres du Siècle, which is only limited temporally. Instead, the 47 lists documented here would need to serve as the foundation for derivative lists defined by what they exclude. Whenever this site's functionality allows the user to limit the master list by language, date, or genre, in doing so it could also conceivably expand the list. That is, if a user chooses to view only the English-language novels and non-fiction of the Twentieth Century, the Modern Library lists would be included, thus also changing the tallies of certain works (as seen in dark-blue font next to the title). The Le Monde list would be included as well, as would any other list that includes novels and non-fiction in the English language written in the Twentieth Century.
A second major categorization guideline employed here at Greater Books decides which of the literary works included in the 47 separate lists is in turn included in the master list. For some of those 47, most or nearly all of the listed works are considered, in library cataloging, to be monographic works (that is, Greater Books does not use the word, monograph, in the narrower meaning of the word, as applied to certain kinds of academic studies). Some of the lists, though, include a significant number of shorter works and vague selection of works as well as, less commonly, excerpts of works. These non-monographic items are placed in the minor, or sub-master, list. To be more specific, scanning the master list here, one can see that the category of monographic works includes:
The category of non-monographical works includes all literary workspoems, stories, and essaysnot originally, and generally not ever, published as monographs, and most collections of such works; excerpts of monographical works; and broad, unspecified selections of texts. This category of indeterminate entries is excessively long; too many of the listmakers included so far will list, say, Plato's Dialogues, or the poetry of Robert Frost, referring to them as "books" without specifying distinct works. Reference works (such as Diderot's encyclopedia) are also placed in the sub-master list.
Whole anthologies or any other sort of work consisting of distinct contributions from multiple authors (such as the Federalist Papers, or the Three Hundred Tang Poems) will be included in the sub-master list if they were originally published as multiple works. Those that were clearly intended to be singular works, such as Roman de la Rose or Manufacturing Consent, are placed in the master list.
Precisely because of the ambiguity of defining monographs, all selections in the forty lists documented here are referred to as entries. Some of these unclear selections are open to interpretation; for example, Lubbock lists the "plays" of Molière. Though I could count all of Molière's plays as entrants, we cannot say with certainy that Lubbock intended to include each play at the same level as the rest of his entries, especially since he offers several other vague recommendations, such as "poems" by Hesiod. Any selection of a kind of literary work (novels, essays, etc.) is assumed to be a "selected" choice, and any listing of an author alone or an author's "works" is assumed to be "selected works." Another example comes from Lubbock's inclusion of Walter Scott's "novels." Though for James Baldwin, who listed the "Waverley novels," I am including all 26 novels in that category, for Lubbock I am not, despite all of Scott's novels being "Waverley novels." This seeming contradiction has its excuse: each listmaker takes a different approach, and I've tried to exercise a limited degree of editorial discretion based on how the listmaker defines that project and the number of works he includes. In this case, Baldwin has vague selections like Thackeray's "novels" similar to Lubbock's, but chose to specify "Waverley novels," so my inclusion of all of those novels corresponds to the greater nuance of that selection.
Only a few listmakers have included the "complete works" of an author; that designation is also ambiguous at times because of works of disputed authorship, recently-published posthumous works, writings disclosed in archival collections, and minor works that the listmaker probably did not intend to include. Given how the status of certain works changes over time, future changes to the tallies could still take place. This would nearly always be in the case of the complete writings, or all of a genre, by a certain author being collected into a singular volume, and that volume in turn becoming the standard edition of the works collected therein. An example from the Lubbock list: an entry currently listed as non-monographical, James Cook's Journals, could, if those journals were collected into a singular work that over time became the standard form of those writings, become a monographical entry.
Nearly every list has presented new difficulties in collating its entries with those of the other lists. Further clarification of these issues is available at the Macroscopic blog posts linked-to below, as well as many of the posts for the included and excluded lists.