100 Greatest Books of this Century?

I Find Karma (adam@milliways.cs.caltech.edu)
Sun, 17 Aug 1997 07:46:16 -0700 (PDT)

I always find "greatest book" lists fascinating. The one below comes
from a poll taken last January of 25,000 readers by The Telegraph, a
British newspaper. Readers were asked about their favorite books
published in this century.

Of course, as with any favorites list, several of my favorite books from
this century didn't make their top 100, including:
- Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman.
- Envisioning Information, Edward R. Tufte.
- Godel Escher Bach, Douglas Hofstadter.
- Microcosm, George Gilder.
- Accidental Empires, Robert X. Cringely.
- Generation X, Douglas Coupland.
- Focault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco.
- The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff.
- Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino.
- Night, Elie Wiesel.
- Time's Arrow, Martin Amis.
- Maus I and II, Art Spielegman.

Unfortunately, the "100 books list" online isn't really a list at all;
it's a picture located at...


For those of you without a Telegraph account, I copied the picture (bad Adam!):


For those too lazy to check out the picture, I'll type in the top 10:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien.
2. 1984, George Orwell.
3. Animal Farm, George Orwell.
4. Ulysses, James Joyce.
5. Catch-22, Joseph Heller.
6. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
9. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck.
10. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh.

And the accompanying article I include below in case you were interested.
If not, just hit the delete key...
-- Adam

----------------------------- 8< snippety snip snip snip --------------------------


Fiction and food fill up our bookshelves
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
January 20, 1997

Lord of the Rings 'is greatest book of the century'

The British book reader loves fiction and does not rate modern
"bonkbusters", poetry, history or biography nearly as highly.

Though now grown up, the reader fondly remembers stories from
childhood. He or she loves novels that have become films, believes The
Lord of the Rings to be the "greatest" book of the 20th Century and also
ranks Delia Smith's The Complete Cookery Course among the top 100 titles
published since 1900.

The Waterstone's/Channel 4 poll, published today, is one of the most
fascinating surveys into British reading habits ever carried out. It is
not necessarily a reliable barometer of what people buy - book sale
figures provide better statistics - but the size of the vote (more than
25,000 keen readers) makes the poll a more-than-valuable contribution to
the dinner party debate: what is the best modern book?

The poll throws up dozens of questions for heated discussion - why, for
example, is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby at No 12 "greater"
than I, Claudius (99) by Robert Graves? You may not think so, but the
Great British Public does and at a dinner party you defy public opinion
at your own risk. Broader conclusions are easier. The British reader is
hugely eclectic.

The Top 100 list contains most of the acknowledged literature classics
of world, not just British - though the order is interesting - and it is
a better answer than most to the question: what should I read to catch
up with the Joneses? Lord of the Rings polled more than 5,000 first
place votes.

Leaflets in Waterstone's 105 branches nationwide asked browsers to name
in order what they thought were the five "greatest" - not their
favourite - books of the century. Book fans could also vote on the
Waterstone's and Channel 4 web sites but the vast majority of votes were
cast in the shops during 10 days of voting last September.

Tolkien's 1,100-plus page escapist fantasy about Middle Earth was the
clear winner. Some 1,200 votes behind was Nineteen Eighty Four, George
Orwell's futuristic anti-Fascist novel starring Big Brother. Orwell was
also third with Animal Farm, his not dissimilar tract featuring Napoleon
the pig.

Britain, evidently, is a divided nation on politics. Tolkien and Orwell
both speak out against the horrors of the 20th Century but the former
from the Catholic conservative wing, the latter from the Left. James
Joyce's Ulysses came fourth - a remarkable result for a novel held to be
one of the most difficult reads of the century. In a similar vein,
Marcel Proust's 17-volume Remembrance of Things Past came in at 33.

Omissions are as interesting as inclusions. Not one single work by
authors of the stature of Hemingway, H G Wells, Colette, J B Priestley,
Iris Murdoch, John Le Carri, Malraux, Paul Scott, P G Wodehouse or Andri
Gide won enough votes.

Fiction wipes the floor, with very little biography or autobiography,
history or science in the Top 100, and no poetry at all. T S Eliot's The
Wasteland came in at 101. Wild Swans, by the Chinese refugee Jung Chang,
is the highest non-fiction entry at No 11.

But many children's books make the Top 100. Kenneth Grahame's Wind in
The Willows is the highest placed at 16. And Roald Dahl has no fewer
than four books - that is more than any other 20th-century author - in
the list. His highest book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 34.

There are plenty of well-known "classics" of the 20th Century on the
list, but also many very recent books that appear to sit oddly with
them, such as Transpotting by Irvine Welsh (highly rated at 10), The
Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (32), Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park (92)
and The Horse Whisperer (100) by Nicholas Evans. In the end, the list
is deliciously subjective and there is grist galore for rows. Why is
Jack Kerouac's On the Road (14) rated so much higher than E M Forster,
with three entries, who has to wait for 39th place before he features,
with A Passage to India?

Graham Greene has two novels on the list but the highest, Brighton Rock,
is at 61 while The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams,
is way ahead at No 24. Kingsley Amis makes the list - Lucky Jim is 70th
- but his son Martin Amis, who has recently been winning million-pound
publishing deals, does not. Only 13 of the 100 books are by women.

Winning the Booker Prize or the Nobel Prize for Literature is not, as
many have long suspected, a sign of greatness. The Nobel Prize is almost
as old as the century (with a winner a year) but only six winners -
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Steinbeck, William Golding, Albert Camus,
Toni Morrison and Alexander Solzhenitsyn make this "people's list". Out
of 30 Booker winners just three, Salman Rushdie, A S Byatt and Roddy
Doyle, are in the Top 100.

How indicative of anything significant is the list? Waterstone's caters
for the mid-to-upmarket end of the reading market. The same survey
conducted at W H Smith or a chain of airport bookshops would certainly
have given a different result.

The failure of a single "sex and shopping" novel, or any book by Jackie
Collins, Jeffrey Archer or Frederick Forsyth, to make the top 100 is
significant as well as, perhaps, heartening. Martin Lee, Waterstone's
managing director, confessed yesterday that some voters possibly had
short memories and named only books from the last 10 years, while he
noted that novels that had become successful films scored heavily.

He also believed that many participants had named two books they enjoyed
and added three classic titles "they thought ought to be read" even if
they hadn't enjoyed them or read them.

A jaundiced and lofty eye is thrown over the entire project by the
author and feminist Germaine Greer. She claims that the list has been
"compiled in defiance of the intellectual establishment". Writing in the
next issue of W, Waterstone's own literary magazine, she calls Tolkien's
victory "dismaying" and a "bad dream come true". She writes: "Ever since
I arrived at Cambridge as a student in 1964 and encountered a tribe of
full-grown women . . . babbling excitedly about the doings of Hobbits,
it has been my nightmare that Tolkien would turn out to be the most
influential writer of the 20th Century."

She complains that the status the "people's list" gives to Tolkien, C S
Lewis and Dahl indicates that the late-20th-century reader lives in a
world of fantasy and ignores "the great struggles of the century" -
politics, war, the black movement and the sexual revolution.

She concludes: "I foresee an enjoyable holiday game when like-minded
folk forgather to put together their alternative list of 100 much better
books of the century and argue the case for books their children have
never heard of."


J R R Tolkein's epic The Lord of the Rings has been voted the "greatest
book of the 20th Century" in what is believed to be Britain's largest
reader survey.

The book - about the magical doings of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Gandalf
and Sauron - became cult reading in the 1960s and 1970s. The result may
nevertheless cause some raised eyebrows.

Waterstone's book chain and Channel 4 asked readers to name the five
greatest books this century. More than 25,000 people responded and put
Tolkien ahead of other acknowledged giants.

With the votes, a list of the 100 Books of the Century, published today,
was drawn up. It suggests that The Inklings, a 1930s Oxford drinking
club, has been a more powerful force than the Bloomsbury Group, the
Algonquin set in New York, Hemingway's Paris set or the W H
Auden/Christopher Isherwood group of writers in the 1930s.

Tolkien, who died in 1973, was Merton professor of English language and
literature at Oxford. He founded The Inklings with his fellow academic C
S Lewis and they read their early writings to each other in pubs and
college rooms. His first published book, The Hobbit, about the magic
world of Middle Earth, was voted No 19 in the poll and The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of C S Lewis's Narnia stories for
children, was No 21.

Some critics said last night that Tolkien enthusiasts had indulged in
multiple voting. Though the literary merits of The Lord of the Rings
have been questioned it has sold about 50 million copies since the
mid-1950s. Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien's biographer, said: "I don't
think it is the greatest 20th-century book and he wouldn't have done. He
would have been flattered, but outraged as well."


I know I have at times had the need for a hammer, crayons, a pumpkin, a
Nixon mask, and a BB gun but I don't feel the urge to carry those things
around with me all the time. At what point do you say stop?
-- Richard Goodman