What would you choose for your personal library?

If you were able to pick a hundred books with which to create a personal, general-subject library, which would you choose?

I attempted a list for myself, which actually only contains eighty, a number I found quite difficult to reach.

First published Title Author
~700 BCE Iliad Homer (?)
~700 BCE Odyssey Homer (?)
~700 BCE Works and Days Hesiod
430 BCE The Histories Herodotus
~370 BCE Anabasis Xenophon
200-300 BCE Argonautica Apollonius Rhodius
~160 BCE De Agri Cultura Cato the Elder
after 146 BCE Histories Polybius
58-49 BCE Gallic Wars Julius Caesar
44-40 BCE The Conspiracy of Catiline Sallust
similar time Jugurthine War Sallust
~40 BCE The Civil War Julius Caesar
~40 BCE The Alexandrine War Julius Caesar (?)
~40 BCE The African War Julius Caesar (?)
~40 BCE The Spanish War Julius Caesar (?)
~30 Rerum Rusticarum Varro
~30 De Lingua Latina Varro
~30-15 BCE De Architectura Vitruvius
~50 Histories of Alexander the Great Quintus Curtius Rufus
~60 De Re Rustica Columella
similar time De Arboribus Columella
~75 Satyricon Gaius Petronius
~75 Epigrams Martial
~80 Natural History Pliny the Elder
~98 Germania Tacitus
0-100 Apicius ?
~100 Parallel Lives Plutarch
100-200 Milinda Pahna ?
~105 Histories Tacitus
similar time Annals Tacitus
121 The Twelve Caesars Suetonius
written 161-80 Meditations Marcus Aurelius
~175 Metamorphoses Apuleius
~400? Historia Augusta ?
900-1000 Suda ?
900-1000 Taketori Monogatari ?
< 975 Beowulf ?
~1000 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle(s) various
~1136 Historia Regum Britanniae Geoffrey of Monmouth
1148/9 Ysengrimus Nivardus?
1174 Roman de Renart Pierre de St. Cloud
~1200 Prose Edda ?
1212 Hojoki Kama no Chomei
~1300 The Travels of Marco Polo Marco Polo
~1595 Richard II Shakespeare
1694 De Ludis Orientalibus Thomas Hyde
1724-7 A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain Daniel Defoe
1815-23 A Dictionary of the Chinese Language Robert Morrison
1849 Kalevala Elias Lonnrot (compiler)
1859 On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin
1869 Das Rheingold (The Ring Cycle) Richard Wagner
1870 Die Walkure (The Ring Cycle) Richard Wagner
1876 Siegfried (The Ring Cycle) Richard Wagner
1876 Gotterdammerung (The Ring Cycle) Richard Wagner
1868 Schleicher’s Fable August Schleicher
1882 Hoen Shinpo Honinbo Shuei
1905-6 I Am a Cat Natsume Soseki
1922 The Worm Ouroboros E. R. Eddison
1931 The Shadow over Innsmouth H. P. Lovecraft
1927 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien
1951 Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar
1951 Foundation Isaac Asimov
1952 A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess H. J. R. Murray
1954-5 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
1968 Meijin Yasunari Kawabata
1969 My 60 Memorable Games Bobby Fischer
1977 The Silmarillion J. R. R. Tokien
1978 Vox Latina William Sidney Allen
1983 The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett
1986 The Light Fantastic Terry Pratchett
1989 Truckers (The Bromeliad Trilogy) Terry Pratchett
1990 Diggers (The Bromeliad Trilogy) Terry Pratchett
1990 Wings (The Bromeliad Trilogy) Terry Pratchett
1971/92 The Carpet People Terry Pratchett
1992 Middle Shogi Manual George Hodges
1993 Against a Dark Background Iain M. Banks
1996 A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
1998 A Clash of Kings George R. R. Martin
1999 A Way of Play for the 21st Century Go Seigen
2000 A Storm of Swords George R. R. Martin
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Do collections of books count as 1 or each individually?
For instance, Lord of the Rings is 6 books normally sold either as a single volume or in 3 parts, and the Christian Bible is 66 books that normally get sold either as a single volume or in 2 parts.

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That’s a good question, and one for which the answer is really up to you.

Especially, ancient works are often made up of many short “books” which are quite short, more like a modern “chapter”, the Bible being one such example.

For instance, Natural History is made up of 37 books but is published by Loeb in, I think, ten relatively thin paperback volumes. Parallel Lives is a collection of 46 extant books, but none of them are very long; the compilation The Age of Caesar contains five of these biographies in a book of medium length.

For my categorisation of Lord of the Rings, I was guided by Wikipedia, which states:

Although generally known to readers as a trilogy, the work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume … For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year

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I made quite a few lists like this when I was young, but I find it much more difficult today. First, because I have read a lot more books, and second, because I find it much harder to compare genres. I first ran into the latter problem when, as a member of the American Film Institute, I participated in their first poll of best American films. I agonized over how to choose between dramas and comedies and finally decided to go with all dramas because I figured that votes for comedies would probably be wasted. Similarly, how do I choose between a great novel and a great work of nonfiction? I’m almost inclined to set a quota for each category, but that seems too artificial. The biggest problem is this: since I already have a vast library, how do I winnow it to just 100? Stay tuned…

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If I were able to get a hundred books right now, I’d pick 100 books I haven’t yet read (randomly, whichever felt right, as always), get comfy with snacks near the window and see you in 5 years.

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Strange choice of Pratchett books - kind of almost the inverse of the set of his works that I’d have chosen!

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First I’d pick every book written by Brandon Sanderson.
Then I’d pick books by Isaak Asimov till I reach the magic 100 number (he had written over 500 books iirc).
Easy solution with quite a good result, I’d say.

(short stories in anthologies to reduce the number)

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After some thought, I can make it to, and indeed over, a hundred with the addition of:

  • The five original books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • The other six books of the Foundation series

  • The other three books of A Song of Ice and Fire

  • The three books of George R. R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg series

  • The four books of Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series

  • Some more Pratchett, particularly Monstrous Regiment (2003)

  • Jurassic Park (1990)

  • A few more novels by Iain M. Banks

  • Kodoku: Sailing Alone Across the Pacific (1964)

At this point I would have to become more discerning, and likely throw some things out.

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FIFY :rofl::rofl::rofl:

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As I feared, this is an almost impossible task. On the other hand, it is probably a good idea to review in our minds and reevaluate, after a lapse of time, the books we’ve read. On the third hand, such lists are inherently unfair to the runners-up, which may lose by a fraction. This is not a desert island or prepper’s list, so it omits the Boy Scout Handbook, my many wonderful references on trees, flowers, and outdoor survival. I have also excluded historic scientific works, children’s literature, and many books on language and style, exploration, and history that I wish I had room to include. As it is, I can’t in good conscience trim it further than I have. The number now stands at 128. I have read everything on the list, except that in a few instances of collected works (e.g., Shakespeare and Chesterton) I have read nearly all, but not all, of the works. Obvious gaps in the list represent gaps in my reading, most notably the lack of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy’s novels, Flaubert, Virgil, and Ovid.

The List

Dante Alighieri—The Divine Comedy
Apollonius of Rhodes—Argonautica
Apuleius—The Golden Ass
Jane Austen—Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen—Emma
Jane Austen—Mansfield Park
Jane Austen—Persuasion
The Bible
Boethius—The Consolation of Philosophy
George Borrow—Lavengro
James Branch Cabell—Jurgen
James Branch Cabell—Smirt
James Branch Cabell—The Saint Johns
Cabeza de Vaca—Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America
Julius Caesar—The Civil Wars
Italo Calvino—The Barron in the Trees
Italo Calvino—The Castle of Crossed Destinies
Albert Camus—The Plague
Albert Camus—The Rebel
Giacomo Casanova—History of My Life (12 vols)
G. K. Chesterton—The Collected Works (35 vols)
Cicero—The Republic
Joseph Conrad—Lord Jim
Joseph Conrad—Nostromo
Joseph Conrad—Outcast of the Islands
Joseph Conrad—Youth and Two Others
Joseph Conrad—Typhoon and Other Stories
Stephen Crane—The Complete Short Stories and Sketches of…
E. E. Cummings—Complete Poems 1904–1962
Daniel Defoe—Robinson Crusoe
Daniel Defoe—A Journal of the Plague Year
Walter de la Mare—The Conoisseur and Other Stories
Walter de la Mare—The Riddle and Other Tales
Guy De Maupassant—The Complete Novels
Guy De Maupassant—The Complete Stories of…
Bernal Diaz—The Conquest of New Spain
Charles Dickens—Our Mutual Friend
Charles Dickens—Hard Times
Charles Dickens—David Copperfield
Charles Dickens—Martin Chuzzlewit
Alexander Dumas—The Count of Monte Cristo
Lord Dunsany—The Blessing of Pan
Lord Dunsany—The Jorkens Stories (3 vols)
Lord Dunsany—A Book of Wonder
Lord Dunsany—A Dreamer’s Tales and Other Stories
W. Ward Fernside & William B. Holther—Fallacy: The Counterfeit of
Argument
Darrell Figgis—Return of the Hero
F. Scott Fitzgerald—Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories
F. Scott Fitzgerald—Babylon Revisited and Other Stories
F. Scott Fitzgerald—The Pat Hobby Stories
E. M. Forster—A Passage to India
E. M. Forster—A Room with a View
E. M. Forster—Aspects of the Novel
Charles Fort—The Books of…
Robert Frost—The Poetry of…
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe—Faust
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe—The Sorrows of Young Werther
Nikolai Gogol—Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol—Village Evenings Near Dikanka and Mirogod
William Golding—Lord of the Flies
Maxim Gorky—My Childhood
Ernest Hemingway—The Complete Short Stories of…
Herodotus—The Histories (Landmark ed)
Eric Hoffer—The True Believer
Homer—The Iliad
Homer—The Odyssey
A. E. Housman—The Collected Poems of…
Victor Hugo—Les Miserables
Shirley Jackson—We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Anna Jacobson—Phenomena
Samuel Johnson—Johnson: Prose and Poetry
Franz Kafka—The Trial
Eric Knight—Sam Small Flies Again
Arthur Koestler—The Act of Creation
Arthur Koestler—The Ghost in the Machine
Diogenes Laertius—Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Ring Lardner—Round Up
Stanislaw Lem—Eden
C. S. Lewis—The Abolition of Man
C. S. Lewis—An Experiment in Criticism
C. S. Lewis—The Screwtape Letters
C. S. Lewis—Mere Christianity
Richard Llewellyn—How Green Was My Valley
Jack London—Martin Eden
Jack London—White Fang
Jack London—The Complete Short Stories of…
Arthur Machen—Tales of Horror and the Supernatural (2 vols)
Gordon McCreagh—White Waters and Black
J. C. Mardrus & Powys Mathers (tr.)—The Arabian Nights
Alexander Marshak—The Roots of Civilization
Herman Melville—Moby Dick
Herman Melville—The Confidence Man
Herman Melville—Selected Tales and Poems
Walter M. Miller, Jr.—A Canticle for Leibowitz
Michel de Montainge—The Complete Essays
Ward Moore—Bring the Jubilee
Flannery O’Connor—The Complete Stories
George Orwell—1984
George Orwell—Coming Up for Air
George Orwell—The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (4 vols)
Ferdinand Ossendowsky—Beasts, Gods and Men
Luigi Pirandello—Masks: 5 Plays
Luigi Pirandello—The Late Mattia Pascal
Plato—Complete Works (4 vols)
Plutarch—Parallel Lives
Edgar Allan Poe—The Works of…(10 vols)
Neil Postman—Amusing Ourselves to Death
Seneca—Letters from a Stoic
William Shakespeare—The Yale Shakespeare: The Complete Works
James Stephens—The Crock of Gold
Robert Louis Stevenson—Treasure Island
George R. Stewart—Earth Abides
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky—Roadside Picnic
Suetonius—Lives of the 12 Caesars
John M. Synge—Complete Works
Tacitus—The Complete Works of…
Dennis Tedlock (tr.)—Popol Vuh
Thucydides—The Peloponnesian War (Landmark ed.)
J. R. R. Tolkien—Lord of the Rings
J. R. R. Tolkien—The Hobbit
Leo Tolstoy—Collected Shorter Fiction (vol 2)
Ivan Turgenev—The Hunting Sketches
Mark Twain—The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain—The Complete Short Stories of…
John Whydham—The Day of the Triffids
William Carlos Williams—The Doctor Stories
Xenophon—Anabasis

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So we agree on Argonautica, The Golden Ass, The Civil Wars, The Histories, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Parallel Lives, The Twelve Caesars, The Works of Tacitus, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Anabasis.

I’m not sure what exactly Letters from a Stoic is, but I would add Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae to my list and perhaps some of his other works. The Peloponnesian War is also worthy of inclusion. I’d take The Day of the Triffids for my list as well, and Lives of Eminent Philosophers.

I might add Perestroika to my list. Also the Principia Mathematica, both Newton’s and Whitehead’s / Russell’s. The former as much as an example of Renaissance Latin as for its scientific content.

Possibly The Sentinel as well, and maybe a collection of Japanese poetry. I should gather some Oriental classics as well. I also missed out the Aeneid, which – although I don’t greatly appreciate poetry – just isn’t fair. Around the World in 80 Days is another good candidate for inclusion, and Systema Naturae.

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Letters from a Stoic is a compilation of Seneca’s letters in the Penguin edition. It had a great effect on me when I was in my early 20s. As mentioned in my intro, I deliberately omitted historical works of science, although I included The Roots of Civilization because it was such a groundbreaking modern work that also had a great influence on my outlook. I especially regret having to cut many books of exploration, in which I have read extensively. John Lloyd Stephens’s accounts of his Mayan explorations and Mungo Park’s amazing adventure in his first trip to Africa were among the last to be cut. My reading is also misrepresented by the paucity of mythology, folklore, and legends. I have hundreds of books in that category, covering the world, but they are largely of interest collectively, without many world-class standouts.

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I’ve revised my list, using a fairly tight cut which has reduced it to 75. Especially, I compressed the Ring Cycle into a single book and removed some of Caesar’s memoirs.

I’ve realised that it’s impossible to be quite happy with one definitive collection… one always wants to add some works in or take some out. I’m still wondering what the best choices are for the remaining quarter.

# First published Title Author
1 722-481 BCE Spring and Autumn Annals Various
2 ~700 BCE Iliad Homer (?)
3 ~700 BCE Odyssey Homer (?)
4 ~700 BCE Works and Days Hesiod
5 430 BCE The Histories Herodotus
6 ~430 BCE History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides
7 ~370 BCE Anabasis Xenophon
8 200-300 BCE Argonautica Apollonius Rhodius
9 ~160 BCE De Agri Cultura Cato the Elder
10 after 146 BCE Histories Polybius
11 58-49 BCE Gallic Wars Julius Caesar
12 44-40 BCE The Conspiracy of Catiline Sallust
13 ~40 BCE The Civil War Julius Caesar
14 ~30 Rerum Rusticarum Varro
15 ~30 De Lingua Latina Varro
16 ~30-15 BCE De Architectura Vitruvius
17 ~25 BCE Aeneid Virgil
18 49 De Brevitate Vitae Seneca
19 ~50 Histories of Alexander the Great Quintus Curtius Rufus
20 ~50 The Aesop Romance ?
21 ~60 De Re Rustica Columella
22 ~75 Satyricon Gaius Petronius
23 ~75 Epigrams Martial
24 ~80 Natural History Pliny the Elder
25 ~98 Germania Tacitus
26 0-100 Apicius ?
27 ~100 Parallel Lives Plutarch
28 100-200 Milinda Pahna ?
29 ~105 Histories Tacitus
30 similar time Annals Tacitus
31 121 The Twelve Caesars Suetonius
32 written 161-80 Meditations Marcus Aurelius
33 ~175 Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass) Apuleius
34 ~250 Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers Diogenes Laertius
35 <338 The Alexander Romance ?
36 ~400? Historia Augusta ?
37 > 750 Manyoshu Various
38 900-1000 Suda ?
39 900-1000 Taketori Monogatari ?
40 < 975 Beowulf ?
41 ~1100 Winchester Chronicle various
42 ~1136 Historia Regum Britanniae Geoffrey of Monmouth
43 1148/9 Ysengrimus Nivardus?
44 1174 Roman de Renart Pierre de St. Cloud
45 ~1200 Prose Edda ?
46 1212 Hojoki Kama no Chomei
47 ~1250 Van den vos Reynaerde ?
48 ~1300 The Travels of Marco Polo Marco Polo
49 ~1400 The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer
50 ~1595 Richard II Shakespeare
51 1687 Principia Isaac Newton
52 1793 System Naturae (13th Edt.) Carl Linnaeus / Johann F. Gmelin
53 1815-23 A Dictionary of the Chinese Language Robert Morrison
54 1849 Kalevala Elias Lonnrot (compiler)
55 1859 On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin
56 1872 Around the World in Eighty Days Jules Verne
57 1876 The Ring Cycle Richard Wagner
58 1913 Principia Mathematica Alfred Whitehead & Bertrand Russell
59 1922 The Worm Ouroboros E. R. Eddison
60 1926 The Castle Franz Kafka
61 1931 The Shadow over Innsmouth H. P. Lovecraft
62 1927 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien
63 1951 Foundation Isaac Asimov
64 1951 The Sentinel Arthur C. Clarke
65 1951 The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
66 1954-5 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
67 1954 Lord of the Flies William Golding
68 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke
69 1977 The Silmarillion J. R. R. Tolkien
70 1978 Vox Latina William Sidney Allen
71 1979 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
72 1971/92 The Carpet People Terry Pratchett
73 1993 Against a Dark Background Iain M. Banks
74 1996 A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
75 2003 Monstrous Regiment Terry Pratchett

Last night I was looking at a nice illustrated edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey and suddenly I wondered whether I had put Treasure Island on my list. No, incredibly, unaccountably, I had forgotten it. I have now added it. Don’t know how that happened, as that is a book for which i have boundless admiration. It doesn’t fall under my children’s literature exclusion, because I think adults should read it as well. It could be a textbook for perfect fiction writing.

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The Poetic Edda is required on my list, which is not the same book as the Prose Edda. The age of the material in this Medieval compilation varies, but some poems are thought to have been composed in the ninth century.

Modern editions of the Poetic Edda apparently often also add those poems which were not originally included, but were a part of the Codex Regius (the original Poetic Edda largely incorporating the Codex Regius).

If I had more books jostling for space, then I’d think about reducing the number of works detailing the Medieval saga Reynard the Fox. Currently there are three on the list: the Latin Ysengrimus, the French Roman de Renart, and the Dutch Van de vos Reynaerde.

However, the Reynard cycle was very popular in the Medieval world so some representation is needed, and I wouldn’t be in a hurry to remove these.

I’ve also made a woeful oversight of Strabo’s Geographica (~25).

Most of the modern English work doesn’t deserve to be there, but it’s sticking on for the moment, until I think of greater competition.


So, adding the Poetic Edda and Geographica, my list rises back up to 77.

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Actually, I’ll also add Don Quixote (1605/15) and Copernicus’ book on heliocentrism De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1543). And Jurassic Park (1990), which I forgot to add last time.

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My father had copies of the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, which are somewhere among the thousands of books I have hauled over here. He also had most of the Norse sagas. He was very keen on that literature. I haven’t yet read any of that except excerpts related to the Viking explorations westward. Looking over your list again, I noticed Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. I haven’t read that, but I have read her Oriental Tales, which I liked very much.

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I’ve been looking through Medieval literature and I’ve found the Exeter Book or Codex Exoniensis, which is “a large English book of poetic works about all sorts of things” and will have to go onto my list.

The Exeter Book is a collection of Old English poetry, likely compiled in the late tenth century, and includes:

  • WidsiĂ°, an ethnographic poem listing tribes and their rulers, perhaps for mnemonic use.

Widsith spake,
he unlocked his treasure of words.
He who among men
had travelled most in the world,
through peoples and nations
…
Attila ruled the Huns,
Ermanaric ruled the Goths,
Becca the Banings,
Gebicca the Burgundians,
Caesar ruled the Greeks
and Caelic the Finns
…

  • Wulf and Eadwacer, an apparently difficult poem which appears to be part of the “wife’s song” genre

  • Several other poems, mainly of a religious slant

  • 95 (!) riddles

  • The Ruin

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen
…
Bright were the castle buildings, many the bathing-halls,
high the abundance of gables, great the noise of the multitude,
many a meadhall full of festivity,
until Fate the mighty changed that.
Far and wide the slain perished, days of pestilence came,
death took all the brave men away;
their places of war became deserted places,
the city decayed
…
The ruin has fallen to the ground
broken into mounds, where at one time many a warrior,
joyous and ornamented with gold-bright splendour,
proud and flushed with wine shone in war-trappings;
looked at treasure, at silver, at precious stones,
at wealth, at prosperity, at jewellery,
at this bright castle of a broad kingdom.
The stone buildings stood, a stream threw up heat
in wide surge; the wall enclosed all
in its bright bosom, where the baths were,
hot in the heart.

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