The Ten Greatest Books of All Time

Writing for Time, author Tom Wolfe examines J. Peder Zane’s The Top 10: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.

[What if you] went to all the big-name authors in the world — Franzen, Mailer, Wallace, Wolfe, Chabon, Lethem, King, 125 of them — and got each one to cough up a top-10 list of the greatest books of all time. We’re talking ultimate-fighting-style here: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, modern, ancient, everything’s fair game except eye-gouging and fish-hooking. Then you printed and collated all the lists, crunched the numbers together, and used them to create a definitive all-time Top Top 10 list.

What would the list look like? Something like this, apparently:

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  7. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

What, no Moby Dick?

Of these, I’ve read Anna Karenina, Lolita, Huck Finn, Hamlet, Gatsby, and roughly one-fifth of Proust. As it happens, I’m tempted to select Middlemarch as my next book group choice in a few weeks — I recently watched the BBC adaptation, and it piqued my interest.

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