Friday, June 17, 2011

The Guardian's List of the 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books of All-Time

The British newspaper The Guardian recently published a list of what it considers to be the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time.

How many have you read? I was somewhat surprised to find that I had only read four of them in their entirety (The Souls of Black Folk, Good-Bye To All That, The Histories, Homage To Catalonia). Yes, it makes me feel like a Philistine. I had read selections or excerpts from many more, but, I haven't read anywhere near as many of these books as I have some other lists', such as the Modern Library's 100 best non-fiction books.

To be honest, I am surprised that more of these books were not assigned to me in school. I took a lot of history, american studies, and political science courses in college, but apparently did not take enough philosophy or capital-H humanities courses to make a larger dent into this list. Our blogmigo Ellen Wernecke has read 18, which, if I had to guess, is more than anybody I know (with the possible exception of Paul Smecker).

For what its worth, I fared much better on The Guardian's list of the 100 best novels, which I think is a more interesting list, given its parameters, than the Modern Library's, which is kind of on the stodgy side. For what its worth, Radcliffe College's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century may be my favorite.


Fletch said...

Surprisingly, I have ended up reading 32 of the books on the list, but unlike the MLA list, I don't feel compelled to read very many more of the books on there. A lot of the books are "best of a non-fiction genre" which is very different than being greatest of all-time.

Wade Garrett said...

Fletch - That is a good point. As my friend Marilyn pointed out, one other characteristic of the books on this list is that many of them are important, aren't regarded, even by their fans, as being particularly well-written. For instance, you don't need to read every last word of The Prince to be culturally literate and understand its significance. As you said, I don't feel compelled to read very many of these books. Also, unlike their list of the best novels, there are not a lot of books on there that I've always wanted to read, or felt as if I should read, but just haven't gotten around to yet.

But the list is still interesting, just as an exercise, I think.

Fletch said...

I guess that it seems a little too much like an exercise in SEO copy and page views. A list from a major publication should have a little more thought to it, but maybe that's just me.

Wade Garrett said...

I think that, realistically, page views are a big reason to do this. Some of the pop-culture sites that I read acknowledge that they do year-end best-of lists because they're fun and because they get a lot of traffic, not because they are "journalism" in any sense of the word.