Mary's Library

Friday, October 13, 2006

The World's 500 Greatest Books

Today I want to tell you about a book I found about 20 years ago by Philip Ward called A Lifetime’s Reading: The World’s 500 Greatest Books (New York: Stein and Day, 1983.)

It’s divided into 50 years and it starts with Alice in Wonderland and finishes with Immanuel Kant. I’ve been reading some of the books from two years at a time and will start on Year 47 in January.

The 500 books part is misleading because under a single title he will sometimes include many books. Under Dickens, Pickwick Papers, for example, he includes all of Dickens’ novels. And he sometimes suggests you go see a ballet or an opera or listen to particular music or visit an art museum or read some history as you read a particular book.

Ward also has a trick of listing the works of an author, like Plato (right after Alice), then saying something like this: “The Classical Greek of Plato is so majestic and clear that it merits any amount of effort in the learning. Luckily there is an abundance of good grammars and dictionaries, such as Wilding’s Greek for Beginners . . .” He does the same thing with the Old Testament (R K Harrison’s Teach Yourself Hebrew.) And this is on page 2, so you have another 49+ years to go!

Nonetheless it’s excellent and includes a great deal of literature from non-English speaking countries, especially the East. The list of titles is online but the book has a short discussion of each title and lots of the references I have mentioned and it’s worth getting your hands on a copy.

And thank you Pamela for sparking this idea and sending me the online address.


At 3:01 PM PDT , Blogger booklogged said...

Sounds like a daunting book. Just saw your comment about the Classics Challenge. Of course, I'd love to have you join, but let's wait to do anything concrete til it's closer to Jan. When talk of a Classic Challenge first started the idea was to do it from Nov - Feb that's why I posted about it so early. I wanted to let everyone know it was coming, but not in Nov.

At 7:58 PM PDT , Blogger Lisa Guidarini said...

Oooh, what's this! A book about books I didn't know about? Could that be? Must investigate.

At 9:42 AM PDT , Anonymous Ex Libris said...

I love book lists and books about books! I don't know that I would ever have the time to read all of those but I would love to know what titles Ward has included. I'll take a look online but will look for a copy of the book for the essays.


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