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.