Great Books

It is impossible to fit the world’s wisdom and experience in just 101 books. However, these are indisputably among the finest works of humankind, and more importantly, among those that I have read and can heartily recommend. I may have left out someone’s favourite, but that may be because I haven’t read it yet, I don’t know the language, or there are no good translations.

To me, the idea of Great Books is a collection of books that are eternal in their message, books that go beyond the ordinary in teasing out fundamental principles, great ideas, powerful emotions and experiences, books that are transcendental. I have therefore left out many works of science and history as they are ultimately temporal. This does not in any way lessen Euclid’s Elements, Apollonius’ Conics, Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius, or Darwin’s The Origin of Species. It does not take away from Gibbon’s magisterial The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita. Ultimately, this list is subjective, and while I prioritise literature and philosophy over science and history in matters of spirit, you need not!

Another problem with compiling a list of the greatest books is that it privileges one form of literature over others, the long form over shorter poems. Thus, to our great loss, we leave out the works of Sappho, WB Yeats, WH Auden, Rainer Maria Rilke, Novalis, and Ezra Pound. Nonetheless, here are 101 great books one must read and then re-read.

  1. The Arabian Nights
  2. The Epic of Gilgamesh
  3. The Nibelungenlied
  4. The Poem of the Cid
  5. The Poetic Edda
  6. The Prose Edda
  7. The Song of Roland
  8. Adigal, Ilango. Silappatikaram
  9. Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound
  10. Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy
  11. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica
  12. Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando Furioso
  13. Aristotle. De Anima
  14. —. Metaphysics
  15. —. The Nicomachean Ethics
  16. —. Politics
  17. Aristophanes. Lysistrata
  18. —. The Birds
  19. —. The Clouds
  20. Attar, Farid-ud-din. The Conference of the Birds
  21. Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations
  22. Badarayana. Brahma Sutras
  23. Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote
  24. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales
  25. Confucius. The Analects
  26. Descartes, René. Principles of Philosophy
  27. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamzov
  28. —. Crime and Punishment
  29. —. The Idiot
  30. Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose
  31. Erasmus, Desiderius. The Praise of Folly
  32. Espronceda, José de . El estudiante de Salamanca (Don Juan)
  33. Euripides. The Bacchae
  34. —. Medea
  35. Al Farabi. On the Perfect State
  36. Ferdowsi. Shahnameh
  37. Ganjavi, Nizami. Panj Ganj
  38. Gautama. Nyaya Sutras
  39. Goethe, JWG. Faust
  40. Gogol, Nikolai. Dead Souls
  41. Grotius, Hugo. The Law of War and Peace
  42. Hafez. Divan-e Hafez
  43. Herodotus. Histories
  44. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan
  45. Homer. The Iliad
  46. —. The Odyssey
  47. Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature
  48. Ishvarakrishna. Samkhya Karika
  49. Jaimini. Purva Mimamsa Sutras
  50. Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis
  51. Kalidasa. Abhijñanashakuntalam
  52. —. Kumarasambhava
  53. Kanada. Vaisheshika Sutra
  54. Kautilya. The Arthashastra
  55. Ibn Khaldun. Al Muqaddimah
  56. Khayyam, Omar. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  57. Khosrow, Amir. Khamsa-e Nizami
  58. —. Wast-ul Hayat
  59. Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government
  60. Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms
  61. Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince
  62. Mahfouz, Naguib. Khufu’s Wisdom
  63. —. Rhadopis of Nubia
  64. —. Thebes at War
  65. Maimon, Moshe ben. The Guide for the Perplexed
  66. Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur
  67. Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain
  68. Manzoni, Alessandro. I Promessi Sposi
  69. Marx, Karl. Das Kapital
  70. Milton, John. Paradise Lost
  71. Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty
  72. More, Thomas. Utopia
  73. al-Mulk, Nizam. Siyasatnama
  74. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future
  75. Ovid. Metamorphoses
  76. Petrarch. De vita solitaria (The Solitary Life)
  77. —. Il Canzoniere (Song Book)
  78. Plato. Apology
  79. —. Meno
  80. —. The Republic
  81. Plotinus. The Enneads
  82. Rumi, Jalaluddin. Masnavi-e Manavi
  83. Ibn Rushd. The Incoherence of the Incoherence
  84. Saadi. Gulistan
  85. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet
  86. —. King Lear
  87. —. Macbeth
  88. Ibn Sina. Danishnama-e ‘Alai
  89. Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. The First Circle
  90. Sophocles. Oedipus Rex
  91. —. Oedipus at Colonus
  92. —. Antigone
  93. Spinoza, Benedict de. Ethics
  94. Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations
  95. Tasso, Torquato. Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered)
  96. Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War
  97. Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History
  98. Ibn Tufayl. Ḥayy ibn Yaqzan
  99. Valmiki. The Ramayana
  100. Virgil. The Aeneid
  101. Vyaasa. The Mahabharata

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