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