A List With A Twist Revisited

December 28, 2008 | 2 2 min read

In the spring, we reported on an unusual event unfolding in the Books pages of The Globe and Mail. Each week, through 2008, someone – typically a published author or an academic – would write an essay for the Globe championing a book. Fifty books in total. They were not ranked in any order, and in reality they form a jumping-off point into a world of knowledge and literary imagination.

About a third of the books championed were novels, from such usual suspects as War and Peace, Don Quixote, and Middlemarch, through Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Lolita, and One Hundred Years of Solitude.

More interesting were the non-novels on the list. There were collected shorts from Borges, Kafka and Chekhov, and collected poems from Eliot and Yeats. There was Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Decameron, and The Mahabharata, a 2000-year-old verse from India. Lady Murasaki’s 1000-year-old The Tale of Genji pops up. Plays by Becket and Goethe were also championed.

The King James Bible is there; as is the Koran. Books of philosophy by Plato and political economy by both Adam Smith and Karl Marx made the list.

Darwin’s Origin of Species is there; so is Diderot’s Encyclopedia, Herodotus’ Histories, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Rachel Carson’s proto-environmental Silent Spring. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, her 300-year-old rebel yell, is there, as are St. Augustine’s Confessions, and de Montaigne’s Essays, his 16th-century invention of a genre.

Beside each essay are links to all the essays that came before it. So you should go to the 50th essay, championing Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, to get easy links to the other 49. Thank goodness for that, because there doesn’t seem to be a central web page listing all 50, and I advise against trying to search through the Globe and Mail’s Books section archives unless you want to get a blinding headache.

is a writer in Toronto, Canada, and passes his days as a copy editor with The Globe and Mail. He spends his moments of leisure listening to music, reading, watching films and prowling the streets of Toronto, and he feels that he is long-overdue for a vacation so that he can do more of those things. At any given time, he is probably pining for distant shores and really should do more traveling and less pining.


  1. It's seems like one of those "Books you should have read in high school" lists that, of course, no one actually read many of in high school. I love the classics, though, because even if the book wasn't good, or the type of literature you would normally read, it offers you a gateway into the conversation. If you haven't read Lolita or the Divine Comedy, there's probably a lot of references in modern literary fiction that your missing. Plus, most of them are good reads too.

  2. Thanks for the tip–I'm glad to explore the essays on these books, many of which are my favorites (or, I hope, will be future favorites).

    It's curious to note that only 5 of the 50 are books written by women. I'm surprised Virginia Woolf doesn't make an appearance, or Charlotte Bronte, or Emily Dickinson or Harper Lee, or any number of others …

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