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Which “10 All Time Greatest Novels” List Is Better?

August 25, 2013
Is it possible that this book (and its series) could be #7 on an All Time Best Books list?

Is it possible that this book (and its series) could be #7 on an All Time Best Novels list?

A few months ago, I vowed that I wouldn’t read a 10 All Time Greatest Novels list that came out on a popular weekly entertainment site.  I was pretty sure I’d disagree with the list, and I was also certain that the experts who had compiled the list hadn’t read every book ever published and therefore weren’t qualified to determine what the ten best books of all time were. 

Then a couple weeks ago a British publication/site devised its own Top 100 Novels list.  Curiosity overcame my integrity, and I decided to go ahead and read the lists.  After all, I wanted to know how similar (or different) two competing lists of book rankings could be.  Both lists went up to 100, but in the interest of keeping this post short, I’ve cut the lists to their top ten.  Maybe, just maybe, the two lists would have the exact same books.  If two “best ever books” lists had the exact same books, then maybe those books were truly the best of all time.  If a few, or a couple, or even just one book, could make both lists, that one book could be considered the best of all time.

But unfortunately, no single book made both top ten lists. 

Author Jane Austen made both lists but with different books.  Even Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy couldn’t make both top ten lists with different books. I thought both of them could make both lists with the same books, but I guess not. 

One list had a few books that were kind of recent.  I have nothing against recent books, but it’s tough to judge them as best ever because we don’t know what people will think of recently published books 50 years from now.  If these recently published books are forgotten after 50 years, we can’t go back and pretend that the offending top ten list was never created.  If a book published over 50 years ago is still being read, it will probably continue to be read in another 50 years.  I’m not saying no recently published book should be included in a “best books ever” list, but maybe the contributors to the list should have been more selective. 

I’ve read the exact number of books (five) from each list, so I can’t use that as part of the criteria, either for or against the lists.  I think more highly of the books I haven’t read than the ones I have.  I think if you take five books from each list, it would be pretty strong, depending on which five books you choose. 

So, which list is better?  Now you can be the judge.


10 Greatest Novels of All Time from one website 

1. Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes

2. Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan

3. Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe

4. Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift

5. Tom Jones Henry Fielding

6. Clarissa Samuel Richardson

7. Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne

8. Dangerous Liaisons Pierre Choderlos De Laclos

9. Emma Jane Austen

10. Frankenstein Mary Shelley 


10 All Time Greatest Novels list from another website 

1. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy 

2. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 

3. Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen 

4. Great Expectations Charles Dickens 

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude  Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

6. My Antonia Willa Cather 

7. Harry Potter (series) J.K. Rowling 

8. The Rabbit Quartet (series) John Updike 

9. Beloved Toni Morrison 

10. Charlotte’s Web  E.B.White 

To me, it’s not even close.  But which top ten list do you think is better?  And what criteria did you use?

  1. Aang Lewis. permalink

    I think there’s no greatest novel, because every novels are diferents. I love Charles Dickens, Tolstoy, Austen and so on. But, The Picture of Dorian (Oscar Wilde) and Jane Eye (Charlotte Bronte) are novels that I’ll never forget.

  2. I’ve read three on one list, two on the other. None of the books that I personally consider the best novels ever written made either list. IOff the top of my head, I would suggest “To Kill A Mockingbird”, “The Moon Is Down”, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, “The Stranger” and “Dandelion Wine”–I don’t see any of those.

    “Best” is such a subjective term with writing.

  3. I can’t relate to those lists because those aren’t my greatest. We all have our preferences. I love adventure fictional novels. I was so in love with Drittz The Dark Elf and the many volumes after that. Then I moved on to other adventure series that just took my breath away. I went through a couple of stages of genre preferences, but adventure remained a constant. Fantasy-Fiction and epic adventures are my greatest, but i have read and loved so many I will never be able to place them in any hierarchy.

  4. Were the source of these two lists from different countries? One from America and one from UK perhaps? You make a good point about how recent books shouldn’t be on the list. Maybe books published within the last 30 years shouldn’t be included. If society remembers a book from 30 years ago it’s likely it will be remembered in 50.

  5. The second list…because I’ve read more of them. But none of my all time faves like To Kill a Mockingbird and Their Eyes were Watching God are on either so…ultimately neither.

  6. I’m not sure such lists could ever be totally free from personal bias, DL. Like art I think it’s a subjective issue.

    I have read most of them on both lists and although many of them would count in my own personal list there are many wonderful books I feel could also merit being up there. For instance, JK Rowling (no disrespect intended) but no Thomas Hardy? Inexplicable.

  7. As someone who’s read Clarissa– the unabridged version in nine long volumes– I can tell you that, while it was ok, I often got very bored with it. After 1000 pages, it started to seem more like work than anything else. On the other hand, we’ve got The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Harry Potter, Beloved, Charlotte’s Web! Yes to all! No doubt in my mind that the second list is looking better as far as my personal preferences go.

  8. I’d say the second is what i prefer, of course that is personal bias because it contains my favourite books. But is anybody else surprised Nabokov’s Lolita didn’t make the list?

  9. Any list which includes the odious, pretentious and cumbersome “Pilgrim’s Progress” in the top 10 is to be questioned:)….the assignment of literature as “great” or “making the top ten” is arbitrary. Lists will defer according to taste and that isn’t a bad thing.

  10. I hate lists. People tend to compile lists and feel like they’ve achieved something, like they have brought order into chaos. I especially detest pretentious lists like “All-time best” – you have to be a gigantic pretentious ass to think you can write something like that. To answer your question, I prefer the second list because Gatsby is on my top-something list.

  11. Novels can never best a reader. Whole idea is pointless. It should be top 10 readers who read novels.
    When it come to rating a novel, mostly we seek what we want within and overlook the writer’s preception.

  12. List 2! Twentieth century American writers produced some amazing works. Though I agree…we all have our own top ten list–and is one really better than another?

  13. I don’t think you can be at all objective about the relative quality of literature. Everyone’s lists would be radically different. For instance, I loved the first 50 pages or so of Don Quixote and then found it insufferably boring after that.

  14. There is no definitive Top 10 list for literature. You must create your own. I am still compiling mine. So many great books, so little time.

  15. What i find curious is that the first book is mostly 18th century. It is pretty obvious who ever made the list has a preference. If I were to choose either one it would be the second one simply because there is a greater variety. And while I agree with you that perhaps recent books should be chosen with caution, I think the connection with a book to put it on top of the list is always subjective.

  16. I thought that second list was better until flippin’ Harry Potter. Seriously?

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