There are books, and then there are books, and a big fat thick line which divides the great books from the rest. The divide between just a book and a great book is so vast that they should be called something else altogether. Too many literature published today, to take a popular one at random like the Harry Potter series, is damn good entertainment, but certainly not a great book. Probably the main difference between a regular book and a great one is that the regular one entertains for the duration of the book, while the great one stays with you for life, and has the power to potentially redefine the way you think.
Wikipedia definition of a great book:
* the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
* the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit;
* the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.
There are many lists floating around the interweb, but the problem with them all is that they’re not this list.
*Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years* by Jared Diamond
How and why did we get here? Why is there so muh disparity in the world today? It answers these and a whole lot more. This is the big big picture of the world.
Having read this, you could go on to read the sequel, “Collapse”, on why societies and civilizations fail.
*Catch 22* by Joseph Heller
A great commentary on modern society, and even more relevant now. Contains everything from war, to how hedge funds work. As a plus, it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
*A short history of nearly everything* by Bill Bryson
This might not qualify as a great book in the traditional sense, but it’s the best overview of nearly everything. It actually lives up to the title.
*The Life and Death of Great American Cities* by Jane Jacobs
The seminal book on urbanism, big cities, and how they define life for the people within. Published in the early 60’s, and still equally valid, especially in the third world which is busy copying (and amplifying the mistakes) of the American cities of the 50’s and 60’s. Anyone living in a city (which is now over 50% of the world’s population) should read it.
*Charlie Wilson’s War*
This is the book on how the US got involved in Afghanistan supporting Islamic militants against the Soviets. This book has the best explanation of how the US government actually works, and that is a very useful thing to know in the here and now.
*Wind, Sand and Stars* by St.Expury
Words fail to describe the sublime beauty of this book.
*Travels with Charley* by John Steinback
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck is one of the most insightful commentaries on the travelling bug. For those looking to learn about America beyond the glossy lifes played out on american TV this book is the best I have come across. It is wonderfully written, and some of the passages are downright profound. It was written in the fifties, but Steinbeck saw today’s world approaching way back then and explains it better than most commentators today.
*The Selffish Gene* by Richard Dawkins
We don’t produce genes, our genes produce us in order to make more genes! There are many books on evolution, but this is brilliant and throws a couple of twists in the traditional
*Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution* by Stephen Levy
A history of the computer age, up close and personal.
*Genius, The Life and Science of Richard Fenyman* by James Gleick
*All Quiet on the Western Front* by E M Remarque
One of the most moving books I’ve read. A semi-autobiographical story of a young german conscript in the first World War.
*Life on the Mississippi* by Mark Twain
His insights on life, politics, economics and a whole lot more, along with a lot of tall tales. Beautifully written and quintessentially American.
*A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court* by Mark Twain
A brilliant indictment of monarchy and the church, class injustice. A connecticut Yankee wakes up in King Arthur’s time and tries to establish a republic. Chillingly relevant to today’s world, with great insight into colonialism and nation building.
*One Hundred Years of Solitude* by Gacia Mqrquez
*1984* by George Orwell
The future. The power of computer networks coupled with modern governments enables 1984. The question is which well meaning govt. is going to be the first to implement it, and will the rest of the world follow suit. Best read along with *Politics and the English Language*, a short essay about the importance of language. “Political language,” Orwell reminds us, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
A google search for book lists will bring up many many lists. A few good ones are: