Great books

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Great books are written publications that have been accepted by modern day scholars as the essential foundation of literature in Western culture. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines them as certain classics of literature, philosophy, history, and science that are believed to contain the basic ideas of western culture.

An example chronological list, compiled from How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler (1940), and How to Read a Book, 2nd ed. by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (1972):

Ancient (before AD 500) :

  1. Homer – Iliad; Odyssey
  2. The Old Testament
  3. Aeschylus – Tragedies
  4. Sophocles – Tragedies
  5. Herodotus – Histories
  6. Euripides – Tragedies
  7. Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War
  8. Hippocrates – Medical Writings
  9. Aristophanes – Comedies
  10. Plato – Dialogues
  11. Aristotle – Works
  12. Epicurus – "Letter to Herodotus"; "Letter to Menoecus"
  13. Euclid – Elements
  14. Archimedes – Works
  15. Apollonius of Perga|Apollonius – Conics
  16. Cicero – Works (esp. Orations; On Friendship; On Old Age; Republic; Laws; Tusculan Disputations; Offices)
  17. Lucretius – De rerum natura/On the Nature of Things
  18. Virgil – Works (esp. Aeneid)
  19. Horace – Works (esp. Odes and Epodes/Epodes; Ars Poetica/The Art of Poetry)
  20. Livy – Ab Urbe Condita/History of Rome
  21. Ovid – Works (esp. Metamorphoses)
  22. Quintilian – Institutes of Oratory
  23. Plutarch – Parallel Lives; Moralia
  24. Tacitus – Histories; Annals; Agricola; Germania; Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Oratory)
  25. Nicomachus of Gerasa – Introduction to Arithmetic
  26. Epictetus – Discourseas; Enchiridion
  27. Ptolemy – Almagest
  28. Lucian – Works (esp. The Way to Write History; The True History; The Sale of Creeds; Alexander the Oracle Monger; Charon; The Sale of Lives; The Fisherman; Dialogue of the Gods; Dialogues of the Sea-Gods; Dialogues of the Dead)
  29. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
  30. Galen – Galenic corpus#I: Physiology and Anatomy: On the Natural Faculties
  31. The New Testament
  32. Plotinus – The Enneads
  33. Augustine of Hippo (aka St. Augustine) – "On the Teacher"; Confessions; City of God; De doctrina christiana/On Christian Doctrine

Medieval (AD 500—1450) :

  1. The Völsunga saga/Volsungs Saga or Nibelungenlied
  2. The Song of Roland
  3. Njáls saga|The Saga of Burnt Njál
  4. Maimonides – The Guide for the Perplexed
  5. St. Thomas Aquinas – Of Being and Essence; Summa Contra Gentiles; Of the Governance of Rulers; Summa Theologica
  6. Dante Alighieri – La Vita Nuova|The New Life (La Vita Nuova); "On Monarchy"; Divine Comedy
  7. Giovanni Boccaccio - The Decameron
  8. Geoffrey Chaucer – Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
  9. Thomas à Kempis – The Imitation of Christ

Modern (after AD 1450) :

  1. Leonardo da Vinci – Notebooks
  2. Niccolò Machiavelli – The Prince; Discourses on Livy/Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
  3. Desiderius Erasmus – The Praise of Folly; Colloquies
  4. Nicolaus Copernicus – De revolutionibus orbium coelestium/On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
  5. Thomas More – Utopia
  6. Martin Luther – Table Talk; Three Treatises
  7. François Rabelais – Gargantua and Pantagruel
  8. John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion
  9. Michel de Montaigne – Essays
  10. William Gilbert – De Magnete/On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies
  11. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote
  12. Edmund Spenser – Prothalamion; The Faerie Queene
  13. Francis Bacon – Essays; The Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; New Atlantis
  14. William Shakespeare – Poetry and Plays
  15. Galileo Galilei – Sidereus Nuncius/Starry Messenger; Two New Sciences
  16. Johannes Kepler – The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Harmonices Mundi
  17. William Harvey – Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus|On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; Generation of Animals
  18. Grotius – De jure belli ac pacis/The Law of War and Peace
  19. Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan; Elements of Philosophy
  20. René Descartes – Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on the Method; La Géométrie/Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy; Principles of Philosophy; The Passions of the Soul
  21. Pierre Corneille|Corneille – Tragedies (esp. The Cid, Cinna)
  22. John Milton – Works (esp. the minor poems; Areopagitica; Paradise Lost; Samson Agonistes)
  23. Molière – Comedies (esp. The Miser; The School for Wives; The Misanthrope; Le Médecin malgré lui/The Doctor in Spite of Himself; Tartuffe; Le Bourgeois gentilhomme/The Tradesman Turned Gentleman; The Imaginary Invalid; Les Précieuses ridicules|The Affected Ladies)
  24. Blaise Pascal – Lettres provinciales/The Provincial Letters; Pensées; Scientific Treatises
  25. John Bunyan - The Pilgrim's Progress
  26. Robert Boyle|Boyle – The Sceptical Chymist
  27. Christiaan Huygens – Treatise on Light
  28. Benedict de Spinoza – Political Treatises; Ethics
  29. John Locke – A Letter Concerning Toleration; Two Treatises of Government/Of Civil Government; An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Some Thoughts Concerning Education
  30. Jean Baptiste Racine – Tragedies (esp. Andromaque/Andromache; Phèdre/Phaedra; Athalie (Athaliah))
  31. Isaac Newton – Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica/Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Opticks
  32. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays on Human Understanding; Monadology
  33. Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe; Moll Flanders
  34. Jonathan Swift – The Battle of the Books; A Tale of a Tub; A Journal to Stella; Gulliver's Travels; A Modest Proposal
  35. William Congreve – The Way of the World
  36. George Berkeley – A New Theory of Vision; A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
  37. Alexander Pope – An Essay on Criticism; The Rape of the Lock; An Essay on Man
  38. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu – Persian Letters; The Spirit of the Laws
  39. Voltaire – Letters on the English; Candide; Dictionnaire philosophique/Philosophical Dictionary
  40. Henry Fielding – Joseph Andrews; The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
  41. Samuel Johnson – The Vanity of Human Wishes; A Dictionary of the English Language; The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia|Rasselas; Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets
  42. David Hume – A Treatise of Human Nature; Essays Moral and Political; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding; History of England
  43. Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Discourse on Inequality; On Political Economy; Emile: or, On Education; The Social Contract; Confessions
  44. Laurence Sterne – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy
  45. Adam Smith – The Theory of Moral Sentiments; The Wealth of Nations
  46. William Blackstone – Commentaries on the Laws of England
  47. Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason; Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals; Critique of Practical Reason; Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch
  48. Edward Gibbon – The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography
  49. James Boswell – Journal; The Life of Samuel Johnson
  50. Antoine Laurent Lavoisier – Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry)
  51. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison – Federalist Papers (together with the Articles of Confederation; United States Constitution and United States Declaration of Independence)
  52. Jeremy Bentham – Comment on the Commentaries; Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions
  53. Johann Wolfgang Goethe – Faust; Dichtung und Wahrheit/Poetry and Truth
  54. Thomas Robert Malthus – An Essay on the Principle of Population
  55. John Dalton – A New System of Chemical Philosophy
  56. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier – Analytical Theory of Heat
  57. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – The Phenomenology of Spirit; Science of Logic; Elements of the Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History
  58. William Wordsworth – Poems (esp. Lyrical Ballads; Lucy poems; sonnets; The Prelude)
  59. Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Poems (esp. Kubla Khan; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ); Biographia Literaria
  60. David Ricardo – On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
  61. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice; Emma
  62. Carl von Clausewitz – On War
  63. Stendhal – The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; On Love
  64. François Guizot – History of Civilization in France
  65. George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron – Don Juan
  66. Arthur Schopenhauer – Studies in Pessimism
  67. Michael Faraday – The Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity
  68. Nikolai Lobachevsky – Geometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels
  69. Charles Lyell – Principles of Geology
  70. Auguste Comte – The Positive Philosophy
  71. Honoré Balzac – Works (esp. Le Père Goriot; Le Cousin Pons; Eugénie Grandet; Cousin Bette; César Birotteau)
  72. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Representative Men; Essays; Journal
  73. Victor Hugo - Les Misérables
  74. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter
  75. Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America
  76. John Stuart Mill – A System of Logic; Principles of Political Economy; On Liberty; Considerations on Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography
  77. Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species; The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex; The Autobiography of Charles Darwin
  78. William Makepeace Thackeray – Works (esp. Vanity Fair; The History of Henry Esmond; The Virginians; Pendennis)
  79. Charles Dickens – Works (esp. Pickwick Papers; Our Mutual Friend; David Copperfield; Dombey and Son; Oliver Twist; A Tale of Two Cities; Hard Times)
  80. Claude Bernard – Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
  81. George Boole – The Laws of Thought
  82. Henry David Thoreau – Civil Disobedience; Walden
  83. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – Das Kapital (Capital); The Communist Manifesto
  84. George Eliot – Adam Bede; Middlemarch
  85. Herman Melville – Typee; Moby-Dick; Billy Budd
  86. Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov
  87. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary; Three Tales/Three Stories
  88. Henry Thomas Buckle – A History of Civilization in England
  89. Francis Galton – Inquiries into Human Faculties and Its Development
  90. Bernhard Riemann – The Hypotheses of Geometry
  91. Henrik Ibsen – Plays (esp. Peer Gynt; Brand; Hedda Gabler; Emperor and Galilean; A Doll's House; The Wild Duck; The Master Builder)
  92. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace; Anna Karenina; "What Is Art?"; Twenty-Three Tales
  93. Richard Dedekind – Theory of Numbers
  94. Wilhelm Wundt – Physiological Psychology; Outline of Psychology
  95. Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court; The Mysterious Stranger
  96. Henry Adams – History of the United States; Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres; The Education of Henry Adams; Degradation of Democratic Dogma
  97. Charles Sanders Peirce – Chance, Love, and Logic; Collected Papers
  98. William Graham Sumner|William Sumner – Folkways
  99. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. – The Common Law; Collected Legal Papers
  100. William James – The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; A Pluralistic Universe; Essays in Radical Empiricism
  101. Henry James – The American; The Ambassadors
  102. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; On the Genealogy of Morality; The Will to Power; Twilight of the Idols; The Antichrist
  103. Georg Cantor – Transfinite Numbers
  104. Jules Henri Poincaré – Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method; The Foundations of Science
  105. Sigmund Freud – The Interpretation of Dreams; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality; Introduction to Psychoanalysis; Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; The Ego and the Id; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
  106. George Bernard Shaw – Plays and Prefaces
  107. Max Planck – Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory; Where Is Science Going?; Scientific Autobiography
  108. Henri Bergson – Time and Free Will; Matter and Memory; Creative Evolution; The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
  109. John Dewey – How We Think; Democracy and Education; Experience and Nature; The Quest for Certainty; Logic – The Theory of Inquiry
  110. Alfred North Whitehead – A Treatise on Universal Algebra; An Introduction to Mathematics; Science and the Modern World; Process and Reality; The Aims of Education and Other Essays; Adventures of Ideas
  111. George Santayana – The Life of Reason; Scepticism and Animal Faith; The Realms of Being (which discusses the Realms of Essence, Matter and Truth); Persons and Places
  112. Vladimir Lenin – Imperialism; The State and Revolution
  113. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (formerly translated as Remembrance of Things Past)
  114. Bertrand Russell – Principles of Mathematics; The Problems of Philosophy; Principia Mathematica; The Analysis of Mind; An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits
  115. Thomas Mann – The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
  116. Albert Einstein – The Theory of Relativity; Sidelights on Relativity; The Meaning of Relativity; On the Method of Theoretical Physics; The Evolution of Physics
  117. James Joyce – "The Dead" in Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses
  118. Jacques Maritain – Art and Scholasticism; The Degrees of Knowledge; Freedom and the Modern World; A Preface to Metaphysics; The Rights of Man and Natural Law; True Humanism
  119. Franz Kafka – The Trial; The Castle
  120. Arnold J. Toynbee – A Study of History; Civilization on Trial
  121. Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea; No Exit; Being and Nothingness
  122. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The First Circle; Cancer Ward

The original edition of How to Read a Book contained a separate "contemporary list" because "Here one's judgment must be tentative". All but the following authors were incorporated into the single list of the revised edition:

  1. Ivan Pavlov – Conditioned Reflexes
  2. Thorstein Veblen – The Theory of the Leisure Class; The Higher Learning in America; The Place of Science in Modern Civilization; Vested Interests and the State of Industrial Arts; Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times
  3. Franz Boas – The Mind of Primitive Man; Anthropology and Modern Life
  4. Leon Trotsky – The History of the Russian Revolution