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Home Stories Mark My Words MY 50 FAVORITE BOOKS, A LIST



Readers like to share books.  Some readers collect them too.  One wall of the biggest room in our house is all books.  But there are as many more, altogether, lined up on random shelves in other rooms.

Beth and I are readers.  We each have some books that we will never part with, although we might lend them.  We pick up new ones almost every week -- thank you, Hannaford! -- and we haul out boxfuls now and then.  I’ve had the bad habit of bringing home extra copies of the ones I like best, in order to gift them.  If you want a nice trade-paperback copy of Catch-22, I have at least two extras to give away.  (Other titles too.)

Besides the ones I’ve written myself, what follows is a list of my favorite books of all time; more than 50, actually, and growing.  I wish there were time and space to explain each one.  If you want to know why one is on this list, just ask.

The numbers 1-8 are a sort of ranking by importance to me.  Something in the 8th rank may be just as readable and captivating but, for me, the content may not have had as much impact as a book with a higher ranking.  But they all had some impact.

Yes, I've read them all, some more than once.  And I can warmly recommend almost anything else written by any of the below authors; I just refrained from listing every work each one has written and which I have read.

There are exceptions to the anything-by-the-same-author rule.  Nothing else by Joseph Heller rises to the inspired genius of Catch-22., for instance.  But almost all of James Michener’s works are equally absorbing.  Almost all of Jack London, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens, too.

Then there are modern authors, whom I’ve read but haven’t even listed.  Maybe they will go on my next list of 50.  And collections of short stories -- how I loved Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which I subscribed to in the 1960s!

Which one is the best ever?  No other book glows with the beauty of the English language like Lolita by the Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, even though the story shocks many readers.  And Nabokov's Russian roots conceal his acquaintance with the English language during the early years of his life.  His command of both languages certainly contributed uniquely to his linguistic power.  For fiction, though, I can’t pick one.  The entire group that I’ve rated a ‘1’ is the best fiction ever.

The best ever for non-fiction would have to be Big Bang.  And yet, anything by P.J. O’Rourke is the best non-fiction for sheer entertainment, and perhaps The True Believer is the best piece of social inquiry.

And, sadly, my favorite juvenile novel of all time, The Lion's Paw, is extraordinarily hard to come by.  If you look for it, prepare for an arduous search.  (The author fell out of favor with his family, who own the publishing rights.)  I have a new copy which I obtained right after its very limited 50th-anniversary re-publication in 1996, but I originally read it in my youth.

If you are looking for a book to read, you can't go wrong if you choose from this list, although if you're not "into" non-fiction, then I will not be responsible if you don't enjoy, for instance, Big Bang.  But if you do enjoy non-fiction, I will be surprised if your reaction to Big Bang isn't similar to mine - the most engaging, suspenseful, and possibly the most faith-restoring book I have read in a quarter century.

I am specific about the edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotation, by the way.  I fear that, over succeeding editions, important quotations will be deemed expendable to make space for later, and probably deserving, entries.  So, if you do obtain a later edition, pair it with the fourteenth (or earlier), and if you have the fourteenth and you obtain a later one, keep them both.

I could add hundreds more books.  It pains me to leave some out, for instance William Bennett's compilations under the titles of The Moral Compass and The Book of Virtues.  The truth is, I haven’t read both of those cover to cover, but they are essential to a personal library.

Perhaps, some day, I will turn my lists of books into a book unto itself.

I am certain that I have forgotten to include a few titles which, if I were to think of them, I would be chagrined to realize I have omitted.  When they come to mind I will edit this list.

And here it is:


1. Big Bang by Simon Singh

2. In the Empire of Genghis Khan by Stanley Stewart

2. The Great Evolution Mystery by Gordon Rattray Taylor

3. King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Lorenz

3. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

3. The Way of a Pilgrim by author unknown

4. Ken Purdy's Book of Automobiles by Ken Purdy

5. The Code Book by Simon Singh

6. The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

7. The Best-loved Poems of the American People compiled by Hazel Felleman

7. Into the Wilderness by Bill Bryson 

7. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

7. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White

7. Familiar Quotations, Fourteenth Edition compiled by John Bartlett

7. Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman

7. The Life That Lives on Man by Michael Andrews

7. Game Management by Aldo Leopold

8. Quotations from Chairman Bill by William F. Buckley, Jr.

8. Small Is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher

8. The Founding Fish by John McFee


1. Parliament of Whores by P. J. O'Rourke

1. The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

2. One Man's Meat by E. B. White

3. The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner


1. Memoirs of a Superfluous Man by Albert Jay Nock

2. A Whole-Souled Woman by Susan Strane

3. Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie


1. Pogo by Walk Kelly

2. Asterix the Gaul by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo


1. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

1. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

1. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

1. The Enormous Room by e. e. cummings

1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

1. The Lion's Paw by Robb White

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

1. Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts

1. The Oxbow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clarkson

1. Penrod by Booth Tarkington

1. Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford

1. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

1. The Source by James A. Michener

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. Follow the River by James Alexander Thom

2. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

2. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

2. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

3. Halic: The Story of a Gray Seal by Ewan Clarkson

3. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

4. All Creatures Great and Small by James A. Herriot

4. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

4. Come Spring by Ben Ames Williams

4. Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

4. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

5. A Fine and Pleasant Misery by Patrick F. McManus 

6. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

6. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Feel free to recommend more!

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