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Category: Arts & Entertainment / Topics: Arts & Entertainment Communication History Writing

101 World's Greatest Books

by Dan Seagren

Posted: September 18, 2016

Making lists is nothing new…

While moving, I found on my bookshelf the volume 101 OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST BOOKS in digest form (it is all in one volume). It was printed in MCMXXXVIII (1938) and MCML (1950) by Doubleday and Greystone. My version has 823 pages with five sections. The book reviews range between 4 and 16 pages averaging about 8.The Sections: 1) Novels, Tales and Epic Legends  2) Science and Civilization  3) Plays  4) Great Confessions and Autobiographies   5) Philosophy and Religion.

The writers range from the 4th century BC to the time the book was written with some well-known and others unfamiliar to me.

Yes, I have not read the entire book but I have read several digests in each section. No, I am not going to mention any by name but rather share my overall reflections such as they are, not as an expert but as an interested procrastinator as the book has rested on my shelves for decades but I just couldn't part with it.

First:  unquestionably it's title is safe as it says 101 of but not the 101 greatest.

Secondly, it is not a one person show, which implies that there was considerable discussion and some debate before the 101 books were chosen. How many books didn't make the cut I have no idea, except it was well beyond the 101 that did make it..

My third observation was that during the 23 or so centuries involved there were more similar qualities than dissimilar. Plato and Aristotle were no slouches compared to more contemporary writers although many ancient works had to be translated into English meaning that the expertise of the translations should be factored in.

My fourth opinion is more problematic. When reading stores of tragedies, some were so graphic, even vicious—like a double suicide of lovers by a sword rather than face judgment, a theme that is not all that ancient. Others rattled on and on almost endlessly biographically in my humble opinion. I, unlike many contemporaries, am not really knowledgeable about Moby Dick and I found it awfully tragic from my brief perusal. 

Fifth: my reflection goes to the division of the 101 books into five sections. Although some stories could probably belong in two or more sections, I cannot criticize the division as it was essential rather than randomly, alphabetically or chronologically submitted.

Apparently there was an attempt to choose 101 books from a wide range of authors, regions and subject matter including books originally in a foreign language.

Finally, I am not aware of similar attempts ancient or contemporary although they might exist. If so, in my non-scholarly advice, I would suggest that this volume be consulted either to emulate or deviate, which ever would be most apropos. If none comparable exist, a challenge is herewith made to go and do likewise. Acceptable?


Dan Seagren is an active retiree whose writings reflect his life as a Pastor, author of several books, and service as a Chaplain in a Covenant Retirement Community.

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Posted: September 18, 2016

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