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Book Review: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die


Too many is not enough

Too many is not enough

As a recovering English Major, I’m still inordinately fascinated by lists about books and lists of what people are reading.  One of the greatest parts of working for the library is that I see things–books, movies, music–that I never would have discovered otherwise.  (Check out the incredible CD box What It Is! Funky Soul And Rare Grooves).  Perhaps 80% of what I have read in the last two years has been recommended to me by other library staff, or just happened to catch my eye at the desk when someone else checks it out.

Books about books can be a mixed bag.  Books that are actually lists of books can be awful–nothing is more subjective than a list about books,…usually.  And many lists of must-reads are just cobbled together from other people’s lists and that is lame.

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is different for a few reasons (and the same for a few reasons).  Each of the books-yes, all 1001–comes with a one-page essay about its author, the creation of the book, and other information such as whether the book became a movie.  Each essay is written by an expert whose specialty has something to do with that book.

It isn’t perfect

You could find fault with this book if:

  • You want to find lots of books written before the 19th century
  • You think the Iliad should be in here. (It should)
  • You’re annoyed by the heavy anglo-saxon author focus
  • You don’t like professors and their opinions (I sympathize and empathize)
  • You’re not ready to commit the next 20 years of your pleasure reading to a list

1001 Books would be a massive undertaking.  I suspect that few people will ever check off all the boxes.  I suspect that few people will even make a serious attempt.  But aside from my obvious issues (It is truly blasphemous that a book like The Iliad did not make it in), this book is a joy to flip through.  It has beautiful art and the design is very cool.

If you’re looking for recommendations or exposure to some weird books you’ve never heard of, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is a good place to start.

If you’re looking for a great way to start an argument with book people, walk into a library conference brandishing this giant list of a book and claim that it is the new Bible for bibliophiles everywhere. Nobody fusses like a sensitive book person.

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If you want to read the best book about books of all time, check out Nicholas Basbanes’ masterpiece: A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.  Absolutely fantastic book about collectors, readers, and the strangest (and awesomest) insanity plea ever to make it into a courtroom.  And read The Iliad!  (Fagles translation, not Fitzgerald).

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kami Lee May 3, 2009, 8:33 pm

    I know. I love book list books. I’m kind of list junkie in general. I’m in love with the whole “1,001…before you die” series. Books, movies, places to see, etc. I am a compulsive list-maker myself. And I just noticed that you are reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Here’s my mini-summation: 28 Days Later meets The Village. Will you be doing a review?

    • Josh Hanagarne May 3, 2009, 8:39 pm

      I was going to do a review of Forest of Hands and Teeth, but I think you just summed it up perfectly. Except that the Village sucked, and the best part of 28 Days Later was the soundtrack. Actually, I loved 28 Days Later, but you are very astute. I’m not going to review Forest until I’ve thought a little more. I’m not sure what I think of it yet.