26 (of the) greatest books of all time

OmNIUM-GATHERUM - Miguel Ramos (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2012 - 12:00am

Coming up with a list of the 26 greatest books of all time is an impossible exercise. As a matter of fact, I doubt that any two people could come up with lists where even half the books would coincide.

The criteria I used to choose these titles are an informal mix of my favorites, the test of time, social influence, number of copies sold, being game changers and the “x factor.” I broke down the list per category and included Young Adult as a separate category because of the genre’s huge influence on readers today. I also disqualified religious texts such as the Bible and the Quran.

So with the disclaimer that these books are not necessarily the ones I have read much less the ones I like, here are 26 of the greatest books of all time.


1.The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien –The first “grand daddy” on this list, this is the original fantasy trilogy to which countless books, myths, games, movies and television shows can trace their origins. Basically, anything that has anything to do with dragons, orcs, trolls, knights or wizards in some way owes part of its heritage to this seminal work by Tolkien.

2.One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – First published in 1967 in Spanish, this book, from my experience, is the most commonly cited book when authors are asked to give a list of what their favorite books are.

3.The Godfather by Mario Puzo – Another “grand daddy” book, this time of the “mobster” genre, The Godfather traces the story of the Corleone family, a fictitious Mafia family in New York City. Thanks to Puzo, we now all now what the word “consiglieri” means.

4. Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal – First published in 1887, the “grand daddy” of Filipino literature is required reading for high school throughout the Philippines.

5.1984 by George Orwell – 1984 is a satirical novel about a world wherein the population is subjected to mind control by a totalitarian government that keeps everyone and everything under surveillance. If you go back far enough, it is also the “real origin” of Pinoy Big Brother.

6.The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – With over 75 million copies sold since its publication in 2003, The Da Vinci Code is actually Dan Brown’s fourth book. Continuing the adventures of symbologist Robert Langdon, this book’s success can perhaps be attributed as much to its page-turning suspense as the religious controversy it created.

7. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank – Published in over 50 languages, The Diary of Anne Frank is a book that requires little introduction. It is the diary of a girl who was in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. After Frank died in a concentration camp after their arrest, the book was found and given to her father, the lone member of their family who survived.

8. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – Although the untimely passing of Steve Jobs undeniably contributed to the massive success of this biography, the book offers a very rare glimpse into the private life of a man the public actually knows very little about.

9. What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Arlene Eisenberg and Heidi Murkoff – For pregnant women, this is the bible, dictionary and encyclopedia all rolled into one. Do you know any mom (or dad) who has not read this book?


10. Good to Great by Jim Collins – One of the classic business books, Good to Great describes how companies are able to make that leap from being just “good” companies to “great” ones. Collins’ premise is that for companies to make the said transition, they need to focus their resources on their area of competence and not stray from that area of expertise.

11. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout – First published in 1980, Positioning is another classic business book. Ries and Trout coined the term “positioning” that has, for marketers, come to mean the process of creating a particular image in the minds of consumers for their brand or product. This is a great book that contains many of the basics of marketing, branding and communicating.

12. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – Gladwell defines the tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” In this book, he describes through research, some of the amazing sociological phenomena that we observe in everyday life. This is also the book that launched Gladwell into superstardom as the first of his four books. His fifth book is due to be published in 2013.

13. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – In Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner use theories of economics to explain a diverse collection of subjects including what do sumo wrestlers and teachers have in common.

14. Why We Buy by Paco Underhill – Another “bible” for marketing professionals, sales people and anyone involved in retail, Why We Buy discusses the psychology of shopping and as the title implies, why we buy things.

15. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – First published in 1989 and selling over 25 million copies, the late Covey demonstrates his approach to attaining goals by keeping to one’s “true north.” This book is widely considered as one of the best management books ever.

16. In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman – In Search of Excellence looks at the science of management practiced by top corporations in the ’80s. Although becoming somewhat dated as it was published in 1982, many of the eight themes it presents are still applicable to successful companies today.

Graphic Novels

17. Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons – Considered by many to be the most important graphic novel or comic to ever be published, Watchmen broke new ground in the comic book industry as Moore was actually critiquing the superhero concept that was widely prevalent in the days when it was published. When one considers that the original comics came out in 1986, you realize just how far ahead of its time this book was.

18-19. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson and Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland – Mainstays on lists of the “top comic books of all time,” The Dark Knight Returns features a 55-year- old Bruce Wayne who comes out of retirement to return to a life of fighting crime whereas The Killing Joke features one of the most startling moments in Batman’s history with The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl), paralyzing her and confining her to a wheelchair.

Young Adult

20. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins – Perhaps the only YA book that appeals as much to boys as it does to girls. It is also the book that arguably introduced the word “dystopian” into mainstream vocabulary.

21. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – J.K. Rowling is worth more than the Queen of England. Enough said.

22. Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer – The accomplishments of the Twilight Series are undeniable and many credit it for creating the whole “Young Adult” genre. It certainly created more than its fair share of copycats and gave rise to a plethora of vampires, ghosts, angels, werewolves, mermaids and other paranormal bestsellers.

23. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – First published in 1943, Le Petit Prince has sold an estimated 200 million copies all over the world and has been translated into a staggering 250 languages and dialects.

24. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – First published in 1947, Goodnight Moon has become a classic children’s story that has been enjoyed by generations.

25. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak – Another classic children’s book that was first published in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are follows the story of Max and his adventure in the land of Wild Things.

26. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – Although Carle wrote and illustrated Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See first, it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar that catapulted his career. The book has since sold 30 million copies since it was published in 1969 and has been translated in over 50 languages.

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