century books

it’s better to read 100 books 10 times than 1,000 books once

I don’t know who originated this concept. I’ve heard it said by Naval. the idea is to go deep on a narrower slice of possible books than to be spread so thin. this isn’t so much an algorithm as a heuristic, a tactic for filtering the kinds of books you read, and also a way to measure your own growth over time. I’ve had the experience of getting something different from reading the same book at different points in my life. deliberately checking in with different books regularly over time is a good way to get an informative but different perspective on your own mentality.

this is my list. I’ll be short of 100 for a while, the point is to make a tangible artifact out of it, and update it over time. let me know if you have or make a similar list and I’ll add a link to your list here.

update 2/24

since I created the 100 books page and started shaping my reading around it, I have reached 100 books, and now in order to add one to the list I must first evict one already on the list.

I have also encountered a different way to refer to this project, and sharper take on what I’m doing. it comes from an author with one book on my list already and more likely to come, Italo Calvino. his essay “Why Read the Classics?” is a quick read, and well worth it.

first, he defines “classic” to mean any book that once read, you return to again and again, and continue finding new takes, new value, fresh perspectives on. actually he lists many criteria, but that’s roughly what it boils down to, books that have meaning to you, which you read repeatedly at different stages in your life, a through-line to return to.

The ranks of the old titles have been decimated, while new ones have proliferated in all modern literatures and cultures. There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics. I would say that such a library ought to be composed half of books we have read and that have really counted for us, and half of books we propose to read and presume will come to count—leaving a section of empty shelves for surprises and occasional discoveries.

consider any of these books a welcomed topic of conversation.

Title Author Genre
“The Myth of Sisyphus” Albert Camus philosophy
“Brave New World” Aldous Huxley distopian science fiction
“The Doors of Perception” Aldous Huxley non-fiction
“The Civil War Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce” Ambrose Bierce supernatural horror
“The Little Prince” Antoine De Saint Exuprey children’s
“Nichomachean Ethics” Aristotle philosophy
“Rendezvous With Rama” Arthur C Clarke science fiction
“Atlas Shrugged” Ayn Rand fiction
“The Fountainhead” Ayn Rand fiction
“The Conquest of New Spain” Bernal Diaz non-fiction
“The History of Western Philosophy” Betrand Russell philosophy
“Four Archetypes: Mother/Rebirth/Spirit/Trickster” Carl Jung philosophy
“The Undiscovered Self” Carl Jung philosophy
“Roadside Geology of Missouri” Charles Spencer non-fiction
“A Pattern Language” Christopher Alexander non-fiction
“On the Good Life” Cicero philosophy
“All the Pretty Horses” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“Blood Meridian” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“No Country for Old Men” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“Stella Maris” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“the crossing” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“The Passenger” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“The Road” Cormac McCarthy fiction
“Flowers for Algernon” Daniel Keyes fiction
“The Beginning of Infinity” David Deutsch non-fiction
“Forty Tales From the Afterlives” David Eagleman magical realism
“Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World” David Easley and John Kleinberg non-fiction
“We Are Legion [We Are Bob]” Dennis Taylor science fiction
“Godel, Escher, Bach” Douglas Hofstadter philosophy
“The Discourses” Epictetus philosophy
“The Revelations” Erik Hoel fiction
“The World Behind the World” Erik Hoel philosophy
“Kafka the Complete Stories” Franz Kafka fiction
“Thus Spake Zarathustra” Friedrich Nietzsche philosophy
“Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers” Geoffrey A. Moore non-fiction
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” George Orwell distopian science fiction
“A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” George Saunders literature
“Eon” Greg Bear science fiction
“On Bullshit” Harry G Frankfurt philosophy
“Walden and Other Writings” Henry David Thoreau non-fiction
“Moby Dick” Herman Melville fiction
“Siddhartha” Hermann Hesse philosophy
“I, Roboot” Isaac Asimov science fiction
“The Foundation” Isaac Asimov science fiction
“The Naked Sun” Isaac Asimov science fiction
“The Proper Study of Mankind” Isaiah Berlin philosophy
“Invisible Cities” Italo Calvino magical realism
“The Perigrine” J A Baker non-fiction
“Chaos: Making a New Science” James Gleick non-fiction
“Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility” James P. Carse philosophy
“Fancies and Goodnights” John Collier fantasy
“The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” John Koenig fiction
“Annals of the Former World: " John McPhee non-fiction
“Collected Fictions” Jorge Luis Borges fantasy
“Hero With a Thousand Faces: The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell” Joseph Campbell philosophy
“Heart of Darkness” Joseph Conrad fiction
“The Death of Ivan Illych and Other Stories” Leo Tolstoy literature
“The Mandibles” Lionel Schriver fiction
“A Wrinkle in Time” Madeleine L’Engle young adult
“M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work” many non-fiction
“Meditations” Marcus Aurelius philosophy
“Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters” Matt Ridley science
“Prey” Michael Crichton science fiction
“Sphere” Michael Crichton fiction
“Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy” Michael Polanyi philosophy
“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience: Steps Toward Enhancing the Quality of Life” Mihaly Csikszentmihaly non-fiction
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” N. K. Sandars legendary fiction
“An Introduction to Population Genetics” Nielson and Slatkin non-fiction
“Ender’s Game” Orson Scott Card science fiction
“Alas Babylon” Pat Frank science fiction
“Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age” Paul Graham non-fiction
“The Alchemist” Paulo Coelho magical realism
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” Philip K Dick science fiction
“The Collected Stories of Philip K Dick Volume 5” Philip K Dick science fiction
“The Trial and Death of Socrates” Plato philosophy
“The Soundscape” R. Murray Schafer non-fiction
“Dandelion Wine” Ray Bradbury fiction
“Fahrenheit 451” Ray Bradbury fiction
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” Ray Bradbury fiction
“The Martian Chronicles” Ray Bradbury science fiction
“The Selfish Gene” Richard Dawkins non-fiction
“Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” Richard Feynman biography
“The Creative Act: A Way of Living” Rick Rubin self-help
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” Robert Persig fiction
“Letters From a Stoic” Seneca philosophy
“The Art of Living” Sharon Lebell philosophy
“The Dark Tower” Stephen King fiction
“Piranesi” Susanna Clarke magical realism
“Stories of Your Life and Others” Ted Chiang science fiction
“the structure of scientific revolutions” Thomas Kuhn non-fiction
“Common Sense” Thomas Paine philosophy
“The Kon-Tiki Expedition: A Raft Across the South Seas” Thor Heyerdahl non-fiction
“The Right Stuff” Tom Wolf historic fiction
“True Names: and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier” Vernor Vinge cyberpunk
“Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl philosophy
“The Shape of Things” Vilem Flusser non-fiction
“The Twilight World” Werner Herzog historic fiction
“Neuromancer” William Gibson cyberpunk