Newsweek’s Top 100 Books: The “Meta-List”

Someone recently forwarded what might be the worst Top 100 Book list ever compiled courtesy of Newsweek.

Declaring the best book ever written is tricky business. Who’s to say what the best is? We went one step further: we crunched the numbers from 10 top books lists (Modern Library, the New York Public Library, St. John’s College reading list, Oprah’s, and more) to come up with The Top 100 Books of All Time. It’s a list of lists — a meta-list. Let the debate begin.

The term “meta-list” seems to be a fancy postmodernist way of saying they put zero thought into the actual compilation of this list and minimal thought into deciding which “expert” opinions to crib. Oprah’s Book Club and Wikipedia? Why not Michael Moore or Joe the Plumber? I am curious why such a minimalist project required credits for “statistical analysis” or “research,” which my 13-year-old niece could easily replicate in a few hours.

The first reader comment is devastating:

Posted By: El Gigante @ 07/20/2009 11:10:19 AM
This list is an unholy mess. All this proves is that, by trying to be eclectic and egalitarian, you’re just giving everybody equal reason to complain about why one genre or another has been woefully neglected. You’ve managed a perfect illustration of our highly confused and conflicted meta-culture, although I’m not sure that’s what you were going for. It actually makes sense that you didn’t publish this list in print, as the sprawling internet is its only rightful place.

Here’s an eclectic and uneven list of my complaints:

Glaring omissions from French literature: Hugo, Dumas, Camus, Sartre

Glaring omissions from German literature: Goethe, Hesse, Kafka, Kant

Glaring omissions from Russian literature: Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekov, Solzhenitsyn

Glaring omissions from English and American literature: I wouldn’t know where to start …

Omissions in Sci-Fi: Asimov, Wells, Heinlein, Bradbury

And since you’ve gone out of your way to throw a bone to just about every possible group, I should point out that you somehow neglected to include an Arabic writer as important as Naguib Mahfouz. I’m sure there are other greats from other cultures that have gotten short shrift. The fact that you could never have made room for all of these giants is a very good reason this list should never have been made in the first place (although dropping a few duds wouldn’t have hurt that cause). The obvious mistakes in the order are too many to mention, but, as an illustration, is Winnie the Pooh really of higher quality or significance than Hamlet? That should tell you there’s something wrong with your criteria, whatever they might be.

A while ago, TIME put together a much more sensible list that included only English language books published since 1923. It may not have been as broad or ambitious as this list, but it actually made some sense. Parameters are still useful. (emphasis added)

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