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Which was the best Booker winner? You decide

Some of the most acclaimed novels of our times have won what is now the Man Booker Prize over the past four decades. Now, they will be pitted against each other in a battle to be "the best of the Booker", as chosen by the public.

While some have criticised the populist approach rather than leaving it to an informed literary panel, the judges have defended the award as a "one-off", established to celebrate the Booker Prize's 40th anniversary.

In 1993 a panel of judges awarded the 25th anniversary prize to Salman Rushdie for Midnight's Children. This time the judges, including the novelist, Victoria Glendinning, the broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, Professor of English at London University, will only shortlist six titles from all of the previous winners. The public will then be invited to cast a vote online for their favourite.

Some fear the reading public will vote for the book they have read rather than the novel which most deserves to win. But Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller, said while the process may have been influenced by the "long tentacles of the Richard and Judy bookclub approach", it was a more democratic way of choosing a prize.

"It is very symbolic of living in a slightly more democratic literary culture and it is unprecedented in the history of the Booker to open up to the public vote," he said. "It has always been selected by a very small group of incredibly informed people. It's a very top-down process of selection – this small group getting together and telling the public what they think we should read.

"But this really is a way of finding out whether some of the books that have won over the years have stood the test of time and it's a creative way of reaching readers."

The Booker has become a marketing phenomenon for the book sales of winning authors but when PH Newby's novel, Something To Answer For scooped the inaugural prize in 1969, it was all but ignored by the literary world.

In 1980, Anthony Burgess, declared he would only turn up to the award ceremony if his short-listed book, Earthly Powers won. As it turned out, his rival, William Golding, picked up the prize for Rites of Passage, but the literary spat generated publicity around the world.

Since then, the book prize has been transformed into the premier literary accolade in the English language with scandals that have included fierce in-fighting involving the judges and short-listed writers. In spite of the prize's reputation it is sometimes criticised for selecting the most marketable works and trading on literary disputes.

Jon Howells, from Waterstone's, said the prize had undoubtedly helped the "reading revolution" that had taken place in the past few decades. "People are still seeking out these books and that shows that the Booker can withstand the various knocks and bruises it receives from all quarters every year."