No Sartre, no Lessing, no Mailer: Frodo the hobbit beats them all
Monday 20 January 1997
The top 100 titles chosen - based on a poll carried out over six weeks last autumn - omits all Jean-Paul Sartre's work, and ignores Doris Lessing's significant The Golden Notebook and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. It also overlooks the acclaimed modern authors Martin Amis and Julian Barnes - but includes Delia Smith, the cookery writer.
Second in the poll is George Orwell's seminal study of the future, 1984, followed by his political satire, Animal Farm. Fourth is James Joyce's Ulysses and fifth goes to Joseph Heller's Catch-22.
Gordon Kerr, marketing manager of Waterstone's, said that The Lord of the Rings came consistently top at almost every branch in Britain and in every region except Wales, where Ulysses made first place.
Voters were urged to choose "the titles of the five books you consider the greatest of the century". The poll form allowed inclusion of anything from A Brief History of Time to Trainspotting and Animal Farm, cookery books or the Highway Code, as long as they were written this century.
In the event, readers tended toward the conventional, with the selection of accepted modern classics such as JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (6), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (7), Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (8) and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (9).
A vast proportion of the top 50 were written in previous generations. More recent surprise successes were heroin-laced Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (10), Wild Swans, Jung Chang's study of the changing lives of herself, her mother and her grandmother (11), and Douglas Adams' surreal sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (24). Odd omissions were Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett and any form of poetry - T S Eliot's The Waste Land and Other Poems just missed out at 101.
Only 13 books were written by women, with Jung Chang ranked highest, followed by Alice Walker at 18 with The Color Purple and Margaret Mitchell, for Gone with the Wind, at 23. The best-selling appetite wetter Delia Smith squeezed in at 83 with The Complete Cookery Course.
Non-fiction choices included The Diary of Anne Frank (26) and Primo Levi's moving account of life in Auschwitz, If This Is A Man (30). Also ranked were Stephen Hawking's scientific study A Brief History of Time (79), Orwell's account of living in poverty in the Thirties, Down and Out in Paris and London (86) and Richard Dawkins' populist explanation of genetics, The Selfish Gene (91).
The most popular children's books were Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (16), Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne (17). Roald Dahl featured four times with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG, respectively placed at 34, 76, 80 and 97.
The chart-topping Lord of the Rings, the sequel to The Hobbit, was written in the mid-Fifties by Tolkien, then Merton Professor of English at Oxford. It was initially rejected by two big publishing houses, but was finally taken on by Allen and Unwin, which had accepted The Hobbit, although it expected to lose pounds 1,000 on the deal. In fact, the three-volume mythological story went on to achieve cult status in the Sixties.
Rayner Unwin, Tolkien's publisher for many years, said he had convinced his father, Sir Stanley, to print The Lord of the Rings because he had met Tolkien as a student at Oxford during the war. "My father was abroad on business and I had to write to him to get permission. I said that I thought it was a work of genius but that I also thought it would lose pounds 1,000," Mr Unwin said. "He wrote back very astutely. He said: 'If you think it is a work of genius you may lose pounds 1,000.' Of course it didn't lose pounds 1,000, it made quite a lot of money for everybody."
Mr Unwin added that he thought Tolkien, who died in 1973, would have been delighted by the vote of confidence in his book.
"I think he would have been astonished, and probably found a reason for why it was a thoroughly bad idea, but he would have been flattered. He was a difficult man in some ways, but charming in others," he said.
1 The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
2 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
3 Animal Farm George Orwell
4 Ulysses James Joyce
5 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
6 The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
7 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
8 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9 The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
10 Trainspotting Irvine Welsh
11 Wild Swans Jung Chang
12 The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald
13 Lord of the Flies William Golding
14 On the Road Jack Kerouac
15 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
16 The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
17 Winnie the Pooh AA Milne
18 The Color Purple Alice Walker
19 The Hobbit JRR Tolkien
20 The Outsider Albert Camus
21 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe CS Lewis
22 The Trial Franz Kafka
23 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
24 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
25 Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie
26 The Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank
27 A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
28 Sons and Lovers DH Lawrence
29 To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
30 If This is a Man Primo Levi
31 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
32 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
33 Remembrance of Things Past Marcel Proust
34 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
35 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
36 Beloved Toni Morrison
37 Possession AS Byatt
38 Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
39 A Passage to India EM Forster
40 Watership Down Richard Adams
41 Sophie's World Jostein Gaarder
42 The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco
43 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
45 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
46 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
47 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
48 Howards End EM Forster
49 Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
50 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
51 Dune Frank Herbert
52 A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
53 Perfume Patrick Suskind
54 Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak
55 The Gormenghast trilogy Mervyn Peake
56 Cider with Rosie Laurie Lee
57 The Bell Jar Svlvia Plath
58 The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
59 Testament of Youth Vera Brittain
60 The Magus John Fowles
61 Brighton Rock Graham Greene
62 The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist Robert Tressell
63 The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
64 Tales of the City Armistead Maupin
65 The French Lieutenant's Woman John Fowles
66 Captain Corelli's Mandolin Louis de Bernieres
67 Slaughterhouse 5 Kurt Vonnegut
68 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig
69 A Room with a View E.M. Forster
70 Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
71 It Stephen King
72 The Power and the Glory Graham Greene
73 The Stand Stephen King
74 All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque
75 Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha Roddy Doyle
76 Matilda Roald Dahl
77 American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
78 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S Thompson
79 A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking
80 James and the Giant Peach Roald Dahl
81 Lady Chatterley's Lover DH Lawrence
82 The Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe
83 The Complete Cookery Course Delia Smith
84 An Evil Cradling Brian Keenan
85 The Rainbow DH Lawrence
86 Down and Out in Paris and London George Orwell
87 2001 - A Space Odyssey Arthur C Clarke
88 The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
89 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Alexander Solzhenitsyn
90 Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela
91 The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins
92 Jurassic Park Michael Crichton
93 The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell
94 Cry, the Beloved Country Alan Paton
95 High Fidelity Nick Hornby
96 The Van Roddy Doyle
97 The BFG Roald Dahl
98 Earthly Powers Anthony Burgess
99 I, Claudius Robert Graves
100 The Horse Whisperer Nicholas Evans
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