The Klaw 100, part one.

Part two (#80-61)
Part three (#60-41)
Part four (#40-21)
Part five (#20-1)

I’ve pointed you to many lists of great books – the Novel 100, the Modern Library 100, the Radcliffe 100, the Bloomsbury 100, and the TIME 100, all of which have become reading lists for me. I thought it would be fun to put together my own greatest books list. This is the Klaw 100.

My qualifications for assembling such a list are scant. I estimate that I’ve read somewhere between 400 and 500 novels in my life, but can’t say I’ve even reached 70 out of 100 on any of the greatest-books lists I cited above. I’ve never read War and Peace, Ulysses, or The Grapes of Wrath. I hated Moby Dick and A Farewell to Arms. I started The Ambassadors and sold it after fifty fruitless pages. I can’t say this is a greatest books list. It is, however, my greatest books list.

My criteria are wholly subjective. The primary criterion is how much I enjoyed the book, accounting for more than half of the “score” I might give each book if I was inclined to go to that degree. I also considered the book’s literary value, and its significance in the annals of literature, whether by its influence, critical reception, or the modern perspective on the book. There is nothing on here I don’t like.

There are only three items on this list that run beyond 1000 pages, one of which is a series, and another is two books that I combined into a single entry. The third is the longest single book I’ve ever read, although that was originally published as two volumes itself. By and large, the one hundred books listed here are highly readable, accessible even to the casual reader.

I did omit works of primarily popular fiction, even ones I enjoyed, so there is no Harry Potter and no Jasper Fforde. I slipped P.G. Wodehouse in there, since his works have influenced at least two generations of writers and performers, and there are four or five works on there that might straddle the line between popular fiction and literature. You’ll also notice the absence of some works of undeniable literary importance that I either haven’t read or just flat-out didn’t like. I make no apologies for these omissions.

The bottom line: My list, my call.

I’ll post a spreadsheet with the entire list after the last post in this series on Friday. For now, we start with the first twenty, #100-81.

100. A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov. Lermontov’s only novel – he was killed in a duel shortly afterwards – follows its antihero, Pechorin, on several pseudo-adventures in his quest to avoid boredom. One of the earliest nihilists in literature, Pechorin was a controversial character in his time, and his loose moral compass remains shocking.

99. Silas Marner, by George Eliot. Eliot, the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans, wasn’t known for her brevity, but this work is both brief and beautiful. Marner is a religious dissident who is ostracized from his community and retreats into a hermit-like existence until a foundling appears at his door. He takes her in and raises her, rediscovering his own humanity in the bargain.

98. The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton. A suspense story with strong Catholic overtones, Thursday tells of a government agent’s attempt to infiltrate a ring of anarchists, only to find that no one is quite what he seems.

97. The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. A brilliant book with a bit of a twist at the end. Is it allegory? Magical realism? A comment on the human ability to cope with unspeakable tragedy? A testament of faith? All of the above?

96. A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster. The only Forster novel I’ve read and enjoyed, probably because it’s not such a complete downer as his other novels. It’s a straight romance, but also a commentary on the dated mores that still ruled the Edwardian era in England.

95. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip Dick. I’m no expert on science fiction; my knowledge of that genre is limited to Asimov, Dune, one or two books by Heinlein, and Philip Dick. I doubt anyone could top this work, however – an alternate history where the United States has lost World War II and been occupied by the victorious Axis powers. The novel’s structure is unusual, without a single, defining plot thread, but is worth the extra effort required to decipher it.

94. Germinal, by Émile Zola. Full review. An angry novel of social outrage and individual tragedy.

93. The Conformist, by Alberto Moravia. A dark psychological novel that’s not well known in the U.S., The Conformist tells the story of a man pushed along by forces beyond his control, all while struggling with his own lack of emotional responses to major events.

92. Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga. The debut novel by a Zimbabwean playwright, Nervous Conditions might be the best work ever written about the plight of women in even the “developed” parts of Africa, as they have to deal simultaneously with traditional and modern pressures in their lives.

91. The Reivers, by William Faulkner. Criminally overlooked today by most Faulkner readers, The Reivers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1963 and is Faulkner’s most accessible and light-hearted work. It’s a comedy set, as always, in Yoknapatawpha County, focusing on three ne’er-do-wells who steal a car, consort with prostitutes, race a horse, and try to get ahead by any means.

90. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. The grand-daddy of all mysteries, and the only full-length novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, Hound is as good a mystery as you’ll find, with Holmes at his brilliant and smarmy best.

89. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Full review. Ishiguro’s romantic tragedy within a dystopian alternate reality is imperfect, but the societal aspect is powerful and incredibly disturbing.

88. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Too long by half, but it’s still the archetype of the ruined-woman genre that became a frequent theme in literature later in the 19th century.

87. Native Son, by Richard Wright. Perhaps the American equivalent to Germinal for its sheer anger and social commentary, Native Son is the story of a black man who is hemmed in by white society and whose culpability for his crimes may not entirely be his own.

86. The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers. In writing the first spy novel in 1903, Childers was also calling for Britain to ramp up her naval presence to prevent a potential invasion by Germany, which seems prescient given later events. Childers himself was executed during an Irish uprising in 1922, leaving Riddle as his only novel.

85. Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. Full review. Not Murakami’s best, but still strong, with the same immersive, dream-like atmosphere as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s a story of a search for identity and meaning, told through two narratives headed for an inevitable intersection.

84. Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse. I’m not sure how to choose any single Wodehouse novel, or where to rank them on this list. I’ve read nearly all of the Jeeves novels and am hard-pressed to pick a favorite, so I’ve chosen this one, which also made the Bloomsbury 100. Describing the plot is pointless; the joy is in the telling.

83. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Not really my favorite Twain book – that would be The Prince and the Pauper, a late cut from this list – but Huckleberry Finn is one of the few legitimate contenders for the appellation of The Great American Novel, a comedy, a drama, and a stinging social commentary all rolled up into an adventure story to appeal to the kid in every reader.

82. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John Le Carré. A seminal spy novel, but also a character-driven drama, one in which loyalties are uncertain, and so are fates. Impossible to put down, and not laden with all kinds of technobabble to try to distract the reader from a thin or implausible plot.

81. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. In praise of economic man. Crusoe finds himself stranded on a Caribbean island and must find a way to survive, never giving up and in fact finding God during his time in solitary. One caveat: Defoe wrote without chapter breaks, which makes finding stopping points a little tricky.

Tomorrow: #80-61.


  1. Keith,
    First of all, thank you for putting together the KLAW 100 🙂 Can’t wait for the rest of the list… Which, in a sense, makes it almost impossible to really comment, not knowing which novels you will reveal in the top 80 🙂

    Oh, btw, I remember asking you during a four-letter chat a long time ago, but, don’t remember what you answered – did you read Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World?

  2. It is good to see the KLaw 100 is a book list. On the whole the list seems right (though I haven’t read all of the entries). It was nice to be reminded of Silas Marner which was a fine novel that I often overlook. If I remember correctly Steve Martin’s adaption, Simple Twist of Fate, was fine also.

    That said, it is inconceivable to me that any list of novels 81-100 would not include A Brave New World. It is an outrage! It was a great book, certainly no better than the fifth quintile.

  3. Keith,
    It is pointless to say why this book by a particular author instead of another, but have you read, and are you a fan of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy? The miniseries starring Alec Guinness has to be one of the finest miniseries ever.

  4. Not having seen the rest of the list, I’d like to go ahead and offer praise for Native Son. It would probably rank in my top 10.

  5. Are we allowed to guess your top 10?

  6. Have not read Hardboiled Wonderland (I mistook that for two separate books when you asked me in chat) or Tinker, Tailor, but both are on the to-do list.

    Yes, everyone is free to guess at the top 10 or 20.

  7. I think we all should know #1 (or maybe it is #2), Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

  8. Thrown in Tender Is the Night somewhere really high as well. If I remember that is your top Fitzgerald novel as opposed to Gatsby.

  9. # 1 is Tender is the Night. The Great Gatsby is probably in the top 10 as well, as he has said Fitzgerald is his favorite author. Perhaps something from Faulkner as well.

  10. #1: Tender is the Night
    #2: The Master and Margarita
    #3: Beloved#4
    #4: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
    #5: The Great Gatsby
    #6:One-Hundred Years of Solitude
    #7:The Wind-up Bird Chronicles
    10:The Sound and the Fury

  11. No arguments from me on these as they are all worthy of inclusion. I look forward to seeing the rest.

  12. Bob, I say confederacy of dunces is on that list. maybe at 8. altho i hated dunces myself. couldnt get through 100 pages.

  13. I’m going to guess Beloved as #1, though I wouldn’t agree with Keith. But I probably only remember enough books to make a top 75.

  14. After re-reading the 3rd paragraph, I am beginning to think The Great Gatsby is #1.

  15. Will look forward to your review of Hardboiled Wonderland.

    I won’t try to guess the top 10, rather just sit back and enjoy it….

  16. The Master and Margarita is #1

  17. My mind could be failing me, but didn’t Keith enjoy The Beautiful and Damned more than Gatsby? Maybe that’s my own prejudice, though.

  18. Malcolm, he may have, although I do not recall. But if you review his third paragraph, and then read why he opted for Huckleberry Finn over The Prince and the Pauper I can almost guarentee you that he will rank Gatsby ahead of The Beautiful and Damned.

    I also was not sure of what his favorite Faulkner novel was.

  19. MiguelJAcero

    I’m looking forward to the unveiling of the remainder of the Klaw 100 as much as I did the first round of the MLB Draft! (If it’s not clear, that actually is a compliment.)

  20. This list will be a great reference to me; I’m trying hard to get out of my sports biography, retrospective, following -a-season, etc box. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself in a finance themed box now.

    Just looking for something a little different than the norm for some good poolside reading.

  21. The KLAW 100 has me excited for the week ahead. Based on your recommendation month’s ago, I’ve been watching Foyle’s War on DVD and loving every second. I’m sure I’ll be introduced to a bunch of new treasures to explore.

  22. Bob – you are totally right. Gatsby better be #1, then.

  23. This isn’t relating to the current post but I got to say that the DJF Podcast appearance was the awesome.

  24. Man, ranking clearly is not my game, since I can’t be made to care what’s #1. But I’ll lay betting money that it is not Gatsby, because the betting money is always against any one novel, no matter how important.

    Me, I’m impressed, since as what I consider a very distracted reader, I have put away most of this first twenty. George Eliot, yes, Kazuo Ishiguro, yes, Mark Twain oh yes and of course, Phil K. Dick, living argument that sometimes writing is not skill, holy hannah yes.

  25. I really liked “A Room with a View.” Then again, I like Jane Austen novels. I am in fact a straight guy. 😉

  26. Come on Keith, step outside the box and do a top 87 list… Top 100? So passe.
    1. Master & Margarita
    2. Wind-up Bird
    3. Tender is the Night
    4. “How to cook authentic Italian” by Giada de Laurentis

  27. Keith – One request for the list, for those of us who might check out some of your recommendations. Any books not originally written in English, please recommend a translation. At least in my experience, a good translator is everything.

  28. I have tons of respect for you and love your lit reviews, so I’m excited to see this list.

    I love that Richard Wright is on the list, but I am sad to see Native Son included. It’s an important novel, but as I recently wrote in my undergraduate thesis (does that count as a self-plug? hah), I think it’s portrayal of black men as NOTHING but hyperviolent, enraged, supersexual victims of slavery is ultimately very damaging. Just my stance, though.

    And generally, I th

  29. TC: I don’t think I’d be able to even if I wanted to take the time. I have only read one translation of any foreign book on the list, and in most cases, don’t have the book handy here to check on whose translation it was. The only translator whose name I know is William Weaver, who has translated nearly every great work of Italian literature in the last fifty years.

  30. Christopher Bates

    Actually, there are four Sherlock Holmes novels. In addition to Baskervilles, there is “The Sign of Four,” “The Valley of Fear,” and “A Study in Scarlet.”

  31. None of the other three is long enough to be called a “full-length novel,” which is how I described Baskervilles. Not that it makes them unworthy of one’s time, of course.

  32. Here is my top ten.
    1.The master and the margarita
    2.The Sirens of Titan
    3.This side of paradise
    4.One hundred years of Solitude
    5.A confederacy of dunces
    6.A separate peace
    7.The sound and the fury
    8.The Screwtape Letters
    9.Tender is the Night
    10.Something Wicked this way comes

    And finally i just gone done reading a book called “kissing in Manhattan” by David Schekler. It is a non-linear storyline that tells the story of a few different characters and then ultimately ties them altogether. It isn’t a very deep novel in terms of major themes, but it is entertaining with a good amount of humor.

  33. Keith, I just finished The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Thanks for the recommendation. Are there any other Le Carre novels that you enjoyed?

  34. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. If you have any interest in psychology and how fragile the human mind can be, read this.


  1. […] Part one (#100-81) Part two (#80-61) […]

  2. […] Part one (#100-81) Part three (#60-41) […]

  3. […] Part one (#100-81) Part two (#80-61) Part three (#60-41) […]

  4. […] Part one (#100-81) Part two (#80-61) Part three (#60-41) Part four (#40-21) […]

  5. […] Klaw 100: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. Posted by TC Filed in Blogging, Book Shelf, Miscellaneous, […]

  6. […] for Jonathan Strange, I’m just debating how high up the Klaw 100 it’ll be at the next revision of the list. Tags: american literature, disappointments, world […]

  7. […] going to bet that of all the books on the Klaw 100, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is one of the five most-read among dish readers. The book, which […]

  8. […] Part one (#100-81) Part two (#80-61) Part three (#60-41) Part five (#20-1) […]

  9. […] guidelines, from the original post: My criteria are wholly subjective. The primary criterion is how much I enjoyed the book, […]

  10. […] analyst for (it’s Insider), but on his personal site, he also has a ranking of his Top 100 books that’s very […]