1,000 Books To Read Before You Die

The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality a reader can possess. — Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?”

This quote opens a new book called 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich. The book caught my attention when I saw it on a list of “years best” books, thus making it a bit meta. I’m not a big fan of “years best” lists when those lists emerge before the year is out, but I can’t help but be attracted to books that are essentially lists of other books.

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die

I ordered a hardcover edition of Mustich’s book and it arrived over the weekend. It is a big book, 948 pages, and contains an alphabetically listing of one man’s idea of a thousand books to read before you die. Each entry contains information about the book in question, as well as the author’s own comments. The book is chock full of quotes, picture of book and authors. It’s really rather delightful. I wanted the hardcover edition in order to be able to mark it up with my own notes.

At the back of the book is a handy checklist of the 1,000 books included. I spent an hour perusing the list, gleefully making a check beside each book I have already read. I was confident I would have read many of these books already. It turned out I had read 59 out of 1,000, or just about 6% of the total.

Here are the 59 books I have read. They are listed in the order the appear in the checklist. If the book has a number it is the number from my list of books I’ve read since 1996. If the book says “BL” it means I read it before I started tracking what I read.

  • BL – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • 748 – The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
  • 17 – Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • 18 – Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
  • 19 – Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • 62 – The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • 37 – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • 254 – The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • 276 – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • 277 – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • 811 – The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
  • 162 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • 716 – The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
  • 163 – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • 168 – The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
  • 186 – Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 95 – Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins
  • 714 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • 722 – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • 196 – The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • 217 – Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis
  • 253 – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
  • 682 – The Firm by John Grisham
  • 577 – Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
  • 174 – Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 290 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • 574 – The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • 302 – Dune by Frank Herbert
  • 412 – Carrie by Stephen King
  • 472 – 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • 713 – Endurance by Alfred Lansing
  • BL – A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • BL – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • BL – The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • BL – The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
  • 453 – A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  • 200 – Truman by David McCullough
  • 358 – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • 218 – The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  • 560 – The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • 826 – All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • 201 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
  • 42 – The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan
  • 250 – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • 311 – The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • BL – Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • BL – Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • BL – Henry V by William Shakespeare
  • BL – Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • BL – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • 121 – City by Clifford D. Simak
  • 780 – Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum
  • 197 – Longitude by Dava Sobel
  • 248 – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • 244 – Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
  • 524 – Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • 511 – Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • 805 – The Double Helix by James D. Watson

There’s obviously a lot missing from my list with respect to Mustich’s 1,000 books. But, I have a list of over 800 books of my own, most of which are not on Mastich’s list, so we are probably even.

The great thing about a book like this is that it can help ease the passage of those times when I can’t figure out what to read next. There are lots of books that I want to read, and browsing the list and then reading a little bit more about a book can help pique my interest. In reviewing Mustich’s list, several books jumped out as ones that I would like to read. These include:

  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • O Pioneers by Willa Cather
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  • Their Finest Hour by Winston Churchill
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • The Civil War by Shelby Foote
  • The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
  • Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving
  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
  • The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
  • The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré
  • The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
  • Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
  • The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys
  • Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
  • Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson

Lists like these are fun. They are fertilizer for the mind, and they help me figure out what I want to read next, when I find myself in the doldrums. Mustich’s book isn’t only a great reference, it is beautifully done, and fun to flip through, look at the pictures, and read the quotes scattered throughout.


  1. Looks like a beautiful book! Do you know what the ratio of white male authors to everyone else is across that 1000? I hope with that much space there’s room to move beyond the ‘usual suspects’. If it’s 50/50 or better this one would definitely go on my Christmas wish list.


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