My Take on Book Lists

A couple of times a year a list of books appears that someone else thinks that you need to have read to have become a complete reader or person or something else. The latest one was on the BBC a few weeks ago and was called The 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. The link is here for those that want to go and see how many they have read.

The premise behind this latest one was to have a list of novels that have in some way affected or had some impact on that particular group of readers that compiled the list. I thought it was an interesting selection, but as with a lot of the others that are published, it did feel like a list of books that others feel you ought to read rather than books that someone else genuinely loved. So I thought, how difficult is this to do?

It turns out actually more difficult than I thought. Mostly because narrowing it down to 100 is hard. Really hard.

I thought long and hard about which authors to include and then which of their books were my favourites. I have tried to include one each of their books in each of the categories that I selected, but so easily could have of included more (ok, in some cases all of them).

So why these books?

Well, there are a variety of reasons that I have chosen these titles. There are books in this list that I loved when I first read them, there are books that helped me discover a particular genre or subject. Some have been transformational in their own way, opening my eyes to a new way of thinking, but most are here because I think that they are brilliant works written by some of the best authors.

I am not going to suggest that you must read these. I am very much of the mind that anyone should impose their reading tastes on anyone else. What I would like you to do, though is give a few of these a go, or use this list to find out about these and other authors whose writing might spark your interest or curiosity.



A Time of Gifts – Patrick Leigh Fermor

To a Mountain in Tibet – Colin Thubron

A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle

Tequila Oil – Hugh Thomson

French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France – Tim Moore

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge – John Gimlette

A Dip in the Ocean: Rowing Solo Across the Indian Ocean – Sarah Outen

An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan – Jason Elliot

Old Glory: An American Voyage – Jonathan Raban

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland – Gretel Ehrlich

Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran – Lois Pryce

Around India in 80 Trains – Monisha Rajesh

Bearback: The World Overland – Pat Garrod


Natural History

Sightlines – Kathleen Jamie

Waterlog – Roger Deakin

Landmarks – Robert Macfarlane

The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell

Crow Country – Mark Cocker

21st Century Yokel – Tom Cox

Turning – Jessica J. Lee

Nightwalk: A Journey to the Heart of Nature – Chris Yates

The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland – John Lewis-Stempel

The Running Sky: A Bird-Watching Life – Tim Dee

Bird Therapy – Joe Harkness

Flora Britannica – Richard Mabey



Edgelands – Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts

Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach – Jean Sprackland

Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place – Benjamin Myers

Four Fields – Tim Dee

On the Marshes – Carol Donaldson

Limestone Country – Fiona Sampson

This Luminous Coast – Jules Pretty



Stig of the Dump – Clive King

Swallowdale – Arthur Ransome

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend

Volcano Adventure – Willard Price

Asterix – René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo

Comet in Moonminland – Tove Jansson



Patrick Leigh Fermor – Artemis Cooper

Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson

The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry

Gavin Maxwell: A Life – Douglas Botting

Life at Walnut Tree Farm – Rufus Deakin & Titus Rowlandson

Stargazing – Peter Hill



The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John le Carré

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

Reamde – Neal Stephenson

The Gallows Pole – Benjamin Myers

Lanny – Max Porter

Elmet – Fiona Mozley


Science Fiction

Consider Phlebas – Iain M Banks

Eon – Greg Bear

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

The City & the City – China Miéville

Pattern Recognition – William Gibson

Redrobe – Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Embers of War – Gareth L Powell


Books & Bookshops

Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club – Robin Ince

Stuff I’ve Been Reading – Nick Hornby

The Bookshop Book – Jen Campbell

The Bookshop That Floated Away – Sarah Henshaw

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life – Andy Miller

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co – Jeremy Mercer

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books – Tim Parks

The Gifts of Reading – Robert Macfarlane

The Book Smugglers Of Timbuktu : The Race To Reach The Fabled City And The Fantastic Effort To Save Its Past – Charlie English

The Diary Of A Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Jacob’s Room Is Full Of Books: A Year Of Reading – Susan Hill



SBS: The Inside Story of the Special Boat Service – John Parker

Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: The Most Notorious Double Agent of World War II – Ben Macintyre

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity – Philippe Sands

Vesuvius: The Most Famous Volcano in the World – Gillian Darley

Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox – Victoria Finlay

Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey – Rachel Hewitt

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time – Dava Sobel

Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War – John Lewis-Stempel

The Story of England – Michael Wood



Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

Alex’s Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics – Alex Bellos

Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial – Simon Singh

Ocean of Life. How Our Seas are Changing? – Callum Roberts

An Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The Atmosphere – Gabrielle Walker

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet – Mark Lynas

Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour – Philip Ball

Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life – Richard Cohen



Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Guards, Guards – Terry Pratchett

Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

Spring – William Horwood

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

Perdido Street Station – China Miéville

Magician – Raymond E. Fiest



Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe – Helena Drysdale

The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language – Mark Forsyth

Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower?: A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon – Steven Poole

The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words – Paul Anthony Jones

The Gift Of The Gab: How Eloquence Works – David Crystal

Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language – Bill Bryson


Other Books

Passage – Andy Goldsworthy

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

Just My Type – Simon Garfield

Paper: An Elegy – Ian Sanson

Stanza Stones – Simon Armitage

Envisioning Information – Edward Tufte

Are You Dave Gorman? – Dave Gorman

Everything Bad is Good For You – Steven Johnson


So to answer the question, that I often get asked: what is your favourite book? It is probably one of these above, or it could be another that I haven’t quite remembered as you have put me on the spot.

The sharp-eyed of you that have made it to the bottom of the list and not nodded off, will notice that there isn’t exactly 100 books in here. And that is the point really, constraining yourself to a particular number for no apparent reason isn’t that helpful in the end. It doesn’t matter if your list of favourite books has 5 or 25 or 125 books on it, the important thing is that they are your favourites and have some personal significance to you.

What do you think of these lists of books?

Would any of these appear on your list?

Let me know what you think below.

Spread the love


  1. Linda Hill

    Brilliant post Paul. Stig of the Dump took me right back to my first year teaching in 1983!

  2. Annabel Gaskell

    Some wonderful books on your list! I’ve read a few, (Aaronovitch, Banks, Bythell, Mozley, Parks and Le Carre) – The Banks and Le Carre are both in my own equivalent list – my ‘Desert Island Books’, my running top 100 which I’ve been keeping for some time now. I don’t have enough NF in my list, something I’m reading more of these days, and I can see that changing. Your list offers some interesting propositions: Tom Cox, Kathleen Jamie etc.

    • Paul

      Thank you, Annabel. If you need any NF recommendations, please ask.

      • Annabel Gaskell

        I didn’t read your list thoroughly enough – just discovered three more (all NF – yay!) I’ve read. (Sands, Sobel and Andy Miller)

        • Paul


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