The Greatest Books of All Time - List by Brain Pickings™

  The Greatest Books of All Time

Books in list (18)


Title: The Great Gatsby

The mysterious Jay Gatsby embodies the American notion that it is possible to redefine oneself and persuade the world to accept that definition. Gatsby's youthful neighbor, Nick Carraway, fascinated with the display of enormous wealth in which Gatsby revels, finds himself swept up in the lavish lifestyle of Long Island society during the Jazz Age. Considered Fitzgerald's best work, The Great Gatsby is a mystical, timeless story of integrity and cruelty, vision and despair.

The timeless story of Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan is widely acknowledged to be the closest thing to the Great American Novel ever written.

Author(s): F. Scott Fitzgerald
ISBN 13: 9780743273565
Pages: 192
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Title: Lolita

A novel that studies the moral disintegration of a man whose obsessive desire to possess his step-daughter destroys the lives of those around him
Author(s): Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
ISBN 13: 9780679723165
Pages: 317
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Title: Ulysses

Initially deemed obscene in England and the USA, this novel, revolutionary in its Modernistic experimentalism, was hailed as a work of genius by W B Yeats, T S Eliot and Ernest Hemingway.
Author(s): James Joyce
ISBN 13: 9781840226355
Pages: 682
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Title: Dubliners

This Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classic includes a glossary and reader's notes to help the modern reader understand Joyce's use of textures, dialect, and symbols.Each of the beautifully written short stories in this collection ...
Author(s): James Joyce
ISBN 13: 9781580491655
Pages: 192
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Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tells the story of the Buendia family, set against the background of the evolution and eventual decadence of a small South American town.
Author(s): Gabriel Garcia Marquez
ISBN 13: 9780061120091
Pages: 448
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Title: The Sound and the Fury

I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire. . . . I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. from The Sound and the Fury
Author(s): William Faulkner
ISBN 13: 9780679732242
Pages: 401
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Title: To the Lighthouse

An English family's complex lives are followed and picked up again after a ten year hiatus in order to explore the effects of time
Author(s): Virginia Woolf
ISBN 13: 9780156907392
Pages: 209
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Title: The Complete Stories

Thirty-one tales depicting the humorous, if near tragic conditions of life in the Deep South during the fifties
Author(s): Flannery OConnor
ISBN 13: 9780374515362
Pages: 555
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Title: Pale Fire

Nabokov's parody, half poem and half commentary on the poem, deals with the escapades of the deposed king of Zemala in a New England college town.
Author(s): Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
ISBN 13: 9780679410775
Pages: 315
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Title: Anna Karenina (Pevear / Volokhonsky Translation)

Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as flawless, Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.
Author(s): Leo Tolstoy
ISBN 13: 9780143035008
Pages: 864
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Title: War and Peace (Pevear / Volokhonsky Translation)

From the award-winning translators of Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov comes this magnificent new translation of Tolstoy's masterwork.

War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleons invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

A s Napoleons army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgroundspeasants and nobility, civilians and soldiersas they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most movingand humanfigures in world literature.

An essay on translating WAR AND PEACE by Richard Pevear

To many prospective readers Tolstoy's War and Peace is the most intimidating of literary monuments. It is there, like a vast, unexplored continent, and all sorts of daunting rumors circulate about life in the interior. But once you cross the border, you discover that the world of War and Peace is more familiar and at the same time more surprising than the rumors suggested. That is as true for the translator as it is for the first-time reader.

We spent three years working full-time on the translation, revising it, copy-editing it, proofreading it twice, meaning that each of us read the novel some five times in Russian and in English. Yet even in my final checking of the proofs, I still found myself delighting, laughing, or holding back my tears as I read. An example of this last is the moment near the end when Pierre and Natasha, after all the harrowing experiences they've lived through, finally meet again in Princess Marya's drawing room. Pierre sees that Princess Marya has someone with her, but doesn't realize who it is. Princess Marya is perplexed.


She again shifted her gaze from Pierre's face to the face of the lady in the black dress and said:

"Don't you recognize her?"

Pierre glanced once more at the pale, fine face of the companion, with its dark eyes and strange mouth. Something dear, long forgotten, and more than sweet looked at him from those attentive eyes.

"But no, it can't be," he thought. "This stern, thin, pale, aged face? It can't be her. It's only a reminiscence of that one." But just then Princess Marya said: "Natasha." And the face, with its attentive eyes, with difficulty, with effort, like a rusty door opening smiled, and from that open door there suddenly breathed and poured out upon Pierre that long-forgotten happiness of which, especially now, he was not even thinking. It breathed out, enveloped, and swallowed him whole. When she smiled, there could no longer be any doubt: it was Natasha, and he loved her.


What makes this passage so moving is not only the drama of the moment itself, but the way Tolstoy has sensed it and captured it in words. It can't be paraphrased; the translator has to follow as closely as possible the exact sequence and pacing of the words in order to catch the "musical" meaning of the original, which is less apparent than the "literal" meaning, but alone creates the impression Tolstoy intended.

I've said "translator," and in a sense our collaboration is so close that the two of us make up one translator who has the luck to be a native speaker of two languages. That situation has its advantages. Translators are always in danger of drifting into the sort of language that is commonly referred to as "smooth," "natural," or, as they now say, "reader friendly," and is really only a tissue of ready-made phrases. When that happens to me, as it sometimes does, Larissa is there to stop me. Where I have my say is in judging the quality of our English text, that is, in drawing the line between a literal and a faithful rendering, which are not at all the same. If the translation does not finally "work" in English, it doesn't work at all.

I'll take an example of what that collaboration can produce from Tolstoy's description of the Russian army crossing the river Enns. After a good deal of confusion, the hussar captain Denisov finally manages to clear the infantry from the bridge and send his cavalry over. As the first riders move onto the bridge, Tolstoy writes: "On the planks of the bridge the transparent sounds of hoofs rang out . . ." The Russian is unmistakableprozrachnye zvuki "transparent sounds"and I find its precision breathtaking. It is pure Tolstoy. To my knowledge, it has never been translated into English. What we find in other versions is the "thud" or "clang" of hoofs, and it is likely that I would have done something similar if Larissa had not brought me back to what Tolstoy actually wrote. His prose is full of such moments. Coming upon them and finding words for them in English has been one of the most rewarding aspects of our work.

Here is a very different and rather amusing example of the search for fidelity. Count Ilya Andreich Rostov, Natasha's father, is giving a banquet in honor of General Bagration. Ordering the menu, he insists that "grebeshki" be put in the "tortue." I assumed that tortue was French turtle soup, but what about grebeshki? The Russian word can mean either "cock's-combs" or "scallops." Which would you put in a turtle soup? I did research into the uses of cock's-combs, but with rather unappealing results. I looked at previous translations: one has "scallops" and thinks the soup is a "pie crust"; another has "cock's-combs" but in a "pasty"; in a third the "cock's-combs" are in a "soup"; the fourth agrees about the soup, but puts "croutons" in it.

Going by my own taste, I decided to put scallops in the turtle soup. This reading got as far as the first set of page proofs. Just then we met by chance (at a dinner in Paris) a woman who used to run a cooking school. We asked her which it should be. She, too, was puzzled. A few days later we received a long email from her. She had become so intrigued by our question that she went to the French National Library the next day and looked up the history of the culinary use of cock's-combs. She was happy to inform us that they came into fashion precisely around the time of the Napoleonic wars and were a key ingredient in turtle sauce. Suddenly the whole passage made sense, because the chef replies to the old count's order: "Three cold sauces, then?" The other translations have "three cold dishes" or "entrees," with no relation to sauces at all. Thanks to Mme. Meunier, we were able to make the correction in the second set of proofs.

But does such a small thing really matter? Well, it certaintly did to Tolstoy. What this seemingly trivial detail reveals is the extraordinary accuracy of his memory, even in the smallest things. Cock's-combs had gone out of fashion by his time, but he knew where to place them and in what.

Tolstoy's prose is a rich, fluid, multivoiced artistic medium. There is, for instance, a war between the French and Russian languages in War and Peace that mirrors the war between the French and Russian armies. His play with French and with gallicized Russian is a major element of social satire in the novel's composition, allowing him the sort of linguistic infiltrations later found in Joyce and Nabokov. This adds a verbal dimension to War and Peace that English readers don't suspect is there, because previous English translations have eliminated it. But this precocious modernism is never word play for its own sake. It is always moved by passion.

The world of War and Peace envelops you. It is full of uncertainties, surprises, constantly shifting perspectives, but once you enter it you feel that you're in sure hands. Over it all is that "infinite sky" that Prince Andrei discovers as he lies wounded on the field of Austerlitz. This vast unity that embraces the greatest diversity is the secret, the mystery, of Tolstoy's art. It presents a great challenge to its translators, as I've tried to suggest in a small way.

Author(s): Leo Tolstoy
ISBN 13: 9781400079988
Pages: 1296
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Title: Middlemarch

In nineteenth-century England, Dorthea Brooke's wishes to defy social conventions are inhibited by the strict nature of her surroundings.
Author(s): George Eliot
ISBN 13: 9781853262371
Pages: 688
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Title: Crime and Punishment

A man must endure relentless physical and mental punishments as retribution for his act of murder Introduction by W. J. Leatherbarrow; Translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Author(s): Fyodor Dostoyevsky;Richard Pevear;Larissa Volokhonsky
ISBN 13: 9780679420293
Pages: 564
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Title: Great Expectations

A young orphan, Pip, receives a fortune from a mysterious benefactor which enables him to travel to London and become a gentleman of "great expectations."
Author(s): Charles Dickens;Scott McKowen
ISBN 13: 9781454901372
Pages: 502
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Title: Emma

New chronology and further reading; Tony Tanner's original introduction reinstated Edited with an introduction and notes by Flora Stafford.
Author(s): Jane Austen
ISBN 13: 9780141439587
Pages: 474
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The Greatest Books of All Time


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