What is a great book?
No matter how long your life, you will, at best, be able to read only a few books of all that have been written, and the few you do read should include the best. You can rejoice in the fact that the number of such is relatively small.
The listing of the best books is as old as reading and writing. The teachers and librarians of ancient Alexandria did it. Quintilian did it for Roman education, selecting, as he said, both ancient and modern classics. In the Renaissance, such leaders of the revival of learning as Montaigne and Erasmus made lists of the books they read.
It is to be expected that the selections will change will the times. Yet there is a surprising uniformity in the lists which represent the best choices of any period. In every age, the list makers include both ancient and modern books in their selections, and they always wonder whether the moderns are up to the great books of the past.
What are the signs by which we may recognize a great book? The six I will mention may not be all there are, but they are the ones I've found most useful in explaining my choices over the years.
Great books are probably the most widely read. They are not best sellers for a year or two. They are enduring best sellers. GONE WITH THE WIND has had relatively few readers compared to the plays of Shakespeare or DON QUIXOTE. It would be reasonable to estimate that Homer'sliad hs been read by at least 25,000,000 people in the last 3000 years.
A great book need not even be a best seller in its own day. It may take time for it to accumulate its ultimate audience. The astronomer Kepler, whose work on the planetary motions is now a classic, is reported to have said of h