Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Then how can you know what the greatest books of all time are?

As explained elsewhere, in addition to my own reading I've used hundreds, if not thousands, of sources as guides.

The result is an amalgam of personal experience and the consensus of many, many other readers and critics—with the emphasis overwhelmingly on the views of others.

A subsidiary question might be: So wouldn't it be better to just poll readers and critics to come up with an impartially selected list?

To which I answer: Have you ever seen those lists of supposedly greatest-ever books, songs, whatever, that are produced by voting?

Every one of them has glaring omissions and bizarre inclusions. If it's created by a poll of alleged experts, a counter-list from fans is sure to emerge later with a radically different roster. Results depend on who is selected to vote and, if the ballots are wide open, the results are subject to campaigns for certain titles or artists.

Moreover, not every vote is equal. This is true for many reasons, but here's one hypothetical case: A certain Work X may be known and recognized as great by only a perceptive and knowledgeable two percent of all possible judges. Meanwhile, another book, Work A, is known and recognized as pretty good by ninety percent of readers. Which one would be voted onto the list and which one wouldn't? Even with substantial weighting, the great X would remain in the cold while good ol' A would be a winner again.

I can think of a dozen other such problems. The only solution is to have a human being weighing and judging inputs from all over. Of course, as coordinator, this human being has his own biases and failings. Which is why I have relied so much on other sources—both supposed experts (critics, academics, writers themselves) and readers in all camps.

And I continue to get input from readers that leads me to continually revise the list.

I'm sure there are more great books that aren't on the list and should be.

I'm also sure there are many on the list that in the future will no longer be considered great—for a variety of reasons. Then popular and critical consensus will push them off the list.

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