What are the “best” books and who decides?

As the library is exploring the BBC’s 100 Novels That Shaped Our World we thought it would be interesting to see how that list compares with our literary special collections. Would the BBC judges have similar taste to the Booker Prize judging panels or the LOGOS journal board who decided on the titles in our Books That Shaped the Century collection?

Perhaps surprisingly the list of Books That Shaped the Century (BTSC) has only six books which also appear on the BBC list. 

BTSC was compiled by a group of publishers, librarians and booksellers and they included non-fiction in their list which explains some of the divergence. However, the BBC panel were asked to make choices based on their personal experiences of reading the books which means that their list is perhaps more individualistic and a different panel could have arrived at a totally different list.

The BBC list has also been written twenty years after BTSC and many of the titles are books which were published during that time.

When the BBC list is compared with the Booker Prize winners, as well as titles which made it into the shortlist or longlist, there is only marginally more crossover with 10 titles common between the two. The two Booker winners on the BBC list are The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro which won in 1997 and 1989 respectively. 

Neither Booker nor BTSC saw fit to honor any of the titles from the Love, Sex and Romance; Life, Death and Other Worlds; or Family and Friendship categories – although The Lord of The Rings trilogy has themes of friendship and other worlds running through it and Margaret Atwood herself describes Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the Booker in 2003, as an adventure romance.

I’d hedge a bet that our, as yet uncatalogued, Steve Hare Penguin Collection contains a fair few of the novels but I’ll have to wait until I can go back on campus to see if I’m right. 

Here’s the full list of items on the BBC’s list that also occurred on one of our lists:

Booker Prize


Days Without End – Sebastian Barry – longlisted 2017

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy – winner 1997

Politics, Power & Protest

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie – longlisted 2017

Unless – Carol Shields – shortlisted 2002

Class & Society

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee – winner 1999

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro – winner 1989

Coming of Age

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood – shortlisted 2003

Crime & Conflict

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid – shortlisted 2007

Rule Breakers

How to be Both – Ali Smith – shortlisted 2014

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie – shortlisted 1995

Books That Shaped the Century


Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achene 


For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemmingway

The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien 

Politics, Power & Protest

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Rule Breakers

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

— Annabel Valentine – Archivist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s