Is that BBC’s “100 Books” List A Giant Hoax?


“The BBC believes you only read 6 of these books” reads the headline on one page. “How many have you read?” It’s followed by a list of 100 literary classics, including Pride and Prejudice, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jane Eyre and the Harry Potter series. Book lovers all around the web (and on Facebook) are taking this irresistible quiz, but there’s just one problem with it.

It’s a hoax. The BBC never made any such claim.

I’ve searched the BBC’s web site, but there’s no mention there of any list of books that they supposedly believe people aren’t reading. With a quick Google search, I found more web pages where people were posting the same list — even as far back as 2009 — and even a couple pages where people were asking the same question I did: why doesn’t the original list anywhere on the BBC’s web site? Finally I discovered an obscure blog post from 2009 where someone in the comments (named Julie) had finally tracked down the answer. The original list apparently dates back to 2007.

But it wasn’t from the BBC — it was from the Guardian newspaper. And they never claimed that most people hadn’t read more than 6 of the books…

Instead, their list was titled 100 books that “you can’t live without”. It appears to be based on a poll of their readers, which might explain why the results contain so many British authors. Six of the 100 books were written by Charles Dickens, and four were written by Jane Austen. Yet there’s not a single book by Mark Twain — or Ernest Hemingway, or William Faulkner.

But it’s still nice to know that there other people who like some of the same books that I do. (Yes, I have read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as The Wind in the Willows…as a free Kindle ebook!) But as I was going through the list, trying to see if I’ve read more than six of its titles or less, I start to wonder if there’s a better way to see if I’m reading enough great books. And the best thing I read today was probably the response from the blogger who first figured out (in 2009) that this challenge was a hoax.

“So, feel free to see how many of those hundred books you’ve read,” Julie writes. “As a reader, I always find it fun.

“However, know that the BBC isn’t judging you.

“The only thing you’ll discover is if you’ve read the same books that a bunch of people in the UK couldn’t live without…”

A Confederacy of Dunces

Amazon’s Secret Book Recommendations

Cover of Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

It’s almost an even bigger surprise. Amazon announced their picks for “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” (as chosen by the editor’s of Amazon’s book section.) But deep within Amazon’s press release, they also revealed which books their editors most wished had made it onto their list — but didn’t! The results are a surprisingly eclectic collection of new and classic fiction. And Amazon’s also published an entirely different list of “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” — this one chosen by actual readers!

For the reader’s list, point your web browser to

“We set out to build a roadmap of a literary life without making it feel like a homework assignment,” explained Amazon’s editorial director for Kindle ebooks (and printed books) at — and I like how they let other readers participate in the list building. But it was also fun just to hear about which books had received the most votes. In fact, Amazon’s press release, Amazon identifies six books where the decision was unanimous. Each one of Amazon’s editors felt these books should be included on their “lifetime” list.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Only the last two are available in Kindle editions (which might explain why Amazon was reluctant to include them on their list). But when preparing their press release, Amazon had also asked each editor for their own personal pick of a book which they’d most wanted to include — and the results were very surprising. The books are from different centuries, with authors from different countries, writing about different themes, and for audiences at different reading levels. This list made me smile, since each one is a purely personal pick, a collection of “beautiful losers”, if you will — each one fondly remembered by somebody.

Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver
Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

But fortunately, Amazon has also published a second list of books for a lifetime, an entirely different selection that was chosen by readers! The polling happened on the GoodReads web site, and in this case, it’s “readers to the rescue”, since this second list does include some of those “beautiful losers” that didn’t quite make it onto Amazon’s own list. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came in at #28 on the “reader’s list”, and Les Miserables came in at #69. And the readers at GoodReads also came up with some original choices of their own!

One of my favorite science fiction book’s make it onto the “reader’s list” — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, which came in at #57. And the reader’s also chose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (#45) and Stephen King’s The Stand (#53) — plus A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), which ranked #64 in the voting. Even an Agatha Christie mystery made it onto the list — And Then There Were None, in the #85 spot. This definitely feels like a list of books that’d be fun to read.

If there’s a theme running through this list, it’s the kind of books that you’ve probably seen your friends reading. Besides agreeing with Amazon’s choice of The Lord of the Rings, the “reader’s list also included The Hobbit. And where Amazon had included Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the readers at GoodReads picked three more books about the boy wizard — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#42), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (#62), and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#72). Amazon had also included The Hunger Games, but the “reader’s list” went ahead and added the other two books from the series — Mockingjay and Catching Fire.

Part of the fun of this exercise is knowing that we all have our own favorites. (That’s why we get so excited when we spot one that made it onto somebody else’s list.) But sooner or later we’ll have to look outside our own bubble, and that’s when the real fun begins.

If you were looking for new books to read, which list would you choose?

For see the reader’s choices, point your web browser to

Harry Potter Comes to the Kindle!

Harry Potter as a Kindle ebook

It’s finally happened! All seven of the original Harry Potter books are now available for the Kindle. (You can find them at ) “We’re excited that Harry Potter fans worldwide are now able to read J.K. Rowling’s fantastic books on their Kindles and free Kindle reading apps,” announced Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content. “For years our customers have loved reading Harry Potter books…” he added, noting that it’s the all-time best-selling series on

They’re available in every country, and they’re priced at just $7.99 — or $9.99 for the last three books in the series — so the discounts should make these ebooks even more popular. In the weeks to come, there’ll even be versions of the ebooks in foreign languages. (Maybe they’ll release an edition in Parseltongue?) But J.K. Rowlings has already sold over 400 million print editions of her Harry Potter novels, and in fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — the last book in the series — was the all-time best-selling item on Amazon when it was released in 2007.

Of course, Amazon was selling its print edition for $7.99 — a 50% discount — to attract new customers, and they once claimed they weren’t earning any profits from those sales. Today Amazon is still selling the print edition at a 42% discount — but as of Tuesday morning, there are now also ebook editions available for every book in the series with nearly the same discount! “Muggles rejoice!” Amazon gushed Tuesday in a post on the Kindle’s page on Facebook — and within two hours, more than 2,300 people clicked its “Like” icon. 589 more people re-posted the news on their own Facebook pages, and another 156 left enthusiastic comments.

“Let me just say, I feel $57 for the entire set ($8.14 per book) is very reasonable,” posted one fan. One mother had some trouble online with the new “Pottermore” ebook site where the books are being sold, but was still excited about the big news because “I’ve been waiting to read them to my son from my Kindle.” Another post was directed to the author of the series — “Thank you J.K.Rowling for listening to us fans and providing the Harry Potter series on the Kindle.” And one Kindle fan claimed he’d avoided the series when it was in print, but “I may read them now…”

J.K. Rowling may also publish new material on her Pottermore site – and there’s another reason why this news is significant. According to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter books are one of the more frequent targets for censorship campaigns. But magically, now that they’re available in digital editions, it’ll be much harder to stop them from reaching young readers.

And there’s one more reason why this is a perfect match. Last year Amazon announced that there was one new product which had finally become even more popular than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The Kindle!