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