1,000 Books to Read Before You Die
A Life-Changing List
By James Mustich
It’s time to talk books—and the conversation starts here.
Encompassing fiction, poetry, science and science fiction, memoir, travel writing, biography, children’s books, history, and more, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die moves across cultures and through time to present an eclectic collection of titles, each described with the special enthusiasm readers summon when recommending a book to a friend.
The expected pillars are here, including Jane Austen and Toni Morrison, Virgil, Dante, Dickens and Tolstoy, Franz Kafka and Simone de Beauvoir—their works made fresh through the author’s animated essays. Established classics are joined by new and unexpected choices like Citizen and Friday Night Lights. A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Pillow Bookof Sei Shōnagon, The Day of the Jackal and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The result is a treasury of essential reading for expansive tastes.
The book’s alphabetical listing by last name results in the serendipity of juxtaposition—Cormac McCarthy’s The Road next to Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, John le Carré next to Ursula K. Le Guin next to Harper Lee. Following each entry are rich endnotes that include publication dates and preferred editions, other books by the same author, related books to try, and listings of worthy adaptations, including movies and audiobooks. In total, more than six thousand titles by thirty-five hundred authors are recommended.
A Miscellany of Special Lists at the end of the book offers the reader surprising entry points into the collection, such as “Books to Read in a Sitting,” including The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg and The Third Man by Graham Greene, and “Offbeat Escapes,” including Freya Stark’s The Valleys of the Assassins and Felice Benuzzi’s No Picnic on Mount Kenya. For the truly dedicated reader, “A Long Climb, but What a View”—a perfect way to describe those mountainous texts we long to scale, such as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Shelby Foote’s The Civil War.
An insightfully curated personal compendium that will inspire hours of browsing and a lifetime of reading, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die celebrates the gorgeous mosaic that is our literary heritage.
—Booklist, Starred Review
“As the owner of a 90-year-old bookselling institution, I am not easily fazed by 1,000 books, but Mustich’s literary bucket list stopped me in my tracks. His expansive scope is coupled with a delightful wit and a perfect eye for the surprise detail. Never again will you have to wonder what to read next. A book you’ll cherish for a lifetime!”
—Nancy Bass Wyden, Proprietor, Strand Book Store
“Chief among the thousands of pleasures here is the delightfully erudite company of James Mustich. Look up your favorite books; find ones you don’t know; argue about the list with friends. Read!”
—Jean Strouse, author, Alice James and Morgan: American Financier
“James Mustisch’s book is aimed at a society engulfed in words but desperately poor in the talents that reading can bring—judgment, taste, empathy, wit. The book is not a list of canonical works, though many classics are listed and lovingly described. No, the “1000 Books to Read” is an invocation of the pleasures to be had from many kinds of books—genre fiction, journalism, poetry, history, and memoir, the good and the great, the illustrious and the semi-forgotten, all summoned by Mustich’s taste. You open it at any point and jump from author to author; you follow his hints and read related works by other writers, and you find your own taste emerging, proud and strong, from Mustich’s provocations. 1,000 Books is surpassingly useful as well as good.”
—David Denby, staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World
“If you’ve ever doubted that books were the greatest invention of all time, and that they carry within them our collective memories and dreams, as well as any semblance of intelligence we have as a species, pick up James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die and start reading.”
"If I were as erudite, entertaining, insightful, and articulate as James Mustich, I could come up with 1,000 reasons to get his book. But here's one: Whether you're looking for something to read for personal edification or fun, for escapism or relevance, you can survey the literary world with Mustich as an experienced, enthusiastic guide. His work is an essential resource for anyone anywhere plagued by that infernal question: What do I read next?"
—Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore