As a list of books that have ‘shaped our world’ is shredded, we present our own rundown

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A panel of assorted literary types, appointed by the BBC , has revealed the 100 genre-busting novels they say have 'shaped our world'

A panel of assorted literary types, appointed by the BBC , has revealed the 100 genre-busting novels they say have 'shaped our world'

A panel of assorted literary types, appointed by the BBC , has revealed the 100 genre-busting novels they say have ‘shaped our world’

A panel of assorted literary types, appointed by the BBC, has revealed the 100 genre-busting novels they say have ‘shaped our world’.

And although some of the choices make sense, alas, the list is frequently baffling, dismally unchallenging and at some points downright embarrassing for those it misses out.

No Rudyard Kipling, Henry James or Thomas Hardy? Jane Eyre is absent but Bridget Jones is included?

And no place for the most provocative and dangerous novel of our troubled times, which led to book-burning, rioting and murder, and forced the West to closely examine the depth of its commitment to freedom of expression. It was also a Booker finalist, by the way — Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Of course, it is the whole point of such lists to provoke debate. In that respect, it’s a success. But for the most part it’s a woeful collection of the dated, the bland and the boringly politically correct.

Alarm bells ring as soon as you see the group headings decreed by the BBC: novels must illustrate themes such as ‘Identity’, for instance, or ‘Politics, Power and Protest’.

Even Pride And Prejudice — its presence on the list is something no sensible person would disagree with — may have made it only because these arbiters of taste see Elizabeth Bennet as a key figure in the struggle against the patriarchy, rather than simply the wittiest and most lovable heroine in English Lit.

There are multiple omissions of obvious masterworks, and even entire authors. Nothing here by Charlotte Bronte or Joseph Conrad or Robert Louis Stevenson — but a place for Jilly Cooper’s Riders.

The list is nothing more than a dire attempt to appeal to the ‘yoof’ market — which really is the literary equivalent of your dad trying to dance at your 18th birthday party.

So of course the panel have found room for a schmaltzy yet creepy story of a teenage girl losing her virginity, Forever, by Judy Blume, but ignored one of those classic novels that really does capture the unique, disorientating experience of what it feels like to be a teenager: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.

Indeed, despite all the usual boasts about this list being ‘challenging’ and ‘provocative’, it seems to fit far too comfortably and complacently with our risk-averse, ever-so-woke and dumbed-down culture.

Let’s hope this silly list is forgotten as quickly as some of the titles it recommends, while discerning readers continue to enjoy the imaginative worlds of our greatest writers for centuries to come.

Here are my suggestions for ten books that should have been on the list because they have, quite simply, passed the test of time — the sternest literary critic of all — and been loved or admired by generations of devoted readers.

We then asked Mail writers to contribute their own selection of books that had an impact on their lives…

Christopher Hart’s choice

The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

The Man Who Would Be King, by Rudyard Kipling

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Heart Of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

Daily Mail contributor, Christopher Hart

Daily Mail contributor, Christopher Hart

Daily Mail contributor, Christopher Hart 

Susan Hill 


These are the books that made me as a reader and helped form me as a writer. Lewis Carroll opened my young imagination to the surreal, Dickens to mighty prose and great dramatic scenes. Hardy, Bronte and Conan Doyle revealed that landscape is character. Nancy Mitford taught the wonderful truth that laughter can see you through the darkest hours of your life.

Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Crime And Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

The Hound Of The Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Return Of The Native, by Thomas Hardy

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

The Turn Of The Screw, by Henry James

The Pursuit Of Love, by Nancy Mitford.

The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope.

Author Susan Hill

Author Susan Hill

Author Susan Hill 

John Humphrys 


It’s impossible to identify a single novel as ‘the greatest’ in any meaningful sense, so I’ve settled for those that made the greatest impact on me when I read them.

Top of that list must go to Nineteen Eighty-Four, which I read as a youngster. It gave me a distrust of unchallengeable power that remains to this day.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Catcher In The Rye, by J.D. Salinger

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

The Grapes Of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth

100 Years Of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

American Pastoral, by Philip Roth

Former BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys

Former BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys

Former BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys

Fay Weldon


As a novelist I naturally feel it is books of fiction that most, and best, change the world. The books below are listed in no particular order, as they say on Strictly. Many of them have changed people’s approach to writing fiction, and the idea of how novels can be written. I should point out that I’ve included one of my own books because I think it did actually change the world by influencing a multitude of women to think about feminism.

I think I may blow my own trumpet now I’m 88 years old. And if folks tell me off — what can a mother do?

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes

The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen

A God In Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil, by Fay Weldon

Slaves Of New York, by Tama Janowitz

Author Fay Weldon

Author Fay Weldon

Author Fay Weldon 

Carol Drinkwater


All these books I first read when I was young, a teenager or just beyond. They are novels that allowed me to look at my own sexuality and the powers and confusions of becoming a woman.

I am fascinated by instability in relationships, the effects of violence and infidelities on marriages. Graham Greene and Scott Fitzgerald both paint such brilliant pictures of the breakdown of marriage. Steinbeck and Atwood are on the list simply because their writing blazed trails for me.

The Grapes Of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

The Country Girls, by Edna O’Brien

The Lover, by Marguerite Duras

Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan

Tender Is The Night, by Scott Fitzgerald

The End Of The Affair, by Graham Greene

The Heart Of The Matter, by Graham Greene

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone, by Tennessee Williams

Author Carol Drinkwater

Author Carol Drinkwater

Author Carol Drinkwater

Bel Mooney

Author, journalist and Daily Mail advice columnist

For as long as I can remember, books have been central to my life. Books were my friends when I was bullied at school. They transported me to the magical garden we, living in a Liverpool flat, did not have.

They moved me to tears of anger and compassion at injustice and taught me everything about human nature.

I’m just re-reading my all-time favourite, Middlemarch, for about the sixth time, and (like all the others) it will remind me yet again that there’s nothing so fascinating as flawed, complicated, noble, brave, tragic and glorious humanity.

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

The Mill On The Floss, by George Eliot

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Far From The Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

A Passage To India, by E.M. Forster

Vanity Fair, by William M.Thackeray

Cry The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton

Author, journalist and Daily Mail advice columnist Bel Mooney

Author, journalist and Daily Mail advice columnist Bel Mooney

Author, journalist and Daily Mail advice columnist Bel Mooney 

Libby Purves

Author and broadcaster

These are all books I first read long ago. Several are what I call ‘journey’ or ‘long life’ books, chosen because big sweeps showing life as a voyage are always consoling. Others are inspiring about the sea, which informed my subsequent sailing adventures.

There is, however, a moral thread through all of them. Some deal with eccentricity, always enlivening. And very importantly, many of them make me laugh and give me a sense of freed imagination.

Vanity Fair, by W.M. Thackeray

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

Moonfleet, by J. Meade Faulkner

Nine Unlikely Tales, by E Nesbit

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, by John Le Carre

The Future Homemakers Of America, by Laurie Graham

The Young Visiters, by Daisy Ashford

The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis

Life Of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, by Arthur Ransome

Author and broadcaster Libby Perves

Author and broadcaster Libby Perves

Author and broadcaster Libby Perves 

Dominic Sandbrook


Unlike the BBC’s risible exercise in box-ticking, I’ve chosen books that genuinely did make an impact on me.

Some of them are joyously funny, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Lucky Jim and the peerless Billy Bunter, the Fat Owl of the Remove. (Thank goodness, because you need a sense of humour to stay sane these days.)

But my top choices reflect my love of history. I could have picked any of the marvellously named L. du Garde Peach’s Ladybird history books, which have never been equalled. But I went with his life of Oliver Cromwell, a splendidly rousing read that I’ve never forgotten.

Oliver Cromwell: An Adventure from History, by L. du Garde Peach

King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Swallows And Amazons, by Arthur Ransome

Billy Bunter Butts In, by Frank Richards

The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon

The Code of the Woosters, by P. G. Wodehouse

The Old Wives’ Tale, by Arnold Bennett

Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis

The Intellectuals And The Masses, by John Carey

Historian Dominic Sandbrook

Historian Dominic Sandbrook

Historian Dominic Sandbrook

Julie Bindel

Feminist writer

My top ten books are a mix of fiction and non-fiction. All, except one, are written by women.

Becoming Unbecoming is a graphic novel based on growing up under the shadow of the Yorkshire Ripper. Some have lesbian themes and all, in various ways, are feminist at heart.

Pornography: Men Possessing Women, by Andrea Dworkin

Sexual Politics, by Kate Millett

This Bridge Called My Back, by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua

The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French

A Place Of Execution, by Val McDermid

The Colour Purple, by Alice Walker

Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee

Becoming Unbecoming, by Una

Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Feminist writer Julie Bindel

Feminist writer Julie Bindel

Feminist writer Julie Bindel 

Horatio Clare


My mother was a book reviewer who raised me on a Welsh farm without television, so reading shaped my childhood and made me a writer. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was the first novel I read alone and in one night. It was a life-changing moment. Richard Holmes’ biographies of the poets Shelley and Coleridge made me decide to be a writer.

This is my desert island list. Each book is rich and brilliant. There is humour in most. They all seized and changed me when I found them.

Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Dog, by Dylan Thomas

Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

Waiting For The Barbarians, by J. M. Coetzee

Naples 44, by Norman Lewis

Venice, by Jan Morris

In Praise Of Older Women, by Stephen Vizinczey

The Mandarins, by Simone de Beauvoir

The Master And Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Author Horatio Clare

Author Horatio Clare

Author Horatio Clare 


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