Are these the 100 best novels of all time? Mmm. . . maybe, maybe not, but it’s a good (albeit terribly quirky) attempt. The list is chronological.
I do quarrel with some of the choices. For the life of me, I do not understand the fascination with Samuel Richardson or Poe. As much as I like The Call of the Wild, it doesn’t belong on a “100 greatest” list. Huxley’s work I find less compelling than Orwell’s. Both spotted trends in our common English-speaking culture very well, but Orwell’s nightmare vision of a 24-hour-a-day media propaganda machine has come true, and has shaped all of us for the last twenty years, whereas the recreational drug culture in Huxley is still only at the margins of society. Criminal acts and suffering spawned by drugs are a separate issue. I suspect Isherwood is on the list because Robert McCrum said, “I gotta have a gay guy on here.” Don’t laugh; such non-literary criteria have been factors in book lists for articles and college syllabi since at least the 1980s. John Cheever’s Falconer from 1977 would have served the same purpose as Isherwood’s work and would have given McCrumb another American to balance a heavily-British list.
[Postscript 8/18/15 3:20 p.m.: McCrumb ends his list in 2000. Fair enough. In any list of “the greatest of all time,” time must, of course, do some winnowing. Still, I ask myself, “Is there no book written in English since 2000 that we might put on this list, perhaps in place of the questionable selections of Poe, Huxley, Isherwood, or London?” There are candidates. What about Ian McEwan’s Atonement? Or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History? Or Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See?]