When authors write books, they organize their thinking. As readers, if we want to do the same, we must organize our books. After all, reading the right book at the right time will have a disproportionately positive effect on our life. That’s where a book list comes in. If you keep a bunch of book lists at hand, you’ll always have access to the thinking of someone who’ll make an extraordinary impact on your situation right now.
So, what kind of book lists are there? How do you best organize your reading goals while still leaving room for spontaneity and new insights? Where should you start?
In this meta post, a big list of book lists, if you will, we’ll cover the most important kinds of book lists and where to find them. We’ll show you when and how to use these often painstakingly curated tools. Also, if you’re looking for a specific book list you don’t know the name of, chances are, this page will be a good place to start as well.
As usual, we’ve organized the information on this page into various categories. For each kind of book list, we’ll briefly explain what they’re about, when and why you might want to rely on them, and link to the most relevant ones in that section.
You can use the clickable table of contents below to jump to any book list category. If you want to jump to the book lists on Four Minute Books that we made specifically for you, you can jump to the ones by topic or by author.
Let’s see how you can use book lists to always learn the right thing at the right time and discover 80+ great book lists along the way!
Table of Contents
- Book Lists by Popularity
- The Best-Selling Books of All Time
- The Highest-Rated Books of All Time
- Bestseller Lists
- Rating Lists
- Recommendation Lists
- Book Lists by Year & Time
- Book Lists by Year
- Book Lists by Decade
- Book Lists by Century
- Book Lists by Category & Genre
- Book Lists by Topic
- Book Lists by Author
- Book Lists by Target Reader Group
- Book Lists By & For Yourself
Book Lists by Popularity
The most popular book lists are those which rank books by their, well, popularity. Humans are social animals. We want to read what others read. There are two primary metrics popularity lists use to rank books:
- Number of sales
- Number of high ratings (either by the general public or in the form of endorsements from specific people)
Here are some of the most relevant lists in each of those categories.
The Best-Selling Books of All Time
If you’re looking for some of the best-selling books in history, these are good places to start. Most lists exclude religious books like the Bible or the Quran, and most of the books are in the fiction category.
- Wikipedia’s List of Best-Selling Books. This also includes a list of the bestselling book series of all time.
- Top 10 Best-Selling Books of All Time by All Top Everything. This list includes religious books.
- The 30 Best-Selling Novels of All Time by Best Life. This list is fiction only.
- When it comes to nonfiction, I couldn’t find a single list of all-time best-selling titles. We’re working on it. In the meantime, your best bet is to look at the blue-highlighted books on Wikipedia’s list.
The Highest-Rated Books of All Time
There’s a difference between books that sell a lot of copies and books that an unusually large share of readers rates very highly. Of course, unlike sales numbers, book ratings are subjective. But if a 10,000-copy-seller has a straight 5-star rating, whereas a 100,000-copy-seller only gets 3 stars, there’s probably something to be said about both of them — one has a wider impact, the other a deeper one.
Here are some of the book lists curating all-time classics and audience favorites.
- The Greatest Books of All Time. This is an excellent project by Shane Sherman. He built an algorithm to scour over 130 “best books” lists and then aggregate the data. Available for both fiction and nonfiction.
- Penguin’s 100 Must-Read Classics, As Chosen by Readers. Penguin Books has been in the publishing business since 1935. They’re an authority on world-class literature, and so are their readers.
- Reader’s Digest’s 100 Best Books of All Time. Where Penguin publishes books, RD recommends them. Founded more than 100 years ago, this general-interest magazine is a trusted source when it comes to book recommendations.
- The Guardian’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. Robert McCrum is a longtime writer and senior editor. Here, he tried to pick history’s 100 best novels. He also updated the original list from 2003 in 2015.
- The Guardian’s 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books. The Guardian staff also picked their favorite nonfiction titles.
- 100 Books to Read Before You Die. Joel Patrick cross-referenced eight “best books” lists. This the result.
- The “Best Books Ever” on Goodreads. Over 230,000 people voted on the books in this list. These are Goodreads members’ 100 all-time favorites.
The longer the time frame you look at, the harder it is to get accurate data. On a monthly and weekly basis, however, book sales are now well-documented. Many people use bestseller lists as a reference for what to read next. The three most commonly cited lists are the New York Times Best Seller List, the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List, and the USA Today Best-Seller List. There are many others around the world, but these three might be the most famous, especially in the US.
Here are those three lists as well as some others that tell you which books are keeping readers glued to their pages right now.
- The New York Times Best Seller List. By default, the list is sorted based on weekly sales and separates fiction and nonfiction. They also have some monthly lists, for example for business books or mass market paperbacks.
- The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List. This list is also compiled on a weekly basis. You might need a WSJ subscription to see it.
- The USA Today Best-Seller List. Conveniently, this list can be filtered and sorted directly on the page. It is also ranked by most weekly sales.
- Publishers Weekly Bestseller Lists. This 150-year-old trade news organization for publishers, librarians, and anyone working with books also compiles various bestseller lists. Might require a subscription to see in-depth data.
- Amazon Best Sellers. Amazon constantly updates its bestseller lists based on each book’s sales rank on their platform. You can also filter by various subcategories or see which books sell well specifically on Kindle.
Unlike sales data, book ratings and reviews are usually collected on an ongoing, cumulative basis. It makes sense: It doesn’t really matter whether someone liked (or disliked) a book yesterday or seven years ago. Their opinion is their opinion, and unless they change it, it doesn’t need updating.
While there are millions of lists out there where people share their favorite books, from individual TikTok posts to Twitter threads to blog posts, only a few places manage to collect and aggregate ratings and review data in statistically relevant quantities. Here they are:
- Goodreads. This is easily the #1 place on the internet to see what other people think about certain books. Search for any book, look at the number of ratings and average score, read some reviews, then decide for yourself. It is also owned by…
- Amazon. The largest retailer in the world is also the largest bookseller. No wonder, perhaps: After all, initially, Amazon sold only books! As such, plenty of people leave reviews on the site, and so usually, you can get a good feel for what people think about a certain book. Plus, since Amazon’s catalog is so big, you’ll find most books on there.
- LibraryThing. At only around three million users vs. Goodreads’ 90 million, this site doesn’t have as much data, but it does provide a good overview of most titles, especially fiction.
- NetGalley. This site also allows users to rate and review books, giving 1 to 5 stars. It’s also a good place to get advance copies of new books in exchange for leaving an honest review afterwards.
Book recommendations are as old as books themselves. Chances are, most book sales happen because someone told someone else, “Hey, this is a great book!” While there have always been “Books Recommended By X” lists — where “X” could be an author, expert, or celebrity of any kind — it is a relatively recent trend to aggregate such recommendations. Thanks to code and artificial intelligence, we can now extract who recommends which book in real-time from Twitter, for example.
Here are several sites that either qualify as an authority recommending books or recommendation aggregator.
- Most Recommended Books. This is a side project by two developers, and I believe they’re pulling data from Twitter. The result is impressive: Over 1,000 book lists covering some 600+ experts’ recommendations.
- Good Books. This site was built by Jordan Hughes in 2020 and sold to an unknown buyer in 2021. I don’t know how many updates it will get in the future, but it holds over 9,500+ book recommendations “from the most successful and interesting people in the world.”
- What Should I Read Next? Some recommendation systems rely on people, others on algorithms. This is one of them. Just type in a book you like, and get similar recommendations!
- Five Books. This site compiles countless experts’ top five book recommendations in various categories. Each list is manually crafted, but then they also aggregate those lists on topic pages. Great resource that I find myself on again and again.
- Whichbook. Want to get book recommendations based on how you feel right now? How about picking the book’s backdrop setting on a world map? This is a very unique project, and I highly recommend you check it out.
Book Lists by Year & Time
Every year, several million books are published. Estimates range from one to four million, with about half of those books being self-published. Therefore, another common way to organize books is by year or time frame. Usually, this is paired with sales data or ratings. Again: popularity is popular.
Here are some book lists organized by year, decade, or century. You can find a lot more if you search for “best books of 1971,” “bestselling books of the 1950s,” and so on, on Google.
Book Lists by Year
- Wikipedia’s Annual Lists of New York Times Nonfiction Bestsellers. For every year going back until 1991, Wikipedia tracks which book took the #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list in any given week. After that, the data becomes spotty, but it does go back all the way until 1931, the year the list was first published. They also compile this data for fiction books, and in that category, it is 100% complete, which is astonishing.
- Booklist Queen’s List of 2022 Nonfiction New York Times Bestsellers. Rachael is a book reading machine. She reads around 200 books each year. She also compiles all books that make the NYT bestseller list in any given year, if only for a week and in the last spot. Her lists are easy to skim and nice to look at. She also compiles them for fiction, but the oldest list I can find is for 2020.
- Publishers Weekly Lists of Bestselling Novels for Each Year. While the process for inclusion on PW’s bestseller lists is not public and somewhat unclear (they never included the Harry Potter books, for example), they do have data on the ten bestselling novels of each year going all the way back until 1895. Stunning!
- The Goodreads Choice Awards. Every year, Goodreads picks 20 books in various categories based on the data it has collected on them so far. Then, all users get to vote on their favorites in each category in two rounds. The awards have been held since 2011. A good way to find out what people enjoyed reading each year!
- Literary Hub’s The Ultimate Best Books of 2022 List. When it comes to individual “best books of the year” lists, there are way too many to even begin to count, let alone list out here. Thankfully, Lithub’s Emily Temple painstakingly goes through many of them each year. In 2022, she went through 35 “best of” lists to compile a great meta list of which books were mentioned on the most lists. The result is a collection of 84 books out of 887 who seem to resonate with us more than the rest. You can find meta lists on Lithub going back to 2017.
Book Lists by Decade
- Goodreads’ Best Books of the Decade Lists. Starting from the year 1800, Goodreads has a list for each decade with the books published in it. Members vote on which books they like best, and that data, combined with a bunch of other factors, like average rating and total number of ratings, is then used to rank the books. Solid!
- Literary Hub’s The Books That Defined the Decades Lists. Going back to 1900, Lithub picked a mix of ten fiction and nonfiction books for each decade that made an especially large impact on society.
- The Greatest Book’s Custom-Filtered Lists. If you pick your category and click on “Custom” under “Filter” in the left-hand sidebar of Shane Sherman’s amazing project, you’ll be able to generate custom fiction or nonfiction book lists for basically any decade, starting from the year 1 AD. Naturally, not a lot of nonfiction was written between 1,000 and 1,010 AD (at least nothing we still remember or even know about), but it’s fun to play around with this tool and see what you can find.
Book Lists by Century
- The Guardian’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century. While it’s arguably a bit foolish to try and curate the 100 best books of a century that hasn’t even passed one third of the way, one can always try. It’d be cool to see this list continue to update and keep snapshots of each iteration so we can compare how it evolved over time.
- Goodreads’ Best Books of the Century Lists. Besides having users vote on books by decade, Goodreads also curates century-based lists — going all the way back to the 4th century AD. Pretty cool!
- Modern Library’s Top 100 of the 20th Century. In 1998, Modern Library, then-parent-company of publisher Random House, asked its editorial board to pick the top 100 novels out of 400 titles they had published between 1900 and 1998. The list is biased towards the company’s own catalog, but good. A year later, they did the same for nonfiction. After the New York Times shared the lists, they also held reader polls, and around 200,000 voters picked their fiction and nonfiction favorites.
- Literary Hub’s Biggest Nonfiction Bestsellers of the Last 100 Years. This is one of the few lists offering bestseller data on nonfiction titles published as early as 1918. It’s sorted by year but provides a good overview of the 20th century as a whole. Lithub even included a book for each year that we’re more likely to actually remember than what happened to be popular at the time. A really cool source of new reads.
Book Lists by Category & Genre
Like most of the book lists we’ve covered so far, many curation attempts separate between the two main categories of books: fiction and nonfiction. That said, each of these categories then splits into several types and genres. Let’s look at what they are and see some sample book lists for each one of them!
Nonfiction deals with the real world. It is an attempt to accurately represent or explain a person or group of people, topic, or historical event using facts, analysis, and deduction. There are 4 subtypes of nonfiction:
- Expository nonfiction tries to explain and inform, covering a specific topic. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, for example, attempts to cover all of human history up to the 21st century.
- Narrative nonfiction aims to retell a true story, a person’s biography, for example, or what happened in a certain place or at a historically significant event. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, for example, covers the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her fraudulent company Theranos.
- Persuasive nonfiction makes a case for one side of an issue. The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, for example, argues that socialism just doesn’t work, and that we shouldn’t pursue it as a solution for managing our countries and societies.
- Descriptive nonfiction, meanwhile, focuses on evoking your five senses to make a point, provide an accurate picture, or help you both understand and feel what a certain experience is (or was) like. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, for example, stresses not the tips and tactics of organizing trips well but the feelings and impressions that seeing many different places will convey to us.
When it comes to nonfiction, most book lists don’t differentiate between these four types. It is more common to filter by topic (see below) than by how the author tries to deliver the message. That said, here are some of the rare lists in these nonfiction categories:
- Goodreads’ Expository Non Fiction Books. While this term is commonly used for children’s picture and read-aloud books, it also applies to classics like A Short History of Nearly Everything, Freakonomics, or Drive.
- Booklist Queen’s 40 Narrative Nonfiction Books That Read Like Novels. These are some great, riveting reads that don’t just make for powerful stories but actually happened.
- While I couldn’t find any list of particularly good persuasive nonfiction books, and a lot of people seem to confuse this type with books about persuasion, some good ones to start with are The World Without Us, Empty Planet, Socialism, Capitalism and Freedom, Fascism, In Defense of Food, and How to Be an Antiracist.
- Descriptive nonfiction books are also most common for children, aimed at helping them understand what certain experiences and aspects of life are supposed to feel like. While lists here are scarce too, many books for adults focus heavily on emotions and sensory impressions as well, such as How to Be Alone, Walden, and Our Wild Calling.
Since fiction does not rely on facts, its sub-groupings rely less on how a book presents its contents and more on what those contents are about. Rather than into various types or topics, fiction breaks down into genres, and the writing world generally agrees that there are 9 major ones:
- Horror is anything gory, graphically violent, or otherwise psychologically terrifying. Most of Stephen King’s books fall under this genre.
- Mystery or Crime usually involves a case or puzzle of some kind to be solved. It might be supernatural or an ordinary crime, but the suspense of wanting to find out what happened is what keeps us going. The Sherlock Holmes books are a good example.
- Romance covers any plot whose protagonist(s) find, lose, or rediscover love, usually with and for one another. Rachel Hollis’ Party Girl, for example.
- Science-Fiction imagines the expanding possibilities of science, usually into the future. Whether progress goes right or wrong is another matter. In 1984, for example, it didn’t go so well…
- Thrillers are books mainly concerned with suspense. They try to keep you on the edge of your seat as much as possible. Often, they involve a murder, complicated relationship, or creepy mystery, but they don’t have to for you to keep turning page after page. Dan Brown’s books, like The Da Vinci Code, fall into this category.
- Westerns, like their movie counterparts, center around the events and people of “the Wild West,” the period of America’s expansion from a batch of colonies into a conglomerate of states from around 1600 to 1900. True Grit is a famous example that has been adapted into several movie versions.
- Historical novels blend fact and fiction to varying degrees. Steven Pressfield, otherwise known for The War of Art, also wrote several books fictionalizing historical battles in ancient Greece, such as Gates of Fire, for example.
- Young adult fiction stars and is aimed at teenagers, though plenty of adults read books like the Twilight series or The Hunger Games. The action can be set in the real world or combined with fantasy elements.
- Fantasy includes anything magical, be it wizards, vampires, ghosts, time travel, mythical swords, dragons, or other fantastic creatures and elements. Two words: Harry Potter. Need I say more?
As opposed to nonfiction’s subtypes, people love to make genre-based book lists. Here’s one for each of the above types of fiction books:
- Reader’s Digest’s 56 Best Horror Books of All Time. Spoiler alert: Stephen King shows up a lot.
- 25 of the Best Murder Mystery Books by Book Riot. If you’re craving a good whodunit, these ones are for you.
- The 30 Best Romance Novels of 2022 That’ll Give You All the Feels by Cosmpolitan. This genre keeps ever-expanding, and there’s always a new love story to discover. These are the best titles published in 2022.
- Wired’s 29 of the Best Science Fiction Books Everyone Should Read. For everyone who wishes they could take a trip to the stars or the future, this list will have a good read.
- Penguin Random House’s List of the Best Thrillers of All Time. From new to old, these page-turners will send chills down your spine.
- Art of Manliness List of 21 Western Novels Every Man Should Read. Not just for men, of course. Cowgirls welcome too!
- Pan Macmillan’s 50 of the Best Historical Fiction Books of All Time. From Ken Follet to Emma Donoghue and from 14th century China to 1960s America, these novels will take you down historic paths — and beyond.
- Time’s List of The 100 Best YA Books of All Time. From Percy Jackson to The Catcher in the Rye, these books will leave an impression on you whether you’re still a teenager or not.
- TCK Publishing’s 18 Best Fantasy Book Series to Binge On. What’s better than 18 books? 18 book series. These provide material to get lost in for months. Happy fantasizing!
Book Lists by Topic
As mentioned above, in nonfiction, it is most common to sort book lists by topic. From self-help to biography to history, you can find book lists on almost any topic, though some are much more exhaustive than others.
If you were looking only for books about the history of coffee, for example, you’d probably find only a handful overall, and maybe only one or two good ones (Michael Pollan’s Caffeine comes to mind). Books about food history in general, however, are already more common, and books about food itself are abundant, especially if you include cookbooks. Therefore, when curating book lists, it makes sense to choose topics that are high-level enough to offer a good number of books yet meaningful enough to make sense for readers and book-seekers.
At Four Minute Books, we group our book summaries into 44 categories. We also manually curate book lists on at least the most in-demand topics. Here are all the ones we’ve made for you so far:
Book Lists by Author
In The Catcher in the Rye, protagonist Holden Caulfield says that “what really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours.” I think this has happened to most of us at some point, and when it does, we want more of the same. That’s why another useful kind of book list is the one organized by author.
Who is this person, and why do they cover the topics they cover? What other books have they written? How many are there? And what’s the best order to read them in? Author book lists answer questions like those.
At Four Minute Books, we also compile author book lists. Take Peter Thiel, for example. Has he written any other books besides Zero to One? Are there any books about him? What about the ones he recommends? We gathered all that information for you in one neat post. Here’s a full list of all author book lists we’ve created so far:
Book Lists by Target Reader Group
Yet another way to organize books is to sort them not by what they are about but by who they are for. At Four Minute Books, we like to combine target reader groups with topics. On our list of the best self-help books, for example, we mention some of the best self-help books for women, and some of the best ones for men.
That said, you can find many more such lists on the web. Here are a few of the best and most popular ones to give you some ideas what else you can search for:
- 15 Top Books for Men to Read by MensGroup. If you want to be a man of culture, these classics are some great picks!
- Woman’s Day’s 50 Inspirational Books All Women Should Read in Their Lifetime. For more inspiration, confidence, and empowering female stories, this list is a good start.
- PureWow’s The 25 Best Books to Read in Your 20s. Age groups are popular too. You can also find lists of the best books to read in your 30s, 40s, and so on.
- Our list of The 20 Best Books for Entrepreneurs. If you’re trying to accomplish a certain goal or become a certain someone, often, you’re not alone. There are plenty of book lists out there for people who want to become chefs, writers, or consultants, and a lot more!
- The Gentle Nursery’s 23 Best Books for New Parents. Is your family expanding? Perhaps some books about becoming a mom or dad are in order!
- BuzzFeed’s 23 Books You Should Read Even If You Aren’t Into Reading. Yes. There are even book lists for people who don’t particularly like books. Amazing, isn’t it?
Book Lists By & For Yourself
Finally, there are the book lists you create by and for yourself. While there are plenty of book trackers out there, from Bookshelf to Bookly to StoryGraph, Goodreads remains the platform of choice for almost 100 million people.
As soon as you sign up and make a free account, you’ll see three default lists (the links go to the lists for my own account):
You can also create your own lists, of course. I keep one just for books that I want to read whenever I feel I need some extra inspiration, for example.
Goodreads also has plenty of pre-made lists which you can like or vote on, and then they’ll be saved to your profile for easy reference. Pretty neat!
Goodreads isn’t exactly the newest or best-looking tool to track your reading (though they are rolling out a new interface), but it gets the job done and is better than manual tracking or a spreadsheet, if you ask me.
Phew. That was…a lot of lists! What do you think? Did we do a good job? Or is there some kind of book list you think is missing? Let us know on Twitter, and we’ll be glad to update this post.
Like I said in the beginning, the right book at the right time can make all the difference — and with the right book list at hand, you’ll always have access to that most timely, relevant of reads.
Last Updated on January 19, 2023