I've been working on my "greatest books" list for some time, but as the list is constantly changing, and as I continue to read new and fascinating books, it becomes ever more difficult to lock down a top ten list.
With that being said (one of my favorite phrases in the English language), I've narrowed the list down enough to where I can create a Top Ten list, in no particular order, that - goes without saying - is subject to change.
Some of these books are classics, and therefore are well known by many people, while others are somewhat lesser well known, and are dear to me for a plethora of reasons, ranging from nostalgia to life reference. However, all of them are very good (they wouldn't be on the list otherwise), and therefore I would have no qualms about suggesting them to any and all who read this blog.
The Silmarillion (J.R.R. Tolkien) - I know that this book will be virtually unknown to most people, even those who have read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and/or The Hobbit. And while I'm not a huge fan of the fantasy genre, I find this book to be uniquely beautiful, both in language and scope, of any book that I've read before. Tolkien purists might find the fact that Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien, essentially pieced this book together (even adding a little where a story needed some completion) from old writings to take away from the book, but just reading the book from a non-biased perspective, I find the tapestry created by the various stories to be absolutely beautiful.
100 Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) - What Marquez does here with story is amazing. Working in the genre of "magical realism", the characters, events, and overall story are fluid. Because of this, it can be a difficult read the first time through. Multiple people I've suggested this book to have told me that the repetitive use of names for various characters proved to be very confusing. However, as with myself, in subsequent readings they've had no trouble. But, what I learned from this repeated critique is that I need to preempt readers by telling them not to focus too much on exactly which characters are doing what or when, and more focus on the beauty of the writing, the winding path of the family, and the overarching events that take place.
Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco) - For any of you out there that read The Da Vinci Code, and felt that both the writing, story and symbology were bad, then this is the book for you. Eco delves into the world of the occult, and the thing that separates him from Dan Brown (Da Vinci author) is that Eco actually knows what he's talking about; he'd either done extensive research on symbology and the occult, and/or has a scholastic background in it. Plus, the writing is good and in-depth, and though the book is large - probably close to 700 pages - this book is engrossing, and therefore can be a quick read.
Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) - People always ask me how I can read and like Ayn Rand, especially considering my political philosophy. While I guess I understand why people would ask the question, I don't understand the question. I don't necessarily read books - especially fiction - because I agree with the underlying "message" (if one exists). Therefore, I appreciate Atlas Shrugged (and The Fountainhead, as well) because I think that Ayn Rand is very good at writing characters. Her characters have depth, and she gives them real personalities, and we get to know them well, and begin to understand why and how they think what they think and do what they do. In addition, if I was to care about the message in her books, I think I would at least try to understand where and why she was coming from where the was coming from - and I do. Therefore, I don't find it so hard to recognize why in her books she condemns [what she views as] a system that crushes individualism and the human spirit. If you're interested in something resembling an autobiography, just read her first book, We the Living, it will make all of her other books, and her overarching philosophy, make much more sense.
Black Holes and Time Warps (Kip Thorne) - This book absolutely blew my mind. While I guess I was nominally interested in science before reading this book, once I was finished I was completely fascinated in learning as much as I could about astrophysics. I'm no math wiz, and there were definitely certain concepts in the book that went over my head, but overall I felt that the book was very approachable. Thorne does a great job (as only an incredibly intelligent person can) of explaining very difficult concepts in very simplistic terms. After reading this book, I subsequently went on to read numerous other astrophysics texts, both some more math-oriented, and also some more theoretical. If you're looking to be inspired to learn more about a new field, check this book out.
That concludes Part I of the Best and Brightest book list. Let me know what you think of these books, as well as others that you would suggest.