American Mensa
January 4, 2001

The Best Reading of the 20th Century
Staff Reporter

Last summer a Mensan and fervent fan of the written word, Robert M. Beattie, Jr., of Wichita, Kan., volunteered to tabulate the results if we would poll Mensan readers about their picks for best books of the 20th century. We like to think we know an interesting idea when we see one, so we took Robert up on his offer and ran the poll in the July/August issue of the national membership magazine. Mensans from across the country responded online and by both email and standard mail.

"The most repeated comment was that the task of choosing the best books is nearly impossible, manifestly important, and was a cause of misery and conflict in members' hearts, minds and souls," Robert said at the completion of the project. "The 58 books that received multiple votes are apparently the most compelling books of the century for the readers of the Mensa Bulletin. Some of them may be characterized as important or influential books, others as favorites, and all as someone's best reading."

Only the top 12 books received five or more votes including a first-place vote. In tie votes, titles are placed in the order of their year of first publication, as the older books have stood the greater test of time. Click on any book for more information.

1: (tie) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954; fiction)
   Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957; fiction)
3: 1984 by George Orwell (1949; fiction)
4: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939; fiction)
5: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979; nonfiction)
6: (tie) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962; nonfiction)
   A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking (1988; nonfiction)
8: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932; fiction)
9: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960; fiction)
10: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943; fiction)
11: Guns, Germs, and Steel : The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (1997; nonfiction)
12: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952; fiction)

"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all." -- Henry David Thoreau

Please note this official disclaimer: The poll described above was designed solely to sample the opinions of those members who responded. It should not be considered as a research sample of the membership of American Mensa.