What is the Good Life? Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, & Kant’s Ideas in 4 Animated Videos

We all have some vision of what the good life should look like. Days filled with reading and strolls through museums, retirement to a tropical island, unlimited amounts of time for video games…. Whatever they may be, our concepts tend toward fantasy of the grass is greener variety. But what would it mean to live the good life in the here and now, in the life we’re given, with all its warts, routines, and daily obligations? Though the work of philosophers for the past hundred years or so may seem divorced from mundane concerns and desires, this was not always so. Thinkers like PlatoAristotleImmanuel Kant, and Friedrich Nietzsche once made the question of the good life central to their philosophy. In the videos here, University of New Orleans philosophy professor Chris Surprenant surveys these four philosophers’ views on that most consequential subject.

The view we’re likely most familiar with comes from Socrates (as imagined by Plato), who, while on trial for corrupting the youth, tells his inquisitors, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Pithy enough for a Twitter bio, the statement itself may too often go unexamined. Socrates does not endorse a life of private self-reflection; he means that “an individual become a master of himself,” says Surprenant,”using his reason to reign in his passions, as well as doing what he can to help promote the stability of his community.” In typical ancient Greek fashion, Plato and his mentor Socrates define the good life in terms of reasonable restraint and civic duty.

The Platonic version of the good life comes in for a thorough drubbing at the hands of Friedrich Nietzsche, as do Aristotelian, Kantian, and Judeo-Christian ideals. Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead,” and in particular the Christian god, “allows us the possibility of living more meaningful and fulfilling lives,” Surprenant says. Nietzsche, who describes himself as an “amoralist,” uses the proposed death of god—a metaphor for the loss of religious and metaphysical authority governing human behavior—to stage what he calls a “revaluation of values.” His critique of conventional morality pits what he calls life-denying values of self-restraint, democracy, and compassion (“slave morality”) against life-affirming values.

For Nietzsche, life is best affirmed by a striving for individual excellence that he identified with an idealized aristocracy. But before we begin thinking that his definition of the good life might accord well with, say, Ayn Rand’s, we should attend to the thread of skepticism that runs throughout all his work. Despite his contempt for traditional morality, Nietzsche did not seek to replace it with universal prescriptions, but rather to undermine our confidence in all such notions of universality. As Surprenant points out, “Nietzsche is not looking for followers,” but rather attempting to “disrupt old conceptual schemes,” in order to encourage us to think for ourselves and, as much as it’s possible, embrace the hand we’re dealt in life.

For contrast and comparison, see Surprenant’s summaries of Aristotle and Kant’s views above and below. This series of animated videos comes to us from Wireless Philosophy (Wi-Phi for short), a project jointly created by Yale and MIT in 2013. We’ve previously featured video series on metaphysical problems like free will and the existence of god and logical problems like common cognitive biases. The series here on the good life should give you plenty to reflect on, and to study should you decide to take up the challenge and read some of the philosophical arguments about the good life for yourself, if only to refute them and come up with your own. But as the short videos here should make clear, thinking rigorously about the question will likely force us to seriously re-examine our comfortable illusions.

For many more open access philosophy videos, check out the Wi Phi Youtube channel. You can also find complete courses by Prof. Surprenant in our collection of Free Online Philosophy Courses.


Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau


walden1Yes. This is about some guy merely living in the woods. Here are the essentials of it, in Thoreau’s own words, some 100 pages in:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.”

walden 2Utterly dull as it often is, it is also strangely compelling. Often, this is down to how well Thoreau can write:

“The village appeared to me a great news room; and on one side, to support it, as once at Redding & Company’s on State Street, they kept nuts and raisins, or salt and meal and other groceries. Some have such a vast appetite for the former commodity, that is, the news, and such sound digestive organs, that they can sit forever in public avenues without stirring, and let it simmer and whisper through them like the Etesian winds, or as if inhaling ether, it only producing numbness and insensibility to pain—otherwise it would often be painful to bear—without affecting the consciousness. I hardly ever failed, when I rambled through the village, to see a row of such worthies, either sitting on a ladder sunning themselves, with their bodies inclined forward and their eyes glancing along the line this way and that, from time to time, with a voluptuous expression, or else leaning against a barn with their hands in their pockets, like caryatides, as if to prop it up. They, being commonly out of doors, heard whatever was in the wind. These are the coarsest mills, in which all gossip is first rudely digested or cracked up before it is emptied into finer and more delicate hoppers within doors. I observed that the vitals of the village were the grocery, the bar-room, the post-office, and the bank; and, as a necessary part of the machinery, they kept a bell, a big gun, and a fire-engine, at convenient places; and the houses were so arranged as to make the most of mankind, in lanes and fronting one another, so that every traveller had to run the gauntlet, and every man, woman, and child might get a lick at him. Of course, those who were stationed nearest to the head of the line, where they could most see and be seen, and have the first blow at him, paid the highest prices for their places; and the few straggling inhabitants in the outskirts, where long gaps in the line began to occur, and the traveller could get over walls or turn aside into cow-paths, and so escape, paid a very slight ground or window tax. Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him; some to catch him by the appetite, as the tavern and victualling cellar; some by the fancy, as the dry goods store and the jeweller’s; and others by the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the barber, the shoemaker, or the tailor. Besides, there was a still more terrible standing invitation to call at every one of these houses, and company expected about these times. For the most part I escaped wonderfully from these dangers, either by proceeding at once boldly and without deliberation to the goal, as is recommended to those who run the gauntlet, or by keeping my thoughts on high things, like Orpheus, who, “loudly singing the praises of the gods to his lyre, drowned the voices of the Sirens, and kept out of danger.” Sometimes I bolted suddenly, and nobody could tell my whereabouts, for I did not stand much about gracefulness, and never hesitated at a gap in a fence. I was even accustomed to make an irruption into some houses, where I was well entertained, and after learning the kernels and very last sieveful of news—what had subsided, the prospects of war and peace, and whether the world was likely to hold together much longer—I was let out through the rear avenues, and so escaped to the woods again.

It was very pleasant, when I stayed late in town, to launch myself into the night, especially if it was dark and tempestuous, and set sail from some bright village parlor or lecture room, with a bag of rye or Indian meal upon my shoulder, for my snug harbor in the woods, having made all tight without and withdrawn under hatches with a merry crew of thoughts, leaving only my outer man at the helm, or even tying up the helm when it was plain sailing. I had many a genial thought by the cabin fire “as I sailed.” I was never cast away nor distressed in any weather, though I encountered some severe storms. It is darker in the woods, even in common nights, than most suppose. I frequently had to look up at the opening between the trees above the path in order to learn my route, and, where there was no cart-path, to feel with my feet the faint track which I had worn, or steer by the known relation of particular trees which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines for instance, not more than eighteen inches apart, in the midst of the woods, invariably, in the darkest night. Sometimes, after coming home thus late in a dark and muggy night, when my feet felt the path which my eyes could not see, dreaming and absent-minded all the way, until I was aroused by having to raise my hand to lift the latch, I have not been able to recall a single step of my walk, and I have thought that perhaps my body would find its way home if its master should forsake it, as the hand finds its way to the mouth without assistance.”

walden 4This bit about a Loon is typical of the beauty of this book:

“In the fall the loon (Colymbus glacialis) came, as usual, to moult and bathe in the pond, making the woods ring with his wild laughter before I had risen. At rumor of his arrival all the Mill-dam sportsmen are on the alert, in gigs and on foot, two by two and three by three, with patent rifles and conical balls and spy-glasses. They come rustling through the woods like autumn leaves, at least ten men to one loon. Some station themselves on this side of the pond, some on that, for the poor bird cannot be omnipresent; if he dive here he must come up there. But now the kind October wind rises, rustling the leaves and rippling the surface of the water, so that no loon can be heard or seen, though his foes sweep the pond with spy-glasses, and make the woods resound with their discharges. The waves generously rise and dash angrily, taking sides with all water-fowl, and our sportsmen must beat a retreat to town and shop and unfinished jobs. But they were too often successful. When I went to get a pail of water early in the morning I frequently saw this stately bird sailing out of my cove within a few rods. If I endeavored to overtake him in a boat, in order to see how he would manoeuvre, he would dive and be completely lost, so that I did not discover him again, sometimes, till the latter part of the day. But I was more than a match for him on the surface. He commonly went off in a rain.

As I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October afternoon, for such days especially they settle on to the lakes, like the milkweed down, having looked in vain over the pond for a loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few rods in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself. I pursued with a paddle and he dived, but when he came up I was nearer than before. He dived again, but I miscalculated the direction he would take, and we were fifty rods apart when he came to the surface this time, for I had helped to widen the interval; and again he laughed long and loud, and with more reason than before. He manoeuvred so cunningly that I could not get within half a dozen rods of him. Each time, when he came to the surface, turning his head this way and that, he cooly surveyed the water and the land, and apparently chose his course so that he might come up where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat. It was surprising how quickly he made up his mind and put his resolve into execution. He led me at once to the widest part of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While he was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against a loon. Suddenly your adversary’s checker disappears beneath the board, and the problem is to place yours nearest to where his will appear again. Sometimes he would come up unexpectedly on the opposite side of me, having apparently passed directly under the boat. So long-winded was he and so unweariable, that when he had swum farthest he would immediately plunge again, nevertheless; and then no wit could divine where in the deep pond, beneath the smooth surface, he might be speeding his way like a fish, for he had time and ability to visit the bottom of the pond in its deepest part. It is said that loons have been caught in the New York lakes eighty feet beneath the surface, with hooks set for trout—though Walden is deeper than that. How surprised must the fishes be to see this ungainly visitor from another sphere speeding his way amid their schools! Yet he appeared to know his course as surely under water as on the surface, and swam much faster there. Once or twice I saw a ripple where he approached the surface, just put his head out to reconnoitre, and instantly dived again. I found that it was as well for me to rest on my oars and wait his reappearing as to endeavor to calculate where he would rise; for again and again, when I was straining my eyes over the surface one way, I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly laugh behind me. But why, after displaying so much cunning, did he invariably betray himself the moment he came up by that loud laugh? Did not his white breast enough betray him? He was indeed a silly loon, I thought. I could commonly hear the splash of the water when he came up, and so also detected him. But after an hour he seemed as fresh as ever, dived as willingly, and swam yet farther than at first. It was surprising to see how serenely he sailed off with unruffled breast when he came to the surface, doing all the work with his webbed feet beneath. His usual note was this demoniac laughter, yet somewhat like that of a water-fowl; but occasionally, when he had balked me most successfully and come up a long way off, he uttered a long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any bird; as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls. This was his looning—perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard here, making the woods ring far and wide. I concluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts, confident of his own resources. Though the sky was by this time overcast, the pond was so smooth that I could see where he broke the surface when I did not hear him. His white breast, the stillness of the air, and the smoothness of the water were all against him. At length having come up fifty rods off, he uttered one of those prolonged howls, as if calling on the god of loons to aid him, and immediately there came a wind from the east and rippled the surface, and filled the whole air with misty rain, and I was impressed as if it were the prayer of the loon answered, and his god was angry with me; and so I left him disappearing far away on the tumultuous surface.”

This is a very important work of literature, for the ideas that it set in motion: it inspired a whole range of authors and thinkers.

John Updike: “A century and a half after its publication, Walden has become such a totem of the back-to-nature, preservationist, anti-business, civil-disobedience mindset, and Thoreau so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.”


For whatever reason, on reading this book, one feels that one is reading a work of literature. It feels important. Thoreau’s arrogance, or genius, or originality, or perversity, or whatever it is, makes this a great work of American Literature.

Mr A

walden 3


15 best North American novels of all time?

Fear and Loathing, The Grapes of Wrath, Moby-Dick: The Telegraph pick the “big, brave and occasionally brash best North American novels ever written”

Best American novels of all time (clockwide from top left): JD Salinger, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Tom Wolfe, For Whom the Bell Toll by Ernest Hemingway

Best American novels of all time (clockwide from top left): JD Salinger, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Tom Wolfe, For Whom the Bell Toll by Ernest Hemingway
  1. The Scarlet Letter 

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Uniquely among male novelists of his era, Hawthorne’s compelling story of the callous judgment meted out to an unmarried mother by the puritans of Boston, Massachusetts, is a moving and thoughtful study of society’s ambivalent and contradictory treatment of women.


2. Moby-Dick

Herman Melville (1851)

“In landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God,” says wandering sailor Ishmael, as he sets sail with vengeful Quaker Captain Ahab on the hunt for the monstrous white whale that maimed him. Fathoms deep in allusion and nautical nomenclature.

3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain (1884)

Set in the geographic centre of the antebellum US, the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the colourful tale of an abused and motherless boy’s coming of age along the Mississippi River which wittily challenged America’s perception of itself as the “sivilized” land of the free.

4. The House of Mirth 

Edith Wharton (1905)

Caught between her entitled taste for luxury and her yearning for true love, Lily Bart, the beautiful and intelligent heroine of this acutely observed novel slowly slithers down the rungs of superficial New York society to a tragic end.

5. The Call of the Wild 

Jack London (1903)

When men “groping in the Arctic darkness” strike gold, a proud St Bernard-Scotch Collie called Buck is sold into sledgehauling slavery. It’s survival of the fittest in what E L Doctorow described as this most “fervently American” club and fang adventure.

6. The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck (1939)

“I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags,” Steinbeck said of his novel about a poor family of “Okies” driven from their land in the Great Depression. It was the main reason he was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature.

7. Independence Day

Richard Ford (1995)

The second book in Ford’s trilogy about Frank Bascombe – sportswriter turned realtor. Coiner of such quirky phrases as “happy as goats” and “solitary as Siberia” Bascombe’s been described as “America’s most convincing everyman”. Ford says he’s “asleep at the switch”.

8. The Colossus of Maroussi 

Henry Miller (1941)

This impressionistic travelogue, whose rolling, incantatory style predicted the Beat Generation, was inspired by the time Miller spent in Greece with Lawrence Durrell before the SecondWorldWar. He felt “like a cockroach” but “came home to the world” at Mycenae.

9. The Catcher in the Rye

J D Salinger (1951)

Salinger’s “sort of” autobiographical account of the misfit Holden Caulfield’s flight from his “phony” prep school is a controversial classic of adolescent angst that has inspired readers as diverse as President George HW Bush and John Lennon’s assassin Mark Chapman.

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S Thompson (1971)

Described by Tom Wolfe as a “scorching epochal sensation”, this reckless, drugfuelled “gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country” is a funny, furious and disorienting attack on the American Dream by the original gonzo journalist.

11. Beloved

Toni Morrison (1987)

With an epigraph of “60 Million and more” dedicated to victims of the Atlantic slave trade, this psychologically complex, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is about a former slave who kills her infant daughter rather than allow her to be recaptured.

12. All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy (1992)

The reclusive author best known for bringing a biblical sense of evil into his portrayal of the unforgiving American landscape achieved mainstream success with this tale of a talented 16-year-old horse breaker, evicted from his Texan ranch in 1940. First in the Border Trilogy.

13. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers (1940)

The debut of a 23-year-old author, this small-town drama set in the Depression-era South tells of a teenage girl, an African-American doctor, an alcoholic socialist, and a taciturn diner owner who all think the local deaf-mute “gets” them. He doesn’t.

14. Fugitive Pieces

Anne Michaels (1996)

In this haunting narrative of a Jewish boy who hides while the Nazis take his family, the Canadian poet wrote that death first becomes believable when “You recognise the one whose loss, even contemplated, you’ll carry forever, like a sleeping child.”

15. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lionel Shriver (2003)

Even to his mother, Kevin Katchadourian has been a creature of “opaque predilections” since birth. But she spends this novel trying to work out why her son committed a school massacre.Was her snobbery about her fellow Americans a cause?


Uncle Tom’s Cabin 

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

The Great Gatsby

F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway (1940)

Rabbit, Run

John Updike (1960)

The Color Purple

Alice Walker (1982)

The Human Stain

Philip Roth (2000)

White Noise

Don DeLillo (1985)

The Bonfire of the Vanities 

Tom Wolfe (1987)

The Shipping News 

Annie Proulx (1993)

Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace (1996)


The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneSo, once you’ve read Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and Steinbeck, and once you’ve read that monstrosity of a book about a whale and wondered at its status as an American classic, where to next? Of course, there are the novels of Willa Cather which are all great, and there are those beautiful novels of Faulkner, and the odd classic by Plath or Salinger or London, and then the stories of Poe: but who next? Hawthorne’s novel had long escaped me, but on reading it this week it proved to be quite a revelation: a great novel, a well-written novel, and an important novel, which hasn’t, of late, got a great deal of attention. It is a bit densely written (making it seem a little old-fashioned and hard-going by modern standards, where we expect prose to run away with itself never far from the surface of the page / action), but the conception and execution are both equally fine. This is truly a novel, such as Of Mice and Men, For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Huckleberry Finn, which everyone should read, and from which everyone would benefit. Such a wise novel, so artfully and sympathetically written, it is well worth slogging through the opening section in the custom house, if one really can slog through beautiful prose, to get to the novel’s central tale. But even the framing of the story thus: a collection of papers and manuscripts relating to the early settlers found in the middle of the nineteenth century by a narrator (who himself merits a great deal of thought) becomes something interesting in itself, much as Lockwood’s framing of the central tale of Nelly Dean in Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a device which obsessed Conrad at the end of the century, and in some ways set up the concerns of the novels of this century: whose story is this? Is it true? Can it be credited? Must we question it, just as we wonder at it?


Mr A

Top 100 American Literature Titles

Listed below are the top 100 titles for the American literature classroom, ranked in order of popularity, chosen by American literature teachers from across the country.

1. The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

3. The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

4. Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

5. To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

6. The Catcher
in the Rye

J.D. Salinger

7. The Grapes
of Wrath

John Steinbeck

8. Their Eyes
Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

9. The Crucible

Arthur Miller

10. The Things
They Carried

Tim O’Brien

11. The Awakening

Kate Chopin

12. Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

13. Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

14. A Raisin
in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry

15. The Red Badge
of Courage

Stephen Crane

16. The House
on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros

17. The Jungle

Upton Sinclair

18. A Separate Peace

John Knowles

19. The Sun
Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway

20. Anthem

Ayn Rand

21. The Old Man
and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

22. As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner

23. The Color Purple

Alice Walker

24. A Farewell
to Arms

Ernest Hemingway

25. The Secret
Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd

26. Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

27. Native Son (abridged)

Richard Wright

28. My Antonia

Willa Cather

29. Narrative of the
Life of Frederick
Douglass, an
American Slave

Frederick Douglass

30. Beloved

Toni Morrison

31. Hiroshima

John Hersey

32. Moby Dick

Herman Melville

33. One Flew over
the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey

34. Black Boy

Richard Wright

35. Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo Anaya

36. Death of
a Salesman

Arthur Miller

37. In Cold Blood:
A True Account of
a Multiple Murder
and Its Consequences

Truman Capote

38. A Lesson
Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

39. Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

40. The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

41. The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison

42. The Sound
and the Fury

William Faulkner

43. The Adventures
of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain

44. Catch-22

Joseph Heller

45. The Chosen

Chaim Potok

46. East of Eden

John Steinbeck

47. I Know Why
the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

48. Walden and
Other Writings

Henry David Thoreau

49. The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

50. Billy Budd

Herman Melville

51. The Color of
Water: A Black
Man’s Tribute to
His White Mother

James McBride

52. The Fall of the
House of Usher
and Other Tales

Stephen Crane

53. Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

54. The Turn of the
Screw and Other
Short Novels

Henry James

55. Alas, Babylon

Pat Frank

56. The Glass Menagerie

Jamaica Kincaid

57. The Call
of the Wild

Jack London

58. Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

59. Fallen Angels

Walter Dean Myers

60. For Whom
the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

61. The Good Earth

Ayn Rand

62. Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer

63. The Last of
the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper

64. A Prayer
for Owen Meany

John Irving

65. Pudd’nhead Wilson

Mark Twain

66. The Road

Cormac McCarthy

67. The House of
the Seven Gables

Toni Morrison

68. When I Was Puerto Rican:
A Memoir

Esmeralda Santiago

69. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Jhumpa Lahiri

70. The Absolutely
True Diary of
a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie

71. All the
Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy

72. Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

73. The Five People
You Meet in Heaven

Mitch Albom

74. Life on the Mississippi

Erin Gruwell

75. Johnny Got
His Gun

Dalton Trumbo

76. The Light
in the Forest

Conrad Richter

77. O Pioneers!

Willa Cather

78. Out of the Dust

Karen Hesse

79. McTeague

Frank Norris

80. The Lone Ranger
and Tonto Fistfight
In Heaven

Sherman Alexie

81. Dreaming
in Cuban

Cristina Garcia

82. Before We
Were Free

Julia Alvarez

83. The Autobiography
of Malcolm X

Malcolm X with Alex Haley

84. The Autobiography
of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines

85. The Member
of the Wedding

Sandra Cisneros

86. The Pearl

Harriette Anrow

87. The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings

Kaye Gibbons

88. Fences

August Wilson

89. A Gathering
of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

90. The Glass Castle

Jeanette Walls

91. Going After Cacciato

Tim O’Brien

92. How the Garcia
Girls Lost Their

Julia Alvarez

93. Kindred

Octavia E. Butler

94. Little Women

Louisa May Alcott

95. A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams

96. A Yellow Raft
in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

97. Our Town

Thornton Wilder

98. Go Tell It
on the Mountain

James Baldwin

99. Mule Bone:
A Comedy
of Negro Life

Langston Hughes & Zora Neale Hurston

100. If Beale Street Could Talk

James Baldwin


A Parisian Affair by Guy de Maupassant

A list of some of de Maupassant’s short stories…

A Country Excursion

A Coup d’État

A Coward

A Cremation




All Over



An Old Man

An Adventure in Paris

An Artifice

At Sea

Bed 29

Belhomme’s Beast


Beside Schopenhauer’s Corpse




The Accursed Bread

The Adopted Son

The Apparition

The Artist

The Baptism

The Baroness

The Beggar

The Blind Man

“Boule de Suif” (Ball of Fat)

The Cake

The Capture of Walter Schnaffs

The Child

The Christening

Clair de Lune

Cleopatra in Paris


A Cock Crowed

The Colonel’s Ideas

The Confession

The Corsican Bandit

The Cripple

A Crisis

The Dead Girl (a.k.a. “Was it a Dream?”)

Dead Woman’s Secret

The Deaf Mute


The Devil

The Diamond Necklace

The Diary of a Madman


The Dispenser of Holy Water

The Donkey

The Door

The Dowry


The Drowned Man

The Drunkard

A Duel

The Effeminates

The Englishman of Etretat


The False Gems

A Family

A Family Affair


The Farmer’s Wife

Father Matthew

A Father’s Confession

The Fishing Hole


The Father

Father Milon


Femme Fatale

The First Snowfall


Forbidden Fruit


Found on a Drowned Man

Friend Joseph

Friend Patience

The Frontier

The Gamekeeper

A Ghost


The Grave

The Graveyard Sisterhood

The Hairpin

The Hand

Growing Old


Hautot Senior and Hautot Junior

His Avenger

The Highway Man

“The Horla, or Modern Ghosts”

The Horrible

A Humble Drama

The Impolite Sex

In the Country

In the Spring

In the Wood


The Inn

The Jewelry

Julie Romaine

The Kiss

The Lancer’s Wife

Lasting Love

Legend of Mont St. Michel

The Legion of Honor

Lieutenant Lare’s Marriage

The Little Cask

Little Louise Roque

A Lively Friend

The Log

Looking Back

The Love of Long Ago

Madame Baptiste

Madame Hermet

Madame Husson’s Rosier

Madame Parisse

Madame Tellier’s Establishment

Mademoiselle Cocotte

“Mademoiselle Fifi”

Mademoiselle Pearl

The Maison Tellier

The Magic Couch


The Man with the Pale Eyes

The Marquis de Fumerol



The Mask

A Meeting

A Million (Un Million)



Miss Harriet

The Model


Monsieur Parent


The Moribund

Mother and Son

A Mother of Monsters

“Mother Sauvage”

The Mountain Pool

The Mustache

My Twenty-Five Days

My Uncle Jules

My Uncle Sosthenes

My Wife

The Necklace

A New Year’s Gift

The Night: A Nightmare

No Quarter (French Le père Milon)

A Normandy Joke

Old Amable

Old Judas

The Old Man

Old Mongilet

On Horseback

On the River

On a Spring Evening

The Orphan

Our Friends The English

Our Letters

A Parricide

The Parrot

The Patron

The Penguin’s Rock

“The Piece of String”


Pierre et Jean

The Port

A Portrait

The Prisoners

The Protector

Queen Hortense

A Queer Night in Paris

The Question of Latin

The Rabbit

A Recollection


The Relic

The Reward

Roger’s Method

Roly-Poly (Boule de Suif)

The Rondoli Sisters

Rosalie Prudent



A Sale

Saint Anthony

The Shepherd’s Leap

The Signal

Simon’s Papa

The Snipe

The Son


The Story of a Farm Girl

A Stroll

The Spasm


Sundays of a Bourgeois

The Terror

The Test

That Costly Ride

That Pig of a Morin

Theodule Sabot’s Confession

The Thief





A Tress of Hair

The Trip of the Horla

“Two Friends”

Two Little Soldiers

The Umbrella

An Uncomfortable Bed

The Unknown

“Useless Beauty”

A Vagabond

A Vendetta

The Venus of Branzia

En Voyage

Waiter, a “Bock”

The Wardrobe

A Wedding Gift

Who Knows?

A Widow

The Will

The Wolf

The Wreck

The Wrong House

Yvette Samoris


Despite having written so many, it is his first published story, “Boule de Suif” (“Ball of Fat”, 1880), that is often considered his masterpiece. Probably the foremost proponent of the short story in French literature, de Maupassant is rightly famous, and rightly still read. His stories are remarkably balanced and crafted, and what is more, remarkably relevant, not seeming to have dated in any aspect, still less in the morals that his stories espouse. Timeless literature, I guess.


Mr A


Cathedral by Raymond Carver

Cathedral by Raymond CarverWho is Raymond Carver? And what does he write? Other than noting that he was American, struggled with alcoholism, was up to his neck in the creative writing scene of American Universities in, and then wrote short stories back in the 70s and 80s, it’s hard to know what else to say about Carver. His stories are at once controlled and underwhelming, about nothing and about anything, and whilst being concerned with the ordinary, always flirting with some vague kind of transcendence: there’s always something more hinted at in Carver’s stories, but for the life of me I can never put my finger on it.

A review in the New York Times:


Interesting to try to work out what all the fuss is about. Not much I’d say. But I’m not completely sure.

Mr A