Clifton Fadiman released 'The Lifetime Reading Plan,' his rankings of the world's greatest books, in 1960.
On this New Year’s Day, a holiday given over to ambitious plans for the coming 12 months, let’s pause and salute the patron saint of plan-happy readers everywhere, Clifton Fadiman.
Fadiman, who died in 1999 at age 95, was one of the most popular American intellectuals of his day, helping to establish the Book-of-the-Month Club, editing the Encyclopedia Britannica, serving as a book editor of The New Yorker, hosting a radio program called “Information Please,” and crafting erudite, witty essays for Holiday magazine.
But every Jan. 1, American bookworms should remember Fadiman for a special reason. In 1960, Fadiman published “The Lifetime Reading Plan,” his list of the world’s greatest books, along with brief essays about why they mattered. The list included everyone from Confucius to Jane Austen, Boswell to George Bernard Shaw, Edith Wharton to William Faulkner. A revised “Lifetime Reading Plan” appeared in 1997.
But the contents of Fadiman’s guide was perhaps less important than its promising premise – that one’s reading life could be planned and that it could be charted as diligently through the decades as a farmer, consulting his almanac, might plot out the planting of his crops.