The Torchlight List

Hands up those of you who had heard of this?

Me neither.  Until Monday when I was having my usual friendly chat with my local barista.

Our conversation began with her telling me that she was re-reading The Great Gatsby and desperately waiting for the film to finally come out.  From there we got on to the topic of books, and I mentioned that we have the 1001 Books blog which she liked the idea of.  In return she mentioned that her parents* were working their way through The Torchlight List.

Now she’s a bright girl and nice to chat to.  She gives off the air of one who has many well-organised braincells to rub together, so I thought I’d look up the Torchlight List at the local library and see what it was all about.
Besides, it’s another list.  Me.  Lists.  Books.  It doesn’t take much, really.

Written by Jim Flynn, a university professor, it covers an array of topics including chapters on: Science and early civilization; American history; The Human Condition (three of those); Latin America; Britain and its Empire; Germany, France and Russia; China, Japan, India and the Middle East.  There are a few more, but you get the idea.

Each chapter is a mix of commentary and recommendation.  At the back is a list of 200 books (with some extras, unnumbered).  Many are non-fiction (hurray) as well as an interesting, and different, range of fiction choices.  There are plays and poetry too.
As Flynn tells us in his introductory chapter,

This book will take you into a world far more wonderful than the world of work and entertainment.  At university I try to make converts by assigning works of literature that shed light on human psychology, history or philosophy.
Some students respond by asking me to give them lists of books.  Well, here is your list.  But I also want to make converts of those who have not yet gone or will never go to university.


Let me convince you that you can make time to read.  Read for forty minutes before bed each night to clear your mind of the day’s concerns.  Start with five great novels: Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Slave; Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey; F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; Erich Maria Remarque, Spark of Life; and Calder Willingham, End as a Man. I will make a bet: at least two of these will move you to tears and awaken emotions beyond anything pop culture can do.


I am going to try to convince you that learning about the world can be delightful, because it can be done by reading for pleasure: novels, histories so well-written that they read like novels, poetry, and plays.  In addition, there are some films you should try to see.  I have chosen books not only for artistic merit but also for their power to educate.  This means I have excluded some of the greatest novels ever written: their content would not acquaint you with a particular time or place.  And I have included some books that are merely entertaining (only a few) because they are informative.

I’m game to find out if I agree with his choice of books.  Besides, I really like to read non-fiction and I haven’t been doing very much of that lately.

Oh and I do like the quote he has chosen for the beginning of the book.

You can live in the most democratic country on earth, and if you are lazy, obtuse, or servile within yourself, you are not free.
– Ignazio Silone, 1955

Look out for books popping up here from my newest madness – The Torchlight List.

What are you reading right now?

* she’s a Uni student.  Makes a mean mochaccino and has it ready for me almost before I step out of my car to walk up to the cart.**

** I know that sounds kind of damning, and ever so slightly like I’m a coffee addict…. weelllll….


2 thoughts on “The Torchlight List

  1. I think they talk about it on National Radio a bit. Trying to think of where I heard it and I’m pretty sure it’s from there.


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