The Best English-Language Fiction of the Twentieth Century
A Composite List and Ranking
by Brian Kunde

The Ranking System.

Several methods were experimented with in an effort to combine the source lists into one in a way that acknowledges and reflects their evaluations of the works included. The best means seems to be one cumulating the rankings of the sources. The version of this method originally adopted had the problematic feature of exaggerating the scores of works appearing in multiple sources, to the extent that it distorted the rankings. The version now in use does not have this problem. The method used to reconcile the sources is as follows:
  • First, to ensure that equivalent ratings in each source were given equal weight, the rankings in each source list were converted into points on a 100-point scale (with the last 50 on the longest source dipping into negative numbers, since there are 150 works in that source). A first-place rank was given 100 points, a second place rank 99, and so on -- down to 1 point for a 100th-place rank on the three shorter lists, and down to -49 points for the 150th-place rank on the longest list.
  • Second, the points for every work on each list were totaled to determine its cumulative popularity (or weight) in the sources.
  • Finally, the works were re-ranked according to total points received, those with the most ranking highest and those with the least ranking lowest. In cases where two or more works ended up with the same number of points, the works(s) appearing in the most sources are ranked first. Works that both share the same number of points and appear in the same number of sources are ranked alphabetically by author and title.

The highest number of points a work could receive according to this system is 400, for appearing in first in all four lists. No one work actually did - the most points actually awarded was 385. The lowest number of points a work could receive is -49, for appearing last in the longest list alone. As the last item in the longest list also appeared in one of the others, the fewest points actually awarded were -48.

To provide the user of the composite list with some idea of the basis for each work's ranking, I have shown for each work the number of source lists it appears in, along with the points or weight it was awarded. Together with the original rankings in the sources, also provided, this will let the user check the compiler's math, should he or she so desire. As I stake no claim to infallibility, reports on any errors discovered will be welcome. The column key will further explain the information provided on each work.

It might be asked why such a complex system was used. Originally I utilized a simple 150-point scale, which remained in place on this site for over six years. Its flaws were highlighted by the observations of John Young. John demonstrated that rating 100-title lists on the same scale as a 150-title list disadvantaged the former. In fact, it awarded so many extra points based on the number of lists a work appeared on that its points from its original rankings in those same lists were often irrelevant -- a serious distorion. His favored solution was to drop the Library Journal list's titles 101-150 and then re-rate the four lists on a 100-point scale. While this notion has merit, it would in my opinion have meant falsifying the comparison between the four lists, for two reasons: (1) dropping the last 50 of the 150-title list misrepresents that list; (2) since some of these fifty titles are duplicated in the other lists, it denies their rankings in the longest list their due effect on their rankings in the shorter lists, rendering their final rankings inaccurate. I have, however, made John's solution the basis of an alternative ranking.

The present system is essentially a modification of John's 100-point scale, retaining the last 50 titles of the longest list while representing their rankings in negative numbers, since in relation to the three lists with only 100 entries all these titles would rate at less than 1. This removes the distortion inherant in my original system. In fact, the practical effect is now that a title on any of the other lists duplicated in the final third of the Library Journal list has its score dragged down, not augmented, by that duplication. Unique titles in this portion of the Library Journal list, as in the previous system, rank below all titles in the other lists.

If you are interested in seeing the effect John's unmodified proposal has on the ratings, see the Alternative Rankings. His removal of the last fifty entries in the longest list from consideration it eliminates their drag-down effect on some of the ratings, but that same removal essentially falsifies the comparison.

Also in the Alternative Rankings you will also find my original alternative ranking, in which the bias created by exaggerating a work's rating in accord with the number of sources it appears in is taken out. Its defect is that in treating works rated among the "best" by all sources the same as those only one source elevates to that distinction it favors eccentic choices over consensus ones, and a work appearing in one source only can "beat out" one appearing in all the rest.

1st web edition posted 2/26/99 (last updated 5/25/04).
2nd web edition posted 6/24/05 (last updated 7/13/15).
Please report any errors to the compiler.
Published by Fleabonnet Press.
The source list data is public domain.
Additional material © 1999-2015 by Brian Kunde.