Confessions of a Lister

“Listing: It’s not just my passion, it’s also a desperate cry for help.” – JMB

I love lists.  I love to make lists.  I love to read other people’s lists. I like to collect lists and combine them and analyze the results.  Every December, I collect all the critics’ lists of best movies, books and music of the past year and combine them into meta-lists that I use to guide my own choices and also distribute to friends, family and co-workers. And I like to argue with listmakers: how could you leave X off your list? Or, I can’t believe you rated Y so highly.

I make my own lists – favorite this, favorite that, concerts I’ve seen, birds I’ve seen, native plants I’ve grown, states I’ve been to, etc.  Many of these “my favorites” lists have found a home on this blog.  But the majority of the blog is not dedicated to my favorites, but to meta-lists. Meta-lists are lists that combine pre-existing lists. I look around the Internet, and in books and magazines and newspapers to find lists that other people have made on a topic, and I combine them into one large meta-list.  I do this using a very simple formula: if an item is on one list, it gets one point on the meta-list. If it is on two lists, it gets two points, and so on.  I know that some meta-listers like to give different weights to items on a list according to their ranking or the number of items on the list, but I don’t.  Whether an item is ranked No. 1 or No. 100 on a list, whether it’s on a Top 10 list or a Top 1000 list, it still gets one point on the meta-list. (For my justification for this method, and my mathematical explanation for why those who give different weights to different items on lists are almost always wrong, see this post.)

As you go through the lists in the menu above, when you will see numbers in boldface type, they usually indicate how many of the original source lists the item is on. So, for example Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is on 22 Best Works of Visual Art lists; Hagia Sophia is on 20 Best Architecture lists; Citizen Kane is on 26 Best Films lists; The Simpsons is on 17 Best TV Shows lists; The Beatles’ Revolver is on 34 Best Albums lists; Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother is on 22 Best Photographs lists; Don Quixote is on 22 Best Literature lists; electromagnetism is on 17 lists of the most important scientific discoveries; the printing press is on 20 Best Inventions lists; Albert Einstein is on 24 Most Influential/Important People lists; Marlon Brando was on 22 Best Film Actors lists;  Michael Jordan was on 17 Best Athletes lists, and so on.

Why this obsession with lists? Is it a mild form of OCD? An escape from the complexities and ambiguities of life into a simpler world? I know that when I’m trying to decide what movies to watch, books to read, and music to listen to, these lists help me to winnow down the choices to those that have the stamp of approval of at least a few critics or other folks who have the time and inclination to assess the quality of the thousands of items released into the overcrowded marketplace every year.  But really, I don’t know why I love to make lists.  And most of the time, I’m not worried about it.  I just enjoy making the lists, and I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

– John M. Becker

50 thoughts on “Confessions of a Lister

  1. Dedra

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

    Reply
  2. bkwrm513

    Absolutely! I love lists 🙂 I LIVE for lists. Per my military training, I enjoy having a POD (plan of the day) for every. single. day. Even if I don’t stick to it exactly, I like to feel in control and accomplished when I can cross things off. We are kindred spirits, you and I.

    Reply
    1. beckchris

      I’m impressed by your PODs – takes discipline I don’t seem to have. I do know about the thrill of checking off, though. My wife laughs at me when I make a Saturday to-do list and the first three items are: wake up, shower and eat breakfast. Hey, it’s only 8 a.m. and I’ve already checked off three things!

      Reply
      1. fordfan96

        Hi, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but did you see my comment below? I am curious about what the lists that you have used for these meta-lists are?

  3. fordfan96

    Hello,

    These lists are very interesting. Can you tell me what the 18 lists that were used are for the artwork list? Same with the TV show, literature, poetry, and classical music lists?

    Reply
  4. fordfan96

    This website is very interesting! I am curious, though, if you could disclose what lists you created the meta-lists from? Such as the artworks list, classical music, literature, poetry, and TV shows?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  5. beckchris

    Fordfan96: No problem – not rude at all. I sent this reply to your hotmail address on 3/12/15 – you must not have seen it:

    Thanks for your ‘like’ and comments on Make Lists, Not War. Unfortunately, I am unable to comply with your request because I wasn’t very methodical about keeping track of the original lists I used to make my meta-lists. I found lists in blogs and other websites, books and magazines, then compiled them all together – along the way, the actual sources of the lists got lost. I’m sure you can find many of them with a web search. I can tell you that I preferred lists made by experts, critics, academics and scholars over lists made by non-expert individuals or lists that were crowd-sourced, although I was not absolutely rigid about that.

    Reply
  6. Marcelo Funes-Gallanzi

    I am currently working on a artificial cognition system, which is implemented in part in a conversational agent to be found in http://www.rachaelrepp.org As part of the development, I would like to give it some ability to be “creative”… as a first stab at it, I have been thinking about using a list of famous paintings and their description (which is necessary because we associate ideas through making ideograms which are based on written language – a bit like Chinese symbols) is it OK if I use your list of best works of art? I will be happy to put a link and an acknowledgement of course. We will combine this with synesthesia and the use of metaphors so should be fun to see what comes out…

    Reply
    1. beckchris

      Marcelo:

      I received your comment asking to use the list of famous paintings and their descriptions from Make Lists, Not War. Yes! Go right ahead! And a link would be great, too. Best of luck in your project – looks very interesting.

      Let me know if you have any questions.

      John M. Becker

      Reply
  7. Dave Hannon

    I tend to list to the right, but I have a new knee now and plan to be more of a centrist. Glad we are now friends on Facebook, you are good company. That’s my highest compliment.

    Reply
  8. ronniesmartwriter

    I discovered your short story list today. Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this, and for giving me more resources to improve my own writing skills. Make the gods of sky and earth bless you!

    Reply
  9. Ed Chang

    Whoa – I’m so glad I found this List blog! I too am a kind of list-collector and only found this because I was seeing if anybody had done a definitive Jazz List – and I see you have! Anyways, bravo and I can;t wait to dig i to your lists…. I’m tempted to start posting my own lists now on one of my secondary blogs….if you visit my blogs you’ll see I have a kind of similar work ethic on internet ephemera :).

    Reply
  10. Tom Berker

    Sorry but any best of Blues list that excludes the Allman Brothers “At Fillmore East” is quite simply a poorly compiled list.

    Reply
    1. beckchris

      Tom: I’m as surprised as you that the album didn’t make it! If I had found that album on at least two “Best Blues of All Time” lists, it would have made it onto the meta-list.

      Reply
  11. Bricks

    Greetings!
    I’ve made a metalist of christian books. If u want send me your e-mail so i can send it to you so you can check it out and possibly upload it on your site.

    Reply
  12. Lorenzo Fiorentini

    Hello! I love your job!
    It would be great if you could create meta-lists that are less focused on Anglo-Saxon culture and more around the world. In addition, it would be very useful to have meta-lists on other musical genres, such as pop, film music, musicals, fusion / funk and the like, reggae and Latin music, songwriting or electronic music.
    Thanks a lot and keep it up!

    Reply
    1. beckchris Post author

      Lorenzo: Thanks for the feedback and the suggestions. I, too, am disappointed that so many of the lists are biased toward English-speaking countries and Western Civilization in general. There is so much more to the world! I suspect that part of the problem is that my search for “best” lists is restricted to English-language results, which probably skews the lists in that direction. I hope to keep working on the lists to make them more inclusive.

      Reply
  13. Jason Springfield

    Chris I love this list of 100 major events of world history! This is great stuff! What is your educational background and what method did you use to compile this?

    Jason

    Reply
    1. beckchris Post author

      Thanks for the feedback, Jason! I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Oberlin College and a juris doctor degree from Northeastern University. In my day job, I’m a lawyer. My method was to scour the internet and books for lists of the most important events of world history, including timelines, and keep track of which events were on the most lists. Then I compiled a meta-list of the most listed events and set them out chronologically to make the list. I picked 100 as a nice round number that would include a lot of events but not become overwhelming. (If you want to be overwhelmed, check out the Timeline of History I did.) As you can see, there is often a larger event (like World War II) and sub-events within it (like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day or the Battle of Stalingrad).

      Reply
  14. Sam Kaplan

    I wonder if you’ve updated your best operas list? I used it for a paper I wrote seven years ago and am now preparing an updated version to take account of an apparent decline in the dominance of German and Italian operas in opera programming.
    Side point: I’m astonished that “The Third Man does not appear on any of the movie lists. Believe me, I know that your lists are not your opinions. This absence is a revelation, especially since The Third Man is fairly often shown on TCM. I’m, wondering if it’s morally too dark or ambiguous. II think of it as a great film, with exceptional acting and direction. “Everyone” remembers Orson Welles, but the greatest credit should go to Joseph Cotten . And this tale of intrigue and international politics includes a poignant story of romantic yearning.
    Not your fault, Chris. I blame my fellow critics. I’m just taking advantage of your site to express my mystified shock.

    Reply
    1. beckchris Post author

      Hi Sam. I first published the Best Operas list in 2014, combining 20 lists. I added five more lists in 2017. I may do another update this year. As for The Third Man, it is on several of the movie lists, including:
      https://beckchris.com/movie-lists/best-films-of-all-time-the-critics-picks-take-2/
      https://beckchris.com/movie-lists/the-big-movie-list/
      https://beckchris.com/movie-lists/best-films-of-all-time-the-critics-picks-take-2/best-films-of-all-time-take-2-chronological/
      https://beckchris.com/movie-lists/my-five-star-films/

      Reply
  15. Noah

    I stumbled onto your website looking for the best novels to read. Then I realized I clued into a cornucopia of great resources for almost everything.

    Not sure if you take suggestions, or if this is where I should even post it, but I think a list of the best essays of all time would be incredible. Some of the greatest writers put condensed thoughts into great essays and a meta list would be incredible!

    Reply
    1. Noah

      Also, if the above was too specific, I meant the broader term of “Creative Non-Fiction” rather than traditional “essays.”

      Reply
      1. Noah

        Amazing. I can’t wait. More for your personal pleasure rather than for list-building purposes, be sure to read any DFW or Joan Didion essays — haven’t found anything short of a gem from either of them

      2. beckchris Post author

        Noah: I have created a best essays meta-list. You can look at it in Ranked or Chronological format. Thanks for the suggestion and hope you enjoy. Both Didion and DFW made the list.

  16. noahblaff

    Is there a page ranking biographies that I’m missing — I see one for autobiographies, but was curious if there’s a best biographies list as well?

    Reply
  17. Daniela Salazar

    I really value what you do (I squealed when I saw that there was a site that was doing the exact same thing I always do to “figure out” the consensus of best: hair products, genre books, anything!), and it made me very happy and excited to see others were doing the same thing I’ve done for years!!! I hope it’s not forward of me to ask, and you can ignore this message if you want, but I would love to see a Best Of Rock Albums list in the future, if possible! Either way, thanks for all you do, I’m getting back into reading essays and poetry with your lists!

    Reply
    1. beckchris Post author

      Daniela – Thanks for the feedback – so glad you are enjoying the site. A best of rock albums list is a great idea! I can’t guarantee I’ll do it immediately, but I’ll put it on my to-do list.

      Reply

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