The world lost one of its greatest cultural figures today, as legendary musician David Bowie passed away at age 69. He died after a battle with cancer. Bowie was known as a forward-thinking chameleon musician who was always changing, innovating, and creating new sounds and styles. Even in his late 60s, Bowie was producing new music. His last album, Blackstar, was released only days before his death.

Bowie was also, not surprisingly, an avid reader and many of his albums were influenced by books. When Vanity Fair asked him “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” he responded simply “reading.”

In 2013, Bowie posted his 100 favorite books on his public Facebook page. The list is a characteristically eclectic list featuring everyone from Junot Diaz and George Orwell to Angela Carter and Muriel Spark.

RIP Bowie. The world was a better place for having you in it.

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
City Of Night by John Rechy
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Iliad by Homer
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
David Bomberg by Richard Cork
Blast by Wyndham Lewis
Passing by Nella Larson
Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Puckoon by Spike Milligan
Black Boy by Richard Wright
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot
McTeague by Frank Norris
Money by Martin Amis
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
Strange People by Frank Edwards
English Journey by J.B. Priestley
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
1984 by George Orwell
The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
Beano (comic, ’50s)
Raw (comic, ’80s)
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
The Street by Ann Petry
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.
A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
The Bridge by Hart Crane
All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Teenage by Jon Savage
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Viz (comic, early ’80s)
Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Maldodor by Comte de Lautréamont
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders by Lawrence Weschler
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
The Insult by Rupert Thomson
In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

45 Responses

    • SherrieMiranda

      Hello Ms. (or Mr.?) Mills,
      Is the Amazon list the same? It doesn’t look like it. Perhaps more recently updated?
      Curious . . .
      Peace,
      Sherrie
      Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
      http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y

      Reply
  1. Nicola Koh

    Good list, but surprisingly short of women (I counted about ten) and ethnic minorities, given how progressive, dare I say revolutionary, Bowie was for a white male.
    Does anyone have any insight on this? Do you think it might be a reflection of just the complete lack of diversity in publishing during many of the decades of Bowie’s life?

    Reply
    • SherrieMiranda

      Considering you are talking about the last 60 years, these were the most diverse times in the history of publishing. So, no, that can not be the reason.
      People will always surprise us, no matter the time. But considering that Bowie read a lot of nonfiction, that may have made a difference.
      Also, wasn’t his wife from Africa? I don’t see a single book from an African, let alone an African woman. And there is some great stuff out there.
      My question is: When was this list put together? That picture looks like Bowie as a high school or college preppie. If the list is from back then, it probably changed a great deal since then.
      Also, didn’t he have a couple kids with his African wife? That should have changed his perspective too.
      I am not sure if this is the end all, be all list that it is being touted to be.
      Perhaps his kids will enlighten us at a later date?
      Sherrie
      Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
      http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
      Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:

      Reply
      • TDub

        He might have just liked those authors. Diversity is great and all, but when it comes to your favorite art, you like what you like. Easy as pie, really.

      • Sherri

        The photo that accompanies the list is form an ad campaign to support reading/ libraries. I remember it from my time working at the N.Y.P.L.

        I went to McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street here in N.Y.C., who had a window and table display of his top 100 books. I personally found his list to be very interesting as did another shopper. For me, he seemed to embrace a couple of titles that specifically looked at the African American urban experience. There were three titles that I would also include on my list: The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary – would be among them.

        The list made me long to see his library, which I would imagine to be rather large. In an interview with Jonathan Ross, he stated that he wanted to be around for his daughter Lexi to help her through the dictionary and build her library up.

    • Darren Cane

      I think he was an intelligent person who read what he wanted. As we all should.

      It would be lovely if the book shaming would end. We’re now vaguely implying racism/misogyny posthumously for someone who was emphatically neither of those while he was alive. Based on this reading list, I’d say he was a smart, curious, artistic person who read widely and often.

      Contrary to present belief, reading more women or ethnic writers does nothing to fight bigotry. Although, flying around making judgments on strangers (and the dead) based on a reading list smacks of a kind of puritanical bigotry itself.

      Reply
      • Nicola Koh

        Mr. Cane:
        I never implied that Bowie was personally racist or misogynistic; I think rather that you are overly sensitive when it comes to white men being questioned by minorities.

        Fact: if Bowie had truly been a good and extensive reader, there is little to no chance that his list would be comprised of so many white men. That you are going to challenge this fact shows nothing more than your intense bias towards the accomplishments of white men, a product of your privilege and prejudice.

        I believe that Bowie worked hard to overcome the bigotry built into white male culture. This list shows that he wasn’t able to get past the racism and sexism of a literary canon that has been produced and regulated by white men, but I still have respect for him for his overall counter-culturalism.

        I’m afraid the same cannot be said of you. You may call yourself a fan of Bowie, but it is clear that you have not truly listened to his message or taken the things of his heart into yours, which shows that you haven’t respected Bowie—you’ve merely taken what you wanted from him and left the rest on the wayside.

      • Nicola Koh

        Pavellas,

        I get why you hate political correctness. It entails showing respect to minorities and not being able to voice the bigoted thoughts you have every seven seconds. What happened to the good all days when people used to pat you on the back despite how pathetic a person you are?

      • Sherri

        I agree. I read what I like, and a lot of it not on the ” Great Books List,” either.

        I do not know about the Amazon list at all. I did read that his library has 45,000 books, so this top 100 really does nothing more than give us a tiny glimpse into his reading choices.

    • Darren Cane

      I’m a little sensitive, I’ll give you that. I loved David Bowie. When he died I felt somehow that I had lost a friend. I know how that sounds. And I’m tired of the idea of social justice via the ideal reading list. It produces only shame.

      When I was your age, Nicola, and a great injustice was perceived, we gathered in committees, we organized marches. That was difficult and often fruitless work, but it was the only thing that had changed societies for the better since before Christ. Anyone on the so-called “Left” who stood on the sidelines offering pious lectures on what we should be reading would have been viewed as an irrelevant evangelical obscurantist and an obstacle to progress.

      That’s because, with books, each of us was interested in what the others had learned from a text. We had no interest in who and what color was the author. Female, male, black, white, brown. Only the ideas mattered.

      There was (and is) another kind of person who policed reading in this country. They’re called stuffy conservatives, rural librarians, Junior Leaguers, “Christians,” censorious judges, McCarthyites, and other groups of pseudointellectual Joans-of-Arc who perceive cultural erosion and social evil in the manner in which the common person reads. I choose to ignore that type, and his edicts.

      And women dominate publishing. They make up the vast majority of readers, writers, agents, and editors. Everyone knows that. People of color need a boost in the industry, I accept that. But not by public shaming is this thing attained. It’s by working for tangible social change—changing laws, pressuring power, organizing unions, dismantling corporate power. If you’d stop analyzing dead artists’ reading lists and look out the window, you’d see that.

      Reply
      • SherrieMiranda

        I still believe this was a very old list. I wish someone would check on that. And check if the Amazon list is the same one. Why would they show Bowie as a very young preppie if this were a more recent choice of books?
        You guys cab argue about politics until the cows come home, but until I know when that list was made, I will reserve judgement. I really don’t believe he never read any African women since he was married to one. I have ONE friend who is African and because of her, I have read several books written by both African men and women.
        I do hope someone says something about this. It would be like if I made a list from 1975-80 and that were published in 2026.
        Peace,
        Sherrie
        Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
        http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
        Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:

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