By Michael Grossberg
Several Prometheus-winning novels rank high in the Great American Read, suggesting that at least some significant aspects of individualist and libertarian/classical-liberal values remain at the core of popular American and worldwide culture.
The nationwide PBS competition invited Americans in communities across the country to rank and vote for their favorite novels – contemporary and classic, in all genres.
To Kill a Mockingbird recently was announced as the No. 1 winner. Although it’s not science fiction or fantasy, and thus ineligible for the Prometheus Award, Harper Lee’s classic courtroom drama (and the Oscar-winning film version starring Gregory Peck, not to mention the upcoming Broadway adaptation of the novel) eloquently uphold basic principles of civility, due process and the presumption of innocence as well as the vital importance of personal integrity, truth and courage that libertarians and classical liberals (but unfortunately fewer and fewer of today’s leftwing progressives) champion and uphold as part of our vital modern foundation for civility and the rule of law against mob rule, racism, false accusations and prejudice.
The posting of the PBS final rankings is the culmination of a lengthy and populist process in which the 100 previously selected popular favorites were whittled down to a set of five finalists (including the Outlander series, the Harry Potter series, Pride and Prejudice and Lord of the Rings.)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy was inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame a in 2000. The Lord of the Rings, ranked No. 5 on the Great American Read list, offers a cautionary fable about the unbridled pursuit of power, how power corrupts and absolute power (symbolized by the Ring) can corrupt absolutely, leading to vast evil and tyranny threatening civilization itself. (If the great British classical liberal and Catholic historian Lord Acton, who famously wrote that “Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely,” had written a fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings might well have been it, because it perfectly embodies his cautionary themes.)
George Orwell’s novel 1984, an early Prometheus Hall of Fame inductee (coincidentally, in 1984) for its perceptive dramatization and dissection of horrific socialist/communist/fascist tyranny and how dictatorships undermine and deny facts and truth and reality itself through indoctrinating and intimidating people in a group-think mob hysteria, ended up ranked at No. 18 on the Great American Read.
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, one of the first two Prometheus Hall of Fame winners in 1983, also ranked high at No. 20. Rand’s magnum opus is a suspense-mystery philosophical thriller about the crucial role of the free mind in human civilization. (Note: Under the rules of the Great American Read series, only the top-ranked novel by each author could be eligible for inclusion in the top-100 list – or else Rand’s The Fountainhead likely would have ranked high, too.)
Ready Player One (ranked No. 76), by Ernest Cline, won the 2012 Prometheus Award for Best Novel.
Among the other science fiction or fantasy classics that also ranked on the top-100 list include The Chronicles of Narnia (No. 9), the children’s fantasy series by the great Christian libertarian C.S. Lewis; Stephen King’s The Stand (No. 24); Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (No. 34), Frank Herbert’s Dune (No. 35), Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (No. 39), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (No. 43), Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (series) (No. 49), Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (No. 52); The Martian (No. 61), by Andy Weir (whose Artemis was a recent Prometheus finalist for Best Book); and The Sirens of Titan (ranked No. 87), by Kurt Vonnegut (whose short story “Harrison Bergeron,” nominated in the past two years for the Prometheus Hall of Fame (note: and inducted in 2019), offers an implicitly libertarian satirical critique of coercive egalitarianism carried to extremes.)
Of course, many if not most of the 100 novels on the list are well worth reading and quite a few offer great stories and great wisdom about the human experience. So the list (despite the occasional inclusion of recent favorite bestsellers destined to fade over time) can be used as a welcome guide to further reading – or re-reading.
For the full ranked list of the 100 most popular novels in the PBS competition, visit http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/results/