What on earth is going on at The Guardian? After the bizarre "Britain's top 300 intellectuals", a feature which served to illuminate quite how large the number '300' is (very large, apparently), while leaving the word 'intellectual' languishing in mystery, and the irritatingly definitive 'History of modern music' (whose lesson in 'Indie' today ignored every single actually indie institution, from Postcard Records to The Wedding Present, and instead focused entirely on its 1970s cultural antecedents and 1990s commercial consequences) we now have the strangest of the lot: the 100 greatest non-fiction books. One would be tempted to blame High Fidelity-era Nick Hornby, but this stuff is giving 'Anoraks' a bad name.
The first problem with the 'non-fiction top 100' is that, rather like economists describing every messy aspect of actually-existing-capitalism as an 'externality', it assumes that books are normally novels. How else to lump together such a ragbag of 'non-fiction', as to include Hegel's Phenomenology and Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody? But of course the novel is a latecomer, emerging in the 18th century. And so to describe a work of philosophy as 'non-fiction' is a bit like describing Beethoven as "non-jazz music" (and putting Plato on this list becomes like describing the Parthenon as a 'non-skyscraper').
But this raises a further question. Where are the most important works of, ahem, non-fiction in all of this, such as The Bible? If Kant's Critique of Pure Reason can make it into this fictionless list, why not the Koran? The clue may be in the article's sub-heading: "this is our list of the very best factual writing..." Factual? So now 'non-fiction' means 'factual'? I'd be interested to see someone unearth a single fact from Hegel's Phenomenology, or, for that matter, an intelligible sentence.
Oh, of course it's all a bit of fun. And newspapers are in a battle for survival nowadays, meaning that if this is all just a complicated scam to promote The Guardian bookshop, then so be it. I shall, of course, continue dotingly spending a pound every morning on a paper copy of this doddery old friend, if only to save it from descending further into the production of such Lonely Planet-meets-self-help style identikit bourgeois training packs. But a week after AC Grayling set about converting higher education into a high-stakes game of pop intellectual Top Trumps, I'm not sure I can cope with much more of this relentless tyranny of the bullet point.