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The Number One Book Brits Pretend to Have Read is 1984, But for Americans It’s Pride and Prejudice

We all know that people tend to stretch the truth about their reading habits in order to come across as being smart, but did you know that the fib varies by country and culture?


A recent survey of 2,000 Brits has revealed that 62% of respondents had pretended to have read  one book or another in order to appear smart. The top ten books that people pretend to have read are an impressive list of books, with Orwell’s 1984 and War and Peace taking the top 2 spots.

  1. 1984 by George Orwell – 26%
  2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – 19%
  3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – 18%
  4. Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger – 15%
  5. A Passage to India by E M Forster – 12%
  6. Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein – 11%
  7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 10%
  8. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 8%
  9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – 8%
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – 5%

I freely admit to never having read 7 of the titles on the list, though I did try and abandon Lord of the Rings (the exposition is too bloody long). I’ve always been honest about what I haven’t read, and in fact it didn’t occur to me to use one of the ruses suggested in the survey.

42% of the survey respondents tried to cover for their fib by watching a film or TV adaptation of the book they claimed to have read or by reading the CliffNotes or Wikipedia entry for said title. The survey also showed that the more industrious also hid their low-brow reading habits by disguising the books and magazines they’re reading with a decoy cover for a more loftier title.


The above list is based on a survey but I unfortunately don’t have the original survey results, just the news reports. And since that has been covered extensively already (see the reading list at the end of the post) I went looking for a different story.

I got to wondering whether anyone else had conducted a similar survey, and after a few minutes of Googling I found a couple different lists, including a list of 10 classic SF titles (see the end of the post) and a different list of 20 classic books which the readers of the book blog BookRiot claim to have read.

For the sake of comparison I am going to pretend that the BookRiot list represents American reading habits, though I cannot confirm that the 826 participants were Americans (I’m guessing). As you can see, there’s a fair amount of overlap between the UK list and the BookRiot list:

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (85 mentions)
  2. Ulysses by James Joyce
  3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  5. The Bible
  6. 1984 by George Orwell
  7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  10. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  11. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  12. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  14. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  15. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  16. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  17. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  18. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  19. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
  20. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

There’s also a fair amount of difference between the lists. For example, the UK list doesn’t include 50 Shades, which ranked as 14 on the BookRiot list.

Why anyone would want to pretend to have read that particular title is beyond me; I would much rather have you know that I read the first Twilight book than think I had read 50 Shades.

But in site of my repugnance, the BookRiot list is probably the more accurate snapshot of people’s fake reading habits. For example, no one is pretending to have read Twilight anymore, though I am sure that would have been on this list a couple years ago.

So what book have you pretended to have read?


More Reading:

  • 10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (io9)
  • 20 Books You Pretend to Have Read (BookRiot)
  • Britons 'lying to appear smarter' (
  • More than half of us lie about reading classic novels (Telegraph)
  • People often lie about reading classic novels, survey finds (
  • Why We Lie About Reading Great Books (The Atlantic Wire)

images by ? Georgie R, by Bravo_Zulu

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Sturmund Drang September 8, 2013 um 2:00 pm

Great post, Nate! Thank you.

About the only book I’ve lied about is Moby Dick. There’s around an hundred pages of it I skipped, 50 out of the Cetology chapter and 50 out of the end. 100 pages of whale biology gets a bit tedious and by the end I just stopped caring about the characters. Well, I also won’t admit to having read Catcher in the Rye; I wish I could have those 6 hours of my life back.

The Rodent September 8, 2013 um 2:16 pm

People who feel they need to pretend they’ve read some book(s) just don’t get it. The world is full of good books, but not every book appeals to everyone. Anyone could read "classics" til the end of time and still not have time enough to read everything they "should" read. There is no shame in not having read "War and Peace", for example. I’ve read LOTR many times, but some people can’t get into it. So what? Why bother to lie about it? OK, I mean, if you’re an adult. I guess kids get inferiority complexes about not keeping up with the latest fashion.

Common Sense September 8, 2013 um 3:28 pm

I also don’t see any point in lying. I can claim Catcher in the Rye only because I was forced to read it in high school, along with a lot of other garbage. I did enjoy Shakespeare but have no interest in reading it now. I have read Pride and Prejudice because I enjoy Jane Austen, as well as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I read the Hobbit back in junior high but didn’t like Lord of the Rings, I preferred Terry Brooks Shannara series. I really loved Fantasy and Sci-Fi back then, not so much now.

I won’t ever pick up 50 Shades but do have to admit to the first Twilight book, at my daughter’s request. I couldn’t get more than a couple of chapters of book 2 down, gag. I read every one of the Harry Potter books as well as read them out loud to my younger children before then could read them themselves.

I never read any of the others and probably won’t. Reading is escapism for me, why torture myself?

Sturmund Drang September 8, 2013 um 5:19 pm

If you liked Jane Eyre and Whuthering Heights then you should read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne leaves her sisters in the dust. But if you do make sure you get the Penguin Classic 1996 publication. It’s the only complete sensical version. Kindle has it for only 99 cents (today at least).

R September 9, 2013 um 2:29 am

It seems Amazon is still charging US$2 more for non-US customers. It shows $2.99 here.

Destination Infinity September 9, 2013 um 1:28 am

I have not read any of the above books 😛 But I have downloaded one now – A passage to India. Hope to read at least one from this list SOON!

Honkie McGee September 9, 2013 um 10:53 am

That’s funny, I just started Pride & Prejudice last week.

The few books on these lists that I have read, I read because for school. Except of course Harry Potter, but that was mostly because I have a bunch of friends that are huge HP fan so i got sucked in.

I don’t count Lord of the Rings though, since I couldn’t finish them. When a book keeps putting you to sleep, it’s time to put it down and move on.

kurt September 9, 2013 um 11:48 am

"1984" several times
the only other one i’ve read from either list is the bible – and that was only for reference in arguments with religious nutters (although multiple pages of begots and begats were skipped)

Thomas September 9, 2013 um 4:24 pm

The only time I ever claimed to read a book I hadn’t, the book didn’t actually exist. In high school, I once was assigned to write a book report of a biography. I was too lazy to read a real one, so I picked an obscure Civil War general, and wrote a book report of his nonexistent biography. I don’t remember what grade I got, but I must have at least passed.

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Sheree February 21, 2018 um 6:52 pm

I thought exactly the same thing when I saw 50 Shades of Grey on the BookRiot list! Surely more people pretend *not* to have read it than the other way around…? Haha. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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