Go to the archives The 100 Essentials

Jesse Kornbluth

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 21, 2014
Category: Entertainment

A book?

It was time.

Also probably time for a coffee mug and a t-shirt. What stops me? I just can’t imagine running into someone on the street wearing my logo. But a book — this I could do.

So I read through a decade of Butlers, picked the best 200, pared that list to 150, walked around the block, took a shot of bourbon for courage, and came up with 100 of my favorite pieces on books, movies and music. You know how I like short books? This isn’t: 242 pages, almost 80,000 words. A bargain, if you divide the price by the word count. [To buy the paperback of ‘ The 100 Essentials’ from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

There’s only one piece even the most diligent Butler reader hasn’t seen — the introduction. Here you go…


I went to a school that required students to write a daily theme in English class.

The other kids hated that.

I was the only one who liked it.

Something else I liked is even more bizarre: When I was a too-smart-for-his-own-good teenager, one of my heroes was Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494), a Renaissance philosopher who, at 23, wrote 900 theses that, he said, held all human knowledge.

I thought that was extremely cool.

At some point, I thought I’d like to do what he did — write 900 essays that sum up all I know and believe.

“At some point” did not mean “soon.”

I wrote books and magazine articles for decades. Then someone said, “You could be the Larry King of online.” I considered Larry King’s salary. I considered mine. Then I loaded the American Online software, logged on and never logged off. In 1997, AOL hired me to be its Editorial Director. As the most senior media veteran on staff, I got to interview the Dalai Lama, Eminem and many others. None of them said, “You know, you remind me of Larry King.”

In 2002, I left AOL. From 2002 to 2004, I pretty much kept away from the Internet. Then my wife suggested something was missing in my life. As ever, she was right. So I started thinking about launching a site.

I knew I didn’t want anything to do with a vast staff and a business model totally focused on revenue. Which left me with this: a one-man show. No one telling me what to do. No one asking me what to do. Just me, writing a daily theme. And why not, in the spirit of Pico della Mirandola, make it about my 900 favorite books, CDs and movies?

I did the math. Four reviews a week, fifty weeks a year; in 4 and 1/2 years, I could write about everything I loved. I imagined those 900 reviews would form a kind of “greatest hits” collection. And then I’d quit.

A decade after I launched, I’m way beyond 900 reviews. And although there are no message boards, I seem to have created a vibrant community.

I know this because I get a lot of e-mail. Readers want help in choosing gifts. They want to find their next thrilling book, CD or movie. They want to know what’s good for their kids. They want me to remind them about something I wrote about a few years ago. I’m happy to oblige, but these requests cut into my day.

For my readers — and, I hope, many more — here are my “100 essentials” in books, movies and music. The number is arbitrary; I started with a larger list. But the point of this book, like the idea behind, is ruthless editing, or, as the online experts like to call it, “curation.”

Some of these titles are recent releases; many aren’t. One reason: Almost everything ever published, recorded or filmed is available on the Internet. Another reason is more flippant, but no less true: If it’s new to you, it’s new.

You’ll see some “classics” here, but not because I want you to care about the kind of culture you were assigned in school — for me, a classic is a bestseller that never stopped selling. There are no “political” books; there’s more than enough politics elsewhere on the Web. There are oddball choices, like a book about Buddhism by a surfer and a memoir by a man who sells Birkin bags without, as Hermès does, making you wait as long as a year. There are glaring omissions — no Rolling Stones, no Beatles — and only one Dylan record, and the Dylan CD isn’t one of his acknowledged masterpieces.

In “ The 100 Essentials,” I’ve created a book that can remind you of books, movies and music you loved but have forgotten about as well as books, movies and music you might enjoy. Because it’s so subjective, it’s also a book you can disagree with, maybe even want to argue with. Fine with me. My contact information is on the site, which is where you might want to go soon and often.