The Ten Greatest Lists in the History of Western Civilization

Featuring contributions from Pitchfork, Martin Luther, and Hunter S. Thompson.

By Ben Johnson

The internet, as everyone knows, was invented in 1963 so that Pentagon personnel could circulate Audrey Hepburn nip-slips around the office. But one unexpected benefit of the web has been its value as a medium for the creation and promulgation of rank-ordered lists of things. Soon, the internet will have listed and ranked all things, and the project of the Enlightenment will be complete. In his grave, John Locke will have a raging erection. But before that happens, it's important to look back and celebrate the ten highest pinnacles in the field of List-Making ever achieved in Western Civilization. This is the real shit, people.

 

10. Pitchfork.com, The Top 100 Albums of the 1980s

Whereas Pitchfork's 1990s albums list was an 8.7, and the 1970s was a 5.4 (Bowie's Low? Seriously?), the 1980s albums list was groundbreaking, pointing the way forward to the future of rankings while nevertheless remaining traditional in its presentation of popular music artifacts in an order voted upon by a panel of critics. Also, they put Daydream Nation number one, and "Hyperstation" rules.

 

9. William the Conqueror et al., Domesday Book

Domesday Book was the 1086 A.D. equivalent to the IRS Tax Code (basically, it's a giant list of English land holdings and tax liabilities, made from scratch, in Latin). But it gets included here because its name is awesome. I mean, how much more likely would you be to buy an issue of Cosmo if their monthly feature "47 New Ways to Gargle Your Man's Dong" had a title as awesome as Domesday Book?

 

8. Fats Gonder, Introduction to James Brown Live at the Apollo

A cornucopia of list-making here, as the great R&B keyboard player gives us, simultaneously, a list of songs James Brown is going to sing and a list of James Brown's nicknames. There are a couple important lessons here. First, any list, even your grocery list, would sound way cooler if you had James Brown's horn section blowing notes between each item ("Here to buy Cool Ranch Doritos — blaaaah! — a Hungry Man dinner —blaaaaaaaaaahh! — and a Strawberry Shasta — blaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!!!"). Second lesson: when a man's list of nicknames is so badass that the announcer doesn't even mention that he's "The Godfather of Soul," and when, furthermore, a man's list of nicknames is so prodigious that "The Amazing Mr. Please-Please" is like his fourth coolest nickname, I think it is safe to say that the man in question has a world-class list of nicknames. RIP, Mr. Dynamite.

 

7. Walt Whitman, "The Sleepers"

In a poem, a big list of stuff is called a "catalog." You'll need to know that if you ever want to sleep with an English major from Barnard. Walt Whitman, who would happily let you have all the Barnard English majors to yourself, was the master of the poetic catalog. It's hard to pick just one Whitman catalog (do you want a big list of people's jobs? A list of stuff you can see on a boat ride to Brooklyn? A list of people who are sad because Abe Lincoln got shot? Whitman can hook you up). But if I have to pick one, I pick "The Sleepers," because I enjoy reading it.

 

6. Karen Owen, The Duke Fuck List

Did I just put Karen Owen one spot ahead of Walt Whitman? Very well then, I just put Karen Owen one spot ahead of Walt Whitman. But let's face it: Uncle Walt would have loved the Duke Fuck List. It has anatomical measurements, pictures of lacrosse dudes, and enough limpid jets of love to fill Cameron Indoor Stadium. And it also works as a pretty ingenious parody of PowerPoint presentations.

 

5. Craigslist

Imagine if twenty years ago I had told you that one day there would be a website where you could sell your couch, search for the girl in the vintage summer-camp T-shirt you saw on the subway, purchase rodeo memorabilia, and then, when the girl from the subway never responds, hire yourself a transvestite prostitute. You would have said to me, "This sounds marvelous, Ben — but what the fuck is a website?" The other great thing about Craigslist is that it is bankrupting newspapers, which is probably what newspapers deserve after building their entire business model around "Marmaduke" and Sudoku.

 

4. Hunter S. Thompson, the paragraph in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Duke inventories all the drugs in his trunk.

It's like the scene in the Iliad where Homer describes ships for twenty pages, except the ships are cocaine and Achilles is a twitchy, mumbling gun nut in a Hawaiian shirt. It's basically an entire paragraph of Thompson waving his dick around and screaming "I can do more drugs than you! Rawr!" And, God love him, he probably could.

 

3. Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

Okay, so all any of us ever learned was the preamble, but once you get past the introductory decorative stuff you discover a big list of reasons why King George was a douche. It's impressive that Jefferson's list of complaints is so compelling, because while he was writing the Declaration, our third President also had to find time to buy a bunch of fireworks and potato salad for his annual Fourth of July party.

 

2. Martin Luther, 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

What's more pimp than writing a list that helped produce the Protestant Reformation, pilgrim hats, Tammy Faye Bakker, Paradise fucking Lost, and George W. Bush talking directly to Jesus? Nailing your list to the door of a church — that's what's more pimp. That's like some shit Angel would have done after he deflowered Buffy and turned all evil.

 

1. Yahweh, The Ten Commandments

This one is so obvious that instead of wasting time justifying my selection, I will give you a bonus list: The Five Greatest Moseses of All-Time: 5. Moses Malone; 4. Robert Moses; 3. Charlton Heston; 2. Edwin Moses; 1. Moses. Not listed: whoever did the voice of Moses in that Disney movie (I just looked it up: Val Kilmer. Fuck you, Val Kilmer — you are definitely worse than Moses Malone).

 

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: AFI's 100 Greatest Romantic Comedies, Stuff White People Like, The Bill of Rights

Commentarium (41 Comments)

Jul 20 11 - 12:11am
RW

The Bill of Rights would totally make this list if people actually read and understood them understand of bastardizing them to fit their political agenda.

Jul 20 11 - 2:28am
completely

Agreed. Bill of Rights > Declaration of Independence.

Jul 20 11 - 10:09am
Jeffrey

I can't tell if you guys are kidding or not.

Jul 20 11 - 7:38pm
Bathgate

I can't tell if Jeffrey is kidding or not.

Jul 21 11 - 4:34pm
pot-erhead

i can't tell if im kidding or not

Jul 23 11 - 10:51am
KingPellinore

Obvious troll is obvious.

Jul 20 11 - 12:29am
MN

Hey - David Bowie's "Low" is a great album

Jul 20 11 - 8:34am
Ed

Second.

Jul 20 11 - 12:05pm
bc

couldn't agree more

Jul 21 11 - 10:13pm
Derp

In competition with bs, I bootlick even more intensely, and state that I couldn't agree more even more.

Jul 20 11 - 1:24am
ts

There are Audrey Hepburn nip-slips?

Jul 20 11 - 3:53am
AB

Grandma Moses didn't make it?

Jul 20 11 - 7:02pm
Aggravated

Jerry Reed would be sad you didn't mention Amos Moses. And if you were a fan of Kenyan track and field...and there's no reason you should be...you'd add another Moses or two.

Jul 20 11 - 7:19pm
steven spelbergo

Looks like Schindler didn't make the list

Jul 21 11 - 12:10am
L

I see what you did there.

Jul 21 11 - 10:14pm
Sam Tea

Son of a bitch! I recognize you by your comments.

Jul 20 11 - 7:35pm
John P

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_Emporium_of_Benevolent_Knowledge's_Taxonomy

Jul 20 11 - 7:38pm
John P

Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge's Taxonomy by Borges.
The list divides all animals into one of 14 categories;
Those that belong to the emperor
Embalmed ones
Those that are trained
Suckling pigs
Mermaids (or Sirens)
Fabulous ones
Stray dogs
Those that are included in this classification
Those that tremble as if they were mad
Innumerable ones
Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
Et cetera
Those that have just broken the flower vase
Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

Jul 21 11 - 1:05am
asd

If the 10 commandments is included as one of the list, what about the code of Hammurabi?

Aug 02 11 - 3:44pm
Angantyr

Indeed. And the Ten Commandments are not that great because, contrary to what people think, they only applied to ancient Hebrews who were allowed to kill, beat and mistreat gentile slaves. Also the framing story was just pseudo-historical nonsense from an ancient and outdated mythology.

Jul 21 11 - 1:41am
Feebz

How could have Thomas Jefferson's alleged fourth of July party be considered 'annual' if the document that spawned the holiday was in the process of being written? Am I missing out on a joke?

Jul 21 11 - 9:31am
MacB

Yup.

Jul 21 11 - 10:15pm
John Son

Sad, how at the parties, you're always missing out on the joke, Feebz. Tsk.

Jul 21 11 - 2:12am
Kevin

This is offensively stupid.

Jul 21 11 - 10:16pm
@Kevin

Now Kevin, don't be so hard on your own comment. Granted, it was stupid, but it wasn't offensively stupid. Buck up, young fella, and try harder! I'm sure you'll accomplish offensively stupid if you try hard enough.

Jul 21 11 - 7:03am
The Regular Joe

mmmmm..... you forgot about the list of the future
http://theregjoe.blogspot.com/2010/12/alternative-top-10-list-10-things-...

Jul 21 11 - 8:43am
SquidProQuo

And then of course there is Harris's list of Covent Garden Ladies" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harris%27s_List_of_Covent_Garden_Ladies) which listed 18th century London prostitutes and described their physical appearance and sexual specialities.

Jul 21 11 - 9:00am
bondkb

i also like the Order that the Monsters Go In

http://threatquality.com/2009/10/28/a-hierarchy-of-monsters/

Jul 21 11 - 4:32pm
Non- Submissive

FUCK PITCHFORK. And anyone who likes to be spoon-fed.

Aug 04 11 - 8:08pm
macookie

Do... I have to list the items that I like to be spoon-fed???

Jul 21 11 - 4:43pm
Dave Roffman

This is really stupid.

Jul 21 11 - 10:31pm
@Dave

Now Dave, don't be so effusive about your own comment. Granted, it was inane, but it wasn't truly stupid. Buck up, young fella, and try harder! I'm sure you'll accomplish really stupid if you try hard enough, you certainly seem capable of it!

Jul 21 11 - 5:00pm
stevie

I am so proud to be American! Once again we excel, even at list making!

"USA ... NUMBER ONE ... USA ... NUMBER ONE ..."

Jul 21 11 - 8:09pm
lezley

"The only thing that really worried me was the ether."

Jul 22 11 - 1:08am
RD

How about the Rosetta Stone?

Jul 22 11 - 12:09pm
luckyaaa

www. luckyvogue. com

Jul 23 11 - 4:12pm
RC

What a stupid article.

Jul 24 11 - 8:11am
LiquidCourage

Troll alert.

Jul 24 11 - 11:15pm
Rose

Low is one of the greatest albums ever made. Did you even listen to it?

Jul 26 11 - 10:18pm
cal

so happy for the Buffy shout out.

Aug 29 11 - 8:54am
Bubber

There is a critical shoratge of informative articles like this.