The Books Beloved by David Bowie

David Bowie (1947-2016) left behind more than 40 albums, 40+ films, and a list of his 100 favorite books.

Restlessly creative, in a constant state of reinvention, artist David Bowie defies simple labels. As a musician, actor, painter and composer, his influence spans decades and continents. But how did young David Robert Jones from Brixton, South London become the force behind Ziggy Stardust, plastic soul and glam rock?

He read. Voraciously.

It’s easy to chart the androgynous Ziggy Stardust to Bowie’s well-worn copy of “The Life and Times of Little Richard.” From mythical heroes in Homer’s Iliad to the Beat icons in Jack Keroac’s On the Road, David Bowie’s favorite protagonists are as eclectic as his public personae. He was drawn to counter culture writers such as William Burroughs, at one point emulating Burroughs method of “cutting up” words and fashioning them randomly into lyrics. Bowie composed 2/3rd of a rock opera based on George Orwell’s 1984, only to discover he could not secure the rights to the dystopian novel. He loved the poetry of T.S. Elliot and the Pop Art-influenced graphic design of Tadanori Yokoo

But what was it like to experience David Bowie, the person? I asked b. George, founder of the ARChive of Contemporary Music in NYC, an organization that Bowie supported generously, even hosting its 15th Anniversary celebration. “For more than four hours anyone could just sit down at his table and chat. He made a swell introduction to Nile (Rodgers) and he danced, ” recalled George. “He was warm. Real. David Bowie was the only person I ever met who glowed.”

Album cover from Hunky Dory (1971), decorated with glitter and autographed by David Bowie for the ARChive of Contemporary Music.
From the monograph “Tadanori Yokoo.”

Thankfully, in 2013, David Bowie also bequeathed us with a list of his 100 favorite reads. (Republished here on the site, now only accessible through the Wayback Machine.) We are happy to share them with you in this Internet Archive Collection “David Bowie’s Favorite Books”–84 of which are readily available for free through the Internet Archive.

  1. Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
  2. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
  3. Room At The Top by John Braine
  4. On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
  5. Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
  6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  7. City Of Night by John Rechy
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  10. Iliad by Homer
  11. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  12. Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
  13. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
  14. Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
  15. Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
  16. Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
  17. David Bomberg by Richard Cork
  18. Blast by Wyndham Lewis
  19. Passing by Nella Larson
  20. Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
  21. The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
  22. In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
  23. Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
  24. The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
  25. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  26. Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
  27. The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
  28. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  29. Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
  30. The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  31. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  32. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  33. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  34. Puckoon by Spike Milligan
  35. Black Boy by Richard Wright
  36. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  37. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
  38. Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
  39. The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot
  40. McTeague by Frank Norris
  41. Money by Martin Amis
  42. The Outsider by Colin Wilson
  43. Strange People by Frank Edwards
  44. English Journey by J.B. Priestley
  45. A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  46. The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
  47. 1984 by George Orwell
  48. The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
  49. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
  50. Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
  51. Beano (comic, ’50s)
  52. Raw (comic, ’80s)
  53. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  54. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
  55. Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
  56. Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
  57. The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
  58. Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
  59. The Street by Ann Petry
  60. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
  61. Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.
  62. A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
  63. The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
  64. Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
  65. The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
  66. The Bridge by Hart Crane
  67. All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
  68. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  69. Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
  70. The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
  71. Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
  72. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
  73. Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
  74. Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
  75. Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
  76. The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
  77. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  78. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  79. Teenage by Jon Savage
  80. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  81. The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
  82. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  83. Viz (comic, early ’80s)
  84. Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
  85. Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
  86. The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
  87. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
  88. Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont
  89. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  90. Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler
  91. Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  92. Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
  93. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
  94. The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
  95. Inferno by Dante Alighieri
  96. A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
  97. The Insult by Rupert Thomson
  98. In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
  99. A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
  100. Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg
Trace the literary influences of one of the 20th Century’s greatest artists, in this collection of David Bowie’s Favorite Books.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Thank you to the scores of libraries around the world who donate their extra copies to be preserved and scanned by the Internet Archive.

This article would not be possible without the dedicated work of engineers, librarians, collections staff and the Open Library community! Thank you to Mek Karpeles, Andrea Mills, Brittany Bunk, Drini Cami and Jeff Kaplan for making the David Bowie Favorite Books collection possible.

Special thanks to b. George, founder of the ARChive of Contemporary Music, for sharing his recollections and valuable Hunky Dory album art with us.

To support our work please DONATE HERE. Or SPONSOR A BOOK at our site for readers, Open Library.

29 thoughts on “The Books Beloved by David Bowie

  1. Gregory Seibert

    Thank you – engineers librarians xcetera. For us true Bowie freaks we love anyone that puts together such information thank you again

  2. Jean Genie

    Thank you, Wendy Hanamura, for publishing this list of interesting works loved by a fascinating man.

    Like anyone else, looking through this list, I was happy to see shared liked books as well as some already on my list. The intriguing titles are the ones I’ve never heard of.

    1. Wendy Hanamura Post author

      Hi Jean,
      I realized how much reading I have to go, to make a dent in Bowie’s Top 100 list!
      But some favorites of mine were there: Mishima’s “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea,” in particular.

      Hope you’ll share your favorites too.


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  4. Kristin

    I am an avid reader, and even *I* don’t have 100 favorite books- I’d be hard pressed to bring just 50 to mind. This list really just make me sneer.

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