The Equalizer (Denzel Washington) Reading Through the “Top 100 Books You Should Read Before You Die”

In the old days, I would go to movie theaters. Not so much anymore. Now, I mostly watch movies through some form of streaming or premium or on-demand access. So, I’m a little “late” on my movie comments.

This past weekend, I watched The Equalizer. If you haven’t seen it, Denzel Washington plays a former CIA killing machine, who is now living a quiet life working at a big Home Depot style superstore. He’s kind of a … how do I word this… “one-to-one coach, defender, savior” to some folks in trouble.

Yes, it gets violent. But the soft, quiet touches are so very engaging.

Denzel Washington (The Equalizer) readingSo, why write about this on this blog. Apparently, his character, Robert McCall, lost his wife sometime before this story. She had read the 100 books a person should read before they die (see the link below). Now, maybe in her memory, he was working thorough the list. We learn this as he is reading The Old Man and the Sea in a diner.

A couple of observations:

#1 – His reading followed a ritual.

He went to a diner; sat at the same table each night; arranged his silverware, stirred his tea (brought his own tea bag, by the way), and read his current book.

He kept his books in an old-fashioned book case in his apartment – all hardback, in very carefully-kept rows…

#2 – He read hardback editions of the books.

Through the course of the movie, he finished The Old and the Sea, The Invisible Man, and was working on Don Quixote. He still hadOld Man and the Sea three more books to read (I think) to finish the list of 100.

Watching his reading ritual, pondering it, felt kind of… peaceful.

I know this. He was not working through the list of 100 web sites to read before you die, or the “Greatest 100 Tweets of the Year.” He was reading books – “classics” – books that have held up over time.

I recently read a list of summer reading assignments from top prep schools. Yep, The Old Man and the Sea was on one of the lists.

Confession time: I read “for a living.” I now read nearly all of the books I read on my Kindle App on my iPad. It is… work. Oh, I enjoy it. I love reading. But, reading books on my iPad is something I do to work/for work.

But, after I watched the movie, I pulled down one of my old hardbacks, a Graham Greene novel. I put it by my (sadly, seldom-used) reading chair. And I set my timer, and read a set number of minutes. It’s too early to tell if I will keep this up. But I know I will finish the Graham Greene novel. And, who knows, I might tackle the books on that list I have never read. If I do, I will buy hardback versions, put them by my reading chair, and follow my own ritual of reading.

Who would have expected an action movie to beckon us toward a great life-time reading list?


I searched, and it seems this might be the list of 100 books. It at least includes the three books mentioned in the movie: The top 100 books of all time– Take a look at a list of the top 100 books of all time, nominated by writers from around the world, from Things Fall Apart to Mrs Dalloway, and from Pride and Prejudice to Don Quixote.

And, here’s the full list of books, from the article:
1984 by George Orwell, England, (1903-1950)

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906)

A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910)

The Aeneid by Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

Beloved by Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931)

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957)

Blindness by Jose Saramago, Portugal, (1922-2010)

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935)

The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)

Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400)

The Castle by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911)

Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986)

Complete Poems by Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837)

The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

The Complete Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849)

Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928)

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852)

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375)

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967)

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321)

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616)

Essays by Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592)

Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875)

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832)

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553)

Gilgamesh Mesopotamia, (c 1800 BC)

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870)

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745)

Gypsy Ballads by Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

History by Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985)

Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952)

The Idiot by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

The Iliad by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)

Independent People by Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994)

Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784)

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961)

King Lear by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)

Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC)

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942)

The Mathnawi by Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273)

Medea by Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC)

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987)

Metamorphoses by Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC)

Middlemarch by George Eliot, England, (1819-1880)

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947)

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)

Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300)

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924)

The Odyssey by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)

Oedipus the King Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC)

Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)

The Orchard by Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292)

Othello by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986)

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002)

Poems by Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970)

The Possessed by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817)

The Ramayana by Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC)

The Recognition of Sakuntala by Kalidasa, India, (c. 400)

The Red and the Black by Stendhal, France, (1783-1842)

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922)

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929)

Selected Stories by Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904)

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)

The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972)

The Stranger by Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960)

The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (c 1000)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930)

Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500)

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927)

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)

The Trial by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989)

Ulysses by James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, England, (1818-1848)

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957)

This list of the 100 best books of all time was prepared by Norwegian Book Clubs. They asked 100 authors from 54 countries around the world to nominate the ten books which have had the most decisive impact on the cultural history of the world, and left a mark on the authors’ own thinking. Don Quixote was named as the top book in history but otherwise no ranking was provided.


17 thoughts on “The Equalizer (Denzel Washington) Reading Through the “Top 100 Books You Should Read Before You Die”

  1. Just a few minor corrections. His wife never finished the entire list, she made it to 97 books. Also, Robert finished Don Quixote, and was working on Invisible Man at the end of the movie, not the other way around. While Robert was reading Don Quixote he stated he had read 91 of the books, and since he finished that and moved on to Invisible Man, he had read 92, was working on 93, with seven more to go thereafter.

    Thank you for your blog post. I am currently working my way through the list, and enjoyed reading your thoughts on it.

  2. The invisible man wrote by H.G. wells. but Invisible man wrote Ralph ellison.

    I’m not sure, Robert mccall was reading which one?

  3. I still recall the roll-out poster of The 100 Books that went around our English Composition 101 class in college…back in 1972. It was impressive & inspiring. I made it before graduating in 1975 when a college education was just beginning to diminish in the US.

  4. I enjoyed reading your blog. This film is one I have watched a few times now. I enjoyed it as much as the television series but for different reasons. The character made a comment about being a knight in an age where knights were no more. And yet that chivalrous aspect to the character is what makes him so endearing. He has a lethal set of skills and yet looks at life philosophically. A bit like a Samauri who writes poetry. I read too. I have not read all on the list mentioned but have read a lot of Classic books. They are something to treasure. Perhaps there would be more to our future if we read more from our past. And besides, authors are thinkers, you learn a lot from thinkers.

  5. Just watched this movie. Thanks for posting this list. I better get to reading. I loved his ritual of drinking tea and reading at the diner.

    In the end he set the book “The Invisible Man” on the table, and opened his computer to respond to a Craig’s List ad from someone asking for help. I took this to mean he had finished all 100 books, with Invisible Man being the final book.

    This is a call back to the earlier conversation with the prostitute, Teri, where she asked what will you do once you finish reading all 100 books. We know from his response to the online ad, his new past time will be righting wrongs, acting as an “Equalizer”.

    Also of note the 3 books that he mentions in the movie, Old Man and Sea, Don Quixote and Invisible Man are about men facing challenges, and after inner reflection/struggle ultimately accepting themselves for who they are. This is summarized in Bob’s discussion with Teri about Old Man and the Sea. By the end of the movie Bob has come to terms with his violent nature and realizes that despite the fact that he is not a good man he can do good deeds.

  6. I only recently watched the movie and went to the library now to start on this list. 1st one I chose Pride and Prejudice.
    I use to read a lot back in the day but somehow I’m struggling to get into it again. Hopefully I complete the list. At least now I know there’s quite some people doing the list as well.
    Thanks for the article.

  7. First of all… @ J Kissane… Wow!!

    To quote you “Perhaps there would be more to our future if we read more from our past.” Powerful… I will definitely be quoting you in one of my– whatever else I write in the nearby soon.

    The Equalizer was a great show but, the movie was something different. In a time where comic book movies rule all with the Stan Lee’s literary residue, this movie is pretty much just that, a Super hero film where the protagonist is literally saving lives physically and setting an example to maintain and increase our mental acuity and aptitude. I have come to notice that intelligence is the one “super power” many of us can wield.

    The first movie created a spark that I hope will catch ablaze in us all. Reading takes a concentration and a life with a slower tempo. We all could use that today I earnestly believe. Not to mention, the sequel made me cry a bit. Young black men need strong positive examples that will convince us how important we are. Absolutely. Have a great read everybody.

  8. I like to read (classics, mostly), and kept pausing the movie to see the books (this was before they show The Old Man…), then I realized I could probably find something online. Wow, did I ever! An intense movie with him reading Ellison’s Invisible Man, ending with intense symbolic implications. Thanks for this!

  9. Your list is not accurate. It doesn’t include 4 books he was definitely reading. In Search of Lost Time (picked up from book store in EQ2), said it was the last one, Siddarthian (very beginning of EQ2), Between the World and Me, and Native Son.

  10. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Az Equalizert nézem éppen – már másodjára. Elsőre nem igazán tetszett, illetve úgy éreztem, nem váltotta be a hozzá fűzött remén, eimet. Kíváncsi voltam, másodjára, évek múltán ad-e valami más élményt, felismerést.

  11. While at Purdue University, we retired in 2014 after almost 40 years, I’d invite currrent students of mine, including a number of athletes, out for a homecooked meal and a good dialogue. I had them pick a book from my library to read and return for another meal and “book report.” My wife and I also give financial support to cadets enrolled in Purdue’s ROTC programs in addition to a book related to leadership or history. Watching EQ, I ran off the list, thank you, and am working my way through it and have passed it on to several of my former students who had, up to this time, never read any of these classics. We’re all hooked and are always emailing each other as to what books we’ve read and are purchasing and checking off the lists. So, again, thanks for making the list available and providing us all with the opportuniity to be Book Equalizers!

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