My university used the Norton Anthology World Lit books for our Literature Courses. I love reading, so I enjoyed these books. They have a great collection of stories from that specific time-period. I also liked that they had information about the works and authors either before or after the stories.
If I was just picking a book for casual reading, this wouldn't be it. But if you are needing it for a class or research, I would definitely recommend it.
Norton's literary anthologies have long been the standard in every genre, and its World Literature collection is no exception. Their most ambitious offering, it proposes to cover no less than a representative sampling of the world's best and most important literature from the earliest writings to today. This is the second of six volumes, going from 100-1500 C. E. The range of material is truly incredible in terms of both time and place. The best way to make the sheer vastness clear is to list the sections: From Roman Empire to Christian Europe, India's Classical Age, China's "Middle Period," The Rise of Islam and Islamic Literature, The Formation of a Western Literature, The Golden Age of Japanese Culture, and Mystical Poetry of India. This truly mind-boggling selection stretches over three thousand pages including dozens and dozens of pieces. The nature of anthologies of course favors poems and short prose, but a surprising number of longer works are here in full: Kalidasa's Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection, Beowulf, Dante's Inferno, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Everyman. The collection would be well worth buying for these alone; one would be very hard-pressed to get them separately for less than the anthology costs - not to mention the numerous shorter works given in full and many longer ones in excerpt. It is particularly noteworthy for including many Asian - not to mention Native American and African - works virtually ignored in such collections until very recently while still giving a thorough overview of European classics.
Norton's anthologies are also notable for extensive supplemental material. Each author and work is introduced with several pages of biography, background, initial critical analysis, and further reading suggestions for both text and criticism. Individual sections also have Introductions with similar general information plus a timeline and map, and there is an overall Preface. In addition, there are substantial footnotes and glosses plus a closing essay on translation and an index. This helps make the works, all of which are remote in time and many of which are remote in culture and other ways, much more accessible. Many readers will appreciate this, especially as the editors are careful to give what is needed for basic understanding without forcing interpretations, while those who do not can easily skip them. The anthology is designed primarily as a text for college literature survey courses but is also ideal for general readers wanting to learn about world literature - not only the texts themselves but a substantial amount of secondary material.
This brings up the central point that the collection is after all a primer. Purists and the dedicated may scoff at some of its attributes. World literature being so large, it is of course impossible for any collection to be even remotely comprehensive, and one can easily find important works or personal favorites that are excluded. However, there is no denying the awe-inspiring scope of what is here, including nearly everything that absolutely had to be. The excerpts can also be frustrating, especially as summaries and notes have frequent spoilers, though it is clearly better for the works in question to be here in part than not at all. As most of the pieces are translated, some will also take issue with the translations used. The editors wisely chose those the most accessible, but some will prefer more literary versions; for example, a prose Gilgamesh translation is used rather than a more artistic verse one. On the whole, though, the choices are hard to fault. Older translations are also updated to conform with current spelling, punctuation, etc; even English writers like Chaucer and Milton are dealt with thus. Purists will not like this, but nearly everyone interested in such a collection will appreciate it.
All told, anyone wanting a world literature collection excellent in all respects can do no better. Separately buying all the works given here would cost many times the price of the collection; the value is near-unbelievable. Even reading regularly, it will take at least several months to finish - probably at least the better part of a year. More importantly, this is the kind of collection one can keep for a lifetime; it provides years of re-reading and reference. One can hardly even conceive of a better deal; such quantity and diversity in one collection is truly amazing. Anyone who enjoys the first three volumes is of course highly encouraged to go on to the next three as well as other Norton anthologies. As for how to buy them, anyone wanting half the set or the whole will be better off getting the two three-volume sets; it is cheaper and more convenient. Those wanting only one or a few volumes can purchase individually, but the quality is so high that they will almost certainly want them all anyway, so the sets are really the way to go. You will not be disappointed.