The Greatest Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 192 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page .

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1. Ulysses by James Joyce

Cover of 'Ulysses' by James Joyce

Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Cover of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This novel is a multi-generational saga that focuses on the Buendía family, who founded the fictional town of Macondo. It explores themes of love, loss, family, and the cyclical nature of history. The story is filled with magical realism, blending the supernatural with the ordinary, as it chronicles the family's experiences, including civil war, marriages, births, and deaths. The book is renowned for its narrative style and its exploration of solitude, fate, and the inevitability of repetition in history.

3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Cover of 'In Search of Lost Time' by Marcel Proust

This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Cover of 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

5. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Cover of 'Don Quixote' by Miguel de Cervantes

This classic novel follows the adventures of a man who, driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant and roam the world righting wrongs under the name Don Quixote. Accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, he battles windmills he believes to be giants and champions the virtuous lady Dulcinea, who is in reality a simple peasant girl. The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity.

6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Cover of 'Moby Dick' by Herman Melville

The novel is a detailed narrative of a vengeful sea captain's obsessive quest to hunt down a giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. The captain's relentless pursuit, despite the warnings and concerns of his crew, leads them on a dangerous journey across the seas. The story is a complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the nature of reality, filled with rich descriptions of whaling and the sea.

7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Cover of 'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy

Set in the backdrop of the Napoleonic era, the novel presents a panorama of Russian society and its descent into the chaos of war. It follows the interconnected lives of five aristocratic families, their struggles, romances, and personal journeys through the tumultuous period of history. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the meaning of life, as it weaves together historical events with the personal stories of its characters.

8. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Cover of 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J. D. Salinger

The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Cover of 'Crime and Punishment' by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A young, impoverished former student in Saint Petersburg, Russia, formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker to redistribute her wealth among the needy. However, after carrying out the act, he is consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading to a psychological battle within himself. As he grapples with his actions, he also navigates complex relationships with a variety of characters, including a virtuous prostitute, his sister, and a relentless detective. The narrative explores themes of morality, redemption, and the psychological impacts of crime.

10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Cover of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll

This novel follows the story of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantastical world full of peculiar creatures and bizarre experiences. As she navigates through this strange land, she encounters a series of nonsensical events, including a tea party with a Mad Hatter, a pool of tears, and a trial over stolen tarts. The book is renowned for its playful use of language, logic, and its exploration of the boundaries of reality.

11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Cover of 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

Set in early 19th-century England, this classic novel revolves around the lives of the Bennet family, particularly the five unmarried daughters. The narrative explores themes of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage within the society of the landed gentry. It follows the romantic entanglements of Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest daughter, who is intelligent, lively, and quick-witted, and her tumultuous relationship with the proud, wealthy, and seemingly aloof Mr. Darcy. Their story unfolds as they navigate societal expectations, personal misunderstandings, and their own pride and prejudice.

12. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

Cover of 'Nineteen Eighty Four' by George Orwell

Set in a dystopian future, the novel presents a society under the total control of a totalitarian regime, led by the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, a low-ranking member of 'the Party', begins to question the regime and falls in love with a woman, an act of rebellion in a world where independent thought, dissent, and love are prohibited. The novel explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and the manipulation of truth.

13. The Bible by Christian Church

Cover of 'The Bible' by Christian Church

This religious text is a compilation of 66 books divided into the Old and New Testaments, forming the central narrative for Christianity. It encompasses a variety of genres, including historical accounts, poetry, prophecy, and teaching, telling the story of God's relationship with humanity, from creation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the early Christian church. It is considered by believers to be divinely inspired and serves as a guide for faith and practice.

14. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Cover of 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë

This classic novel is a tale of love, revenge and social class set in the Yorkshire moors. It revolves around the intense, complex relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan adopted by Catherine's father. Despite their deep affection for each other, Catherine marries Edgar Linton, a wealthy neighbor, leading Heathcliff to seek revenge on the two families. The story unfolds over two generations, reflecting the consequences of their choices and the destructive power of obsessive love.

15. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Cover of 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov

The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

16. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Cover of 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain

The novel follows the journey of a young boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. Set in the American South before the Civil War, the story explores themes of friendship, freedom, and the hypocrisy of society. Through various adventures and encounters with a host of colorful characters, Huck grapples with his personal values, often clashing with the societal norms of the time.

17. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Cover of 'The Divine Comedy' by Dante Alighieri

In this epic poem, the protagonist embarks on an extraordinary journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil and his beloved Beatrice, he encounters various historical and mythological figures in each realm, witnessing the eternal consequences of earthly sins and virtues. The journey serves as an allegory for the soul's progression towards God, offering profound insights into the nature of good and evil, free will, and divine justice.

18. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Cover of 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This classic novel explores the complex, passionate, and troubled relationship between four brothers and their father in 19th century Russia. The narrative delves into the themes of faith, doubt, morality, and redemption, as each brother grapples with personal dilemmas and family conflicts. The story culminates in a dramatic trial following a murder, which serves as a microcosm of the moral and philosophical struggles faced by each character, and by extension, humanity itself.

19. The Odyssey by Homer

Cover of 'The Odyssey' by Homer

This epic poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many obstacles including mythical creatures, divine beings, and natural disasters. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus fend off suitors vying for Penelope's hand in marriage, believing Odysseus to be dead. The story concludes with Odysseus's return, his slaughter of the suitors, and his reunion with his family.

20. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Cover of 'Anna Karenina' by Leo Tolstoy

Set in 19th-century Russia, this novel revolves around the life of Anna Karenina, a high-society woman who, dissatisfied with her loveless marriage, embarks on a passionate affair with a charming officer named Count Vronsky. This scandalous affair leads to her social downfall, while parallel to this, the novel also explores the rural life and struggles of Levin, a landowner who seeks the meaning of life and true happiness. The book explores themes such as love, marriage, fidelity, societal norms, and the human quest for happiness.

21. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Cover of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

Set in the racially charged South during the Depression, the novel follows a young girl and her older brother as they navigate their small town's societal norms and prejudices. Their father, a lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, forcing the children to confront the harsh realities of racism and injustice. The story explores themes of morality, innocence, and the loss of innocence through the eyes of the young protagonists.

22. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Cover of 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad

This classic novel follows the journey of a seaman who travels up the Congo River into the African interior to meet a mysterious ivory trader. Throughout his journey, he encounters the harsh realities of imperialism, the brutal treatment of native Africans, and the depths of human cruelty and madness. The protagonist's journey into the 'heart of darkness' serves as both a physical exploration of the African continent and a metaphorical exploration into the depths of human nature.

23. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Cover of 'Madame Bovary' by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary is a tragic novel about a young woman, Emma Bovary, who is married to a dull, but kind-hearted doctor. Dissatisfied with her life, she embarks on a series of extramarital affairs and indulges in a luxurious lifestyle in an attempt to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Her desire for passion and excitement leads her down a path of financial ruin and despair, ultimately resulting in a tragic end.

24. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Cover of 'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller

The book is a satirical critique of military bureaucracy and the illogical nature of war, set during World War II. The story follows a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier stationed in Italy, who is trying to maintain his sanity while fulfilling his service requirements so that he can go home. The novel explores the absurdity of war and military life through the experiences of the protagonist, who discovers that a bureaucratic rule, the "Catch-22", makes it impossible for him to escape his dangerous situation. The more he tries to avoid his military assignments, the deeper he gets sucked into the irrational world of military rule.

25. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Cover of 'The Sound and the Fury' by William Faulkner

The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

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The 100 Best Classic Books to Read

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Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Oct 13

The 100 best classic books to read.

The 100 Best Classic Books to Read

Ever been caught up in a conversation about books and felt yourself cringe over your literary blind spots? Classic literature can be intimidating, but getting acquainted with the canon isn't just a form of torture cooked up by your high school English teacher: instead, an appreciation for the classics will help you see everything that's come since in a different light, and pick up on allusions that you'll begin to notice everywhere. Above all, they're just great reads — they've stood the test of time for a reason!

If you've always wanted to tackle the classics but never knew quite where to begin, we've got you covered. We've hand-selected 100 classic books to read, written by authors spanning continents and millennia. From love stories to murder mysteries, nonfiction to fantasy, there's something for everybody.

1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This milestone Spanish novel may as well be titled 100 Years on Everyone’s Must-Read List — it’s just a titan in the world literature canon. We could go on about its remarkable narrative technique, beguiling voice, and sprawling cast of characters spanning seven generations. Its famous first line may be all that’s needed to win you over: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Newland Archer, one of 1900s New York’s most eligible bachelors, has been looking for a traditional wife, and May Welland seems just the girl — that is until Newland meets entirely unsuitable Ellen Olenska. He must now choose between the two women — and between old money prestige and a value that runs deeper than social etiquette.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This allegorical tale, often recommended as a self-help book , follows young shepherd Santiago as he journeys to Egypt searching for a hidden treasure. A parable telling readers that the universe can help them realize their dreams if they only focus their energy on them, Coelho’s short novel has endured the test of time and remains a bestseller today.

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4 . All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque’s wartime classic broke ground with its unflinching look at the human cost of war through the eyes of German soldiers in the Great War. With a lauded 1930 film adaptation (only the third to win Best Picture at the Oscars), All Quiet on the Western Front remains as powerful and relevant as ever.

5 . American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

Zitkála-Šá’s stories invite readers into the world of Sioux settlement, sharing childhood memories, legends, and folktales, and a memoir account of the Native American author ’s transition into Western culture when she left home. Told in beautiful, fluid language, this is a must-read book.

The World's Bestselling Mystery \'Ten . . .\' Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious \'U.N. Owen.\' \'Nine . . .\' At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead. \'Eight . . .\' Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . one by one they begin to die. \'Seven . . .\' Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

6 . And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

First, there were ten who arrived on the island. Strangers to one another, they shared one similarity: they had all murdered in the past. And when people begin dropping like flies, they realize that they are the ones being murdered now. An example of a mystery novel done right, this timeless classic was penned by none other than the Queen of Mystery herself .

7 . Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s celebrated novel narrates the whirlwind tale of Anna Karenina. She’s married to dull civil servant Alexei Karenin when she meets Count Vronsky, a man who changes her life forever. But an affair doesn’t come without a moral cost, and Anna’s life is soon anything but blissful.

8 . The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s only novel follows the young, ambitious Esther Greenwood, who falls into a depression after a directionless summer, culminating in a suicide attempt. But even as Esther survives and receives treatment, she continues wondering about her purpose and role in society — leading to much larger questions about existential fulfillment. Poetically written and stunningly authentic, The Bell Jar continues to resonate with countless readers today.

9. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Many books are said to have helped shape the world — but only a few can really stake that claim. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of them. One of the great literary luminaries of our time, her best-known novel is the searingly powerful story of Sethe, who was born a slave in Kentucky. Though she’s since escaped to Ohio, she is haunted by her dead baby, whose tombstone is engraved with one word: Beloved .

10 . The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

Before the recent fad of feminist retellings of fairy tales, there was The Bloody Chamber . But Angela Carter’s retold tales, including twisted versions of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, are more than just feminist: they’re original, darkly irreverent, and fiercely independent. This classic book is exactly what you’d expect from the author who inspired contemporary masters like Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, and Margaret Atwood.

11. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Though the title evokes Audrey Hepburn, this novella came first — and the literary Holly Golightly is a very different creature from the 'good-time girl' who falls for George Peppard. Clever and chameleonic, she crafts her persona to fit others’ expectations, chasing her own American Dream while letting men think they can have it with her… only to slip through their fingers. A fascinating character study and a triumph of Capote’s wit and humanity.

12. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Set in the opulent inter-war era in England, Brideshead Revisited chronicles the increasingly complex relationship between Oxford student Charles Ryder, his university chum Sebastian, whose noble family they visit at their grand seat of Brideshead. A lush, nostalgic, and passionate rendering of a bygone era of English aristocracy.

13. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Welcome to Theoretical Physics 101. If it sounds daunting, you aren’t alone, and Stephen Hawking does a beautiful job guiding layperson readers through complex subjects. If you’re keen to learn more about such enigmas as black holes, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and time itself, this is a perfect first taste.

14. The Call of the Wild (Reader's Library Classics) by Jack London

London's American classic is the bildungsroman of Buck: a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix who must adapt to life as a sled dog after a domesticated upbringing. Thrown into a harsh new reality, he must trust his instincts to survive. When he falls into the hands of a wise, experienced outdoorsman, will he become loyal to his new master or finally answer the call of the wild?

15. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Salinger’s angsty coming-of-age tale is an English class cornerstone for a good reason. The story follows Holden Caulfield, a 17-year-old boy fed up with prep school “phonies.” Escaping to New York in search of authenticity, he soon discovers that the city is a microcosm of the society he hates. Relentlessly cynical yet profoundly moving, The Catcher in the Rye will strike a chord not just with Holden’s fellow teens but with earnest thinkers of all ages.

16. A Christmas Carol (Bantam Classics) by Charles Dickens

If you’re not acquainted with Dickens , then his evergreen Christmastime classic is the perfect introduction. Not only is it one of his best-loved works, but it’s also a slim 104 pages — a true yuletide miracle from an author with a tendency towards the tome! This short length means it’s the perfect book with which to cozy up in winter, just when you want to feel that warm holiday glow.

17. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

En route to his wedding, merchant sailor Edmond Dantès is shockingly accused of treason and thrown in prison without cause. There, he learns the secret location of a great fortune — knowledge that incites him to escape his grim fortress and take revenge on his accusers. With peerlessly propulsive prose, Dumas spins an epic tale of retribution, jealousy, and suffering that deserves every page he gives it.

18. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A masterclass in character development , the very title of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is essentially an idiom for 'epic literature.' It centers around Raskolnikov, an unremarkable man who randomly murders someone after convincing himself that his motives are lofty enough to justify his actions. It turns out that it’s never that simple, and his conscience begins to call to him more and more.

19. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

The inspiration for the seminal 90s teen drama Cruel Intentions , Laclos's epistolary classic is a heady pre-revolutionary cocktail of sex and scandal that paints a damning portrait of high society. Laclos expertly plays with form and structure, composing a riveting narrative of letters passed between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont — aristocratic former lovers who get in over their heads when they start playing with people's hearts. 

20. The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

In this highly atmospheric book, Fuentes draws the reader in with hypnotic, visceral descriptions of the final hours of its title character: a multifaceted tycoon, revolutionary, lover, and politician. As with many classic books, death here symbolizes corruption — yet it’s also impossible to ignore as a physical reality. As well as being a powerful statement on mortality, it's a moving history of the Mexican Revolution and a landmark in Latin-American literature .

21. Diary of a Madman, and other stories by Lu Xun

This collection is a modern Chinese classic containing chilling, satirical stories illustrating a time of great social upheaval. With tales that ask questions about what constitutes an individual's life, ordinary citizens' everyday experiences blend with enduring feudal values, ghosts, death, and even a touch of cannibalism.

22. Samuel Pepys The Diaries by Samuel Pepys

Best known for his recording the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys was a man whose writings have provided modern historians with one of the greatest insights into 17th-century living. The greatest hits of his diary include eyewitness accounts of the restoration of the monarchy and the Great Plague. The timelessness of this book, however, is owed to the richness of Pepys's day-to-day drama, which he records in unsparing, lively detail.

23 . A Doll's House and Other Plays (Penguin Classics) by Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a powerful play starring the seemingly frivolous housewife Nora. Her husband, Torvald, considers her to be a silly “bird” of a companion, but in reality, she’s got a much firmer grasp on the hard facts of their domestic life than he does. Readers will celebrate as she finds the voice to speak her true thoughts.

24. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Entranced by tales of chivalry, a minor nobleman reinvents himself as a knight. He travels the land jousting giants and delivering justice — though, in reality, he’s tilting at windmills and fighting friars. And while Don Quixote lives out a fantasy in his head, an imposter puts it to the page, further blurring the line between fiction and reality. Considered by many to be the first modern novel, Don Quixote is undoubtedly the work of a master storyteller.

25. The Dream of The Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin

A treasured classic of Chinese literature, Dream of the Red Chamber is a rich, sprawling text that explores the darkest corners of high society during the Qing Dynasty. Focusing on two branches of a fading aristocratic clan, it details the lives of almost forty major characters, including Jia Baoyu, the heir apparent whose romantic notions may threaten the family's future.

26. Dune by Frank Herbert

A dazzling epic science fiction classic, Dune created a now-immortalized interstellar society featuring a conflict between various noble families. On the desert planet of Arrakis, House Atreides controls the production of a high-demand drug known as "the spice". As political conflicts mount and spice-related revelations occur, young heir Paul Atreides must push himself to the absolute limit to save his planet and his loved ones.

27. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy became the blueprint for countless fantasy series , and this first installment is its epic start. In The Fellowship of the Ring, we meet Frodo Baggins and his troupe of loyal friends, all of whom embark on a fateful mission: to destroy the One Ring and its awful powers forever.

28. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan’s disruptive feminist text sheds light on the midcentury dissatisfaction of homemakers across America. Her case studies of unhappy women relegated to the domestic sphere, striving for careers and identities beyond the home, cut deep even now — and in retrospect, were a clear catalyst for second-wave feminism in the United States.

29. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Shelley’s hugely influential classic recounts the tragic tale of Victor Frankenstein: a scientist who mistakenly engineers a violent monster. When Victor abandons his creation, the monster escapes and threatens to kill Victor’s family — unless he’s given a mate. Facing tremendous moral pressure, Victor must choose: foster a new race to possibly destroy humanity, or be responsible for the deaths of everyone he’s ever loved?

30. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

A defining entry in the LGBTQ+ canon , Giovanni’s Room relates one man’s struggle with his sexuality, as well as the broader consequences of the toxic patriarchy. After David, our narrator, has traveled to France to find himself, he begins a relationship with messy, magnetic Giovanni — the perfect foil to David’s safe, dull girlfriend. As more trouble arises, David agonizes over who he is, what he wants, and whether it is even possible to obtain it in this world.

31. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

This inventive meta novel is the first of Lessing’s “inner space” works, dealing with ideas of mental and societal breakdown. It revolves around writer Anna Wulf, who hopes to combine the notebooks about her life into one grand narrative. But despite her creative strides, Anna has irreparably fragmented herself — and working to re-synthesize her different sides eventually drives her mad.

32. Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves

Few people possess enough raw material to pen a memoir at the age of 34. Robert Graves — having already lived through the First World War and the seismic shifts it sparked in English society and sensibilities — peppers his sober account of social and personal turmoil with moments of surprising levity. Graves would later go on to write I, Claudius, a novel of the Roman Empire that is considered one of the greatest books ever written.

33. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Following one Oklahoma family’s journey out of the Dust Bowl in search of a better life in California, Steinbeck’s classic is a vivid snapshot of Depression-era America, and about as devastating as it gets. Both tragic and awe-inspiring, The Grapes of Wrath is widely considered to be Steinbeck's best book and a front-runner for the title of The Great American Novel.

34. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When talking of the Great American Novel, you cannot help but mention this work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. More than just a champagne-soaked story of love, betrayal, and murder, The Great Gatsby has a lot to say about class, identity, and belonging if you scratch its surface. You probably read this classic book in high school, but a return visit to West Egg is more than justified.

35. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Meet John Singer, a deaf and nonverbal man who sits in the same café every day. Here, in the deep American South of the 1930s, John meets an assortment of people and acts as the silent, kind keeper of their stories — right up until an unforgettable ending that will blow you away. It’s hard to believe McCullers was only 23 when she penned this Southern gothic classic.

36. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

An epic work that befits its lengthy title, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire chronicles thirteen centuries of Roman rule. It chronicles its leaders, conflicts, and the events that led to its collapse— an outcome that Gibbon lays at the feet of Christianity. This work is an ambitious feat at over six volumes, though one that Gibbon pulls off with great panache.

37. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Arthur Dent is an Englishman, an enjoyer of tea — and the only person to survive the destruction of the Earth. Accompanied by an alien author, Dent must now venture into the intergalactic bypass to figure out what’s going on. Though by no means the first comedic genre book, Douglas Adams’s masterpiece certainly popularized the idea that science fiction doesn't have to be earnest and straight-faced.

38. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle’s world-famous detective needs no introduction. Mythologized in film and television many times over by now, this mystery of a diabolical hound roaming the moors in Devon is perhaps Sherlock Holmes’s most famous adventure.

39. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Few first-time novelists have had the kind of impact and success enjoyed by Isabel Allende with her triumphant debut. Found at the top of pretty much every list of ‘best sweeping family sagas,’ The House of the Spirits chronicles the tumultuous history of the Trueba family, entwining the personal, the political, and the magical.

40. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

A perennial personal development staple, How to Win Friends and Influence People has been flying off the shelves since its release in 1936. Full of tried-and-true tips for garnering favor in both professional and personal settings, you’ll want to read the classic book that launched the entire self-help industry.

41. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

From a small Southern town to San Francisco, this landmark memoir covers Maya Angelou’s childhood years growing up in the United States, facing daily prejudice, racism, and sexism. Yet what shines the brightest on every page is Maya Angelou’s voice — which made the book an instant classic in 1969 and has endured to this day.

42. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

You don’t have to be a sci-fi buff (or a Will Smith fan) to understand I, Robot’s iconic status. But if you are one, you’ll know the impact Isaac Asimov’s short story collection has had on subsequent generations of writers. Razor-sharp and thought-provoking, these tales of robotic sentience are still deeply relevant today.

43. If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

Spare, unflinching, and horrifying, If This Is a Ma n is Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi’s autobiographical account of life under fascism and his detention in Auschwitz. It serves as an invaluable historical document and a powerful insight into the atrocities of war, making for a challenging but essential read.

44. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

From Ellison’s exceptional writing to his affecting portrayal of Black existence in America, Invisible Man is a true masterpiece. The book’s unnamed narrator describes experiences ranging from frustrating to nightmarish, reflecting on the “invisibility” of being seen only as one’s racial identity. Weaving in threads of Marxist theory and political unrest, this National Book Award winner remains a radical, brilliant must-read for the 21st century.

45. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Like a dark, sparkling jewel passed down through generations, Charlotte Brontë’s exquisite Gothic romance continues to be revered and reimagined more than 170 years after its publication. Its endurance is largely thanks to the intensely passionate and turbulent relationship between headstrong heroine Jane and the mysterious Mr. Rochester — a romance that is strikingly modern in its sexual politics.

46. The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en

Journey to the West is an episodic Chinese novel published anonymously in the 16th century and attributed to Wu Cheng’en. Today, this beloved text — a rollicking fantasy about a mischievous, shape-shifting monkey god and his fallen immortal friends — is the source text for children’s stories, films, and comics. But this classic book is also an insightful comic satire and a monument of literature comparable to The Canterbury Tales or Don Quixote.

47. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

A science fiction novel by one of the genre's greats, Kindred asks the toughest “what if” question there is: What if a modern black woman was transported back in time to antebellum Maryland? Octavia Butler sugarcoats nothing in this incisive, time-traveling inquisition into race and racism during one of the most horrifying periods in American history.

49. The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon

The Lonely Londoners occupies a unique historical position as one of the earliest accounts of the Black working-class in 20th-century Britain. Selvon delves into the lives of immigrants from the West Indies, most of whom feel disillusioned and listless in London. But with its singular slice-of-life style and humor, The Lonely Londoners is hardly a tragic novel — only an unflinchingly honest one.

50. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Another high school English classic, Lord of the Flies recounts the fate of a group of young British boys stranded on a desert island. Though they initially attempt to band together, rising tensions and paranoia lead to in-fighting and, eventually, terrible violence. The result is a dark cautionary tale against our own primitive brutality — with the haunting implication that it's closer to the surface than we'd like to think.

51. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s heroine Emma Bovary is the young wife of a provincial doctor who escapes her banal existence by devouring romance novels. But when Emma decides she remains unfulfilled, she starts seeking romantic affairs of her own — all of which fail to meet her expectations or rescue her from her mounting debt. Though Flaubert’s novel caused a moral outcry on publication, its portrayal of a married woman’s affair was so realistic, many women believed they were the model for his heroine.

52. The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

This short novella tells the story of two British men visiting India while the country is a British colony. Swindlers and cheats, the men trick their way to Kafiristan, a remote region where one of them comes to be revered as king. A cautionary tale warning against letting things go to your head, this funny and absurd read has also been made into a classic film starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery.

53. Middlemarch by George Eliot

Subtitled A Study of Provincial Life , this novel concerns itself with the ordinary lives of individuals in the fictional town of Middlemarch in the early 19th century. Hailed for its depiction of a time of significant social change, it also stands out for its gleaming idealism, as well as endless generosity and compassion towards the follies of humanity.

54. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Born in the first hour of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is gifted with the power of telepathy and an extraordinary sense of smell. He soon discovers that there are 1,001 others with similar abilities — people who can help Saleem build a new India. The winner of the Booker prize in 1981, Salman Rushdie’s groundbreaking novel is a triumphant achievement of magical realism .

55. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick is more than the story of a boy on-board a whaling ship, more than an ode to marine lore and legend, and even more than a metaphysical allegory for the struggle between good and evil. Herman Melville’s “Great American Novel” is a masterful study of faith, obsession, and delusion — and a profound social commentary born from his lifelong meditation on America. The result will fill you with wonder and awe.

56. My Antonia by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s celebrated classic about life on the prairie, My Ántonia tells the nostalgic story of Jim and Ántonia, childhood friends and neighbors in rural Nebraska. As well as charting the passage of time and the making of America, it’s a book that fills readers with wonder and a warm feeling of familiarity.

57. The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

Originally published in Italian, The Name of the Rose is one of the bestselling books of all time — and for good reason. Umberto Eco plots a wild ride from start to finish: an intelligent murder mystery that combines theology, semiotics, empiricism, biblical analysis, and layers of metanarratives that create a brilliant labyrinth of a book.

58. The Nether World by George Gissing

A masterpiece of realism, The Nether World forces the reader to spend time with the type of marginalized people routinely left out of fiction: the working class of late 19th century London, a group whose many problems are intertwined with money. Idealistic in its pessimism, this fantastic novel insists that life is much more demanding than fiction lets show.

59. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

George Orwell’s story of a heavily surveilled dystopian state was heralded as prescient and left a lasting impact on popular culture and language (“Room 101”, “Big Brother,” and “Doublethink” were all born in its pages, to name a few). Just read it, if only to recognize its references, which you’ll begin to notice everywhere .

60. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Uprooted from the South, a pastor's daughter, Margaret Hale, finds herself living in an industrial town in England's North. She encounters the suffering of the local mill workers and the mill owner John Thornton — and two very different passions ignite. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell fuses personal feeling with social concern, creating in the process a heroine that feels original and strikingly modern.

61. The Odyssey by Homer

This timeless classic has the heart-racing thrills of an adventure story and the psychological drama of an intricate family saga. After ten years fighting in a thankless war, Odysseus begins the long journey home to Ithaca — where his wife Penelope struggles to hold off a horde of suitors. But with men and gods standing in their way, will Odysseus and Penelope ever be reunited?

62. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway ’s career culminated with The Old Man and the Sea, the last book he published in his lifetime. This ocean-deep novella has a deceptively simple premise — an aging fisherman ventures out into the Gulf Stream determined to break his unlucky streak. What follows is a battle that’s small in scale but epic in feeling, rendered in Hemingway’s famously spare prose.

63. On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Questioning the idea of a Creator — and therefore challenging the beliefs of most of the Western world — in The Origin of Species , Darwin explored a theory of evolution based on laws of natural selection. Not only is this text still considered a groundbreaking scientific work, but the ideas it puts forward remain fundamental to modern biology. And it’s totally readable to boot!

64. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

The subjective nature of “sanity,” institutional oppression, and rejection of authority are just a few of the issues tackled in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest . The rebellious Randle McMurphy is this story’s de facto hero, and his clashes with the notorious Nurse Ratched have not only inspired a host of spin-offs but arguably a whole movement of fiction related to mental health.

65. One Thousand and One Nights by Anonymous

Embittered by his first wife’s infidelity, King Shahryar takes a new bride every night and beheads her in the morning — until Scheherazade, his latest bride, learns to use her imagination to stave off death. In this collection of Arabic folk tales, the quick-witted storyteller Scheherazade demonstrates the power of a good cliffhanger — on both the king and the reader!

66. Orientalism by Edward W. Said

An intelligent critique of the way the Western world perceives the East, Orientalism argues that the West’s racist, oppressive, and backward representation of the Eastern world is tied to imperialism. Published in 1978, Edward Said’s transformative text changed academic discourse forever.

67. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Thanks to the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen, the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy (pioneers of the enemies-to-lovers trope) is not merely a regency romance but a playful commentary on class, wealth, and the search for self-knowledge in a world governed by strict etiquette. Light, bright, and flawlessly crafted, Pride and Prejudice is an Austen classic you’re guaranteed to love.

68. The Princesse de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette

Often called the first modern novel from France, The Princesse de Cleves is an account of love, anguish, and their inherent inseparability: an all-too-familiar story, despite the 16th-century setting. Though the plot is simple — an unrequited love, unspoken until it’s not — Madame de Lafayette pours onto the pages a moving and profound analysis of the fragile human heart.

69. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader is set in postwar Germany, a society still living in the shadow of the Holocaust. The book begins with an older woman’s relationship with a minor, though it isn’t even the most shocking thing that happens in this novel. Concerned with disconnection and apathy, Schlink’s book grapples with the guilty weight of the past without flinching from the horror of the present.

70. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Du Maurier’s slow-burning mystery has been sending a chill down readers’ spines for decades, earning its place in the horror hall of fame. It’s required reading for any fan of the genre, but reader beware: this gorgeously gothic novel will keep you up at night.

71. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

A mainstay of feminist literature , A Room of One’s Own experimentally blends fiction and fact to drill down into the role of women in literature as both subjects and creatives. Part critical theory, part rallying cry, this slender book still packs a powerful punch.

72. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Described by Edward Said as one of the great novels in the oeuvre of Arabic books, Season of Migration to the North is the revolutionary narrative of two men struggling to re-discover their Sudanese identities following the impact of British colonialism. Some compare it to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness , but it stands tall in its own right.

73. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

A foundational feminist text , Simone de Beauvoir's treatise The Second Sex marked a watershed moment in feminist history and gender theory. It rewards the efforts of those willing to traverse its nearly 1,000 pages with eye-opening truths about gender, oppression, and otherness.

74. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

How do genes work? And what does that mean for our chances of survival? Often cited as one of the most influential science books of all time, Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene seeks to answer these pressing questions and more. It also touts the dubious glory of introducing the word “meme” into the public consciousness. 

75. The Shining by Stephen King

Jack Torrance is the new off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Providing his family with a home and him with enough time to write, it’s the perfect job, but for one tiny problem: the hotel may be haunted. And it’s only going to get worse once winter sets in. If you only read one horror book in your lifetime, you could do much worse than Stephen King’s The Shining .

76. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

The story of a man casting off his worldly possessions in the pursuit of self-discovery and enlightenment, Siddhartha may seem intimidatingly philosophical at first glance. In reality, though, Herman Hesse’s German-language classic is surprisingly accessible, and as page-turning and readable as it is spiritually enlightening.

77. The Sorrows Of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A defining work in early Romanticism that influenced the likes of Mary Shelley and Thomas Mann, The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that tells of a young writer infatuated with someone else’s betrothed. Drawing heavily on his own experience of ill-fated love, as well as the death of his good friend, Goethe makes the pages hum with angst and repressed desire.

78. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll’s attempt to indulge in his vices transforms him into the horrific Mr. Hyde. The more Jekyll yields to his urges, the more powerful Hyde becomes until even Jekyll can’t control him. The result is a thrilling story of supernatural horror and a potent allegory that warns against giving in to one’s dark side.

79. The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger opens with Meursault, our hero, learning of the death of his mother. His reaction to the news is put under intense scrutiny from those around him. The reader is led in a strange dance of absurdism and existentialism that sees Meursault confront something even crueler than mortality: society’s expectations.

80. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth by Vikram Seth

Recently adapted into a hit drama by the BBC, A Suitable Boy is one of the newer books on our list but has already landed classic status. At nearly 1,500 pages long, the story of 19-year-old Lata's attempts to resist her family's efforts to marry her off to "a suitable boy" is astonishing in its execution and eye-opening look at class, religion, and gendered expectations in mid-century India.

81. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

The Tale of Genji follows the romantic and political misadventures of a young official born to one of the emperor’s consorts. With no place in the line of succession, Genji makes his way through life using his good looks and charm — but these gifts ultimately bring him more sorrow than joy. Elegant and immersive, this captivating classic is often touted as the first in-depth character study.

82. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Set against sweeping landscapes and wind-torn fields, Tess of the D’Urbervilles focuses on the life of young Tess Durbeyfield, who, by her family’s great poverty, is forced to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urberville family. What follows is a devastating tragedy, as Tess meets harsher and harsher treatment at the hands of men.

83. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

After being caught kissing down-and-out Johnny Taylor, sixteen-year-old Janie is promptly married off to an older man. Following her journey through adolescence, adulthood, and a string of unsatisfying marriages with unblinking honesty, Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the seminal masterpieces of African American literature .

84. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s magnum opus follows Okonkwo, an Igbo man whose sole aim is to rise above his father’s weak legacy. Okonkwo is strong and fearless, but his obsession with masculinity leads him to violently dominate others — until he goes too far one day. The following events form an unparalleled tragedy, made all the more gripping by rich details of pre-colonial Igbo culture and timeless questions about tradition and honor.

85. Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

When a young man meets his late father’s mistress at a tea ceremony, he succumbs to a desire that is both transgressive and overpowering. While the tragic consequences of their love affair unfold, Kawabata delicately guides us through a world of passion, regret, and exquisite beauty. No wonder Thousand Cranes helped him land a Nobel Prize.

86. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This unforgettable classic centers on race relations and justice in the Depression-era South. Narrated by our protagonist as an adult, it looks back to her childhood when her father defended a Black man falsely accused of rape. She muses on what their small town’s reactions to the trial taught her about prejudice and morality. Despite the heavy subject matter, Scout’s warm, insightful voice makes To Kill a Mockingbird a joy to read; no wonder it’s often cited as the Great American Novel.

87. The Trial by Franz Kafka

The Trial begins with a bank cashier, Josef K., accused of an unspecified crime and told to await a court summons. Josef attempts to figure out what he has “done” but is met only with chaos and despair, and his sanity continues to fray as he goes through this maddening ordeal.

88. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Henry James’ brilliance arguably reached a pinnacle with The Turn of the Screw , a Gothic novella about a governess who cares for two children in the estate of Bly. She grows convinced that the grounds are haunted by ghosts — but are they, really?

89. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning adaptation recently drew renewed attention to this vital work by Solomon Northup, a memoir that takes a well-deserved place on every complete list of classic books. As a free and educated man kidnapped and sold into slavery, Northup was able to write an extraordinarily full account of life on a cotton plantation that exposes the brutal truth from the uniquely cutting viewpoint of both an outsider and a victim.

90. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

This classic sci-fi book features the original Nemo — not, regrettably, an adorable clownfish, but the captain of a submarine called Nautilus. Captain Nemo, his crew, and three scientists go on a fantastical journey in the shadowy depths of the sea. From underwater forests to walking the seafloor and finding Atlantis, this is no ordinary adventure.

91. Ulysses by James Joyce

Though it’s a long book, Ulysses traces the progress of a single day in the life of Irishman Leopold Bloom and his acquaintances. A groundbreaking modernist work, this novel is characterized by innovative literary experimentation and a stream-of-consciousness flow that winds elusively along the streets of Dublin.

92. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch’s best-known novel is much like its protagonist: brimming with equal parts charisma and chaos. Down-and-out writer Jake Donaghue is the man of the hour, and the reader charts him all over London as he runs into increasingly odd characters and situations.

93. Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand

Untouchable follows a day in the life of Bakha, a sweeper and toilet cleaner who is rendered “untouchable” under India’s rigid caste system. Only 166 pages long, Anand presents a powerful case study of injustice and the oppressive systems that perpetuate it.

94. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

A commanding manifesto by author-activist Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman birthed the tenets of modern feminist thought. Defying the commonly held notion that women were naturally inferior to men, it argued that a lack of education for women fostered inequality. One to pick up if you want to feel good about how far gender equality has come — or if you want to fuel your fire for the distance yet to be traveled.

95. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Two worlds must do epic battle: humankind and Martians. And only one can survive. This seminal science fiction work caused widespread panic in 1938 when its radio adaptation—narrated and directed by Orson Welles—made people across the United States think that an actual alien invasion was taking place right outside their front doors.

96. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Are you tired of being told to read Jane Eyre ? Then we suggest you pick up Wide Sargasso Sea : the feminist prequel written by Jean Rhys in 1966. Rhys reshapes the Bronte classic forever by writing from Bertha Mason’s point of view: no longer the madwoman in the attic, but a Jamaican caught in a patriarchal society from which she cannot escape.

97. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This book takes its reader to a fictional African nation called the Free Republic of Aburiria and brings a postcolonial edge to folk storytelling. Featuring tricksters, lovers, and magical elements, Wizard of the Crow is a hilarious satire of autocracy and an experimental feat that cleverly incorporates oral traditions into its grand vision.

98. Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis

Women, Race, and Class is a must-read for anyone who wants to know about the intersectionality of the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. Civil rights activist Angela Davis unpacks white feminism, sexism, and racism in clear, incisive prose as she makes a resounding call for equality.

99. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Amid a terrible snowstorm, a man takes shelter at Wuthering Heights, where he learns the story of the manor’s former inhabitants: Catherine and Heathcliff. Set against the bleak and feral backdrop of the Yorkshire Moors, it’s a story of impossible desire, cruel betrayal, and bitter vengeance that rages with as much life and power as the fierce winds outside.

100. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

One of the early feminist triumphs, The Yellow Wallpaper is the famous short story chronicling the slow breakdown of a woman imprisoned in a room with (spoiler alert) yellow wallpaper—presumably to cure her “temporary nervous depression.” Highly recommended, especially since it’s only a 10-minute read.

Still hungry for more classic reads? Check out our picks for the best books of all time . If you'd like to try something a little more contemporary, we've got you covered with our favorite novels of the 21st century .

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100 must-read classics, as chosen by our readers

They broke boundaries and challenged conceptions. We asked you for your must-read classics; from iconic bestsellers to lesser-known gems, these are your essential recommends. 

Everyone loves a  classic novel , but where to start? From  Jane Austen  to  Charles Dickens ,  Toni Morrison  to  Fyodor Dostoevsky , the fiction canon is so vast you can easily get lost in it.

So we asked our readers to tell us about their favourite classic books. The resulting list of must-reads is a perfect way to find inspiration to start your classics adventure. There's something for everyone, from family sagas and  dystopian fiction  to  romances  and historical fiction.

And if you enjoy this, you can also learn about our reader's favourite  books by female authors , most loved  children's books  and the  best memoirs  they've ever read.

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A composite image of some of the books of the century

The 100 best books of the 21st century

Dazzling debut novels, searing polemics, the history of humanity and trailblazing memoirs ... Read our pick of the best books since 2000

  • Read an interview with the author of our No 1 book
  • Read Ali Smith on Autumn
  • Read David Mitchell on Cloud Atlas

I Feel Bad About My Neck

By nora ephron (2006).

Perhaps better known for her screenwriting ( Silkwood , When Harry Met Sally , Heartburn ), Ephron’s brand of smart theatrical humour is on best display in her essays. Confiding and self-deprecating, she has a way of always managing to sound like your best friend – even when writing about her apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. This wildly enjoyable collection includes her droll observations about ageing, vanity – and a scorching appraisal of Bill Clinton. Read the review

Broken Glass

By alain mabanckou (2005), translated by helen stevenson (2009).

The Congolese writer says he was “trying to break the French language” with Broken Glass – a black comedy told by a disgraced teacher without much in the way of full stops or paragraph breaks. As Mabanckou’s unreliable narrator munches his “bicycle chicken” and drinks his red wine, it becomes clear he has the history of Congo-Brazzaville and the whole of French literature in his sights. Read the review

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the 2011 film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

By stieg larsson (2005), translated by steven t murray (2008).

Radical journalist Mikael Blomkvist forms an unlikely alliance with troubled young hacker Lisbeth Salander as they follow a trail of murder and malfeasance connected with one of Sweden’s most powerful families in the first novel of the bestselling Millennium trilogy. The high-level intrigue beguiled millions of readers, brought “Scandi noir” to prominence and inspired innumerable copycats. Read the review

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By jk rowling (2000).

A generation grew up on Rowling’s all-conquering magical fantasies, but countless adults have also been enthralled by her immersive world. Book four, the first of the doorstoppers, marks the point where the series really takes off. The Triwizard Tournament provides pace and tension, and Rowling makes her boy wizard look death in the eye for the first time. Read the review

A Little Life

By hanya yanagihara (2015).

This operatically harrowing American gay melodrama became an unlikely bestseller, and one of the most divisive novels of the century so far. One man’s life is blighted by abuse and its aftermath, but also illuminated by love and friendship. Some readers wept all night, some condemned it as titillating and exploitative, but no one could deny its power. Read the review

Chronicles: Volume One

By bob dylan (2004).

Dylan’s reticence about his personal life is a central part of the singer-songwriter’s brand, so the gaps and omissions in this memoir come as no surprise. The result is both sharp and dreamy, sliding in and out of different phases of Dylan’s career but rooted in his earliest days as a Woody Guthrie wannabe in New York City. Fans are still waiting for volume two. Read the review

Bob Dylan in New York, 1963.

The Tipping Point

By malcolm gladwell (2000).

The New Yorker staff writer examines phenomena from shoe sales to crime rates through the lens of epidemiology, reaching his own tipping point, when he became a rock-star intellectual and unleashed a wave of quirky studies of contemporary society. Two decades on, Gladwell is often accused of oversimplification and cherry picking, but his idiosyncratic bestsellers have helped shape 21st-century culture. Read the review

by Nicola Barker (2007)

British fiction’s most anarchic author is as prolific as she is playful, but this freewheeling, visionary epic set around the Thames Gateway is her magnum opus. Barker brings her customary linguistic invention and wild humour to a tale about history’s hold on the present, as contemporary Ashford is haunted by the spirit of a medieval jester. Read the review

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

by Helen Dunmore (2001)

The Levin family battle against starvation in this novel set during the German siege of Leningrad. Anna digs tank traps and dodges patrols as she scavenges for wood, but the hand of history is hard to escape. Read the review

Light by M John Harrison

by M John Harrison (2002)

One of the most underrated prose writers demonstrates the literary firepower of science fiction at its best. Three narrative strands – spanning far-future space opera, contemporary unease and virtual-reality pastiche – are braided together for a breathtaking metaphysical voyage in pursuit of the mystery at the heart of reality. Read the review

by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008), translated by Susan Bernofsky (2010)

A grand house by a lake in the east of Germany is both the setting and main character of Erpenbeck’s third novel. The turbulent waves of 20th-century history crash over it as the house is sold by a Jewish family fleeing the Third Reich, requisitioned by the Russian army, reclaimed by exiles returning from Siberia, and sold again. Read the review

by Lorna Sage (2000)

A Whitbread prizewinning memoir, full of perfectly chosen phrases, that is one of the best accounts of family dysfunction ever written. Sage grew up with her grandparents, who hated each other: he was a drunken philandering vicar; his wife, having found his diaries, blackmailed him and lived in another part of the house. The author gets unwittingly pregnant at 16, yet the story has a happy ending. Read the review

Noughts & Crosses

By malorie blackman (2001).

Set in an alternative Britain, this groundbreaking piece of young adult fiction sees black people, called the Crosses, hold all the power and influence, while the noughts – white people – are marginalised and segregated. The former children’s laureate’s series is a crucial work for explaining racism to young readers.


By patricia lockwood (2017).

This may not be the only account of living in a religious household in the American midwest (in her youth, the author joined a group called God’s Gang, where they spoke in tongues), but it is surely the funniest. The author started out as the “poet laureate of Twitter”; her language is brilliant, and she has a completely original mind. Read the review

A telling description of modern power … Yanis Varoufakis.

Adults in the Room

By yanis varoufakis (2017).

This memoir by the leather-jacketed economist of the six months he spent as Greece’s finance minister in 2015 at a time of economic and political crisis has been described as “one of the best political memoirs ever written”. He comes up against the IMF, the European institutions, Wall Street, billionaires and media owners and is told how the system works – as a result, his book is a telling description of modern power. Read the review

The God Delusion

By richard dawkins (2006).

A key text in the days when the “New Atheism” was much talked about, The God Delusion is a hard-hitting attack on religion, full of Dawkins’s confidence that faith produces fanatics and all arguments for God are ridiculous. What the evolutionary biologist lacks in philosophical sophistication, he makes up for in passion, and the book sold in huge numbers. Read the review

The Cost of Living

By deborah levy (2018).

Dazzling memoir … Deborah Levy.

“Chaos is supposed to be what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want ... ” The second part of Levy’s “living memoir”, in which she leaves her marriage, is a fascinating companion piece to her deep yet playful novels. Feminism, mythology and the daily grind come together for a book that combines emotion and intellect to dazzling effect. Read the review

Tell Me How It Ends

By valeria luiselli (2016), translated by luiselli with lizzie davis (2017).

As the hysteria over immigration to the US began to build in 2015, the Mexican novelist volunteered to work as an interpreter in New York’s federal immigration court. In this powerful series of essays she tells the poignant stories of the children she met, situating them in the wider context of the troubled relationship between the Americas. Read the review

by Neil Gaiman (2002)

From the Sandman comics to his fantasy epic American Gods to Twitter, Gaiman towers over the world of books. But this perfectly achieved children’s novella, in which a plucky young girl enters a parallel world where her “Other Mother” is a spooky copy of her real-life mum, with buttons for eyes, might be his finest hour: a properly scary modern myth which cuts right to the heart of childhood fears and desires. Read the review

by Jim Crace (2013)

Crace is fascinated by the moment when one era gives way to another. Here, it is the enclosure of the commons, a fulcrum of English history, that drives his story of dispossession and displacement. Set in a village without a name, the narrative dramatises what it’s like to see the world you know come to an end, in a severance of the connection between people and land that has deep relevance for our time of climate crisis and forced migration. Read the review

Amy Adams in Arrival, the 2015 film based on a short story by Ted Chiang.

Stories of Your Life and Others

By ted chiang (2002).

Melancholic and transcendent, Chiang’s eight, high-concept sci-fi stories exploring the nature of language, maths, religion and physics racked up numerous awards and a wider audience when ‘Story of Your Life’ was adapted into the 2016 film Arrival . Read the review

The Spirit Level

By richard wilkinson and kate pickett (2009).

An eye-opening study, based on overwhelming evidence, which revealed that among rich countries, the “more equal societies almost always do better” for all. Growth matters less than inequality, the authors argued: whether the issue is life expectancy, infant mortality, crime rates, obesity, literacy or recycling, the Scandinavian countries, say, will always win out over, say, the UK. Read the review

NK Jemisin explores urgent questions of power in The Fifth Season.

The Fifth Season

By nk jemisin (2015).

Jemisin became the first African American author to win the best novel category at the Hugo awards for her first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. In her intricate and richly imagined far future universe, the world is ending, ripped apart by relentless earthquakes and volcanoes. Against this apocalyptic backdrop she explores urgent questions of power and enslavement through the eyes of three women. “As this genre finally acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalised matter and that all of us have a future,” she said in her acceptance speech, “so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)”

Signs Preceding the End of the World

By yuri herrera (2009), translated by lisa dillman (2015).

Makina sets off from her village in Mexico with a package from a local gangster and a message for her brother, who has been gone for three years. The story of her crossing to the US examines the blurring of boundaries, the commingling of languages and the blending of identities that complicate the idea of an eventual return. Read the review

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By daniel kahneman (2011).

The Nobel laureate’s unexpected bestseller, on the minutiae of decision-making, divides the brain into two. System One makes judgments quickly, intuitively and automatically, as when a batsman decides whether to cut or pull. System Two is slow, calculated and deliberate, like long division. But psychologist Kahneman argues that, although System Two thinks it is in control, many of our decisions are really made by System One. Read the review

Spoor, the film adaptation of  Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

By olga tokarczuk (2009), translated by antonia lloyd-jones (2018).

In this existential eco-thriller, a William Blake-obsessed eccentric investigates the murders of men and animals in a remote Polish village. More accessible and focused than Flights , the novel that won Tokarczuk the Man International Booker prize, it is no less profound in its examination of how atavistic male impulses, emboldened by the new rightwing politics of Europe, are endangering people, communities and nature itself. Read the review

Days Without End

By sebastian barry (2016).

In this savagely beautiful novel set during the Indian wars and American civil war, a young Irish boy flees famine-struck Sligo for Missouri. There he finds lifelong companionship with another emigrant, and they join the army on its brutal journey west, laying waste to Indian settlements. Viscerally focused and intense, yet imbued with the grandeur of the landscape, the book explores love, gender and survival with a rare, luminous power. Read the review

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy

By barbara demick (2009).

Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick interviewed around 100 North Korean defectors for this propulsive work of narrative non-fiction, but she focuses on just six, all from the north-eastern city of Chongjin – closed to foreigners and less media-ready than Pyongyang. North Korea is revealed to be rife with poverty, corruption and violence but populated by resilient people with a remarkable ability to see past the propaganda all around them. Read the review

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

By shoshana zuboff (2019).

An agenda-setting book that is devastating about the extent to which big tech sets out to manipulate us for profit. Not simply another expression of the “techlash”, Zuboff’s ambitious study identifies a new form of capitalism, one involving the monitoring and shaping of our behaviour, often without our knowledge, with profound implications for democracy. “Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us.” Read the review

Jimmy Corrigan- tThe Smartest Kid on Earth

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

By chris ware (2000).

At the time when Ware won the Guardian first book award, no graphic novel had previously won a generalist literary prize. Emotional and artistic complexity are perfectly poised in this account of a listless 36-year-old office dogsbody who is thrown into an existential crisis by an encounter with his estranged dad. Read the review

Judi Dench, left, and Cate Blanchett in the 2006 film adaptation of Notes on a Scandal.

Notes on a Scandal

By zoë heller (2003).

Sheba, a middle-aged teacher at a London comprehensive, begins an affair with her 15-year-old student - but we hear about it from a fellow teacher, the needy Barbara, whose obsessive nature drives the narrative. With shades of Patricia Highsmith, this teasing investigation into sex, class and loneliness is a dark marvel. Read the review

The Infatuations

By javier marías (2011), translated by margaret jull costa (2013).

The Spanish master examines chance, love and death in the story of an apparently random killing that gradually reveals hidden depths. Marías constructs an elegant murder mystery from his trademark labyrinthine sentences, but this investigation is in pursuit of much meatier questions than whodunnit. Read the review

Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes in the 2005 film adaptation of  The Constant Gardener.

The Constant Gardener

By john le carré (2001).

The master of the cold war thriller turned his attention to the new world order in this chilling investigation into the corruption powering big pharma in Africa. Based on the case of a rogue antibiotics trial that killed and maimed children in Nigeria in the 1990s, it has all the dash and authority of his earlier novels while precisely and presciently anatomising the dangers of a rampant neo-imperialist capitalism. Read the review

The Silence of the Girls

By pat barker (2018).

If the western literary canon is founded on Homer, then it is founded on women’s silence. Barker’s extraordinary intervention, in which she replays the events of the Iliad from the point of view of the enslaved Trojan women, chimed with both the #MeToo movement and a wider drive to foreground suppressed voices. In a world still at war, it has chilling contemporary resonance. Read the review

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

By carlo rovelli (2014).

A theoretical physicist opens a window on to the great questions of the universe with this 96-page overview of modern physics. Rovelli’s keen insight and striking metaphors make this the best introduction to subjects including relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, elementary particles and entropy outside of a course in advanced physics. Read the review

Ben Affleck in the 2014 film adaptation of Gone Girl.

by Gillian Flynn (2012)

The deliciously dark US crime thriller that launched a thousand imitators and took the concept of the unreliable narrator to new heights. A woman disappears: we think we know whodunit, but we’re wrong. Flynn’s stylishly written portrait of a toxic marriage set against a backdrop of social and economic insecurity combines psychological depth with sheer unputdownable flair. Read the review

by Stephen King (2000)

Written after a near-fatal accident, this combination of memoir and masterclass by fiction’s most successful modern storyteller showcases the blunt, casual brilliance of King at his best. As well as being genuinely useful, it’s a fascinating chronicle of literary persistence, and of a lifelong love affair with language and narrative. Read the review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By rebecca skloot (2010).

Henrietta Lacks was a black American who died in agony of cancer in a “coloured” hospital ward in 1951. Her cells, taken without her knowledge during a biopsy, went on to change medical history, being used around the world to develop countless drugs. Skloot skilfully tells the extraordinary scientific story, but in this book the voices of the Lacks children are crucial – they have struggled desperately even as billions have been made from their mother’s “HeLa” cells. Read the review

Benedict Cumberbatch in the TV adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.

Mother’s Milk

By edward st aubyn (2006).

The fourth of the autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels finds the wealthy protagonist – whose flight from atrocious memories of child abuse into drug abuse was the focus of the first books – beginning to grope after redemption. Elegant wit and subtle psychology lift grim subject matter into seductive brilliance. Read the review

This House of Grief

By helen garner (2014).

A man drives his three sons into a deep pond and swims out, leaving them to drown. But was it an accident? This 2005 tragedy caught the attention of one of Australia’s greatest living writers. Garner puts herself centre stage in an account of Robert Farquharson’s trial that combines forensic detail and rich humanity. Read the review

A mesmerising tapestry of the River Dart’s mutterings … Alice Oswald.

by Alice Oswald (2002)

This book-length poem is a mesmerising tapestry of “the river’s mutterings”, based on three years of recording conversations with people who live and work on the River Dart in Devon. From swimmers to sewage workers, boatbuilders to bailiffs, salmon fishers to ferryman, the voices are varied and vividly brought to life. Read the review

The Beauty of the Husband

By anne carson (2002).

One of Canada’s most celebrated poets examines love and desire in a collection that describes itself as “a fictional essay in 39 tangos”. Carson charts the course of a doomed marriage in loose-limbed lines that follow the switchbacks of thought and feeling from first meeting through multiple infidelities to arrive at eventual divorce.

by Tony Judt (2005)

This grand survey of Europe since 1945 begins with the devastation left behind by the second world war and offers a panoramic narrative of the cold war from its beginnings to the collapse of the Soviet bloc – a part of which Judt witnessed firsthand in Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution. A very complex story is told with page-turning urgency and what may now be read as nostalgic faith in “the European idea”. Read the review

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

By michael chabon (2000).

A love story to the golden age of comics in New York, Chabon’s Pulitzer-winner features two Jewish cousins, one smuggled out of occupied Prague, who create an anti-fascist comic book superhero called The Escapist. Their own adventures are as exciting and highly coloured as the ones they write and draw in this generous, open-hearted, deeply lovable rollercoaster of a book. Read the review

Robert Macfarlane’s Underland (Hamish Hamilton).

by Robert Macfarlane (2019)

A beautifully written and profound book, which takes the form of a series of (often hair-raising and claustrophobic) voyages underground – from the fjords of the Arctic to the Parisian catacombs. Trips below the surface inspire reflections on “deep” geological time and raise urgent questions about the human impact on planet Earth. Read the review

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

By michael pollan (2006).

An entertaining and highly influential book from the writer best known for his advice: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The author follows four meals on their journey from field to plate – including one from McDonald’s and a locally sourced organic feast. Pollan is a skilled, amusing storyteller and The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed both food writing and the way we see food. Read the review

Mary Beard, whose slim manifesto Women & Power became an instant feminist classic.

Women & Power

By mary beard (2017).

Based on Beard’s lectures on women’s voices and how they have been silenced, Women and Power was an enormous publishing success in the “ #MeToo ”’ year 2017. An exploration of misogyny, the origins of “gendered speech” in the classical era and the problems the male world has with strong women, this slim manifesto became an instant feminist classic. Read the review

True History of the Kelly Gang

By peter carey (2000).

Carey’s second Booker winner is an irresistible tour de force of literary ventriloquism: the supposed autobiography of 19th-century Australian outlaw and “wild colonial boy” Ned Kelly, inspired by a fragment of Kelly’s own prose and written as a glorious rush of semi-punctuated vernacular storytelling. Mythic and tender by turns, these are tall tales from a lost frontier. Read the review

Small Island

By andrea levy (2004).

Pitted against a backdrop of prejudice, this London-set novel is told by four protagonists – Hortense and Gilbert, Jamaican migrants, and a stereotypically English couple, Queenie and Bernard. These varied perspectives, illuminated by love and loyalty, combine to create a thoughtful mosaic depicting the complex beginnings of Britain’s multicultural society. Read the review

The 2015 film adaptation of Brooklyn.

by Colm Tóibín (2009)

Tóibín’s sixth novel is set in the 1950s, when more than 400,000 people left Ireland, and considers the emotional and existential impact of emigration on one young woman. Eilis makes a life for herself in New York, but is drawn back by the possibilities of the life she has lost at home. A universal story of love, endurance and missed chances, made radiant through Tóibín’s measured prose and tender understatement. Read the review

Oryx and Crake

By margaret atwood (2003).

In the first book in her dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, the Booker winner speculates about the havoc science can wreak on the world. The big warning here – don’t trust corporations to run the planet – is blaring louder and louder as the century progresses. Read the review

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

By jeanette winterson (2011).

The title is the question Winterson’s adoptive mother asked as she threw her daughter out, aged 16, for having a girlfriend. The autobiographical story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit , and the trials of Winterson’s later life, is urgent, wise and moving. Read the review

Night Watch

By terry pratchett (2002).

Pratchett’s mighty Discworld series is a high point in modern fiction: a parody of fantasy literature that deepened and darkened over the decades to create incisive satires of our own world. The 29th book, focusing on unlikely heroes, displays all his fierce intelligence, anger and wild humour, in a story that’s moral, humane – and hilarious. Read the review

The 2008 film adaptation of Persepolis.

by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003), translated by Mattias Ripa (2003-2004)

Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel follows her coming-of-age in the lead up to and during the Iranian revolution. In this riotous memoir, Satrapi focuses on one young life to reveal a hidden history.

Human Chain

By seamus heaney (2010).

The Nobel laureate tends to the fragments of memory and loss with moving precision in his final poetry collection. A book of elegies and echoes, these poems are infused with a haunting sense of pathos, with a line often left hanging to suspend the reader in longing and regret. Read the review

Levels of Life

By julian barnes (2013).

The British novelist combines fiction and non-fiction to form a searing essay on grief and love for his late wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh. Barnes divides the book into three parts with disparate themes – 19th-century ballooning, photography and marriage. Their convergence is wonderfully achieved. Read the review

Hope in the Dark

By rebecca solnit (2004).

Writing against “the tremendous despair at the height of the Bush administration’s powers and the outset of the war in Iraq”, the US thinker finds optimism in political activism and its ability to change the world. The book ranges widely from the fall of the Berlin wall to the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, to the invention of Viagra. Read the review

Claudia Rankine confronts the history of racism in the US.

Citizen: An American Lyric

By claudia rankine (2014).

From the slow emergency response in the black suburbs destroyed by hurricane Katrina to a mother trying to move her daughter away from a black passenger on a plane, the poet’s award-winning prose work confronts the history of racism in the US and asks: regardless of their actual status, who truly gets to be a citizen? Read the review

by Michael Lewis (2010)

The author of The Big Short has made a career out of rendering the most opaque subject matter entertaining and comprehensible: Moneyball tells the story of how geeks outsmarted jocks to revolutionise baseball using maths. But you do not need to know or care about the sport, because – as with all Lewis’s best writing – it’s all about how the story is told. Read the review

James McAvoy in the film adaptation of Atonement.

by Ian McEwan (2001)

There are echoes of DH Lawrence and EM Forster in McEwan’s finely tuned dissection of memory and guilt. The fates of three young people are altered by a young girl’s lie at the close of a sweltering day on a country estate in 1935. Lifelong remorse, the horror of war and devastating twists are to follow in an elegant, deeply felt meditation on the power of love and art. Read the review

The Year of Magical Thinking

By joan didion (2005).

With cold, clear, precise prose, Didion gives an account of the year her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, collapsed from a fatal heart attack in their home. Her devastating examination of grief and widowhood changed the nature of writing about bereavement. Read the review

White Teeth

By zadie smith (2000).

Set around the unlikely bond between two wartime friends, Smith’s debut brilliantly captures Britain’s multicultural spirit, and offers a compelling insight into immigrant family life.

The Line of Beauty

By alan hollinghurst (2004).

Oxford graduate Nick Guest has the questionable good fortune of moving into the grand west London home of a rising Tory MP. Thatcher-era degeneracy is lavishly displayed as Nick falls in love with the son of a supermarket magnate, and the novel records how Aids began to poison gay life in London. In peerless prose, Hollinghurst captures something close to the spirit of an age. Read the review

The Green Road

By anne enright (2015).

A reunion dominates the Irish novelist’s family drama, but the individual stories of the five members of the Madigan clan – the matriarch, Rosaleen, and her children, Dan, Emmet, Constance and Hanna, who escape and are bound to return – are beautifully held in balance. When the Madigans do finally come together halfway through the book, Enright masterfully reminds us of the weight of history and family. Read the review

Martin Amis recalls his ‘velvet-suited, snakeskin-booted’ youth.

by Martin Amis (2000)

Known for the firecracker phrases and broad satires of his fiction, Amis presented a much warmer face in his memoir. His life is haunted by the disappearance of his cousin Lucy, who is revealed 20 years later to have been murdered by Fred West. But Amis also has much fun recollecting his “velvet-suited, snakeskin-booted” youth, and paints a moving portrait of his father’s comic gusto as old age reduces him to a kind of “anti-Kingsley”. Read the review

The Hare with Amber Eyes

By edmund de waal (2010).

In this exquisite family memoir, the ceramicist explains how he came to inherit a collection of 264 netsuke – small Japanese ornaments – from his great-uncle. The unlikely survival of the netsuke entails De Waal telling a story that moves from Paris to Austria under the Nazis to Japan, and he beautifully conjures a sense of place. The book doubles as a set of profound reflections on objects and what they mean to us. Read the review

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Outline by Rachel

Cusk (2014).

This startling work of autofiction, which signalled a new direction for Cusk, follows an author teaching a creative writing course over one hot summer in Athens. She leads storytelling exercises. She meets other writers for dinner. She hears from other people about relationships, ambition, solitude, intimacy and “the disgust that exists indelibly between men and women”. The end result is sublime. Read the review

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

by Alison Bechdel (2006)

The American cartoonist’s darkly humorous memoir tells the story of how her closeted gay father killed himself a few months after she came out as a lesbian. This pioneering work, which later became a musical, helped shape the modern genre of “graphic memoir”, combining detailed and beautiful panels with remarkable emotional depth. Read the review

The Emperor of All Maladies

By siddhartha mukherjee (2010).

“Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.” In adapting the opening lines of Anna Karenina , Mukherjee sets out the breathtaking ambition of his study of cancer: not only to share the knowledge of a practising oncologist but to take his readers on a literary and historical journey. Read the review

The Argonauts

By maggie nelson (2015).

An electrifying memoir that captured a moment in thinking about gender, and also changed the world of books. The story, told in fragments, is of Nelson’s pregnancy, which unfolds at the same time as her partner, the artist Harry Dodge, is beginning testosterone injections: “the summer of our changing bodies”. Strikingly honest, originally written, with a galaxy of intellectual reference points, it is essentially a love story; one that seems to make a new way of living possible. Read the review

The Underground Railroad

By colson whitehead (2016).

A thrilling, genre-bending tale of escape from slavery in the American deep south, this Pulitzer prize-winner combines extraordinary prose and uncomfortable truths. Two slaves flee their masters using the underground railroad, the network of abolitionists who helped slaves out of the south, wonderfully reimagined by Whitehead as a steampunk vision of a literal train. Read the review

Uncomfortable truths … Colson Whitehead.

A Death in the Family

By karl ove knausgaard (2009), translated by don bartlett (2012).

The first instalment of Knausgaard’s relentlessly self-examining six-volume series My Struggle revolves around the life and death of his alcoholic father. Whether or not you regard him as the Proust of memoir, his compulsive honesty created a new benchmark for autofiction. Read the review

by Carol Ann Duffy (2005)

A moving, book-length poem from the UK’s first female poet laureate, Rapture won the TS Eliot prize in 2005. From falling in love to betrayal and separation, Duffy reimagines romance with refreshing originality. Read the review

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

By alice munro (2001).

Canada’s observant and humane short story writer, who won the Nobel in 2013, is at her best in this collection. A housekeeper’s fate is changed by the pranks of her employer’s teenager daughter; an incorrigible flirt gracefully accepts his wife’s new romance in her care home. No character acts as at first expected in Munro’s stories, which are attuned to the tiniest shifts in perception. Read the review

Capital in the Twenty First Century

By thomas piketty (2013), translated by arthur goldhammer (2014).

The beautifully written product of 15 years of research, Capital made its author an intellectual star – the modern Marx – and opened readers’ eyes to how neoliberalism produces vastly increased inequalities. Full of data, theories and historical analysis, its message is clear, and prophetic: unless governments increase tax, the new and grotesque wealth levels of the rich will encourage political instability. Read the review

Sally Rooney focuses on the uncertainty of millennial life.

Normal People

By sally rooney (2018).

Rooney’s second novel, a love story between two clever and damaged young people coming of age in contemporary Ireland, confirmed her status as a literary superstar. Her focus is on the dislocation and uncertainty of millennial life, but her elegant prose has universal appeal. Read the review

A Visit from The Goon Squad

By jennifer egan (2011).

Inspired by both Proust and The Sopranos , Egan’s Pulitzer-winning comedy follows several characters in and around the US music industry, but is really a book about memory and kinship, time and narrative, continuity and disconnection. Read the review

The Noonday Demon

By andrew solomon (2001).

Emerging from Solomon’s own painful experience, this “anatomy” of depression examines its many faces – plus its science, sociology and treatment. The book’s combination of honesty, scholarly rigour and poetry made it a benchmark in literary memoir and understanding of mental health. Read the review

Tenth of December

By george saunders (2013).

This warm yet biting collection of short stories by the Booker-winning American author will restore your faith in humanity. No matter how weird the setting – a futuristic prison lab, a middle-class home where human lawn ornaments are employed as a status symbol – in these surreal satires of post-crash life Saunders reminds us of the meaning we find in small moments. Read the review

Chart-topping history of humanity … Yuval Noah Harari.

by Yuval Noah Harari (2011), translated by Harari with John Purcell and Haim Watzman (2014)

In his Olympian history of humanity, Harari documents the numerous revolutions Homo sapiens has undergone over the last 70,000 years: from new leaps in cognitive reasoning to agriculture, science and industry, the era of information and the possibilities of biotechnology. Harari’s scope may be too wide for some, but this engaging work topped the charts and made millions marvel. Read the review

Life After Life

By kate atkinson (2013).

Atkinson examines family, history and the power of fiction as she tells the story of a woman born in 1910 – and then tells it again, and again, and again. Ursula Todd’s multiple lives see her strangled at birth, drowned on a Cornish beach, trapped in an awful marriage and visiting Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden. But this dizzying fictional construction is grounded by such emotional intelligence that her heroine’s struggles always feel painfully, joyously real. Read the review

A stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night‑Time

By mark haddon (2003).

Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone becomes absorbed in the mystery of a dog’s demise, meticulously investigating through diagrams, timetables, maps and maths problems. Haddon’s fascinating portrayal of an unconventional mind was a crossover hit with both adults and children and was adapted into a very successful stage play. Read the review

The Shock Doctrine

By naomi klein (2007).

In this urgent examination of free-market fundamentalism, Klein argues – with accompanying reportage – that the social breakdowns witnessed during decades of neoliberal economic policies are not accidental, but in fact integral to the functioning of the free market, which relies on disaster and human suffering to function. Read the review

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

A father and his young son, “each the other’s world entire”, trawl across the ruins of post-apocalyptic America in this terrifying but tender story told with biblical conviction. The slide into savagery as civilisation collapses is harrowing material, but McCarthy’s metaphysical efforts to imagine a cold dark universe where the light of humanity is winking out are what make the novel such a powerful ecological warning. Read the review

The Corrections

By jonathan franzen (2001).

The members of one ordinarily unhappy American family struggle to adjust to the shifting axes of their worlds over the final decades of the 20th century. Franzen’s move into realism reaped huge literary rewards: exploring both domestic and national conflict, this family saga is clever, funny and outrageously readable. Read the review

The Sixth Extinction

By elizabeth kolbert (2014).

The science journalist examines with clarity and memorable detail the current crisis of plant and animal loss caused by human civilisation (over the past half billion years, there have been five mass extinctions on Earth; we are causing another). Kolbert considers both ecosystems – the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest – and the lives of some extinct and soon-to-be extinct creatures including the Sumatran rhino and “the most beautiful bird in the world”, the black-faced honeycreeper of Maui. Read the review

Sensuous love story … Sarah Waters.


By sarah waters (2002).

Moving from the underworld dens of Victorian London to the boudoirs of country house gothic, and hingeing on the seduction of an heiress, Waters’s third novel is a drippingly atmospheric thriller, a smart study of innocence and experience, and a sensuous lesbian love story – with a plot twist to make the reader gasp. Read the review

Nickel and Dimed

By barbara ehrenreich (2001).

In this modern classic of reportage, Ehrenreich chronicled her attempts to live on the minimum wage in three American states. Working first as a waitress, then a cleaner and a nursing home aide, she still struggled to survive, and the stories of her co-workers are shocking. The US economy as she experienced it is full of routine humiliation, with demands as high as the rewards are low. Two decades on, this still reads like urgent news. Read the review

The Plot Against America

By philip roth (2004).

What if aviator Charles Lindbergh, who once called Hitler “a great man”, had won the US presidency in a landslide victory and signed a treaty with Nazi Germany? Paranoid yet plausible, Roth’s alternative-world novel is only more relevant in the age of Trump. Read the review

My Brilliant Friend

By elena ferrante (2011), translated by ann goldstein (2012).

Powerfully intimate and unashamedly domestic, the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series established her as a literary sensation. This and the three novels that followed documented the ways misogyny and violence could determine lives, as well as the history of Italy in the late 20th century.

Half of a Yellow Sun

By chimamanda ngozi adichie (2006).

When Nigerian author Adichie was growing up, the Biafran war “hovered over everything”. Her sweeping, evocative novel, which won the Orange prize, charts the political and personal struggles of those caught up in the conflict and explores the brutal legacy of colonialism in Africa. Read the review

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

David mitchell (2004).

The epic that made Mitchell’s name is a Russian doll of a book, nesting stories within stories and spanning centuries and genres with aplomb. From a 19th-century seafarer to a tale from beyond the end of civilisation, via 1970s nuclear intrigue and the testimony of a future clone, these dizzying narratives are delicately interlinked, highlighting the echoes and recurrences of the vast human symphony. Read the review

by Ali Smith (2016)

Smith began writing her Seasonal Quartet, a still-ongoing experiment in quickfire publishing, against the background of the EU referendum. The resulting “first Brexit novel” isn’t just a snapshot of a newly divided Britain, but a dazzling exploration into love and art, time and dreams, life and death, all done with her customary invention and wit. Read the review

A meditation on what it means to be a black American today … Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Between the World and Me

By ta-nehisi coates (2015).

Coates’s impassioned meditation on what it means to be a black American today made him one of the country’s most important intellectuals and writers. Having grown up the son of a former Black Panther on the violent streets of Baltimore, he has a voice that is challenging but also poetic. Between the World and Me takes the form of a letter to his teenage son, and ranges from the daily reality of racial injustice and police violence to the history of slavery and the civil war: white people, he writes, will never remember “the scale of theft that enriched them”. Read the review

The Amber Spyglass

By philip pullman (2000).

Children’s fiction came of age when the final part of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy became the first book for younger readers to win the Whitbread book of the year award. Pullman has brought imaginative fire and storytelling bravado to the weightiest of subjects: religion, free will, totalitarian structures and the human drive to learn, rebel and grow. Here Asriel’s struggle against the Authority reaches its climax, Lyra and Will journey to the Land of the Dead, and Mary investigates the mysterious elementary particles that lend their name to his current trilogy: The Book of Dust. The Hollywood-fuelled commercial success achieved by JK Rowling may have eluded Pullman so far, but his sophisticated reworking of Paradise Lost helped adult readers throw off any embarrassment at enjoying fiction written for children – and publishing has never looked back. Read the review

by WG Sebald (2001), translated by Anthea Bell (2001)

Sebald died in a car crash in 2001, but his genre-defying mix of fact and fiction, keen sense of the moral weight of history and interleaving of inner and outer journeys have had a huge influence on the contemporary literary landscape. His final work, the typically allusive life story of one man, charts the Jewish disapora and lost 20th century with heartbreaking power. Read the review

From left:  Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield in the 2010 film adaptation of Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go

By kazuo ishiguro (2005).

From his 1989 Booker winner The Remains of the Day to 2015’s The Buried Giant , Nobel laureate Ishiguro writes profound, puzzling allegories about history, nationalism and the individual’s place in a world that is always beyond our understanding. His sixth novel, a love triangle set among human clones in an alternative 1990s England, brings exquisite understatement to its exploration of mortality, loss and what it means to be human. Read the review

Secondhand Time

By svetlana alexievich (2013), translated by bela shayevich (2016).

The Belarusian Nobel laureate recorded thousands of hours of testimony from ordinary people to create this oral history of the Soviet Union and its end. Writers, waiters, doctors, soldiers, former Kremlin apparatchiks, gulag survivors: all are given space to tell their stories, share their anger and betrayal, and voice their worries about the transition to capitalism. An unforgettable book, which is both an act of catharsis and a profound demonstration of empathy.

by Marilynne Robinson (2004)

Robinson’s meditative, deeply philosophical novel is told through letters written by elderly preacher John Ames in the 1950s to his young son who, when he finally reaches an adulthood his father won’t see, will at least have this posthumous one-sided conversation: “While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.” This is a book about legacy, a record of a pocket of America that will never return, a reminder of the heartbreaking, ephemeral beauty that can be found in everyday life. As Ames concludes, to his son and himself: “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” Read the review

Hilary Mantel captures ‘a sense of history listening and talking to itself’.

by Hilary Mantel (2009)

Mantel had been publishing for a quarter century before the project that made her a phenomenon, set to be concluded with the third part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light , next March. To read her story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell at the Tudor court, detailing the making of a new England and the self-creation of a new kind of man, is to step into the stream of her irresistibly authoritative present tense and find oneself looking out from behind her hero’s eyes. The surface details are sensuously, vividly immediate, the language as fresh as new paint; but her exploration of power, fate and fortune is also deeply considered and constantly in dialogue with our own era, as we are shaped and created by the past. In this book we have, as she intended, “a sense of history listening and talking to itself”. Read the review

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This project is led by Lucy Feldman and Annabel Gutterman, with writing, reporting and additional editing by Eliza Berman, Kelly Conniff, Mariah Espada, Lori Fradkin, Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath, Cady Lang, Nik Popli, Arianna Rebolini, Lucas Wittmann and Julia Zorthian; art and photography editing by Whitney Matewe and Jennifer Prandato; and production by Paulina Cachero and Nadia Suleman.

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The Ultimate Best Books of 2022 List

Reading all the lists so you don't have to since 2017.

Another year of books comes to a close, and with it, the obligatory frantic listmaking—which at its best may inspire reminiscing, reconsidering, and excellent gift-purchasing, but at its worst may inspire hurt feelings, overwhelm, and doom-scrolling. But I’m not here to judge, or to save us. I’m just here to count.

So here at the end, as is annual Literary Hub tradition , you will find the big list of lists—aka the biggest popularity contest in books (probably). This year, I worked through 35 lists from 29 publications (yes, there are even more lists out there , but we’re all going to die some day), tallying a total of 887 books. 84 books were highlighted on 4 or more lists, and I have collated those for you here, in descending order of frequency. Read, enjoy, and try not to feel bad:

Hernan Diaz, Trust Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow Ed Yong, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us

Jennifer Egan, The Candy House Jonathan Escoffery, If I Survive You Namwali Serpell, The Furrows

Margo Jefferson, Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir

Tess Gunty, The Rabbit Hutch Hua Hsu, Stay True: A Memoir Celeste Ng, Our Missing Hearts

Rachel Aviv, Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us Kate Beaton, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands Julia May Jonas, Vladimir Emily St. John Mandel, Sea of Tranquility Kathryn Schulz, Lost & Found

Elif Batuman, Either/Or Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead Yiyun Li, The Book of Goose Sarah Thankham Mathews, All This Could be Different

Amy Bloom, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers Abdulrazak Gurnah, Afterlives R.F. Kuang, Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution Elizabeth McCracken, The Hero of This Book Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human George Saunders, Liberation Day Stacy Schiff, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

NoViolet Bulawayo, Glory Ada Calhoun, Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry Jennette McCurdy, I’m Glad My Mom Died Leila Mottley, Nightcrawling Meghan O’Rourke, The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness Elizabeth Strout, Lucy by the Sea Douglas Stuart, Young Mungo Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Jennifer Croft, The Books of Jacob Nghi Vo, Siren Queen Elizabeth Williamson, Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth

Claire-Louise Bennett, Checkout 19 Margaret A. Burnham, By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners Isabel Cañas, The Hacienda John Darnielle, Devil House Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer, Getting Lost Xochitl Gonzalez, Olga Dies Dreaming Pekka Hämäläinen, Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America Ling Ma, Bliss Montage: Stories Ian McEwan, Lessons Lydia Millet, Dinosaurs Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go In the Dark Maggie O’Farrell, The Marriage Portrait Fintan O’Toole, We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland Imani Perry, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation Morgan Talty, Night of the Living Rez Yoko Tawada, tr. Margaret Mitsutani, Scattered All Over the Earth Linda Villarosa, Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation Kevin Wilson, Now is Not the Time to Panic Javier Zamora, Solito: A Memoir

Kate Atkinson, Shrines of Gaiety Isaac Butler, The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to ACT Ingrid Rojas Contreras, The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir Angie Cruz, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water Viola Davis, Finding Me: A Memoir Rob Delaney, A Heart That Works Akwaeke Emezi, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty Percival Everett, Dr. No Jonathan Freedland, The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World Kim Fu, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century Kerri K. Greenidge, The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family James Hannaham, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta Emily Henry, Book Lovers Adam Hochschild, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis Mieko Kawakami, tr. Sam Bett & David Boyd All the Lovers in the Night Dahlia Lithwick, Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger Joanna Quinn, The Whalebone Theatre Deanna Raybourn, Killers of a Certain Age Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green, Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice Dani Shapiro, Signal Fires Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow Lea Ypi, Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History

List of lists surveyed:

The New York Times’ s 100 Notable Books of 2022 •  The New York Times’ s 10 Best Books of 2022 •  TIME’ s 100 Must-Read Books of 2022 • Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of the Year 2022 • The Washington Post’ s 50 notable works of fiction • The Washington Post’ s 50 notable works of nonfiction • The Washington Post’ s 10 Best Books of 2022 •  Entertainment Weekly’ s Best Books of 2022 • Vulture’s Best Books of 2022 • The New York Public Library’s Best Books for Adults 2022 • Publishers Weekly’s Best Books 2022 • Kirkus’s Best Fiction Books of the Year • Kirkus’s Best Nonfiction Books of the Year • The New Yorker’ s Best Books of 2022 • Oprah Daily’s Favorite Books of the Year •  The Chicago Tribune’ s 10 Best Books of 2022 • The Los Angeles Times’ s 20 Best Books of 2022 • Slate’s 10 Best Books of 2022 (Laura Miller) • Slate’s 10 Best Books of 2022 (Dan Kois) • BuzzFeed’s 25 Books From 2022 You’ll Love •  USA Today’ s Best Books of 2022 • BookRiot’s Best Books of 2022 • Goop’s 6 Best Books of 2022 • Reader’s Digest’s 10 Best Books of 2022 • Vox’s 16 best books of 2022 • The Marginalian’s Favorite Books of 2022 • Powell’s Best Books of 2022 •  Foreign Affairs’  The Best of Books 2022 •  The Philadelphia Inquirer’ s Best books of 2022 • NPR’s Best Books 2022 (Maureen Corrigan) • NPR’s Notable books from 2022 according to our critics •’s Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2022 • Amazon’s Best Books of 2022 •  People’ s Top 10 Books of 2022 • and of course, Literary Hub’s 38 Favorite Books of 2022 .

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Emily Temple

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  • Classic Books

The 18 Greatest Classic Books of American Literature, Ranked

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Whether you're just getting into reading as a hobby or you've been an avid reader for years, you're into literary tales or prefer genre fiction, there are some books that everyone should read.

The classic books of American literature are among those must-read books. Not only did they have immense influence over the development of writing, but they endure as stories beloved by many worldwide.

In short, Great American Novels explore American identities from throughout the country's history. Here are the classics of American literature that we consider essential reading!

18. The Scarlet Letter

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Authored by Nathaniel Hawthorne

First published in 1850

279 pages — 3.43 on Goodreads

Famed English writer D. H. Lawrence may have had many controversial stances on literature, but every critic agrees with his statement that The Scarlet Letter is a "perfect work of the American imagination."

Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter deals with the concept of social and religious stigma, specifically with protagonist Hester Prynne having a baby out of wedlock in the 1640s.

The Scarlet Letter is written halfway between reality and a sort of dreamworld, further setting it apart as a wholly unique story of its time. Fun fact: The Scarlet Letter was America's first mass-produced novel!

17. Little Women

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Authored by Louisa May Alcott

First published in 1868

449 pages — 4.14 on Goodreads

Little Women is extremely popular. The book has been successfully adapted into film three times (in 1949, 1994, and 2019) and it's gotten several pop culture nods (like in The Simpsons ).

So, why is it so popular? Well, Little Women is a cozy feminist story about a family we wouldn't mind spending the holidays with, with lots of heart embedded within its pages.

From sisterly squabbles to terminal illness, Little Women is more than just a simple story. It's simultaneously uplifting and tear-jerking while exposing us to all kinds of emotional beats.

Louisa May Alcott based her hit coming-of-age novel on her own upbringing, setting her domestic drama against the backdrop of the American Civil War to much success.

16. The Grapes of Wrath

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Authored by John Steinbeck

First published in 1939

479 pages — 4.00 on Goodreads

The Grapes of Wrath is one of those books that everybody read in school (or at least pretended to while doodling in the corners).

John Steinbeck ended up authoring many Great American Novels, including East of Eden and Of Mice and Men , but we're going with The Grapes of Wrath because this one's more than just a story.

Censorship boards were smashed with the Streisand Effect when they tried to ban The Grapes of Wrath in schools. (In other words, by trying to bury the book and make sure no one could read it, they ended up bringing far more attention to it.)

The Grapes of Wrath centers on a poor family during the Great Depression, and for some reason readers dubbed it pro-Communist propaganda at release.

In 1962, John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his naturalistic, straight-talking American novels that avoided the then-popular stream-of-consciousness narrative style.

15. Slaughterhouse-Five

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Authored by Kurt Vonnegut

First published in 1969

215 pages — 4.09 on Goodreads

Slaughterhouse-Five (also called The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death by those who can be bothered to say it) is a sci-fi-infused anti-war novel that's partially based on the author's own life.

Kurt Vonnegut, who was a serviceman during the Second World War, uses his own experiences in a prisoner-of-war camp to shape and inform the surreal narrative of Slaughterhouse-Five .

The moralistic novel is told in non-chronological order by an unreliable narrator (possibly Vonnegut himself) who omnisciently watches the life of the time-traveling Billy Pilgrim.

14. The Old Man and the Sea

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Authored by Ernest Hemingway

First published in 1952

96 pages — 3.80 on Goodreads

Ernest Hemingway is well-known for being a visceral, visionary writer with a terrible personality. He was an alcoholic egomaniac who preferred having fist fights over being a good father.

However, none of that detracts from the fact that he penned some of the best American novels ever written. Ernest Hemingway was a modernist writer who defied what we're taught in English class (e.g. don't use words like "nice" or "and" too much).

The Old Man and the Sea is regarded as Hemingway's best work. He wrote it in Cuba towards the end of his career, and as such it follows a Cuban man fighting off a marlin in the Gulf Stream.

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Authored by Vladimir Nabokov

First published in 1955

368 pages — 3.88 on Goodreads

Despite receiving two film adaptations and a Broadway musical, Lolita remains a controversial novel to this day. Why? Because it's about a pedophilic professor who sexually abuses a 12-year-old girl.

Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov experiments with the erotica genre by combining it with modernism and an unreliable narrator. Some have even gone so far as to argue Lolita is a sarcastic novel-of-manners that was never intended as erotica.

Either way, Lolita is certainly an unusual book—one that Nabokov claimed to have no ultimate moral point to make.

12. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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Authored by Ken Kesey

First published in 1962

325 pages — 4.20 on Goodreads

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was made into a five-time Oscar-winning film back in the 1970s (directed by Miloš Forman), which was filmed on-location in the very hospital featured in the novel.

Nurse Ratched and electroshock therapy aren't exactly conducive to treating mental illness, as Ken Kesey explores in his daring psychiatric critique.

Although Randle Patrick McMurphy is the protagonist of the movie version—feigning insanity to avoid prison time, played by Jack Nicholson—the book is narrated by "Chief" Bromden, who feigns as a deaf-mute.

Oregon State Hospital is still in use today, though hopefully its patients don't receive the same kind of treatment as in this story!

11. Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Authored by Harriet Beecher Stowe

First published in 1852

438 pages — 3.90 on Goodreads

Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in two volumes in 1852, an era rife with racism, poverty, and Christianity in the American South.

Slavery was still a normal thing, but Harriet Beecher Stowe laid the foundation for its end through this poignant anti-slavery book.

Despite being a sentimental novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin doesn't shy away from the hard truths of slavery. Each character is a branch from the tree of Uncle Tom himself, who's depicted as a steadfast and almost saintly aging slave in Kentucky.

The release of Uncle Tom's Cabin stirred up a firestorm of controversy, praise, fear, and horror, until it was eventually used in the abolitionist case and (apocryphally) sparked the American Civil War.

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10. On the Road

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Authored by Jack Kerouac

First published in 1957

307 pages — 3.62 on Goodreads

Jack Kerouac is a huge name of the Beat Generation, which was an American counterculture that boomed in the 1950s and loved all things jazz, poetry, and sexual liberation.

Of all the Beat books to read, On the Road is the best one. It is, after all, the one that defined an entire culture.

Jack Kerouac's roman à clef features real figures of the Beat movement, including the iconic Allen Ginsberg.

On the Road will make you want to dance all night and hit the open highway as its crazy characters dart from California to New York to Mexico, sleeplessly driving on nothing but booze and drugs.

9. The Bell Jar

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Authored by Sylvia Plath

First published in 1963

294 pages — 4.04 on Goodreads

Sylvia Plath was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (honored posthumously), whose life tragically ended at just 30 years old.

While she was alive, she wrote one novel that ended up a classic piece of feminist literature! Not just because it was written by a female, but for its themes of power and double standards back in the 1960s.

The roman à clef is semi-autobiographical as the protagonist Esther Greenwood mirrors Plath's own mental struggles.

Sadly, Sylvia Plath committed suicide a month after The Bell Jar 's UK release (published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas) and she never got to witness its success.

8. The Color Purple

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Authored by Alice Walker

First published in 1982

304 pages — 4.26 on Goodreads

Unfortunately, when writing about American national identity, there's no escaping its dark history of racism and slavery.

Alice Walker confronts this truth, alongside themes of dual identity, in her epistolary novel set in the early 20th century.

The Color Purple follows young Celie from her teenage years right into her 40s, where she faces twice the oppression: as a poor, uneducated African-American girl in rural Georgia and in a West African village.

Its explicit details ended up getting the novel banned in many schools across the US. But given that most of the books on this list were also banned at some point, I'd say she was in good company.

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7. American Psycho

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Authored by Bret Easton Ellis

First published in 1991

399 pages — 3.81 on Goodreads

Most people know American Psycho as the cult classic horror movie, ironically starring British actor Christian Bale.

Director Mary Harron did a great job adapting the novel to film, but—like most book-to-movie adaptations—it doesn't fully capture the nuance and effect of its source material.

American Psycho is told from Patrick Bateman's point of view. Despite his polite, well-groomed businessman presence, Bateman is insanely neurotic and actually loves to chainsaw people.

Author Bret Easton Ellis used the serial killer archetype to critique American yuppie culture in this postmodern masterpiece.

6. Catch-22

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Authored by Joseph Heller

First published in 1961

453 pages — 3.99 on Goodreads

Catch-22 's structure is a bit all over the place. We're taken through different storylines in non-chronological order by an omniscient narrator. But it's worth reading as it uses free association, paradoxes, and circular repetition to poke fun at war.

Not to say that Joseph Heller is disregarding the tragedy that people face during wartime. Rather, he uses satire in Catch-22 to point out and denounce the madness of war itself.

To this day, Catch-22 is frequently cited as one of the most accurate presentations of war in literature.

literature book list

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

literature book list

Authored by Mark Twain

First published in 1884

327 pages — 3.83 on Goodreads

Dubbed the "Father of American Literature," Mark Twain was also the creator of the mischievous Tom Sawyer as well as Huckleberry Finn.

Both young Southern boys have their own adventure novels, connected by the sequels Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective , in which they both appear. But as a classic, Huck Finn ekes out the win.

Inspired by his own life growing up in Missouri, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a meditation on boyhood that changed the course of children's books forever.

The presence of the South is felt through its use of vernacular English (the first novel to use it entirely), local color regionalism, and entrenched racism (the stance of which is still debated today).

4. The Catcher in the Rye

literature book list

Authored by J. D. Salinger

First published in 1951

277 pages — 3.80 on Goodreads

Holden Caulfield is cynical, angsty, depressed, and antisocial. Yet, many readers—especially young adults—can't help but relate to him.

Disappointed with the adult world, Caulfield finds his coming-of-age story a devastating task. Caulfield has since become an icon of teenage rebellion, used as the basis for many characters in film and literature (including Jake Gyllenhaal in The Good Girl ).

Author J. D. Salinger originally published The Catcher in the Rye in serial form in the 1940s. Once it was novelized, The Catcher in the Rye began selling a million copies a year! Even Caulfield would be impressed.

literature book list

3. The Great Gatsby

literature book list

Authored by F. Scott Fitzgerald

First published in 1925

180 pages — 3.93 on Goodreads

Before Baz Luhrmann glitzed up The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio and a Jay-Z soundtrack, it was a classic 1920s romance novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was known for his exuberant works on the Jazz Age and regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

A commercial disappointment when it was first published, The Great Gatsby is now Fitzgerald's most famous novel, offering a contemptuous view of the American Dream.

The naively ambitious everyman is let down while the rich "only ever get richer." The mysterious Jay Gatsby—a poor man faking as a rich one—is the only exception from this rule.

2. Moby Dick

literature book list

Authored by Herman Melville

First published in 1851

654 pages — 3.53 on Goodreads

Moby Dick is now a milestone of the American Renaissance, but it didn't see success for at least seven decades after it published. In fact, Moby Dick was such a flop it went out of print!

It's funny since nowadays everyone has heard of Moby Dick , even those who have never read it (especially after the recent Oscar-win The Whale ). The book about the white whale and... what's his name... Ishmael?

Herman Melville drew on his own experiences as a sailor in 1841 (as well as Shakespeare) when writing Moby Dick . It employs almost every literary device: poems, songs, soliloquies, stage directions, asides, and more.

literature book list

1. To Kill a Mockingbird

literature book list

Authored by Harper Lee

First published in 1960

323 pages — 4.27 on Goodreads

Southern Gothic is a common subgenre found amongst Great American Novels, from Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner. Harper Lee joined the club in 1960 with To Kill a Mockingbird .

To Kill a Mockingbird challenged racial inequality at the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. The sensitive, heartbreaking story is told from a child's perspective, who awakens to the incomprehensible reality of prejudice during the Great Depression.

A movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird was made in 1962 by director Robert Mulligan, who crafted the film so well that the Library of Congress preserved it in the National Film Registry in 1995.

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Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, ap literature reading list: 127 great books for your prep.

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Advanced Placement (AP)


A lot of students wonder if there's a specific AP English reading list of books they should be reading to succeed on the AP Literature and Composition exam. While there's not an official College-Board AP reading list, there are books that will be more useful for you to read than others as you prepare for the exam. In this article, I'll break down why you need to read books to prepare, how many you should plan on reading, and what you should read—including poetry.

Why Do You Need to Read Books for the AP Literature Test?

This might seem like kind of an obvious question—you need to read books because it's a literature exam! But actually, there are three specific reasons why you need to read novels, poems, and plays in preparation for the AP Lit Test.

To Increase Your Familiarity With Different Eras and Genres of Literature

Reading a diverse array of novels, poetry and plays from different eras and genres will help you be familiar with the language that appears in the various passages on the AP Lit exam's multiple choice and essay sections. If you read primarily modern works, for example, you may stumble through analyzing a Shakespeare sonnet. So, having a basic familiarity level with the language of a broad variety of literary works will help keep you from floundering in confusion on test day because you're seeing a work unlike anything you've ever read.

To Improve Your Close-Reading Skills

You'll also want to read to improve your close-reading and rhetorical analysis skills. When you do read, really engage with the text: think about what the author's doing to construct the novel/poem/play/etc., what literary techniques and motifs are being deployed, and what major themes are at play. You don't necessarily need to drill down to the same degree on every text, but you should always be thinking, "Why did the author write this piece this way?"

For the Student Choice Free-Response Question

Perhaps the most critical piece in reading to prepare for the AP Lit test, however, is for the student choice free-response question. For the third question on the second exam section, you'll be asked to examine how a specific theme works in one novel or play that you choose. The College Board does provide an example list of works, but you can choose any work you like just so long as it has adequate "literary merit." However, you need to be closely familiar with more than one work so that you can be prepared for whatever theme the College Board throws at you!


Note: Not an effective reading method.

How Many Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?

That depends. In terms of reading to increase your familiarity with literature from different eras and genres and to improve your close-reading skills, the more books you have time to read, the better. You'll want to read them all with an eye for comprehension and basic analysis, but you don't necessarily need to focus equally on every book you read.

For the purposes of the student choice question, however, you'll want to read books more closely, so that you could write a detailed, convincing analytical essay about any of their themes. So you should know the plot, characters, themes, and major literary devices or motifs used inside and out. Since you won't know what theme you'll be asked to write about in advance, you'll need to be prepared to write a student choice question on more than just one book.

Of the books you read for prep both in and out of class, choose four to five books that are thematically diverse to learn especially well in preparation for the exam. You may want to read these more than once, and you certainly want to take detailed notes on everything that's going on in those books to help you remember key points and themes. Discussing them with a friend or mentor who has also read the book will help you generate ideas on what's most interesting or intriguing about the work and how its themes operate in the text.

You may be doing some of these activities anyways for books you are assigned to read for class, and those books might be solid choices if you want to be as efficient as possible. Books you write essays about for school are also great choices to include in your four to five book stable since you will be becoming super-familiar with them for the writing you do in class anyways.

In answer to the question, then, of how many books you need to read for the AP Lit exam: you need to know four to five inside and out, and beyond that, the more the better!


Know the books. Love the books.

What Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?

The most important thing for the student choice free-response question is that the work you select needs to have "literary merit." What does this mean? In the context of the College Board, this means you should stick with works of literary fiction. So in general, avoid mysteries, fantasies, romance novels, and so on.

If you're looking for ideas, authors and works that have won prestigious prizes like the Pulitzer, Man Booker, the National Book Award, and so on are good choices. Anything you read specifically for your AP literature class is a good choice, too. If you aren't sure if a particular work has the kind of literary merit the College Board is looking for, ask your AP teacher.

When creating your own AP Literature reading list for the student choice free-response, try to pick works that are diverse in author, setting, genre, and theme. This will maximize your ability to comprehensively answer a student choice question about pretty much anything with one of the works you've focused on.

So, I might, for example, choose:

A Midsummer Night's Dream , Shakespeare, play, 1605

Major themes and devices: magic, dreams, transformation, foolishness, man vs. woman, play-within-a-play

Wuthering Heights , Emily Bronte, novel, 1847

Major themes and devices: destructive love, exile, social and economic class, suffering and passion, vengeance and violence, unreliable narrator, frame narrative, family dysfunction, intergenerational narratives.

The Age of Innocence , Edith Wharton, novel, 1920

Major themes and devices: Tradition and duty, personal freedom, hypocrisy, irony, social class, family, "maintaining appearances", honor

Wide Sargasso Sea , Jean Rhys, novel, 1966

Major themes and devices: slavery, race, magic, madness, wildness, civilization vs. chaos, imperialism, gender

As you can see, while there is some thematic overlap in my chosen works, they also cover a broad swathe of themes. They are also all very different in style (although you'll just have to take my word on that one unless you go look at all of them yourself), and they span a range of time periods and genres as well.

However, while there's not necessarily a specific, mandated AP Literature reading list, there are books that come up again and again on the suggestion lists for student choice free-response questions. When a book comes up over and over again on exams, this suggests both that it's thematically rich, so you can use it to answer lots of different kinds of questions, and that the College Board sees a lot of value in the work.

To that end, I've assembled a list, separated by time period, of all the books that have appeared on the suggested works list for student choice free-response questions at least twice since 2003. While you certainly shouldn't be aiming to read all of these books (there's way too many for that!), these are all solid choices for the student choice essay. Other books by authors from this list are also going to be strong choices. It's likely that some of your class reading will overlap with this list, too.

I've divided up the works into chunks by time period. In addition to title, each entry includes the author, whether the work is a novel, play, or something else, and when it was first published or performed. Works are alphabetical by author.


Warning: Not all works pictured included in AP Literature reading list below.

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Ancient Works


The Queen of AP Literature surveys her kingdom.


Don't get trapped in a literature vortex!



Don't stay in one reading position for too long, or you'll end up like this guy.

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An Addendum on Poetry

You probably won't be writing about poetry on your student choice essay—most just aren't meaty enough in terms of action and character to merit a full-length essay on the themes when you don't actually have the poem in front of you (a major exception being The Odyssey ). That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be reading poetry, though! You should be reading a wide variety of poets from different eras to get comfortable with all the varieties of poetic language. This will make the poetry analysis essay and the multiple-choice questions about poetry much easier!

See this list of poets compiled from the list given on page 10 of the AP Course and Exam Description for AP Lit, separated out by time period. For those poets who were working during more than one of the time periods sketched out below, I tried to place them in the era in which they were more active.

I've placed an asterisk next to the most notable and important poets in the list; you should aim to read one or two poems by each of the starred poets to get familiar with a broad range of poetic styles and eras.

14th-17th Centuries

  • Anne Bradstreet
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • George Herbert
  • Andrew Marvell
  • John Milton
  • William Shakespeare*

18th-19th Centuries

  • William Blake*
  • Robert Browning
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge*
  • Emily Dickinson*
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • George Gordon, Lord Byron
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • John Keats*
  • Edgar Allan Poe*
  • Alexander Pope*
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley*
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson*
  • Walt Whitman*
  • William Wordsworth*

Early-Mid 20th Century

  • W. H. Auden
  • Elizabeth Bishop
  • H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
  • T. S. Eliot*
  • Robert Frost*
  • Langston Hughes*
  • Philip Larkin
  • Robert Lowell
  • Marianne Moore
  • Sylvia Plath*
  • Anne Sexton*
  • Wallace Stevens
  • William Carlos Williams
  • William Butler Yeats*

Late 20th Century-Present

  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite
  • Gwendolyn Brooks
  • Lorna Dee Cervantes
  • Lucille Clifton
  • Billy Collins
  • Seamus Heaney
  • Garrett Hongo
  • Adrienne Rich
  • Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Derek Walcott
  • Richard Wilbur


You might rather burn books than read them after the exam, but please refrain.

Key Takeaways

Why do you need to read books to prepare for AP Lit? For three reasons:

#1 : To become familiar with a variety of literary eras and genres #2 : To work on your close-reading skills #3 : To become closely familiar with four-five works for the purposes of the student choice free-response essay analyzing a theme in a work of your choice.

How many books do you need to read? Well, you definitely need to get very familiar with four-five for essay-writing purposes, and beyond that, the more the better!

Which books should you read? Check out the AP English Literature reading list in this article to see works that have appeared on two or more "suggested works" lists on free-response prompts since 2003.

And don't forget to read some poetry too! See some College Board recommended poets listed in this article.

What's Next?

See my expert guide to the AP Literature test for more exam tips!

The multiple-choice section of the AP Literature exam is a key part of your score. Learn everything you need to know about it in our complete guide to AP Lit multiple-choice questions.

Taking other APs? Check out our expert guides to the AP Chemistry exam , AP US History , AP World History , AP Psychology , and AP Biology .

Looking for other book recommendation lists from PrepScholar? We've compiled lists of the 7 books you must read if you're a pre-med and the 31 books to read before graduating high school .

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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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15 of the Most Influential Books of All-Time

Posted: December 7, 2023 | Last updated: December 7, 2023

Influential writing, like most everything else in the world, is purely subjective. What I consider influential might not be what you consider influential – and that’s fine. However, while not everyone will agree, most will agree that there are certain works that were created throughout the course of history that tend to go on every list of most influential books. For instance, it’s widely agreed that The Holy Bible is one of, if not the most influential book in the history of literature regardless of your personal beliefs and religious affiliation. Read on to find out which 15 books are among the most influential.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

In 1937 it was virtually unheard of for an African American woman to publish a book that touched on both slavery and women’s rights. In a time when racism and segregation was becoming even worse than it was in previous years, Zora  Neale Hurston took it upon herself to do just that. Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of a woman who grows up an unimportant girl and transforms her life. The book follows Janie, the main character, through three marriages and her cognitive ability to stand up for herself against the men in her life and become a better person.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Written in 1951, this book is no longer one only for adults. It’s one many teens find influential today, because the story touches on the difficult lives of teens. The main character, Holden Caulfield, is expelled from an exclusive prep school and the following days discuss in detail his life and his adventures in dealing with growing up. It’s a book of extreme teen angst that is beautifully written, following Holden as he explores New York City and engages with a number of people from all walks of life who help him in his quest.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Moby Dick is one of the most captivating stories of all time. It follows the life of a man by the name of Ishmael who boards a ship to find work. The ship comes complete with a very mysterious captain, Ahab, who walks around on a peg leg fashioned from the jaw of a sperm whale. He recounts the story of the loss of his leg to a sperm whale who goes by Moby Dick, and he takes his crew on a man hunt to find and kill the whale he considers evil. The harrowing tale is one considered highly influential.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Charles Dickens really nails the story of so many in his famous novel, Great Expectations. Pip is an orphan from the UK who becomes an exceptionally wealthy man filled with arrogance and attitude. During his rise to wealth, he makes the decision to abandon those who’ve always been by his side in favor of those who are not his true friends. As events in Pip’s life begin to unfold, he is greatly humbled. Add to that the fact that this is the book that introduces the world to Miss Havisham, and you have one influential novel.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Written in 1925, The Great Gatsby is one of the most influential books of all time. The cast of characters are truly inspirational and entertaining, and the plot is on point. The book is set in the 1920s and follows the theme of change, decadence and indulgence. Jay Gatsby is a mysterious and very young millionaire obsessed with a socialite. The scene is a fictional Long Island town in 1922, and the storyline is filled with idealism and social upheaval. It’s one of the most prolific stories of all time, adapted only recently into a famous movie.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Emily Bronte died only a year after her only novel was published, which is a crying shame as her talent is immeasurable. In Wuthering Heights, we follow the story of Heathcliff, a man so in love with a woman by the name of Catherine that he is willing to destroy anyone and anything that comes in between him and the love of his life. The story of true love is epic and unforgettable, and it’s the perfect example of the power that greed and jealousy has over a person’s life and its destructive abilities.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

There are few tales that are as captivating and interesting as Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen brings to the table a rare and interesting story of a woman by the name of Elizabeth Bennet, who deals heavily with issues many people might not consider important today, but provide insight into what could be the cause of the downfall of basic etiquette, good manners and a healthy upbringing. Reading this novel, you’re inspired to believe that these basic forms of etiquette could actually change the world in a manner so necessary in current times.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Charlotte Bronte is the sister of Emily Bronte, the author Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre is a story that is inspiring and influential, and has so far stood the test of time. Jane Eyre endures a difficult life being raised by her cruel aunt after losing her parents until she is sent to boarding school where her life becomes much more enjoyable. She grows up a teacher and eventually decides to take on a different career and falls in love with her mysterious employer, eventually agreeing to marry him. The story of Jane Eyre continues to come with twists and turns no one expected to see, and follows her life with abandon.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This iconic and classic American novel follows a poor family who loses their home and their farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Left with nothing but hopeless despair, the family is left wondering where to go and what to do, making the ultimate decision to head west for California. As the story unfolds, readers are taken back to a time when life might not be so different than what it is today. The story is so influential it is one of the most assigned reading assignments in college and high school courses throughout the country.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Don Quixote is the ultimate story of love. The main character is madly in love with a woman by the name of Dulcinea, who inspires him to leave his village and employ himself as the kind of man who does good deeds and acts of chivalry. It’s a simple look at the life of a man in love, and his personal story. The book was written in the early 17th century and remains one of the most influential books of all time, often being assigned in college courses to those who want to further their education.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Set in 1805 Russia, War and Peace is the story of a handful of characters of different financial upbringing morals and ethics. The story follows their lives in the midst of Napoleon’s conquest of Western Europe. As the story unfolds, we see the loss of fortune, the loss of marriage and love, the beginning of change and the beginning of a war that will forever change the lives of the characters introduced at the beginning of the novel. The story is infuriating, touching and impossible to put down until you complete the novel. It remains one of the most influential books of all time.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Written somewhere around the time of 380 BC, Plato, one of history’s greatest philosophers, wrote The Republic. The book is widely read, even today. About law, justice and order, the book was an answer to the question of what motivates people to make the decisions they make and behave in the manner they do. The book explores the culture and society as it was then and remains largely still today, defining the class system and the desire of people to fulfill the roles they were born to play. It’s an intelligent, well-written theory.

The Republic by Plato

This particular book is one of the most famed political writings in history, as well as one of the most influential. While it was written by Niccolo Machiavelli, it was five years after his death before the book was published in 1537. Politics and ethics have been one of the main themes of contention and confusion throughout the history of mankind, and this book explores those contentions. At the time it was written, it directly contradicted the popular Catholic beliefs of the same subject. However, it was considered the first novel that delves into modern politics and philosophy.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Written by more than 40 people over the course of 15 centuries, The Holy Bible is the most sacred book in the world, without question. Those who are not affiliated with religion even agree on this simple fact. The Bible is the account of the world when Jesus lived and walked, his deeds and his ultimate sacrifice. Broken down into two testaments, the New and the Old, the Bible recounts the story of Jesus’ life and crucifixion as told by his 12 Apostles, who were firsthand witnesses to his glory and his existence. It’s the most-read book in the world.

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9 New Books We Recommend This Week

Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

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It’s too early to know the full story behind the mass shooting at yesterday’s Super Bowl parade in Kansas City, but for the back story — the broader context of America’s love affair with guns and the resulting steady drumbeat of horrific incidents — you might look to two of our recommended books this week: Dominic Erdozain’s “One Nation Under Guns” and Jonathan M. Metzl’s “What We’ve Become,” which take cleareyed but different approaches to the country’s gun culture and its intractable challenges.

Also up this week, we recommend a couple of big biographies, of the choreographer Martha Graham and the Marxist revolutionary Frantz Fanon, along with a memoir of undocumented immigration and a true-crime history about a 1931 murder that exposed a network of political corruption. In poetry, we recommend Mary Jo Bang’s latest collection, and in fiction we like new novels by Paul Theroux and the British writer Dolly Alderton. Happy reading. — Gregory Cowles

ONE NATION UNDER GUNS: How Gun Culture Distorts Our History and Threatens Our Democracy Dominic Erdozain

This galvanizing polemic by a historian appalled at American gun violence scrutinizes the historical record to show where contemporary interpretations of the Second Amendment have departed from the framers’ apparent intentions, with disastrous results.

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“Considers guns from cultural, legal and historical perspectives. ... So comprehensive and assured that the moment I finished it, I immediately went back to the beginning and read it again.”

From Rachel Louise Snyder’s review

Crown | $28

WHAT WE’VE BECOME: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms Jonathan M. Metzl

Homing in on a mass shooting at a Nashville Waffle House in 2018, Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist, argues that America’s gun violence epidemic requires us to address racial and political tensions deeply embedded in our history.

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“Casts a wide net. ... How, he asks, have public health experts failed to effect changes in policy, given their thousands of studies devoted to the myriad ways firearms increase risk and danger?”

Norton | $29.99

THE REBEL’S CLINIC: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon Adam Shatz

This absorbing biography of the Black psychiatrist, writer and revolutionary Frantz Fanon highlights a side of him that’s often eclipsed by his image as a zealous partisan — that of the caring doctor, who ran a secret clinic for Algerian rebels.

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“Part of what gives ‘The Rebel’s Clinic’ its intellectual heft is Shatz’s willingness to write into such tensions…. Portrays a man whose penchant for ‘rhetorical extremity’ could obscure how horrified he was by the brutality he had seen.”

From Jennifer Szalai’s review

Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $32

GOOD MATERIAL Dolly Alderton

Alderton’s novel, about a 35-year-old struggling to make sense of a breakup, delivers the most delightful aspects of romantic comedy — snappy dialogue, realistic relationship dynamics, funny meet-cutes and misunderstandings — and leaves behind clichéd gender roles and the traditional marriage plot.

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“Alderton excels at portraying nonromantic intimate relationships with tenderness and authenticity.”

From Katie J.M. Baker review

Knopf | $28

ERRAND INTO THE MAZE: The Life and Works of Martha Graham Deborah Jowitt

In the hands of a veteran dance critic, this rigorous biography excels at describing the flamboyant choreographer’s work and distinct style. About the messy life between performances, Jowitt is comparatively mild.

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“A study in balance and grace. ... A distinguished biography: its description rich, its author’s rigor unquestionable.”

From Alexandra Jacobs’s review

Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $35

THE BISHOP AND THE BUTTERFLY: Murder, Politics and the End of the Jazz Age Michael Wolraich

The 1931 murder of “Broadway Butterfly” Vivian Gordon exposed an explosive story of graft, corruption and entrapment that went all the way to the top of the state. Wolraich brings a journalist’s eye and a novelist’s elegance to this story of Jazz Age New York.

literature book list

“A disquieting reminder of how tragedy can be used to effect change, but also how it is often leveraged for advancement.”

From Lesley M.M. Blume’s review

Union Square | $28.99

MY SIDE OF THE RIVER: A Memoir Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez

When Gutierrez was 4, her parents moved the family from Mexico to Arizona in hopes of giving their children better opportunities than they would have had in their “violent little narco town.” In this moving, timely memoir, she considers the ripple effects of that decision.

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“A testament to the abiding allure — and often daunting reality — of the American dream.”

From Julia Scheeres’s review

St. Martin’s | $29

BURMA SAHIB Paul Theroux

This novel explores George Orwell’s years in colonial Burma, where he trained and worked as a police officer in the 1920s. Theroux’s Orwell is uneasy about his job and repelled by the British ruling class. But these experiences, the book suggests, made Orwell into the sharp thinker he became.

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“The Burma that he conjures in these pages is wonderfully present in lush and dense prose. ... Theroux is now in his early 80s and this novel is one of his finest, in a long and redoubtable oeuvre.”

From William Boyd’s review

Mariner | $30


The poems in Bang’s latest collection, her ninth, are full of pleasure, color, sound and light — but also torment.

literature book list

“The work of miniaturizing a life is painstaking, and Bang’s poems have a characteristic clockwork precision — they tick and spin like mechanical music boxes.”

From Elisa Gabbert’s poetry column

Graywolf | Paperback, $17

Explore More in Books

Want to know about the best books to read and the latest news start here..

In Lucy Sante’s new memoir, “I Heard Her Call My Name,” the author reflects on her life and embarking on a gender transition  in her late 60s.

For people of all ages in Pasadena, Calif., Vroman’s Bookstore, founded in 1894, has been a mainstay in a world of rapid change. Now, its longtime owner says he’s ready to turn over the reins .

The graphic novel series “Aya” explores the pains and pleasures of everyday life in a working-class neighborhood  in West Africa with a modern African woman hero.

Like many Nigerians, the novelist Stephen Buoro has been deeply influenced by the exquisite bedlam of Lagos, a megacity of extremes. Here, he defines the books that make sense of the chaos .

Do you want to be a better reader?   Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .

Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .

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The Good and The Beautiful Book List

The good and the beautiful book list has helped countless families bring uplifting, clean, parent-approved books into their homes  .

Are you concerned about disrespect, inappropriate language and material, and low educational value in the books your children are reading? 

Most top booklists for kids include popular books without considering the effect that poor-quality literature and inappropriate content have on children. Jenny Phillips has spent many years reviewing all genres of literature to bring you her top book recommendations for children and teens. This unique booklist has very high standards, including: 

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Browse our top recommended books for kids on your child’s level with the peace of mind that every single book has been carefully screened. Use our Book List to:

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Featured Topics

Featured series.

A series of random questions answered by Harvard experts.

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Read the latest.

Leslie Jamison.

Can you embrace deep joy amid rending loss?

Collage of Harvard staff artwork.

Bringing their whole selves to work

Haemin Sunim.

Why are we unhappy?

Collage of book covers inside a broken heart.

Illustration by Liz Zonarich/Harvard Staff

Many splendored? Sometimes, but it’s always intriguing.

Staff, faculty offer Valentine’s tips for books that cover what we talk about when we talk about love

Harvard Correspondent

Love stories come in many different forms. For Valentine’s Day, we asked members of the Harvard staff and faculty what books they think about when they think about love. The results mixed fiction with nonfiction, happy romances with tragic insight, all of which make intriguing reading for this holiday.

“Anyone who’s been in love, or even just had a crush, will find themselves in her analyses.” Michelle Interrante, about Anne Carson’s “Eros the Bittersweet”

Book cover: "Anatomy of Love."

Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz

Associate Professors of Psychiatry , Harvard Medical School

Married couple and creative partners Olds and Schwartz wrote a book on lasting relationships, “Marriage in Motion.” Olds shared the couple’s pick: “We loved the Helen Fisher book ‘The Anatomy of Love,’ ” she said. “It is a fascinating description of her observations and research, and her access to the data on a huge sector of the population that participated in made it even more compelling. She also has a wonderful way of translating her scientific findings for the lay public.”

Book cover: "Eros and the Bittersweet."

Michelle Interrante

Archivist/Records Manage r, Harvard Art Museums Archives

Interrante chose Anne Carson’s look at the Greek concept of love, “Eros the Bittersweet.” “Her subtle observations about love are truly eternal and relatable,” she said. “Anyone who’s been in love, or even just had a crush, will find themselves in her analyses — no prior experience with ancient Greek poetry required!”

“Sometimes, the greatest insights into love can come from reflections on ways love can go wrong.”  Quinn White

Book cover: "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

Quinn White

Assistant Professor , Department of Philosophy

White’s work focuses on the ethics of love and interpersonal relationships, which may play into one of his picks: Thornton Wilder’s novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” “Sometimes, the greatest insights into love can come from reflections on ways love can go wrong. This short book is well worth everyone’s time and features truly exquisite writing,” he said.

For a second choice, White went with Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel “The Left Hand of Darkness,” which explores the idea of gender fluidity. “Maybe an odd choice, but a deeply moving story, featuring a profoundly unreliable narrator, about the love that can arise even across profound difference. A classic of sci-fi, but highly recommended even for those who don’t normally like science fiction!”

Book cover: "Come as You Are."

Sharon Bober

Associate Professor of Psychiatry , Harvard Medical School

Bober, the founding director of the Sexual Health Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, picked “Come As You Are” by sex educator Emily Nagoski, calling it “one of the most delightful, accessible, and deeply useful resources about sexual desire out there. It is an eye-opener for both individuals and couples who want to understand how love, sex, emotion, brain chemistry, and social context are all essentially connected to the experience of desire.” 

“It is an eye-opener for both individuals and couples who want to understand how love, sex, emotion, brain chemistry, and social context are all essentially connected to the experience of desire.”  Sharon Bober, about “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski

Book cover: "Hamnet."

Carol S. Steiker

Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law

“During the pandemic, I read a lot, but for a while I lost the pleasure in it,” said Steiker, who also serves as Harvard Law School’s special adviser for public service. “What broke the dry spell for me was Maggie O’Farrell’s 2020 novel ‘ Hamnet .’ The story draws on facts from Shakespeare’s life to imagine his marriage and his inspiration for writing ‘Hamlet.’  

“Stop reading this if you haven’t read the book, because — spoiler ahead. After Shakespeare’s son Hamnet (a name interchangeable in Elizabethan England with Hamlet) dies, Shakespeare brings him back to life in the young prince Hamlet.

“Shakespeare’s wife unexpectedly comes to London and sees a performance of the play, and the couple, isolated in their separate grief, are drawn together. The love of parents for children and the way in which shared parental love binds a couple to one another are so beautifully rendered.”

Book cover: "Frankissstein."

Patrick Goodsell

Properties Carpenter , American Repertory Theater

Goodsell chose Jeanette Winterson’s “Frankissstein: A Love Story,” “a narrative that oscillates between Mary Shelley writing ‘Frankenstein’ in 1816 and Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor in the present, as they both navigate love and the question of what it means to be human.”

“Slow burn, enemies to lovers, humor and hijinks, pulls at your heartstrings … What more can you ask for?” Madeleine Wright, about “You Deserve Each Other” by Sarah Hogle

Book cover: "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh."

Alexander Rehding

Fanny Peabody Professor of Music

Michael Chabon’s “extraordinary first novel, ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,’” was the theorist and musicologist’s pick. “When it came out, in 1988, I was 18, and the summer of love and adventure during which the story is set really resonated with me at the time — and has stayed with me ever since.”

Book cover: "Beach Read."

Madeleine Wright

Marketing and PR Coordinator , American Repertory Theater

Wright had four picks: “ Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin, which she describes as “a portrait of two Harvard students, inexorably tied to each other through unimaginable pain and extraordinary joy. Sadie and Sam are the epitome of platonic soulmates.” “ This Time Tomorrow,” by Emma Straub: “Heartfelt and singular, this novel’s portrayal of the love between a father and daughter will prompt you to pick up the phone and call your loved ones the moment you stop crying.” “ Beach Read,” by Emily Henry: “This novel is exactly what it claims to be — a feel-good, lighthearted love story with a literary bent and charming characters who will stick with you long after its close.” And finally, “ You Deserve Each Other,” by Sarah Hogle: “Slow burn, enemies to lovers, humor and hijinks, pulls at your heartstrings … What more can you ask for?”

Book cover: "The Lover."

Barbara Claire Lindstrom

Receptionist and Volunteer Coordinator , American Repertory Theater

To explain her pick, “The Lover” by Marguerite Duras, Lindstrom simply quoted from the lush seductive work: “One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, ‘I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.’”

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  1. The Greatest Books of All Time

    The Greatest Books of All Time. Click to learn how this list is calculated. This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 190 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works.

  2. Goodreads Top 100 Literary Novels of All Time (106 books)

    "The Goodreads Top 100 Literary Novels of All Time List" represents a list of 100 literary novels recommended by the Goodreads Serious Literature Group for voting by all Goodreads Members via Listopia. PLEASE DO NOT ADD BOOKS TO THIS LIST. flag List Challenge

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    1) Books published after 1969. While any cut-off date can only be arbitrary, to be considered a classic, a work should have stood some test of time. 2) Abridged works. For example, "The Dream of the Red Chamber" is a drastically abridged version of "The Story of the Stone" by Cao Xueqin. The latter belongs on this list while the former does not.

  4. The 100 Best Classic Books to Read

    1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez Buy on Amazon Add to library This milestone Spanish novel may as well be titled 100 Years on Everyone's Must-Read List — it's just a titan in the world literature canon.

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    You said: In this groundbreaking novel, completed after six arduous years of research, Capote invented a new genre - the 'Nonfiction Novel' - applying prose techniques to fact. It spawned the school of New Journalism & invented the true crime genre as we know it. 13. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)

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  8. The 100 best novels written in English: the full list

    1. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678) A story of a man in search of truth told with the simple clarity and beauty of Bunyan's prose make this the ultimate English classic. 2 ...

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    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000) A generation grew up on Rowling's all-conquering magical fantasies, but countless adults have also been enthralled by her immersive world....

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    The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan This Christian allegory follows a man named Christian on his journey from his hometown, the "City of Destruction," to the "Celestial City" on Mount Zion.

  12. The Ultimate Best Books of 2021 List ‹ Literary Hub

    Ashley C. Ford, Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir. Damon Galgut, The Promise. Annette Gordon-Reed, On Juneteenth. Kaitlyn Greenidge, Libertie. Zakiya Dalila Harris, The Other Black Girl. Alexandra Kleeman, Something New Under the Sun. Elizabeth Kolbert, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.

  13. The Ultimate Best Books of 2022 List ‹ Literary Hub

    No. Jonathan Freedland, The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World. Kim Fu, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century. Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century. Kerri K. Greenidge, The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family.

  14. What Book Should You Read Next?

    The Secret Hours, by Mick Herron. This novel, Herron's latest, is a stand-alone book on the periphery of the "Slow Horses" universe, and focuses on a slow-walking inquiry into historical ...

  15. Top 100 World Literature Titles

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  16. Must Read Classics (1771 books)

    Listopia Must Read Classics My favorite books are the classics. I'm always searching for "new" classics to read, ones I've not heard of or have overlooked. Let me know which ones you love! flag All Votes Add Books To This List ← Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 … 17 18 Next → 1,772 books · 4,437 voters · list created July 29th, 2008 by Jenny (votes) .

  17. The 18 Greatest Classic Books of American Literature, Ranked

    The 18 Greatest Classic Books of American Literature, Ranked American writers have produced some of the most influential literary novels ever written. Here are the all-time must-read essentials. By Georgia May Jun 27, 2023 If you buy something using our links, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

  18. The 100 Books on the Great American Read List

    The public will vote on America's Best-Loved Novel as part of The Great American Read series beginning Tuesday, May 22 at 8 p.m. See and download the list of novels here.

  19. Classic Literature Books

    Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Aesop's Fables by Aesop. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Browse our list of must-read classic literature books like Pride and Prejudice, Little ...

  20. AP Literature Reading List: 127 Great Books for Your Prep

    Advanced Placement (AP) A lot of students wonder if there's a specific AP English reading list of books they should be reading to succeed on the AP Literature and Composition exam. While there's not an official College-Board AP reading list, there are books that will be more useful for you to read than others as you prepare for the exam.

  21. 15 of the Most Influential Books of All-Time

    The book was written in the early 17th century and remains one of the most influential books of all time, often being assigned in college courses to those who want to further their education.

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    The mission of The Good and the Beautiful Library is to give parents a place to buy books that are always clean, uplifting, and of the highest value. With over 200 books of all kinds, the Library is filled with wholesome, high-quality books, engaging and uplifting literature, and clean-language versions of worthy classics. Visit Library.

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  28. A Valentine's Day reading list

    Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz. Associate Professors of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. Married couple and creative partners Olds and Schwartz wrote a book on lasting relationships, "Marriage in Motion." Olds shared the couple's pick: "We loved the Helen Fisher book 'The Anatomy of Love,'" she said."It is a fascinating description of her observations and research, and ...