Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Oct 13
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.
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.
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 Man 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.