100 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime
If you want to fill your shelves with classic titles and tomes that will open your mind to many worlds of fancy, facts, and fiction, these 100 books are the place to start.
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Read, read, and read some more
If you’ve set a goal for yourself to read more, these books should be first on your list. There are suggestions for every age and reading level so you can even get your kids, students, or family involved too. From Charlotte’s Web to Gone Girl to All the President’s Men you’ll always have another page to turn. These books predicted the future.
1984 by George Orwell
George Orwell certainly couldn’t have known how prophetic his words might have been when he wrote the dystopian novel 1984 in the mid-twentieth century. Great Britain has fallen and given way to Airstrip One, a province of the fictional superstate Oceania. Airstrip One is ruled by a perpetual war and Big Brother, a mysterious leader who uses omnipresent government surveillance and a cult of personality to enforce law and order. Winston Smith, the book’s leading character, must navigate the Party, Big Brother, and his own thoughts, which grow more criminal by the day. Here are 15 essential books for understanding race relations in America.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Most science books, even well-written ones, read a bit too much like a textbook, but renowned English physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking manages to turn some of the world’s most profound questions—How did the universe begin? What happens in the end?—into captivating reading in A Brief History of Time. A modern physics guide for general readers, this book manages to make the most mysterious universe elements, black holes and quarks, regal, ethereal, and entirely accessible. These are the best books to give as graduation gifts.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
First released in 2001, Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius quickly became a national bestseller and heart-warming classic. Eggers’ book tells the story of a high school senior, on the verge of blossoming toward the rest of his life, when he loses both of his parents in a span of five weeks and soon finds himself the guardian of his eight-year-old brother. Despite that ominous start, the book manages to be wildly funny with an irreverently honest take on learning to live with death. Check out the list of the most borrow books in the history of the New York Public Library.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
It’s a story so painful you’d prefer to think it is fiction. However, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is an entirely true recounting of his years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, West Africa. With this book, you get a first-hand look at what life is like for the world’s 300,000 child soldiers, many of whom are stolen from their homes and forced into a world of drugs, guns, and murder. It’s heartbreaking in its revelations, but it manages to also be uplifting in Beah’s hope for the future. These international books will help you feel connected to the world.
The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans! by Lemony Snicket
As the first book in the children’s novel collection, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans! is an absolutely enthralling read for bookworms of all ages. This book starts the wild tales of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who are orphaned and sent to live with a conniving and murderous relative, Count Olaf. As he plots ways to swindle their inheritance, the trio unearths mysteries of their own with regard to their parents’ deaths. It’s witty, sarcastic, and often quite absurd, but it’s worthy of every minute you’ll spend reading. Learn about these beloved books that didn’t age well.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
While this book is getting a fresh look because of the film starring Oprah, Mindy Kaling, and others, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time has long been held as a must-read for its fantastical telling of splitting the fabric of time and space. A Newbery Medal winner, this science-fantasy novel follows troublesome and stubborn Meg Murry as she confronts her father’s mysterious disappearance with a collection of her equally peculiar neighbors, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Elements of love, trust, and overcoming fear are interwoven with this enchanting coming-of-age story. Don’t miss these 10 books everyone lies about reading.
Selected Stories, 1968-1994 by Alice Munro
Alice Munro, one of the most prolific writers of the modern era, captures life’s most honest feelings and moments in this magnificent collection of 28 short stories, Selected Stories, 1968-1994. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, these stories will never cease to surprise you for their eloquent storylines, captivating characters, and endlessly wonderful realism. Take these stories one at a time—read, digest, and read again. Her stories are best relived a second, even third, time around. These are the bestselling books of the decade.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carrol
If all you know of Lewis Carrol’s Wonderland is the zany but sanitized version in the 1951 Walt Disney animation, it’s time to flip your perspective on its head—much like the Cheshire Cat might flip himself. Scholars have tried to apply political, historical, and ideological theories to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, but it’s quite simply the dreamlike story of learning to grow (or shrink) and explore, told through the eyes of a curious child. Check out the best-selling science fiction books of all time.
All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Political junkies of all stripes will relish the words of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they recount the experiences and events of Watergate in All the President’s Men. Published just months before President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, this book outlined all the evidence against Nixon and his cohort of political operatives the two accomplished reporters unearthed during their investigations. This book also marks the genesis of Deep Throat (later revealed to be Mark Felt the associate director of the FBI), the secretive government informant who helped take down Nixon in the end. Here’s the most popular book the year you were born.
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, author Frank McCourt recounts his childhood spent in the slums of Limerick, Ireland: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” McCourt battled poverty, near-starvation, neglect, and cruelty but manages to tell his story with humor, compassion, and self-perpetuating power. These are the books you need to read to call yourself a book lover.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
If you read this as an adolescent, it’s time to read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret again. Awkward and inelegant as they may be, sixth-grader Margaret’s questions and quests (to grow bigger breasts, for example, while also seeking out her preferred religion) lead her to greater understanding and self-appreciation—and they’ll most certainly make you cringe as you recall your own experiences and desires to throw off the chains of childhood while budding into young adulthood. Check out these 14 quotes from books every woman should read once.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett’s lyrical words are as captivating as is the music she selects to provide the melodic narrative in her romantic novel Bel Canto. An honest love story, the novel’s characters find themselves in tumult amid a crime and chaotic crisis. The music, as much a character as the humans, provides a backdrop to the drama that is sure to leave every reader on the edge of their seats. Here are 13 books to read to your kids about race.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s Beloved stares down the horrors of slavery and transforms a narrative you think you’ve read a hundred times into a towering story of pain, agony, triumph, and freedom. The story of Sethe, the novel’s protagonist, is gut-wrenchingly honest and simultaneously beautiful and hideous. She wears the worries of past decisions and strives longingly toward freedom, the arch for which her entire life story bends. The suspense wears heavy on the reader, and the choices you must weigh alongside Sethe are haunting.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen by Christopher McDougall
A simple question—why does my foot hurt?— leads author Christopher McDougall on a globe-trotting quest to sort out the secrets of the world’s greatest distance runners, and hopefully learn a little something for himself in the process. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen is a surprisingly entertaining read thanks to absurdly incredible characters and gritty inspiration gained from true human force.
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat bears witness to the suffering, resilience, and courage of her native Haiti and fellow countrymen in her hauntingly courageous novel Breath, Eyes, Memory. Danticat shares the story of 12-year-old Sophie Caco as she is upended from the only world she’s known in Haiti and sent to a mother she barely remembers in New York. There, young Sophie reveals a life and secrets no child should face. Her journey finds solace and resolution when she’s able to return to Haiti and to the women with which she spent her first years, but the entire odyssey is wrapped in violence, suffering, and an evocative wisdom that comes from a rich ancestry.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
If all you know of this American literature classic is the colloquial expression about decision-making, pick up Catch-22 for a dark and comedic good read. Yossarian, a member of an Italian bomber crew during World War II, is desperate to excuse himself from the increasingly high number of suicidal missions his commanders force him and his servicemen to fly. The catch comes when he realizes the sinister bureaucratic rule, Catch-22, classifies him as insane if he continues the missions but sane—and ineligible for relief—if he requests to be removed from duty.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Come for the deliciously tempting confection descriptions, stay for the wildly imaginative world of a wacky genius. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, chocolate maker Willy Wonka captures the attention of the world when he gives five people an all-access pass to his very secretive inner sanctum, as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. The children are sorted, one by one; the nasty are punished while the good live a sweet life long after their wild ride down a chocolate river.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
You’re never too old to visit with Charlotte, Wilbur, and Templeton. This heart-warming tale of friendship and dedication follows young Wilbur, a runt of a pig, as he’s spared from one death but subsequently sent to another almost-certain death. Desperate to help the petite porker, Charlotte, a barn spider, hatches a plan that proves genius and life-altering for young Wilbur. Charlotte’s Web is touching and a great read for families. Check out more children’s books every adult needs to read again.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Abraham Verghese weaves multiple lush storylines into an opus of secrets, betrayal, love, and redemption in Cutting for Stone. Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon, are orphaned at a young age by their mother’s death and father’s disappearance. The two, bound together by blood and bond, ride a journey of trial and test as they leave war-seized Ethiopia for New York City, only to return later to discover their fates and futures are intertwined with their past.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston, throws everything we know about vulnerability and emotional exposure to the wind in this groundbreaking book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. After more than a decade of research, Brown wrote this book to dispel the myth that vulnerability is a weakness. Instead, she argues, it’s one of the most accurate measures of courage and the only path to true experiences.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney
If there’s one thing most people can relate to on a primordial level, it’s the awkwardness and awfulness that is sometimes (if not always) the middle school years. In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a captivating first book in his now world-famous series, author Jeff Kinney shares the story of Greg Heffley and his sidekick Rowley. As the two learn to navigate these treacherous times, hijinks and friendships ensue in this tested coming-of-age tale that many will enjoy, no matter their current decade of life.
Dune by Frank Herbert
A science fiction novel for the ages, Frank Herbert’s Dune tells the adventures of the boy Paul Atreides—who will become known as Muad’Dib—as he and his family strive to bring humankind’s greatest dream to life while living on the desert planet Arrakis. Written in 1965, much of Dune’s story may be more relevant to 21st-century readers than it was to its first readers. For more spine-tinglers, check out our list of the 16 scariest books of all time.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag’s existence in Fahrenheit 451 might hit a little close to home: He’s a fireman in a futuristic dystopian world whose job is to find and destroy the illegal commodities of a world whose sole focus is television—the books. Indeed, Montag believes the printed word is dangerous—until a mysterious neighbor, Clarisse, shows up and opens his eyes to the wonder of books and stories. Unfortunately, Montag’s world is upended, forcing him to flee while he sorts out truth from lies in a spellbinding story.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson
Even if you’ve never consumed a hallucinogenic drug in your life, you’ll likely feel a deep relationship to the wild ride many drug users describe after you read Hunter S. Thompson’s rollicking Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Thompson’s book is the recounting of a wild, long weekend in Las Vegas where he and his Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, are sent to cover a biker’s race in the deserts of Nevada. The drug-addled duo never get the story—not much of a spoiler—but what did come of the journey is a tour de force of a bygone era.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel Gone Girl is a captivating tale of twists, lies, and mystery. When Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, disappears on their anniversary, the spotlight turns to their marriage. Nick’s dispassionate recounting of their relationship and Amy’s diary entries shed light on a couple that seemed pleasant, if not strained, from the outside. However, Flynn upends the narrative quickly with revelations that will leave you reeling.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Short and simple, but not at all forgettable, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon is classic of children’s literature and a must-have for every parent and grandparent. As the little bunny bids everything in his sweet house and world a good night, you and your littlest readers can bid goodnight to one another, too.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
When Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations, he gave life to some of literature’s most colorful and enduring characters: Pip, Miss Havisham, and Uncle Pumblechook, to name a few. His penultimate novel, Great Expectations details the life and stories of an orphan named Pip, growing up in Kent and London in the early to mid-1800s. It’s a classic and a must-read quite simply because it’s been described as one of Dickens’ best works, an appraisal to which Dickens himself agreed.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
This is a history book, but it’s so much more than a telling of what happened when and why. In Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond lays out the foundation for understanding human history. It’s more than a recounting of battles and settlements, it’s an outline of the agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion that shaped the world as we know it. Diamond blunts right up against many fallacies and dismantles pernicious theories that have haunted development and society for centuries. You will walk away from this tome a changed person.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Welcome to the wizarding world of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. In J.K. Rowling’s first installment, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you will be introduced to many of the story’s most important—and entrancing—characters. But before you get settled into the fun of spells and potions, the action starts right away as Harry finds himself troubled by the feeling his destiny is still intertwined with his past. Find out the best books to read as children—and adults.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
On November 15, 1959, the small town of Holcomb, Kansas was turned on end by the savage murder of four members of the Clutter family. The police had no suspects and almost no evidence. Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood recounts in chilling detail the deaths of the family and the investigation that ultimately led to the arrest of two recently-paroled ex-convicts. Capote’s work may be a story stuck in time, but its nonfiction narrative reveals a lot about violence and evil that’s resonant even today. These are the most iconic books set in every state.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
In the collection of short stories in Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri outlines the complex dynamics that exist when Indian traditionalism meets an American culture that often offers little respect for complex cultural dynamics it doesn’t understand. Each character’s story traces many of the most recognizable novel elements—longing, lust, betrayal—but they’re told in an exotic storyline that’s rich with detail and minutia.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A winner of the National Book Award for fiction, Ralph Ellison’s first novel, Invisible Man, spent an admirable 16 weeks atop the bestseller’s list. In large part, its early success is due to the relatable nature of its narrator, a young, nameless black man who has to navigate levels of American culture that are fraught with hate and bias in 1950s America. Eager for a place in time to call his own, the narrator finds that what he hopes for himself will remain elusive, just as the truth behind the events that surround him is ambiguous.
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
Chris Ware’s hero Jimmy Corrigan fancies himself the smartest kid on earth, but below that chutzpah is a timid, scared man who’s just looking for acceptance. A resolution seems to come when, at age 36, Corrigan has the opportunity to meet his father for the first time. What evolves is a retelling, in graphic and illustrative detail, of a lineage of Corrigan men who, like Jimmy, are paralyzed by the fear or being unliked and unwanted.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
You knew him for his exotic culinary-focused trips to the far reaches of the earth, but Anthony Bourdain’s career began the way of many not-so-famous chefs—working on the line of a kitchen. Behind the polished silver and pressed linen facade of the world’s best kitchens lies “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,” Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain tells all about the underbelly of fine-dining establishments in a way that makes you laugh—maybe cringe—and certainly look admiringly upon the people who put food on your plate.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
If ever you doubted the power of small events, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life will illustrate in painstakingly exquisite detail the real impact those moments can have. This novel is the story of one woman, told in two manners. Ursula Todd dies as she’s born, strangled by the umbilical cord. Ursula Todd is also born, saved by a doctor who’s able to free the umbilical cord from around her neck. Each of Ursula’s decision leads to a result, sometimes death. With each death, the story is born again with the timeless hook that draws every reader in: What next?
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Life on the American frontier is often romanticized, but Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie offers a glimpse into what life was like for Western pioneers. After leaving behind their home in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, Laura and her family, including sister Mary, travel by covered wagon deep into the prairies of Kansas. There, they must build a home and start a new life, but just as that’s beginning; they find themselves caught up in a situation that threatens to upend their new existence.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita may have first gained fame and notoriety for its infamous accounting of the protagonist’s unusual erotic predilections, but its staying power rests squarely on the breathtaking love story that belies the most controversial elements. It’s requiem about love, in all its maddening forms.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza are passionately in love, but as often happens with young love, the two are split when obligations force Fermina to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor. A devastated Florentino works his way into a successful businessman, pining for the day when he can one day confess his love to Fermina again. Fifty years, nine months, and four days later, he’s able to. Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera sets atop a pile of romance novels but stands alone for its magical, splendid writing, and spellbinding story of worthwhile love.
Love Medicine by Louise Eldrich
Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets can barely hold a handle to Louise Eldrich’s Kashpaws and Lamartines. Love Medicine, a dazzling work of storytelling that takes place on and around a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation, shares the intertwined fates of two multi-generational families. Themes of injustice, betrayal, magic, and mystique surround a beautiful story that, in the end, is all about the power of love.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Between 1942 and 1945, Viktor Frankl labored in four Nazi death camps. His parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Later in life, Frankl became a psychiatrist and practiced what he coined logotherapy, a theory that our lives are primarily driven by the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful in our lives. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl shares the horrors he faced in those concentration camps, but he also shares the lessons he learned—and taught others he saw in his practice—about spiritual revival in the face of such great suffering.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
This laugh-out-loud collection of short stories makes for great leisurely reading. In Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris shares the absurd and hysterical twists he’s able to round out of life’s more mundane and boring events growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. The book continues as Sedaris moves to France, where he also shares the awkwardly charming stories of learning to live in a city and country that’s not at all familiar. These are 10 of the best autobiographies you really should have read by now.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Calliope Helen Stephanides was born in Detroit in 1960, the heyday of Motor City, to a Greek-American family who lived the quintessentially suburban American life. Moving out of the city, Calliope is faced with a self-realization that she’s not like other girls, and it takes uncovering a family secret (and an astonishing genetic history) to understand why. Middlesex is an audacious story of sexuality that transcends stereotypes of gender, sex, and identity. These are the 20 books you really should have read by now.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Saleem Sinai was born at midnight on August 15, 1947. That is precisely the moment India became an independent state. Greeted with fireworks and fanfare, Sinai, as well as 1,000 other “midnight’s children” across India, soon find their health, well-being, thoughts, and capabilities are preternaturally linked to one another—and to their country’s national affairs, health, and power. In Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie writes a beautifully enchanting story of family, heritage, and duty.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
The Oakland Athletics were written off, discarded, and sure to be ignored. Yet, somehow, they became one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. Was it their throwing talent or their ERA? No, not at all. Instead, as Michael Lewis details in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the real secret to winning baseball has very little to do with skills and more to do with statistics. In what’s been described as “the single most influential baseball book ever,” Lewis reveals the secrets of the A’s and an unusual brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts who’ve identified the real secret to being a winning ball team.
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
You’ll take no larger life lesson away from W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, and perhaps that’s what makes this novel so irresistible. The orphaned protagonist, Philip Carey, is eager for adventure and love outside his brief stays in Heidelberg and Paris. Soon, he lands in London, eager to explore, and stumbles upon his greatest adventure yet, Mildred. The irresistible waitress and roaming orphan embark on a wildly fanciful but tortured and tormented affair.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The book On the Road recounts a hedonistic cross-country road trip between friends in the aftermath of World War II, a storyline inspired by Jack Kerouac’s own adventures with friend Neal Cassady. Eager to find meaning and true experiences along the way, the duo seeks pleasures in drug-fueled escapades and counterculture experiences.
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa recounts life in British East Africa, just after World War II. While the collection of stories is not free of the racial bias and colonial attitudes of the time, Out of Africa gives a glimpse into an area of the world that’s largely overlooked when telling the coming-of-age narrative of modern countries. Fanciful and fascinating, Dinesen’s book portrays stories of lion hunts and life with native populations and European colonizers, alongside a beautiful story of raising and freeing an orphaned antelope fawn.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
This powerful graphic novel tells the story of Satrapi, a young girl living in Tehran during the overthrow of the Shah, the rise of the Islamic Revolution, and the destruction of the Iran-Iraq war. As a daughter of two Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Satrapi holds a unique perspective and position in recounting stories of daily life in Iran. Learn, alongside Satrapi, about the history and heroes that define this fascinating country. These are the 9 books that will change your life.
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Deemed highly controversial and too explicit when it was first published, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint is a vividly brash look at sexuality, obscenities, masturbation, and identity. The novel is a monologue of “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor,” that details many awkward and cringe-worthy moments alongside quests for identity. It remains a landmark published piece in American literature, and after you read it, you’ll most certainly never look at a piece of liver the same way.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice adorned shelves of many a learned reader in the 1800 and 1900s, but its timeless story and lessons earn it a spot on many home libraries even today. When eligible young men arrive in their neighborhood, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett must prepare their five eager daughters for the role of a lifetime—finding and marrying a husband. While the wit and humor of the sisters keep the pages flipping, the story also serves as a harbinger for hasty mistakes and erred judgments.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was first published as three installments in The New Yorker the summer of 1962. The stories—and the book that followed in September of that year—launched the American environmental revolution, as the horrors of DDT, a pesticide commonly used at the time, made their way into the American mainstream. While her work was successful at eliminating the toxin, her story serves as a reminder—and a good read—about the need for protecting our land, water, and air.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five is a science fiction-infused anti-war novel that follows American soldier Billy Pilgrim. A central event in the story—as well as Vonnegut’s own life—is the firebombing of Dresden. Pilgrim begins to see many of the events in his life as repercussions of that deathly event. Much of Slaughterhouse-Five is autobiographical in nature, but that hasn’t stopped pushes for censorship because of the book’s irreverent tone and unfiltered depictions of sex and profanity. One part futuristic storytelling, one part reflective memoir, Slaughterhouse-Five is often held as Vonnegut’s most important piece of writing. Don’t miss these high school English class books you should read again as an adult.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Abraham Lincoln upended the political landscape of the 1850s when he won the Republican presidential nomination over a field of well-known, privileged men. Facing a divided nation and a crumbling war effort, Lincoln soon turned to those exact politicians to help build a team of rivals, a group of people he could turn to for honest accountability, effort, and eventually, support and friendship. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is a deeply personal biography for one of America’s most respected leaders, told to show how he humbled himself for the role of leadership and governance.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Warton
The book The Age of Innocence is a tale of love in the time of rigid societal requirements of New York City’s upper class. Newland Archer, an attorney from a respected family, is engaged to May Welland. Despite his betrothal, Archer finds himself taken by Countess Ellen Olenska, Welland’s unconventional cousin. In spite of his own personal desires, Archer marries Welland as he has promised but continues to see Olenska. This best-of-both-worlds approach seems to please Newland, but his dreams ultimately come to an end as he’s forced to face the life he wants versus the life society expects him to lead.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
You don’t need pirates and boats to have a swash-buckling thriller of a book. In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the lives and adventures of a curious and meddlesome pair of cousins are explored in exuberant detail. Cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay swing through the glittering streets of pre-World War II Brooklyn, spinning up comic books to feed America’s growing craze. Their hero, Escapist, fights fascists and falls hard for Luna Moth, an ethereal mysterious and desirous paramour. Their lives—and their careers—are equally bright and fanciful.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive work of an era in American history when cultural, racial, and religious ideologies met at a pinnacle. Malcolm X, a firebrand, Muslim, and anti-integrationist leader reveals the limits he sees in the American Dream and the changes that can be made through a force of will and effort.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
If you’re reading this list, you likely understand the power that a book has to feed and nurture a soul. In that case, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief will be right at home in your hands. In 1939 Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger seeks meaning and life amid the bombings and death. Her “weapon” of choice? Books and the written word.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar Wao is a pleasant nerd living in New Jersey, far removed from the comforts and traditions of the Dominican Republic his mother knows and still swears by. Wao wants nothing more to find love—and to be the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. His quest to find both swirls you up in mythologies of family curses, immigrant journeys, and the American experience is a page turner in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and it will be right at home for everyone who lusts for love and the human experience. Here are some other book club titles that will keep everyone talking.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Originally meant for an adult audience, The Catcher in the Rye has become a favorite among adolescent readers and high school literature teachers. The theme of teenage angst and alienation imbue a story of rebellion as the story’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, looks for acceptance, recognition, and appreciation. Like so many teenagers, Caulfield finds himself facing the decision to leave everything behind, only to face the realization that perhaps his life isn’t as dreadful as it seems.
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
“God is the color of water,” Ruth McBride taught her children, expressing her belief that God’s blessings, values, and grace rise above skin color and race. McBride, a “light-skinned” mother to 12 black children, brought her kids up in the all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, sending them to Jewish schools, shuttling them to free cultural events, and eventually shepherding all of them through college and beyond. But McBride’s son, James, discovers she’s actually a white woman born in Poland, and he unearths the many painful reasons she has for hiding from that truth in this powerful book, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
After 50 years of marriage, Enid Lambert is looking for a little life and excitement, but it seems the universe is working against her goals. Her husband is frail from disease, and her children’s lives are falling apart or swirling down the drain. In The Corrections, Lambert wants nothing more than to bring her whole family together for one last Christmas so she has something to look forward to. What unfolds, however, is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
The 1893 World’s Fair brought the globe to Chicago—but it also brought a cunning serial killer, H.H. Holmes. In The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson combines meticulous historical research with a bit of period storytelling to generate a truly captivating murder mystery book that also shares a lot of history about one of the world’s greatest marvels.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is a rite of passage for many adolescents and young adults, but older adults will find a lot to appreciate in this young woman’s wise words. Written during World War II as Nazis carried out their campaign of death and destruction, this journal is a day-by-day accounting of what life was like when your family is forced into hiding. Frank’s humanity and grace in light of her circumstances are inspiring and heartbreaking at once.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
She thought a cancer diagnosis had sealed her fate and written her life story, but a chance meeting with Augustus Waters turns Hazel Lancaster’s life upside down. Irreverent and bold, The Fault in Our Stars is a funny, captivating, and gut-wrenching story of learning to feel love, enjoy being alive, and living a bold life despite circumstances beyond your control.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in a Utopian world. Everyone’s role is clear, and everyone fulfills those roles blissfully. Life is a set path that’s followed precisely. When he turns 12, however, Jonas begins to learn the reason his world is actually very fragile. The Giver is a dystopian story about what you’re willing to give up—and what you’re not—in order to live a life that’s free of emotions, pain, and suffering.
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Lyra, a bold and brave young woman, takes off into uncharted territories to rescue her friend from armored bears and witch clans. She also has to help her uncle build a bridge to a parallel world. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that she will face choices that challenge her and require grit she doesn’t know she has. The first in the His Dark Materials series, The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials is captivating from word one.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Roaring ’20s still captivate the imagination of many, so dive into The Great Gatsby for a great story and a historical trip that leaves you reeling. Rich characters and detailed imagery ensconce you in the era and whisk you away into a beautiful story of the Jazz Era’s glitzy parties and lusty affections. Check out these 12 books you need to read before their movies come out.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred, a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, has been removed from the home, family, and life that she knew, only to be forced into service as a housemaid—and a working pair of ovaries. As the population of Gilead falls, a woman’s value is stripped of independence and instead relies on her fertility and ability to reproduce. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one part cautionary tale and one part enthralling narrative. There’s a reason Reader’s Digest counts it among the 10 books written by female authors every woman should read in her lifetime.
The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
You’re never too old to visit Pooh and his friends, Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Owl, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo. The House at Pooh Corner is the second series of stories by famous English author A.A. Milne, and it’s the first time readers will meet Tigger, the lovable, bouncing feline. Hop right into the stories; you’ll be right at home.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Katniss Everdeen, a rebellious 16-year-old girl, is the sole provider for her mother and sister. Their father was killed in one of District 12’s largest mine disasters. Everdeen and her family barely scrape by in one of the Panem’s poorest districts. Then comes the reaping, an annual event when each district must send two children to fight to the death as terms of their districts’ surrender in a great civil war. Katniss steps in to fight when her sister’s name is drawn—and she and Panem will never be the same. The Hunger Games is the first book in Suzanne Collins’ famous three-part series by the same name.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer, died of cervical cancer shortly after giving birth to her fifth child in 1951. During her treatment, Lacks’ cells were taken without her knowledge, and they became the first immortalized cell line. That cell line has been used by doctors, researchers, and medical companies to develop everything from the polio vaccine to cloning. Her cells are one of the most vital health tools of the 20th and 21st centuries and have made companies millions. Lacks’ family, however, knew nothing about this. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a riveting story of race, medicine, ethics, and the search for life.
The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr
Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club: A Memoir is a darkly humorous story of life in east Texas in the 1960s with a family that could give anyone’s family a run for its crazy and captivating money. A daddy who drinks too much, a mother who marries too much, and a sister whose mouth could make a grown man blush—these characters are brilliant works of hilarious, horrific human foibles.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Introduce your kids—or even yourself—to the greatest elements of Greek mythology alongside a fun story of 12-year-old Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief. Jackson calls on his best friend (who happens to be a half-boy, half-goat) and a brainy daughter of the goddess Athena for help as they work their way across the United States in search of Zeus’ master bolt Along the way, Jackson faces many mythological creatures—and his own issues with a father he has never known.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Cherished by children and adults alike, The Little Prince is a timelessly classic telling of the little prince’s journey from planet to planet in search of adventure. What he finds, however, are interactions with adults who leave him frustrated or dismayed. In the Sahara Desert, he runs into the book’s narrator, and the two start an eight-day story of journeys and lessons.
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye is a murder mystery wrapped up in thrill and suspense. Philip Marlowe befriends a down-on-his-luck veteran, but several clever plot twists later, and Marlowe’s friendship with the vet leaves him in the eye of investigators and a gangster. Deeply dark and fascination, The Long Goodbye belongs in a series of novels about investigator Marlowe, and critics quibble about which of the books is the best.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
You think you know the events that lead to September 11, 2011, but The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is a history lesson that is as deep and profound as it is infuriating and painful. In the five decades leading to one of America’s darkest hours, you will trace the beginning elements of fundamental Islam, the rise of Osama bin Laden, and the successful terrorist groups that sought to bring down a country.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
In The Lord of the Rings, journey to Middle-earth and into the world of Dark Lord Sauron, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo, Samwise, and the entire assemblage of Tolkien’s most famous characters and storylines. Frodo is tasked with destroying the Ruling Ring, the most powerful Ring in Mordor, but along the way, his quest is filled with many of Tolkien’s unique and captivating characters, as well as an adventure of epic proportions.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Olive Sacks
Physicians and healthcare providers could likely fill volumes with the strange, heart-breaking, and obscene things they experience in their practices. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales, one doctor finally did commit those episodes to paper. Oliver Sacks recounts stories of patients with a variety of neurological disorders—including, as the name suggests, a man who mistook his wife for a hat—that leave them physically here but mentally miles away. It’s captivating and heart-breaking, and it helps you understand how doctors connect with the humans behind the diagnoses.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan may ultimately be one of the biggest forces for changes in food systems, sustainability, and healthful living. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Pollan shows how the meals we choose to eat impact everything from our personal health to the world’s ultimate outlook. A decade after he first published this book, Pollan’s call to deeper thought and conversation about our food systems continues to shift the way we eat, grow, and share our food.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
As exciting and bewitching as Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth is an adventure of epic adventure and puns. When a tollbooth appears in his room, a bored Milo decides he has nothing to lose, so he dives right in. On the other side, Milo encounters the Island of Conclusions—you have to jump to get there—and you must go on an adventure to save Rhyme and Reason. It’s fantastical and gripping and serves as a reminder of just how exciting life can really be.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A fiery, fierce Baptist preacher picks up his wife and four daughters and moves them half a world away to postcolonial Africa in 1959. They bring with them everything their modern world tells them they need, but what unfolds is an undoing and deconstruction of lives, spirits, souls, and beliefs that the family must pick up, piece by piece, from the powerful African soil. The Poisonwood Bible is a journey of three decades in a magical and mysterious land and time.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
New York City has been home to big personalities, but perhaps none have been quite so powerful as Robert Moses. Indeed, Moses, as you’ll read about in The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, established much of what the city is today, from its bureaucratic utility companies to its physical layout and infrastructure. He was a force that could not be controlled, taking into his control much of the city’s development and prosperity—that is until he finally met his match in Nelson Rockefeller.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Many words, both fiction and nonfiction, have been committed to paper to commemorate and honor America’s race to the moon and the men and women behind those missions. However, perhaps no other book can take you deep into the mindset and the tenacity, the grit, and the courage it took to complete the Apollo missions the way Tom Wolfe did in The Right Stuff.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road is a deeply poetic and haunting tale of a father and son, “each the other’s world entire,” and the journey they take across a burned and destroyed America. They have little to their names, save each other, some scavenged food, and a pistol, yet they must fend off the worst of post-apocalyptic America—roaming gangs of thieves, isolation, desolation, and devastation—as they make their way to the coast where they hope to figure out what’s next.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt, the author of The Goldfinch, first came into the literary scene with The Secret History, a novel about the boundaries of thinking, life, and decisions. In this book, a group of New England college contemporaries is led into a world of free thinking and living by their classics professor. While freeing and enlightening at first, they soon learn that with a loss of horizons comes a loss of humanity.
The Shining by Stephen King
The master of suspense must be included in any list of books you should read in a lifetime, so it is that Stephen King’s The Shining should appear here. Brought to life in cinematic perfection by Jack Nicholson, Jack Torrance is a middle-aged man looking for a fresh start. He thinks he’s found it when he lands a job as the off-season caretaker at an idyllic old hotel, the Overlook. But as snow piles higher outside, the secluded location begins to feel more confining and sinister, less freeing and provoking. Find out the scariest books of all time.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Albert Camus’ The Stranger has long lived a dual life of meaning: In one way, it’s a story of mystery, murder, death, and destruction. In other, it’s a sermon on the absurd and the power of human thought. Camus, for his part, wrote: “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway wrote stories filled with powerful emotions and unforgettable characters in a strikingly simple manner. The Sun Also Rises, which examines the disillusionment, angst, and apprehension of the post-World War I generation, is one of his finest works. In this novel, you follow the tales and adventures of Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley as they swing through Europe with bewildered expats, seeking out the next great thrill.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Perhaps the greatest book of fiction on Vietnam, The Things They Carried is a powerfully forceful story about war, memory, death, imagination, and the powerful nature of storytelling and the human spirit. O’Brien moves beyond the pain of war to examine the sensitivity and nature that each soldier brought with him on that long journey to Vietnam and the scars that returned with them.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Holding a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar—with its thick cardboard pages and richly illustrated images—is as much a part of the adventure of the story as the little caterpillar’s big appetite. Relive the joy of metamorphosis—and the biological process that turns the caterpillar into the beautiful butterfly—in a brilliantly creative way with the littlest readers in your life. Find out the best children’s books ever written.
The Wind in the Willow by Kenneth Grahame
A true tale of friendship and simple pleasures, The Wind in the Willow brings to life the classic characters Mole, Mr. Toad, Badger, and Rat. A story for young readers, more mature literary fans will appreciate the beautifully unique story of adventure, acceptance, repercussions, and solidarity.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
A search for a lost cat turns into a search for a lost wife in this prescient, engrossing, and humorous novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. At the intersection of a failing marriage, a dark past, and a secretive underground, Toru Okada encounters an untold number of bizarre people and experiences as he longs for answers that may never come for him—or even for you, the reader.
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Leave any puritan tendencies at the door when you pick up a copy of John Irving’s The World According to Garp. This story highlights the life of T.S. Garp, the bastard son of feminist and activist Jenny Fields. Garp’s world is a roller coaster of extremes, both emotional and physical. Brimming with sexual extremes, Irving’s Garp faces scenarios so outlandishly awful and painful you can’t help but laugh, cringe, cry, and cheer. Here are 18 good books you can read in a day.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
One of life’s truest axioms is that there will be good times, and then there will be bad times. If you can relate to both, or even if you can’t, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking is a heart-wrenching story of a marriage, a family, a relationship, and a life that’s good, great, bad, awful and everything in between.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
More than a century ago, worlds collided on the African continent when European colonizers arrived to establish outposts for their respective queens, kings, and presidents. What happened to the countries, the natives, and the settlers was nothing short of cataclysmic and tragic. Things Fall Apart tells the story of precolonial Africa and the great loss the world suffered when these civilizations and traditions were wiped away.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird upends the quiet solitude of a segregated Southern town with a story of innocence and virtue, bigotry and hate, love and forgiveness. Eight-year-old Scout Finch, her brother Jem, and father Atticus find themselves encased in the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman. A deeply painful story, Lee tells the events, revelations, and lessons through the eye of a young child, which lends both honesty and virtuosity to a story that’s all too often caught up in equivocating.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
The story behind Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is so unbelievable, so improbable it’s difficult to accept that it’s the real story of Louis Zamperini. Rebellious teenage years gave way to an Olympic career and eventually a stint as a U.S. Airman, and Zamperini soon found himself crashed into the Pacific Ocean and adrift thousands of miles from help. Where other men may have accepted their fate, Zamperini fought with hope, toughness, and humor to triumph.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Sex and drugs have a common allure, but they also have a common endgame: a downward spiral. In Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann offers in lurid detail the stories of three young women who want nothing more than to reach the pinnacle of life. But just as they see it in their grasp, they lose it all in a coil of sex, lust, romance, and abandonment. Find out the 50 books everyone needs to read before they’re 50.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
The imagination and artistry of Shel Silverstein are on full display in this classic collection of short stories and poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Whimsical and masterful, there’s something for everyone in the stories of this American poet, author, singer, and folk artist.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
If you’ve forgotten the magic of Where the Wild Things Are, it’s time to stir up another wild rumpus. Endlessly creative Max, decked in his finest wolf suit, sets out on a mission for adventure (or mischief, to his parents) only to be thwarted and sent to bed. Luckily for him, a wild forest grows in his room, and Max dares to dream in this magical land that exists somewhere between your wildest imagination and your craziest childhood dreams. Next, don’t miss 100 of America’s favorite novels.