Stuck on a Desert Island with the Best Books Ever

Our staffers played the "desert island" game and came up with our single-favorite great books that we'd want to pull out of the shipwreck and read obsessively. What's yours?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Not exactly beach reading, but I’m going for War and Peace. I confess to having read Tolstoy’s masterpiece four times, and I wouldn’t mind having another go at it. I cannot think of another novel that so brilliantly combines history, philosophy, warfare, family life, and love. Assuming there’s no wifi on this desert island, conditions would be perfect for digging into this thousand-plus page novel. —Dawn Raffel, editor-at-large - books

Shogun by James Clavell

I'm a huge fan of historical novels, and this one has it all: a cunning Japanese warlord; a brave and daring English sea captain; a beautiful woman caught between two lovers. There's adventure at sea and along the coast and plenty of drama and suspense. The reader, through the eyes of a British sailor, gets to explore a defining moment in 17th century Japan—the ascent of a shogun, or military leader. And maybe learn a trick or two to help escape the desert island. —Fran Lostys, research manager

The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain by Paul Theroux

As a librarian, I tend to suffer from withdrawals if I don't have a book lined up for my next literary adventure. Whenever I need to fill a void in my queue, I can pick up my well-thumbed copy of Paul Theroux's The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain, and that's what I'd want to have anywhere. —Ann DiCesare, head librarian

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Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

I could use some laughs if I were ever stuck on a desert island, and for me, reading Calvin and Hobbes strips would do the trick. —Shirley Li, editorial intern

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

When it was released in 2010, Freedom basically exploded, and with good reason—it's fantastic. With a sobering plot that explores many difficult, if not impossible, situations, getting to the end is a challenge. At its core though, this is a beautiful family drama and love story, and it’s well worth pondering in a far, far-away place. —Damon Beres, assistant editor

I'll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz

If it's just me and the gulls until the rescue crew shows up, I'm packing a beach read: my mass-market paperback copy of Judith Krantz's I'll Take Manhattan. This highly escapist, non-trashy romance novel focuses on Maxi Amberville, the wild daughter of a magazine publisher, who reinvents her father's legacy to save the company from destruction by her devious uncle. Don't laugh—Krantz is no Ralph Waldo Emerson (whom her characters quote often), but her earlier magazine career adds a level of hip detail that makes the book better than what you usually find in the genre. —Diane Dragan, online executive editor

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The Bible

What other book could there be but the Bible? Lord knows I would need Jesus! I could read all the accounts of how people endured and eventually persevered and would always have hope at the front and center—definitely the best book to have on a desert island. —Adrienne Farr, assistant to chief content officer/editor-in-chief

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

This big, complex book has had a hold on me since I first read it in seventh grade. Back then, I couldn't believe someone could make up such a crazy, complicated, funny world and fill it with so many crazy, incredible, funny characters. Today, having written a novel myself, I still can't believe it.—David Noonan, national affairs editor

It's maybe the greatest American novel written after World War II and one of the greatest, period. Besides, if I’m stuck on a desert island, there’s a good chance I’ll go bonkers. And if that’s the case, I’d rather be holed up with a crew that has experience at being crazy. —Andy Simmons, features editor

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Kundera's deep philosophical questions about life, love, and responsibility would give me plenty to ponder while I waited to be rescued. —Caitlin O'Connell, assistant editor

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Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A tale of murder and redemption through suffering isn’t heart lifting, but there’s always something new to intellectualize within the brilliant tension created in Dostoevsky’s writing. And I’ll need a book with a bit of physical and psychological girth if I’m going to mentally survive the island. —Emilie Harjes, photo researcher

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind is where my name, "Tara," comes from. The book has it all: romance, drama, and a little humor if you find Scarlett as fantastic as I do. —Tara Zades, rights manager

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

If I had to pick one book that I could read over and over again, it would be this—magnificent, beautiful, raw, mysterious, sexy, wonderful. —Dean Abatemarco, art director

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My desert-island pick is Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle,  though it’s a toss up with the Margaret Atwood Mad Adam Trilogy (Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood are the only two out so far). —Jeff Nesmith, digital production director

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

When I first snagged my little brother’s copy (to be seen reading a children’s book—the horror!), I stayed up until 4 a.m., racing through the pages. Today, every time I open a new book, I hope for that enchantment—the type that keeps you up reading late into a summer night. And hey, on a desert island, I could finally read all day and night without any guilt whatsoever. —Rachel Mount, senior editor

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