If you, too, are an avid reader, you know how delightful it is to pick up a classic book and read it for the first time. Perhaps you already have a literary bucket list and are just waiting for the right time. Or maybe you just want a taste of some of history's most outstanding classic books.
Either way, here you’ll find your answers. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of must-read classics. Each of these books features a unique perspective and style and has a timeless impact on people’s hearts and minds.
Many classic books have indeed transformed the social and political culture of their nations and the world. They have broadened the audience's perspective and given them a new outlook on their surroundings and relationships.
Hopefully, your reading experience will be the same. Let’s start.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women at the request of her publisher, who wanted a book for girls. Alcott had an ambivalent relationship with what she called “moral pap for the young.” She drew on her own childhood experiences and found that she and her sisters had gone through much of what the four March sisters experienced in their lives.
Femininity is the most obvious motif in Little Women. The book’s title has been the subject of rigorous and contradictory interpretations. This coming-of-age novel was later adapted numerous times for television, cinema, theater, and even musicals and operas. Little Women has inspired several other literary retellings by various authors.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Austen's Regency-era novel about life, liberty, and bonnets is one of world literature's most beloved classic books. First published in 1813, the book follows Elizabeth Bennet's character development. A serious situation can be filled with humor and comedy.
Pride and Prejudice has spawned numerous adaptations for movies and literary works. Jane Austen had a keen eye for social change, making this book one of the most detailed sources for sociological studies of early nineteenth-century British society.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a classic novel by Zora Neale Hurston. This book soon became one of the leading feminist voices in American literature. The story revolves around a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams.
The language is poetic and powerful, and the storyline is profound and compelling with memorable, well-developed characters. Hurston wrote several influential books, though Their Eyes Were Watching God is perhaps her most memorable.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most successful coming-of-age novels in contemporary literature, which gained instant popularity. Harper Lee’s masterpiece remains a widely read classic book in the US.
With numerous parallel storylines, profound themes, and a genuinely enchanting narrative, you will undoubtedly experience the joy of reading a classic novel. Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and a handful of other notable awards.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations is one of the greatest novels written in the Victorian era. Charles Dickens tells the life story of an orphan boy named Pip Pirrip, adopted by a poor family in England. The book inspired many writers and novelists and was adapted more than 30 times for TV shows, movies, and theater scripts.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald set in the vibrant backdrop of the Jazz Age in New York City. It took a decade for this classic book to find its place among readers, and now, it has stood the test of time after a century.
The Great Gatsby explores themes of life and death, making this masterpiece one of the most outstanding works of contemporary prose.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Books that revolve around a historical event run the risk of being forgotten after some time. John Steinbeck, however, succeeded in portraying the bitterness of the Great Depression decade with a timeless finesse.
The book won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was cited as one of his most influential works when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Today, Frankenstein's name is more associated with the numerous film adaptations than with Mary Shelley's 1818 novel. But there is no doubt about Mary Shelley's profound influence on the evolution of Gothic horror and science fiction.
Frankenstein tells the story of a young man, Victor Frankenstein, who creates an intelligent creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude, a classic novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez is an exemplary work of magical realism. The book is a truly fascinating story about seven generations of the Buendía family in the town of Macondo.
William Kennedy in the New York Times Book Review called One Hundred Years of Solitude “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
When Jane Eyre was published under the pseudonym "Currer Bell" on October 16, 1847, many didn't know that the author was a woman. The psychological perspective and intimate first-person narrative fundamentally revolutionized prose fiction.
Brontë struggled with the vicissitudes of being a woman in Victorian English society and experienced firsthand the challenges an independent, intellectual woman faces. Jane Eyre is considered by many to be the first great feminist novel.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian social science fiction novel that describes a society terrorized by a totalitarian ideology. George Orwell had a brilliant and mind-blowing instinct in predicting the future, resulting from his deep understanding of social and political trends.
In addition to its literary influence, Nineteen Eighty-Four is also a social reflection on the dangers of the ever-growing dehumanization in modern society.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man is a groundbreaking novel published by Random House shortly after World War II. This book was the only novel Ralph Ellison published during his lifetime.
The nameless narrator of Invisible Man symbolizes many intelligent young African Americans in the early twentieth century struggling to find their African American identity, to be recognized in a social hierarchy dominated by whites.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's 1958 debut novel depicts pre-colonial life in the southeastern part of Nigeria and the British invasion in the late 19th century. The critically acclaimed African Trilogy begins with Things Fall Apart, the first of three novels by Chinua Achebe.
In Things Fall Apart, Achebe masterfully portrays the discrepancy between African norms, values, beliefs, and traditions and the Christianity that came to Africa during colonization.
White Fang by Jack London
White Fang is the story of a half-dog, half-wolf becoming domesticated. The book first appeared as a serialized novel in Outing magazine and was then published in book form in October 1906. White Fang is a companion piece to London’s best-known work, The Call of the Wild, one of the most profound and moving allegorical tales.
Jack London was a prolific writer, a social activist, and an international celebrity, well-known and quite influential in his generation.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol, is an 1843 novella by Charles Dickens. Dickens’s famous novella deals with several themes, including poverty, greed, generosity, and time.
While writing this book, Charles Dickens was influenced and inspired by the parliamentary reports on the catastrophic conditions of child labor in 19th century England.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar was Plath’s debut novel, written in 1963. The book is a psychological autobiographical novel that reflects her mental health struggles. The Bell Jar is a metaphor showing that Esther (the main character) is trapped inside her own head and cannot escape her insecure thoughts.
Plath’s unsparing honesty in criticizing social mechanisms combined with a poetic and well-developed style earned her the 1982 Pulitzer Prize.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
No reading list of classic books can be complete without mentioning Fyodor Dostoevsky, the 19th-century Russian author. Born in Moscow in 1821, Dostoevsky had a difficult and eventful life. The depth of his thought is evident in all his writings.
Dostoevsky’s Idiot is a rich tapestry of philosophical thought that requires more than one reading. Dostoevsky practically takes you into characters' minds, and after a while, you will be feeling and thinking like them. He is often considered one of the greatest psychologists of the literary world.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
The Time Machine is a science fiction novella published in 1895 when time-travel stories were popular. The Time Traveler goes to the year 802,701 when humanity has split into two species: capitalists (Eloi) and laborers (Morlocks).
Wells’ symbolic depiction of the future civilization later attracted scholars’ attention and appeared in scientific journals and books.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. Her parents grew up in the American South, and their experiences with oppression and racism profoundly influenced Walker’s writing.
The epic 1985 coming of age drama, The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, was inspired by the book.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness in 1899. In his classic book, Conrad criticizes British colonialism and shows how humans can rationalize anything.
Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is based on Heart of Darkness but set in the jungles of Vietnam.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
The Wide Sargasso Sea is a postcolonial novel and prequel (or simply a response) to Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre. The book was published in 1966, almost 120 years after the initial publication of Jane Eyre. It would be good to read Brontë’s novel first since they share most characters and storylines.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Melville's epic novel is set in the 19th century. It follows the voyage of the Pequod, a whaling ship piloted by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab. At times, the book's passages may be unsettling, and its language may sound antiquated. Nevertheless, Moby Dick has proven to be a literary masterpiece.
Since its first publication in 1851, Moby Dick has influenced many writers and artists. In his 2017 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, American songwriter Bob Dylan mentioned that he was inspired by Moby-Dick.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse is a 1927 modernist novel centered on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920. The use of run-on sentences and lyrical prose is not what one would expect in a novel of the 1930s. Nevertheless, Woolf undoubtedly succeeded in developing her own unique style of writing and thinking.
The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote this novel between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin’s regime. A censored version was published in 1966, but the unabridged version could not be published until many years after the author’s death.
The New York Times described the book as “an extraordinary fusion of wildly disparate elements. It is a concerto played simultaneously on the organ, the bagpipes, and a pennywhistle, while someone sets off fireworks between the players’ feet.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
A classic novel that tells the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who battles the stereotypes of madness in a mental asylum.
Ken Kesey has been called the literary figure who bridged the gap between the Beat movement of the 1950s and the counterculture of the 1960s. His novel was adapted as a screenplay in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson and co-produced by Michael Douglas.
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Buddenbrooks follows the decline of a German merchant family in the 19th century. The way the story unfolds is a great challenge, not for the reader but the author himself. Nonetheless, Thomas Mann proved capable of manipulating the narrative and captivating readers.
Mann was a keen observer of social mechanisms, which is why he was able to portray the transition from genteel Germanic stability to very modern uncertainty better than anyone else.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn takes place around 1840 in the American South. The book was first released in the United Kingdom in December 1884. It was immediately published and read throughout North America and Europe.
Controversies over his views on race have yet to be resolved. Today, however, many believe that Twain was among the early critics of institutionalized racism, whose writings had a significant impact on shaping the literary climate of the 19th century.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
It’s a 1920 classic novel by American author and Pulitzer Prize-winner Edith Wharton. The book was initially serialized in 1920 in four parts. It was later released as a book by D. Appleton & Company.
This book was Wharton’s twelfth novel, in which she depicts desire, betrayal, and criticism of middle/upper-middle-class society during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York. It is worth mentioning that Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye is an iconic, coming-of-age tale partially published in serial form in 1945–1946. Salinger’s uncannily accurate, insightful, and compassionate narrative made him perhaps the most recognizable voice in classic literature.
The Catcher in the Rye is considered one of the best classic books of the twentieth century. Nash K. Burger, the New York Times columnist, called it “an unusually brilliant novel.”
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Les Misérables is a French historical novel first published in 1862.
The book is arguably one of the top ten literary writings of all time, with timeless themes of injustice, heroism, and love. He is widely considered the most remarkable and best-known French writer in history.
Les Miserables has been the subject of numerous adaptations in films, TV shows, and plays. Yet the depth of the relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette does not fully translate from the page to the stage. For that reason alone, reading the book is undoubtedly worth the time.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The 1844 adventure novel by French author Alexandre Dumas (père) is one of his most famous works, along with The Three Musketeers. The plot evolves from the drama of Dantes being imprisoned because of jealousy and envy to his story of determination, escape, and redemption.
Robin Buss’s lively English translation is the closest to the original French version.
Ulysses by James Joyce
It’s a 1922 modernist novel by the most famous Irish writer, James Joyce. His command of the English language is remarkable and evident from the first page to the last. A unique artistic style, a brilliant panorama of the whole life, and numerous classical references make this book literally a stroke of genius.
The works of James Joyce, especially Ulysses, are not light reading. But it is also a life- and mind-changing novel.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Neither Tolstoy nor his books need an introduction. William Faulkner, the eminent American writer, once called this book "the best novel ever written." Fyodor Dostoevsky considered Anna Karenina “flawless.” Tolstoy's portrayal of love, embedded in the Russian cultural context, is still unsurpassed.
The Penguin version, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is still the best English version available.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Today Tropic of Cancer is a well-known and widely read masterpiece, but in the United States, it was banned as obscene for twenty-seven years after its first publication in Paris in 1934. Miller was described as "notorious for his permissive sexuality."
The controversies surrounding this book will probably never end. However, it is an insightful, witty, dark, titillating, optimistic, opinionated, and timeless masterpiece.
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
Women in Love is a 1920 novel and a sequel to Lawrence's earlier novel The Rainbow. The book follows the love affairs of two sisters, Ursula with Rupert and Gudrun with Gerald. Lawrence succeeded in combining philosophical reflections with detailed descriptions of romantic relationships.
In 1969, Larry Kramer and Ken Russell adapted the novel into a film of the same name.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights was published in 1847. It is a wild, passionate story about the intense and turbulent love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. This book is brilliant not only for its dramatic and haunting themes but also for the deep imperfections of all the characters.
Wuthering Heights is a Gothic novel with mysterious or supernatural elements, set in dark and sometimes exotic settings.
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage is a 1915 novel generally believed to be Maugham's autobiography. It is the story of Philip Carey, an orphan who longs for life, love, and adventure. His longing leads him to Paris at the age of eighteen, where he tries his hand at art. The book is a potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and modern man's longing for freedom.
Maugham's masterpiece has been adapted for film three times, most notably in 1934 and 1964, directed by John Cromwell and Ken Hughes, respectively.
Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
Lost Illusions is a serial novel gradually released between 1837 and 1843. Balzac was a prolific writer. He completed over ninety works in his lifetime and left many unfinished. Perhaps better than any other of his novels, this book reveals the nature and scope of his genius.
Lost Illusions is one of Balzac’s most sustained character studies and honest critiques of humanity and high society.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
It's a 1969 crime novel that tells the story of a fictional Mafia family in New York City, headed by Vito Corleone, the Godfather. Puzo’s masterpiece is a turbulent, highly entertaining story that has become part of America’s national culture.
The 1972 film version of the novel was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starred Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone.
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Castle is an unfinished novel by Franz Kafka published in 1926, shortly after his death. The book is the story of K.’s (the novel’s protagonist) relentless, unavailing struggle with an inscrutable authority to gain access to the Castle.
The book has been adapted to screen several times, including a 1997 Austrian film directed by Michael Haneke.
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy's sixth published novel is The Return of the Native. “This is the quality Hardy shares with the great writers… this setting behind the small action the terrific action of unfathomed nature,” wrote D. H. Lawrence about this novel.
In 2010 an Americanized film adaptation of The Return of the Native was directed by Ben Westbrook.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Joyce's first novel, portraying Stephen Dedalus' childhood and adolescence and his quest for identity through art. It was first published in 1916 and immediately established his reputation as a skilled writer with a unique literary style.
This masterpiece of semi-autobiographical fiction remains a must for any study of modern literature.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Brothers Karamazov or The Karamazov Brothers is the last novel of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky sets forth a passionate philosophical debate about God, free will, and morality in this book.
The novel had a significant influence on many great thinkers, including Sigmund Freud. He described it as "the most magnificent novel ever written."
The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cáo Xuěqín
The Dream of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone is one of the four great novels of Chinese literature. The book’s psychological perspective, aesthetically outstanding style, and profound philosophical questions turned it into one of the most groundbreaking classic novels.
This book has numerous translations, yet the five-volume Penguin translation is probably your best bet.
Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
Go Tell It on the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel originally published in 1953. It’s the story of a young boy who discovers the terms of his identity. That was his first novel, yet it received excellent reviews and immediately established a deep and enduring new voice in American literature.
James Baldwin combined his objective and compassionate perspective of Harlem with a magnificent poetic style and narrative skill.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm is a simple, plainly written story about animals rising up to take control of their own destiny, running the farm they work for, and living by a central doctrine of rules. The book is a short and easy-to-read story with valuable lessons about how political and governmental organizations operate.
It is also one of the illuminating semi-historical accounts of Joseph Stalin's communist rule in Soviet Russia.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlemarch is a sympathetically told but cautionary tale about the dangers of impetuosity in young love. It is a complex story of idealism, disillusion, profligacy, and loyalty set in the fictional town of Middlemarch.
The book’s initial reviews were mixed, but it is now seen widely as her best work and one of the great English novels.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha, or Don Quixote, is arguably one of the most celebrated writings in Spanish literature. The book had a significant influence on many great writers, including Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, and Edmond Rostand.
Edith Grossman’s edition is the most popular and probably the most accurate translation into English.
The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
The Emperor’s New Clothes is an allegorical cautionary tale published in 1837. The book is a brutally honest critique of the collective commitment to ignorance of the bare facts. It has been translated into over 100 languages.
Since its first publication, various adaptations of the tale have appeared, including a 2001 British historical drama directed by Alan Taylor.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Originally published in 1897, Bram Stoker's Dracula is a Gothic horror novel. The story is told in epistolary form, as a series of letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles. The book was undoubtedly revolutionary, both in terms of narrative style and perspective. The novel was largely inspired by Irish folk tales and legends.
People Also Ask
Here are the frequently asked questions about the best classic books.
What is the Most Interesting Classic Book?
Finding a book interesting is mostly a matter of subjective interaction. However, these are some of the most popular classic books ever written:
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
- 1984 by George Orwell
Which Classic Should I Read First?
For some reason, books that grow up to be classics seem intimidating to many. The word 'classic' often reminds people of a thick, old book that is only fit to sit on a bookshelf. However, the fact is that these masterpieces achieved “classic status” because they were accessible and comprehensible to casual readers.
That being said, reading classic novels, like anything else, requires gradual improvement. And there's no shame in just starting.
Here are a few suggestions for first experiences:
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
What Books Should Every Person Read?
Everyone should have a reading list of classics. The purpose of these books isn’t limited to enjoyment, although that is a central pillar of the reading experience. The main goal is to broaden our perspective, hear other voices and see the world through the eyes of others.
An infinite number of books can serve this purpose, but here are a few notable examples:
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville