The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics by Book

Editor W. John Campbell provides explanations and summaries for 100 of the world's best books.

  1. The Iliad by Homer

    Image of The Iliad

    The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set in the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and e...


  2. The Odyssey by Homer

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    The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work traditionally ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the m...


  3. Antigone by Sophocles

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    Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written before or in 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first.[1] The play expands on the Theban legend that preda...


  4. Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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    Oedipus the King is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BC. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chron...


  5. Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

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    Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles. It was written shortly before Sophocles' death in 406 BC and produced by his grandson (also called Sophocles...


  6. Crito by Plato

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    Crito (/ˈkraɪtoʊ/ KRY-toh or /ˈkriːtoʊ/ KREE-toh; Ancient Greek: Κρίτων [krítɔːn]) is a dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It is a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend...

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  7. Apology by Plato

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    The Apology is Plato's version of the speech given by Socrates as he defended himself in 399 BC against the charges of "corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city belie...


  8. Phaedo by Plato

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    Plato's Phaedo (/ˈfiːdoʊ/; Greek: Φαίδων, Phaidōn, Greek pronunciation: [pʰaídɔːn]), also known to ancient readers as Plato's On The Soul, is one of the great dialogues of his middle period, along ...

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  9. Euthyphro by Plato

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    Euthyphro (/ˈjuːθɪfroʊ/; Ancient Greek: Εὐθύφρων, Euthuphrōn) is one of Plato's early dialogues, dated to after 399 BC. Taking place during the weeks leading up to Socrates' trial, the dialogue fea...

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  10. The Republic by Plato

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    The Republic is a Socratic dialogue by Plato, written c. 380 B.C.E.. It is one of the most influential works of philosophy and political theory, and Plato's best known work. In Plato's fictional di...


  11. The Aeneid by Virgil

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    The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem written by Virgil in the late 1st century BC (29–19 BC) that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the...


  12. Beowulf by Unknown

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    Beowulf is an Old English heroic epic poem of unknown authorship, dating as recorded in the Nowell Codex manuscript from between the 8th and the early 11th century, set in Denmark and Sweden. Commo...


  13. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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    With their astonishing diversity of tone and subject matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. Translated here into modern English, these tales of a mo...


  14. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

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    Belonging in the immortal company of the great works of literature, Dante Alighieri's poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through the ...


  15. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

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    Il Principe (The Prince) is a political treatise by the Florentine public servant and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. Originally called De Principatibus (About Principalities), it was origi...


  16. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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    The Tragedy of Macbeth, commonly just Macbeth, is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometim...


  17. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

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    The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1592.

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  18. Richard III by William Shakespeare

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    Final play in Shakespeare’s masterly dramatization of the struggle for power between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Richard is a stunning archvillain who schemes, seduces, betrays and murders hi...

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  19. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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    A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy written by William Shakespeare between 1590 and 1596. It is one of his most played pieces. The events of the play take place in and around Athens in ancient Gr...

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  20. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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    This lyrical tragedy of two star-crossed lovers and their feuding families is one of the world's most famous love stories.

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  21. Henry IV, Part I by William Shakespeare

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    William Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part I is one the playwright's classic historical English dramas. The narrative revolves around the rebellion against King Henry IV led by the Welshman Glendowe...

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  22. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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    The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shake...

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  23. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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    Based on Plutarch's account of the lives of Brutus, Julius Caesar, and Mark Antony, Julius Caesar was the first of Shakespeare's Roman history plays. Presented for the first time in 1599, the play ...

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  24. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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    The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in Denmark, recounts how Pri...


  25. Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will by William Shakespeare

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    Twelfth Night; or, What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601–02 as a Twelfth Night's entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The play ...

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  26. Othello by William Shakespeare

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    Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" ("A Moorish Captain") b...


  27. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

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    The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play by Christopher Marlowe, based on the German story Faust, in which a man sells ...

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  28. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

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    Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman in his fifties, lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes th...


  29. King Lear by William Shakespeare

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    King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1603 and 1606. It is considered one of his greatest works. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a...


  30. The Tempest by William Shakespeare

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    The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, estimated to have been written in 1610–11, (although some researchers have argued for an earlier dating). The play's protagonist is the banished sorcer...


  31. As You Like it by William Shakespeare

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    As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the First Folio, 1623. The play's first performance is uncertai...

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  32. Paradise Lost by John Milton

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    Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books. A second edition followed in 1674, redivided into twelve...


  33. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

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    From the preeminent prose satirist in the English language, a great classic recounting the four remarkable journeys of ship's surgeon Lemuel Gulliver. For children it remains an enchanting fantasy;...


  34. Candide by Voltaire

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    Candide, ou l'Optimisme is a French satire written in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. Candide is characterized by its sarcastic tone and its erratic, fantastical, an...


  35. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust is a tragic play, although more appropriately it should be defined a tragicomedy, despite the very title of the work. It was published in two parts: Faust. Der Tr...


  36. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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    The book is narrated in free indirect speech following the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with matters of upbringing, marriage, moral rightness and education in her aristocratic socie...


  37. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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    At this challenge, Mary Shelley began work on the 'ghost story' that was to evolve into the most celebrated horror novel in literary history. Frankenstein was published the next year and become the...


  38. The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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    At the heart of Charles Dickens's second novel, first published in 1838, is a story as much about crime and poverty as it is about justice and charity. Orphaned at birth, Oliver Twist grows up unde...

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  39. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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    Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character, a small, plain-faced, intelligent and honest English orphan. The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane's childhood at Gateshead...


  40. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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    Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbors she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter, Pearl, is the product ...


  41. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

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    The story of the abandoned waif who learns to survive through challenging encounters with distress and misfortune.


  42. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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    First published in 1851, Melville's masterpiece is, in Elizabeth Hardwick's words, "the greatest novel in American literature." The saga of Captain Ahab and his monomaniacal pursuit of the white wh...


  43. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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    The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic novel written beginning in mid-1850 by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne and published in April 1851 by Ticknor and Fields of Boston. The novel follows a...


  44. Hard Times by Charles Dickens

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    The world of Hard Times For These Times revolves around a small industrial town firmly in the grip of one businessman. Bounderby is owner of the local mill and Gradgrind, his employee, is the schoo...

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  45. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

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    Walden (first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods) is an American book written by noted transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings.


  46. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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    For daring to peer into the heart of an adulteress and enumerate its contents with profound dispassion, the author of Madame Bovary was tried for "offenses against morality and religion." What shoc...


  47. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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    Great Expectations is written in the genre of "bildungsroman" or the style of book that follows the story of a man or woman in their quest for maturity, usually starting from childhood and ending i...


  48. Silas Marner by George Eliot

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    Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is the third novel by George Eliot, published in 1861. An outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated tre...


  49. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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    It is a murder story, told from a murder;s point of view, that implicates even the most innocent reader in its enormities. It is a cat-and-mouse game between a tormented young killer and a cheerful...


  50. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

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    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. The story is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal,...


  51. Daisy Miller by Henry James

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    Daisy Miller is a novella by Henry James that first appeared in Cornhill Magazine in June–July 1878, and in book form the following year. It portrays the courtship of the beautiful American girl Da...

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  52. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

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    The Return of the Native is Thomas Hardy's sixth published novel. It first appeared in the magazine Belgravia, a publication known for its sensationalism, and was presented in twelve monthly instal...


  53. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

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    A Doll's House is an 1879 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Written one year after The Pillars of Society, the play was the first of Ibsen's to create a sensation and is now perhaps his mo...


  54. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

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    Traditionally considered a coming-of-age story, it is an adventure tale known for its superb atmosphere, character and action, and also a wry commentary on the ambiguity of morality—as seen in Long...


  55. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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    Revered by all of the town's children and dreaded by all of its mothers, Huckleberry Finn is indisputably the most appealing child-hero in American literature. Unlike the tall-tale, idyllic worl...


  56. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

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    Thomas Hardy's first masterpiece, The Mayor of Casterbridge opens with a scene of such heartlessness and cruelty that it still shocks readers today. A poor workman named Michael Henchard, in a fit ...

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  57. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

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    Violated by one man, forsaken by another, Tess Durbeyfield is the magnificent and spirited heroine of Thomas Hardy’s immortal work. Of all the great English novelists, no one writes more eloquently...

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  58. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

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    The Red Badge of Courage is an 1895 war novel by American author Stephen Crane. It is considered one of the most influential works in American literature. The novel, a depiction on the cruelty of t...


  59. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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    The story details an incident when Marlow, an Englishman, took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. Although Conrad does not specify the name of th...


  60. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

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    First published in 1899, this novel shocked readers with its open sensuality and uninhibited treatment of marital infidelity. Poignant and lyrical, it tells the story of a New Orleans wife who atte...


  61. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

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    Conrad's great novel of guilt and redemption follows the first mate on board the Patna, a raw youth with dreams of heroism who, in an act of cowardice, abandons his ship. His unbearable guilt and i...


  62. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

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    The plot concerns a previously domesticated and even somewhat pampered dog named Buck, whose primordial instincts return after a series of events finds him serving as a sled dog in the treacherous...


  63. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

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    1906 best-seller shockingly reveals intolerable labor practices and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards as it tells the brutally grim story of a Slavic family that emigrates to ...


  64. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

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    Tragic story of wasted lives, set against a bleak New England background. A poverty-stricken New England farmer, his ailing wife and a youthful housekeeper are drawn relentlessly into a deep-rooted...


  65. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

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    Sons and Lovers is one of the landmark novels of the twentieth century. When it appeared in 1913, it was immediately recognized as the first great modern restatement of the oedipal drama, and it is...


  66. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

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    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical novel by James Joyce, first serialized in The Egoist from 1914 to 1915 and published in book form in 1916. It depicts the formativ...


  67. Billy Budd by Herman Melville

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    Billy Budd, Sailor is a novella by American writer Herman Melville, first published posthumously in London in 1924. Melville began writing the work in November 1888, but left it unfinished at his d...


  68. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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    The novel chronicles an era that Fitzgerald himself dubbed the "Jazz Age". Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the "roar...


  69. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

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    The novel explores the lives and values of the so-called "Lost Generation," chronicling the experiences of Jake Barnes and several acquaintances on their pilgrimage to Pamplona for the annual San F...


  70. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

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    Steppenwolf (orig. German Der Steppenwolf) is the tenth novel by German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse. Originally published in Germany in 1927, it was first translated into English in 1929. Combining ...


  71. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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    The novel is told through the point of view of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I.


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

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    All Quiet on the Western Front (German: Im Westen nichts Neues) is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book describes the German soldiers' extreme physical and men...


  73. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

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    The Sound and the Fury is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. The novel centers on the Compson family, former Southern aristocrats who are struggling to deal with the dissolution of their fa...


  74. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

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    The book is told in stream of consciousness writing style by 15 different narrators in 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family's quest—noble or selfish—to honor he...


  75. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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    Set in the London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embod...


  76. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

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    The moving story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan, in which the author presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social u...


  77. Light in August by William Faulkner

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    Lght in August is an exploration of racial conflict in the society of the Southern United States.


  78. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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    The main character, an African American woman in her early forties named Janie Crawford, tells the story of her life and journey via an extended flashback to her best friend, Pheoby, so that Pheoby...


  79. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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    Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. Based on Steinbeck's own experiences a...


  80. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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    Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on a poor family of sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. In a ...


  81. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

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    It tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to a communist guerilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. As an expert in the use of explosives, he is ...


  82. Native Son by Richard Wright

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    The novel tells the story of 20-year old Bigger Thomas, an African American living in utter poverty. Bigger lived in Chicago's South Side ghetto in the 1930s. Bigger was always getting into troubl...


  83. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

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    No play in the modern theatre has so captured the imagination and heart of the American public as Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. Menagerie was Williams's first popular success and launch...

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  84. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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    The Diary of a Young Girl is a book based on the writings from a diary written by Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The...


  85. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

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    All the King's Men portrays the dramatic political ascent and governorship of Willie Stark, a driven, cynical populist in the American South during the 1930s.


  86. The Stranger by Albert Camus

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    Since it was first published in English, in 1946, Albert Camus's extraordinary first novel, The Stranger (L'Etranger), has had a profound impact on millions of American readers. Through this story ...


  87. Animal Farm by George Orwell

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    Animal Farm is a dystopian novella by George Orwell. Published in England on 17 August 1945, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II. Orwell, a democrat...


  88. The Plague by Albert Camus

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    A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century liter...


  89. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

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    “There it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon.” One of Steinbeck’s most taught works, The Pearl is the story of the Mexican diver Kino, whose discovery of a magnificent pearl from the Gulf be...

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  90. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

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    The story follows the life of one seemingly insignificant man, Winston Smith, a civil servant assigned the task of perpetuating the regime's propaganda by falsifying records and political literatur...


  91. Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller

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    Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadw...

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  92. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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    The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordea...


  93. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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    The novel addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans in the early twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marx...


  94. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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    A haunting examination of groupthink and mass hysteria in a rural community "I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in hum...

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  95. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

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    Waiting for Godot (pronounced /ˈɡɒdoʊ/) is a play by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for someone named Godot. Godot's absence, as well as numerous other aspects...


  96. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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    Lord of the Flies discusses how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves, but with disastrous results....


  97. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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    The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by philologist and Oxford University professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children'...


  98. A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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    It would be inconceivable for an American author to write a coming-of-age novel in a comedic vein without reckoning with J.D. Salinger's A Catcher in the Rye; and it would be equally impossible to ...


  99. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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    Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cite...


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

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    Narrated by the gigantic but docile half-Indian "Chief" Bromden, who has pretended to be a deaf-mute for several years, the story focuses on the antics of the rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy, a ...


  101. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

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    House Made of Dawn is a novel by N. Scott Momaday, widely credited as leading the way for the breakthrough of Native American literature into the mainstream. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for F...


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

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    Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “po...

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  103. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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    Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond h...

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  104. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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    Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on female black life during the 1930s in the Southern United States, addressing the numerous issues including their exceedingly low position ...


  105. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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    The Joy Luck Club (1989) is a best-selling novel written by Amy Tan. It focuses on the game and four Chinese American immigrant families who start a club known as "the Joy Luck Club," playing the C...