50 Books to (Re-)Read at 50

This is one of the 305 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Bible by Unknown

    The Bible is the central religious text of Christianity, comprising the Old and New Testaments. It features a diverse collection of writings including historical narratives, poetry, prophecies, and teachings. These texts chronicle the relationship between God and humanity, detail the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and follow the early Christian church. Considered divinely inspired by believers, it serves as a foundational guide for faith and practice, influencing countless aspects of culture and society worldwide.

    The 34th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Iliad by Homer

    This epic poem focuses on the final weeks of the Trojan War, a conflict between the city of Troy and the Greek city-states. The story explores themes of war, honor, wrath, and divine intervention, with a particular focus on the Greek hero Achilles, whose anger and refusal to fight have devastating consequences. The narrative also delves into the lives of the gods, their relationships with humans, and their influence on the course of events.

    The 38th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Odyssey by Homer

    This epic poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many obstacles including mythical creatures, divine beings, and natural disasters. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus fend off suitors vying for Penelope's hand in marriage, believing Odysseus to be dead. The story concludes with Odysseus's return, his slaughter of the suitors, and his reunion with his family.

    The 29th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    This classic play revolves around the young Prince of Denmark who is thrown into a state of emotional turmoil after his father's sudden death and his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle. The prince is visited by the ghost of his father who reveals that he was murdered by the uncle, prompting the prince to seek revenge. The narrative explores themes of madness, revenge, and moral corruption as the prince navigates the complex political and emotional landscape of the Danish court.

    The 83rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    This classic novel tells the story of a young scientist who creates a grotesque but sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The scientist, horrified by his creation, abandons it, leading the creature to seek revenge. The novel explores themes of ambition, responsibility, guilt, and the potential consequences of playing God.

    The 30th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

    A young sailor, unjustly accused of treason, is imprisoned without trial in a grim fortress. After a daring escape, he uncovers a hidden treasure and transforms himself into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo. He then sets out to exact revenge on those who wronged him, using his newfound power and influence. Throughout his journey, he grapples with questions about justice, vengeance, and whether ultimate power can ultimately corrupt.

    The 105th Greatest Book of All Time
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

    This novel follows the life of its titular protagonist from his childhood to maturity. Born to a young widow, David endures a difficult childhood when his mother remarries a harsh and abusive man. After his mother's death, he is sent to a boarding school before being forced into child labor. As he grows, David experiences hardship, love, and loss, all the while meeting a colorful array of characters. The novel is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, showcasing the harsh realities of 19th-century England.

    The 45th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

    The novel is a detailed narrative of a vengeful sea captain's obsessive quest to hunt down a giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. The captain's relentless pursuit, despite the warnings and concerns of his crew, leads them on a dangerous journey across the seas. The story is a complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the nature of reality, filled with rich descriptions of whaling and the sea.

    The 9th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

    Set in early 19th-century France, the narrative follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his journey towards redemption. The story touches upon the nature of law and grace, and elaborates upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. It is known for its vivid and relatable characters, and its exploration of societal and moral issues.

    The 46th Greatest Book of All Time
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in the backdrop of the Napoleonic era, the novel presents a panorama of Russian society and its descent into the chaos of war. It follows the interconnected lives of five aristocratic families, their struggles, romances, and personal journeys through the tumultuous period of history. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the meaning of life, as it weaves together historical events with the personal stories of its characters.

    The 16th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

    The novel follows the journey of a young boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. Set in the American South before the Civil War, the story explores themes of friendship, freedom, and the hypocrisy of society. Through various adventures and encounters with a host of colorful characters, Huck grapples with his personal values, often clashing with the societal norms of the time.

    The 24th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

    This classic horror novel tells the story of Count Dracula's attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of people led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. The narrative is composed of journal entries, letters, and telegrams written by the novel's protagonists, providing different perspectives on the gruesome events unfolding. The book touches on themes of sexuality, gender roles, and the clash of modern science with traditional superstition.

    The 85th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

    This novel exposes the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities. The protagonist, a young Lithuanian immigrant, works in the meatpacking industry and experiences the extreme poverty, poor working conditions, and lack of social services. The narrative explores the corruption of the American meatpacking industry in the early 20th century and the hardships faced by the working class, leading to significant public outcry that contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

    The 184th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

    The 2nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

    The narrative unfolds through the eyes of 15 different characters over 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her poor, rural family's quest and motivations—noble or selfish—to honor her wish to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. As the Bundren family undertakes a journey to fulfill Addie's last wish, they face many hardships and personal revelations. The novel explores themes of existentialism, death, and the nature of family relationships.

    The 67th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, this novel follows the life of a young Southern belle, who is known for her beauty and charm. Her life takes a turn when she is forced to make drastic changes to survive the war and its aftermath. The story revolves around her struggle to maintain her family's plantation and her complicated love life, especially her unrequited love for a married man, and her tumultuous relationship with a roguish blockade runner.

    The 47th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    The book follows the Joad family, Oklahoma farmers displaced from their land during the Great Depression. The family, alongside thousands of other "Okies," travel to California in search of work and a better life. Throughout their journey, they face numerous hardships and injustices, yet maintain their humanity through unity and shared sacrifice. The narrative explores themes of man's inhumanity to man, the dignity of wrath, and the power of family and friendship, offering a stark and moving portrayal of the harsh realities of American migrant laborers during the 1930s.

    The 15th Greatest Book of All Time
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

    Set in the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the novel follows the story of an American dynamiter, who is assigned the task of blowing up a bridge during a crucial attack on the city of Segovia. Alongside the war narrative, the story also explores his relationships with various characters, including his love affair with a young Spanish woman. The narrative beautifully encapsulates themes of love, war, death, and the transient nature of life.

    The 79th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

    This book is a real-life account of a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis during World War II, written in diary format. The girl and her family are forced to live in a secret annex in Amsterdam for two years, during which she writes about her experiences, fears, dreams, and the onset of adolescence. The diary provides a poignant and deeply personal insight into the horrors of the Holocaust, making it a powerful testament to the human spirit.

    The 60th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

    The novel presents the story of an innovative architect, who values his individualism and creativity above all else. He refuses to conform to traditional architectural designs, which leads to his struggle against a system that rewards mediocrity and conformity. Despite numerous setbacks and rejections, he remains true to his unique vision and principles. The book explores themes of objectivism, individualism, and capitalism, challenging the reader to consider the value of standing alone against the collective.

    The 473rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

    "Animal Farm" is a satirical fable set on a farm where the animals revolt, overthrow their human farmer, and take over the running of the farm for themselves. The story is an allegory of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, and the tale is told by the animals that inhabit the farm, primarily pigs who become the ruling class. Despite their initial attempts at creating an equal society, corruption and power ultimately lead to a regime as oppressive as the one they overthrew.

    The 74th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

    Set during World War II, this novel delves into the lives of a platoon of American soldiers stationed in the Pacific. The narrative explores the harsh realities of war, the complexities of human nature, and the struggle for survival in an unforgiving environment. The soldiers grapple with their fears, hopes, and the brutalities of war, revealing their innermost thoughts and experiences. The book is a gritty and realistic depiction of the psychological effects of war and the human capacity for resilience.

    The 481st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel presents a society under the total control of a totalitarian regime, led by the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, a low-ranking member of 'the Party', begins to question the regime and falls in love with a woman, an act of rebellion in a world where independent thought, dissent, and love are prohibited. The novel explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and the manipulation of truth.

    The 5th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Natural by Bernard Malamud

    The book tells the story of a baseball prodigy named Roy Hobbs, whose career is almost ended when a mysterious woman shoots him. After years of recovery, he returns to the game as a middle-aged rookie and leads his team to the top of the league. However, his past mistakes and personal flaws lead to his downfall. The novel explores themes of heroism, fate, and the American Dream.

    The 2917th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Night by Elie Wiesel

    This book is a memoir of the author's experiences during the Holocaust, specifically in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. The narrative focuses on the relationship between a father and son under the most extreme circumstances, the loss of faith in God, humanity, and in each other, and the horrifying reality of the systematic genocide of six million Jews during World War II. The book is a poignant and stark examination of the depths of human evil and the enduring power of hope and survival.

    The 638th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

    The 7th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

    This book highlights the stories of eight U.S. Senators who displayed immense courage and integrity in the face of pressure from their parties and constituents. The author examines their acts of bravery and principle, often leading to severe consequences in their personal and political lives. The book aims to inspire readers with historical examples of political courage, emphasizing the importance of individual action for the collective good.

    The 1320th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

    Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Russian Revolution, the book follows the life of a physician and poet, Yuri Zhivago, as he navigates the political and social upheaval of the early 20th century. Torn between his love for two women, his wife Tonya and his passionate mistress Lara, Zhivago's personal struggles mirror the larger societal changes occurring around him. The novel explores themes of love, war, and the human spirit, offering a poignant and complex portrait of life during a time of revolutionary change.

    The 130th Greatest Book of All Time
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Set in the racially charged South during the Depression, the novel follows a young girl and her older brother as they navigate their small town's societal norms and prejudices. Their father, a lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, forcing the children to confront the harsh realities of racism and injustice. The story explores themes of morality, innocence, and the loss of innocence through the eyes of the young protagonists.

    The 8th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

    This classic children's book follows the story of a persistent character who tries to convince his friend to try green eggs and ham. Despite the friend's repeated refusals, the character remains determined, suggesting various locations and companions to try the unusual dish with. In the end, the friend finally agrees to try the green eggs and ham, and to his surprise, he finds that he actually enjoys them. The story is a fun and engaging lesson about trying new things.

    The 2358th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

    The book is a satirical critique of military bureaucracy and the illogical nature of war, set during World War II. The story follows a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier stationed in Italy, who is trying to maintain his sanity while fulfilling his service requirements so that he can go home. The novel explores the absurdity of war and military life through the experiences of the protagonist, who discovers that a bureaucratic rule, the "Catch-22", makes it impossible for him to escape his dangerous situation. The more he tries to avoid his military assignments, the deeper he gets sucked into the irrational world of military rule.

    The 18th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

    The book is a semi-autobiographical novel set in 1930s Paris and describes the protagonist's life as a struggling writer. The narrative is filled with vivid descriptions of the city, sexual encounters, and philosophical musings, all penned in a stream-of-consciousness style. The protagonist's experiences living in poverty, his relationships with other expatriates, and his pursuit of artistic freedom are central to the story. Despite the explicit content, the novel is noted for its candid exploration of the human condition and the author's quest for personal and creative authenticity.

    The 228th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Making of the President, 1960 by Theodore White

    The book provides a detailed account of the 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It delves into the strategies, tactics, and machinations of both the Democratic and Republican campaigns, offering a behind-the-scenes look at American politics. The author's thorough research and insightful analysis have made this book a classic in political journalism.

    The 3298th Greatest Book of All Time
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

    Set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon, the novel is narrated by a half-Native American patient known as Chief Bromden, who pretends to be deaf and mute. The story follows the arrival of a new patient, a boisterous, rebellious man who challenges the oppressive and dehumanizing system of the hospital, particularly the tyrannical Nurse Ratched. The book explores themes of individuality, rebellion, and the misuse of power, ultimately leading to a tragic conclusion.

    The 98th Greatest Book of All Time
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

    This true crime novel tells the story of the brutal 1959 murder of a wealthy farmer, his wife and two of their children in Holcomb, Kansas. The narrative follows the investigation led by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that ultimately leads to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers. The book explores the circumstances surrounding this horrific crime and the effects it had on the community and the people involved.

    The 76th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    The novel follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran who has become "unstuck in time," experiencing his life events out of order. This includes his experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allies' firebombing, his post-war life as a successful optometrist, his abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, and his eventual death. The book is a critique of war and a demonstration of the destructive nature of time, with a nonlinear narrative that reflects the chaos and unpredictability of life.

    The 54th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

    This book is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the adventures of a journalist and his attorney as they embark on a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas. The narrative is a wild and hallucinatory exploration of the American Dream, filled with biting social commentary and outrageous antics. The protagonist's quest for the American Dream quickly devolves into an exploration of the darker side of human nature, highlighting the excesses and depravities of 1960s American society.

    The 171st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Burr by Gore Vidal

    "Burr" is a historical novel that reexamines the life and times of Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the United States, who is most famous for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The narrative is presented in the form of a fictional memoir written by Burr's private secretary, which provides a counterpoint to the traditional portrayal of Burr as a villain. The book explores Burr's political career, his relationships, and his role in the founding of the United States, with a focus on his controversial actions and the complex dynamics of the early American republic.

    The 1738th Greatest Book of All Time
  • All the President's Men by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein

    "All the President's Men" is a non-fiction book that details the investigative journalism conducted by two reporters who uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation. The book provides a detailed account of the reporters' struggles to uncover the truth, the obstacles they faced, their persistence, and the ultimate revelation of a political scandal that shook the United States.

    The 621st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

    The book is a philosophical novel that explores the protagonist's journey across the United States on a motorcycle with his son, during which he delves into questions about life, philosophy, and the nature of "Quality". The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to the protagonist's life before the journey, including his time as a university professor and his struggle with mental illness. The book aims to reconcile the dichotomy between classical and romantic understandings of the world, ultimately arguing for a holistic approach that integrates both perspectives.

    The 370th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

    Set in the early 20th century, this novel intertwines the lives of fictional characters with real historical figures, creating a vivid portrayal of America's past. The narrative follows the lives of an upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York, an African-American musician from Harlem, and a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, while also featuring historical figures like Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. The novel explores themes of wealth, race, and class, against a backdrop of significant historical events, such as the onset of World War I and the rise of the labor movement.

    The 343rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra

    The book explores the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism. It draws connections between quantum mechanics, relativity theory and concepts in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen. The author argues that the two seemingly disparate areas of study - physics and mysticism - both seek to understand the fundamental nature of the universe and that they do so in strikingly similar ways. The book challenges conventional thinking and encourages readers to see the world from a more holistic, interconnected perspective.

    The 2462nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Roots by Alex Haley

    This groundbreaking historical novel follows several generations of an African American family, beginning with Kunta Kinte, a man captured in Gambia in the 18th century and sold into slavery in the United States. Through Kinte and his descendants, the narrative explores the brutal realities of slavery and its aftermath, the struggle for freedom and civil rights, and the perseverance of a family through immense hardship. The story is based on the author's own family history, making it a significant work in the exploration of African American heritage and identity.

    The 539th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

    This novel tells the story of a former African-American slave woman who, after escaping to Ohio, is haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter. The protagonist is forced to confront her repressed memories and the horrific realities of her past, including the desperate act she committed to protect her children from a life of slavery. The narrative is a poignant exploration of the physical, emotional, and psychological scars inflicted by the institution of slavery, and the struggle for identity and self-acceptance in its aftermath.

    The 26th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

    The novel follows two Indian actors who miraculously survive a plane explosion, and as a result, find themselves embodying good and evil. As they navigate their new identities, the story also delves into the life of a prophet and his creation of a new religion in a city of sand. The narrative is a blend of fantasy and reality, exploring themes of identity, religion, and the immigrant experience, while also providing a controversial interpretation of Islamic faith and the life of Prophet Muhammad.

    The 524th Greatest Book of All Time
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth

    This novel tells the story of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish-American businessman and former high school athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, a budding writer who idolizes the Levovs. The novel portrays the impact of this turmoil on Levov and his family, particularly his rebellious daughter who becomes involved in revolutionary political activities.

    The 249th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

    The novel revolves around the lives of the Lambert family, an old-fashioned midwestern couple and their three adult children. The parents, Alfred and Enid, are dealing with Alfred's Parkinson's disease and their own marital problems, while their children are each facing their own personal and professional crises. The narrative explores the themes of family dynamics, societal expectations, and the struggles of modern life. The story climaxes with the family's last Christmas together at their childhood home.

    The 224th Greatest Book of All Time
  • John Adams by David McCullough

    This biography delves into the life of John Adams, the second president of the United States. The book tells the story of Adams' journey from his childhood in Massachusetts, his education at Harvard, his marriage to Abigail, his role in the Continental Congress, his diplomatic duties in Europe, his presidency, and his retirement. It also explores his complex relationships with contemporaries like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The author uses correspondence and diaries to provide an in-depth look at Adams' personal and political life, highlighting his integrity, patriotism, and political foresight.

    The 8461st Greatest Book of All Time
  • What Is the What by Dave Eggers

    The novel is a fictionalized account of a real-life Sudanese refugee, Valentino Achak Deng, who was forced to flee from his village during the Second Sudanese Civil War. The story follows his harrowing journey as a child through Ethiopia and Kenya, his life in various refugee camps, and his eventual resettlement in the United States. The book explores themes of survival, identity, and the power of storytelling, while shedding light on the tragic history and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

    The 1923rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    The book is a powerful memoir of a woman who was born into a traditional Muslim family in Somalia. She recounts her experiences of growing up in a strict Islamic culture, female genital mutilation, civil war, fleeing to the Netherlands as a refugee, and her eventual rejection of her faith after witnessing its violent and oppressive nature. The book also follows her journey into politics and advocacy for women's rights and her efforts to reform Islam. It's a tale of courage, resilience, and the quest for freedom and truth.

    The 5750th Greatest Book of All Time
  • My Life in France by Julia Child

    The memoir chronicles the life of a renowned American chef who, along with her husband, moved to France after World War II. The book details her experiences learning the French language, exploring the markets, and attending the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. It also captures the process of writing her first cookbook, which introduced French cuisine to American households. The book is a testament to her love for French cuisine and her determination to master it.

    The 9103rd Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

nextavenue, 51 Books

Your essential short list of novels, nonfiction and biographies

Got some time on your hands? This list of 50 great books is a good way to raise your literary IQ. It's by no means the "definitive" list, but each of these masterpieces is at least as relevant and powerful today as when it was written. And they're all still terrific reads.

Added almost 10 years ago.

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