100 Life-Changing Books

This is one of the 313 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

    This novel is a complex narrative about Thomas Sutpen, a poor white man who rises to power in the South, aiming to create a dynasty that would rival the old aristocratic families. However, his ambitions are thwarted by his own flawed decisions and the overarching racial and societal tensions of the era. The story is not told in a linear fashion but rather through a series of interconnected flashbacks and narratives, offering different perspectives on the same events. The book explores themes of family, class, race, and the destructive power of obsession.

    The 51st 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 20th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    This novel follows the story of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantastical world full of peculiar creatures and bizarre experiences. As she navigates through this strange land, she encounters a series of nonsensical events, including a tea party with a Mad Hatter, a pool of tears, and a trial over stolen tarts. The book is renowned for its playful use of language, logic, and its exploration of the boundaries of reality.

    The 22nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

    "All the King's Men" is a political drama that revolves around the rise and fall of a Southern governor, loosely based on Louisiana's Huey Long. The story is narrated by a journalist who becomes the governor's right-hand man, offering an inside perspective on the political machinations, corruption, and personal tragedies that accompany the governor's climb to power. The novel explores themes of power, corruption, and the moral consequences of political ambition.

    The 158th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

    The novel follows the life of a bright and dedicated young man, Martin Arrowsmith, who dreams of making significant contributions to medical science. He faces a constant struggle between his ambition and the demands of his professional and personal life. His journey takes him from a small Midwestern town to the prestigious universities of the East Coast, and eventually to a deadly outbreak in the Caribbean. Throughout his journey, he grapples with the corruption, greed, and mediocrity that he finds pervading the medical field, all while trying to remain true to his scientific ideals.

    The 1299th 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 64th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster

    This book is a collection of lectures on literary criticism and theory, specifically focusing on the novel as a literary form. It discusses various elements of the novel such as story, characters, plot, pattern, and rhythm, and analyzes how these components contribute to the overall structure and meaning of the work. The author also explores the differences between flat and round characters, and the concept of 'prophecy' in fiction. The book serves as a guide for both readers and writers, providing insight into the art of storytelling and the techniques used in crafting a compelling narrative.

    The 1400th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

    "Bastard Out of Carolina" is a poignant coming-of-age story set in South Carolina. The narrative follows the life of a young girl who, despite being born out of wedlock, strives to find her place in a world that continuously subjects her to physical and emotional abuse. The book explores themes of poverty, violence, and resilience in the face of adversity, providing a raw and unflinching look at the protagonist's struggle for acceptance and love.

    The 672nd 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 47th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright

    "Black Boy" is an autobiographical account of a young African-American boy growing up in the South during the early 20th century. The book explores his experiences with extreme poverty, racism, and his struggle to find his place in a society that marginalizes and devalues him. The protagonist's desire for self-expression and understanding leads him to a love of literature and writing, providing him with a means to challenge and critique the oppressive social structures around him.

    The 619th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    This classic novel explores the complex, passionate, and troubled relationship between four brothers and their father in 19th century Russia. The narrative delves into the themes of faith, doubt, morality, and redemption, as each brother grapples with personal dilemmas and family conflicts. The story culminates in a dramatic trial following a murder, which serves as a microcosm of the moral and philosophical struggles faced by each character, and by extension, humanity itself.

    The 30th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

    The Canterbury Tales is a collection of 24 stories that follows a group of pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Told in Middle English, the tales are narrated by a diverse group of pilgrims, including a knight, a miller, a reeve, and a pardoner, who share their stories to pass the time during their journey. The tales, which range from chivalrous romances to bawdy fabliaux, provide a colorful, satirical, and critical portrayal of 14th century English society.

    The 92nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

    The 3rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

    A young girl named Fern saves a runt piglet from being slaughtered and names him Wilbur. When Wilbur grows too large, he is sent to live in her uncle's barn, where he befriends a clever spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur's life is in danger again, Charlotte weaves messages into her web to convince the farmer that Wilbur is too special to kill. The book explores themes of friendship, sacrifice, and the cycle of life.

    The 95th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

    This book is a collection of short stories penned by a renowned 20th-century American author, known for his minimalist and direct style of writing. The stories span a range of themes, including love, war, wilderness, and loss, often drawing from the author's own experiences as a journalist and war correspondent. Each story offers a glimpse into the complexities of human nature and the harsh realities of life, showcasing the author's ability to capture profound emotions and experiences in simple, yet powerful prose.

    The 494th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    Set in the early 20th century, the novel is an epistolary tale of a young African-American woman named Celie, living in the South. She faces constant abuse and hardship, first from her father and then from her husband. The story unfolds through her letters written to God and her sister Nettie, revealing her emotional journey from oppression to self-discovery and independence, aided by her relationships with strong women around her. The narrative explores themes of racism, sexism, domestic violence, and the power of sisterhood and love.

    The 72nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Confessions by Augustine

    "Confessions" is an autobiographical work by a renowned theologian, in which he outlines his sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. It is written in the form of a long, introspective prayer directed to God, exploring the author's spiritual journey and deep philosophical ponderings. The book is renowned for its eloquent and deeply personal exploration of faith, making it a cornerstone of Christian theology and Western literature.

    The 140th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Counterfeiters by André Gide

    "The Counterfeiters" is a complex novel that explores themes of authenticity, morality, and identity, primarily through the lens of a group of friends in Paris. The story revolves around a series of counterfeit coins, which serve as a metaphor for the characters' struggles with their own authenticity and self-perception. The narrative also delves into the lives of the characters, their relationships, personal struggles, and their journey towards self-discovery. The book is noted for its non-linear structure and metafictional elements, with the author himself being a character in the story.

    The 246th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    A young, impoverished former student in Saint Petersburg, Russia, formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker to redistribute her wealth among the needy. However, after carrying out the act, he is consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading to a psychological battle within himself. As he grapples with his actions, he also navigates complex relationships with a variety of characters, including a virtuous prostitute, his sister, and a relentless detective. The narrative explores themes of morality, redemption, and the psychological impacts of crime.

    The 13th 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 42nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Death in the Family by James Agee

    The novel centers around the tragic death of a young father in a car accident, exploring its profound impact on his family. The narrative delves into the grieving process of his wife, children, and extended family in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1915. The story explores themes of love, loss, and the struggle to find meaning in the face of tragic circumstances. It is a poignant examination of the human condition and the inevitable experience of loss.

    The 511th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

    The novel is a reimagining of the Faust legend set in the context of the first half of the 20th century and the turmoil of Germany in that period. It tells the story of a composer who makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited creative genius. The protagonist's life and work reflect the cultural and political journey of Germany leading up to World War II, providing a deep exploration of the individual's role in a society undergoing dramatic change. The novel is also a profound meditation on the nature of time, the art and the artist, and the destructiveness of human ambition.

    The 145th 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 Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

    The book follows the psychedelic adventures of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they traverse the United States in a painted bus, hosting "Acid Test" parties where attendees are given LSD. The narrative is a vivid exploration of the burgeoning counterculture of the 1960s, capturing the spirit of the era through the lens of this eccentric group and their hallucinogenic experiences. It's a seminal work of New Journalism, blending reportage with literary techniques to create a highly subjective, immersive account of the Pranksters' journey.

    The 378th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

    Set during World War I, the novel follows an American ambulance driver in the Italian army and his love affair with a British nurse. The story is a first-person account of the protagonist's experiences in war and his struggle to survive amidst chaos and destruction. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the fragility of life, culminating in a tragic ending that underscores the futile nature of war and the inevitable suffering it brings.

    The 111th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

    This classic novel explores the generational divide and ideological clash in 19th century Russia. The story focuses on the relationship between a liberal father and his nihilistic son, who challenges the traditional values and beliefs of his elders. As they navigate their personal differences, the novel delves into broader themes of progress, love, and societal change, offering a poignant commentary on the tension between old and new ideas in a rapidly changing world.

    The 126th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

    This complex and challenging novel is renowned for its experimental style and intricate, dreamlike narrative. It explores the story of a publican in Dublin, his wife, and their three children, but the plot is not linear and often veers into surreal and abstract territory. The book is dense with linguistic games, puns, and allusions to a myriad of cultural, historical, and mythological sources. The narrative is circular, ending in the middle of a sentence that is completed at the start of the book, embodying the cyclical nature of life and history.

    The 275th 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 73rd 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
  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

    Set during the end of World War II, the novel follows Tyrone Slothrop, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, as he tries to uncover the truth behind a mysterious device, the "Schwarzgerät", that the Germans are using in their V-2 rockets. The narrative is complex and multi-layered, filled with a vast array of characters and subplots, all connected by various themes such as paranoia, technology, and the destructive nature of war. The book is known for its encyclopedic nature and its challenging, postmodernist style.

    The 232nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Complete Works of Plato by Plato

    This comprehensive collection compiles the philosophical works of an influential Classical Greek philosopher. The book includes his dialogues, letters, and philosophical musings, exploring topics such as justice, beauty, truth, mathematics, politics, love, and virtue. The philosopher's ideas, including the theory of forms, the allegory of the cave, and the philosopher king, have had a profound impact on Western thought and continue to be studied and debated in modern philosophical and academic circles.

    The 335th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    A young orphan boy, living with his cruel older sister and her kind blacksmith husband, has an encounter with an escaped convict that changes his life. Later, he becomes the protégé of a wealthy but reclusive woman and falls in love with her adopted daughter. He then learns that an anonymous benefactor has left him a fortune, leading him to believe that his benefactor is the reclusive woman and that she intends for him to marry her adopted daughter. He moves to London to become a gentleman, but his great expectations are ultimately shattered when he learns the true identity of his benefactor and the reality of his love interest.

    The 32nd 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 Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

    The novel explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the U.S. South. Its protagonist is a deaf-mute who becomes the confidant for various troubled souls including a black physician, a bitter labor activist, a lonely young girl, and a struggling café owner. Each pours their heart out to him, but he remains unable to respond, reflecting the deep human need for connection and understanding.

    The 123rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow

    "Henderson The Rain King" is a novel about a wealthy, middle-aged American named Eugene Henderson who, unsatisfied with his life, travels to Africa in search of a deeper meaning. He becomes integrated into a tribe and is mistakenly thought to be the Rain King, a figure of great power and respect. Throughout the novel, Henderson grapples with his own personal growth, the meaning of life, and the clash of different cultures.

    The 595th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

    The book is a personal account of the author's experiences during the Spanish Civil War, specifically his time with the POUM (Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista) militia in Catalonia. He provides an in-depth look at the social revolution that took place, the daily life of a soldier, the political infighting and betrayals among the Republican factions, and his eventual disillusionment with the cause he initially supported. The book is both a war memoir and a detailed analysis of a complex political situation.

    The 328th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    The book follows the story of a kind-hearted and naive protagonist who returns to Russia from a Swiss sanatorium, where he was treated for a severe epileptic condition. Despite his pure intentions, he gets entangled in a web of love, greed, and manipulation, leading to tragic consequences. The novel explores themes of innocence, love, sacrifice, and societal expectations, offering a profound critique of Russian society during the 19th century.

    The 104th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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 33rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Legends of The Fall by Jim Harrison

    "Legends of the Fall" is a collection of three novellas, each exploring themes of love, war, and betrayal against the backdrop of the American wilderness. The titular novella follows the lives of three brothers and their father living in the remote wilderness of Montana in the early 1900s. The three brothers, each vastly different in character, find their bond tested when they all fall in love with the same woman. Their individual and collective decisions lead to a series of tragic events that shape their destiny. The other two novellas also deal with complex relationships and moral dilemmas, set against the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of America.

    The 1725th 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 43rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

    This book is a semi-autobiographical account of the author's experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. It provides a detailed and humorous depiction of life and society along the river, including the author's own journey from an eager young apprentice to a seasoned riverboat pilot. The book also includes a travelogue of a journey down the Mississippi River much later in life, offering a look at the dramatic changes brought about by industrialization and the Civil War.

    The 904th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

    A group of British boys are stranded on an uninhabited island after their plane crashes during wartime. Initially, they attempt to establish order, creating rules and electing a leader. However, as time passes, their civility erodes, and they descend into savagery and chaos. The struggle for power intensifies, leading to violence and death. The novel explores themes of innocence, the inherent evil in mankind, and the thin veneer of civilization.

    The 53rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

    "The Lottery and Other Stories" is a collection of short stories that explore the dark side of human nature, often through the lens of seemingly ordinary people and events. The titular story follows a small town's annual ritual, which ends in a shocking and brutal act of violence. Other stories delve into themes of alienation, prejudice, and the human capacity for cruelty, all while maintaining a veneer of normalcy and routine. The collection is known for its unsettling atmosphere and its ability to reveal the sinister undercurrents of everyday life.

    The 732nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

    "Meditations" is a collection of personal writings by a Roman Emperor, providing deep insights into Stoic philosophy. The book is a series of introspective reflections on how to deal with life's challenges with wisdom, integrity, self-discipline, and benevolent affection for all mankind. It serves as a manual for self-improvement and moral guidance, emphasizing the importance of accepting things outside of one's control and maintaining a tranquil mind amidst adversity.

    The 355th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Metamorphoses by Ovid

    "Metamorphoses" is a classical epic poem that narrates the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical framework. The narrative is filled with stories of transformation, focusing on myths and legends of the Greek and Roman world. The tales, which include the stories of Daedalus and Icarus, King Midas, and Pyramus and Thisbe, among others, are all linked by the common theme of transformation, often as a punishment or reward from the gods.

    The 305th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

    In this classic play, the Duke of Athens is preparing for his marriage when the lives of two young couples become complicated by the meddling of fairies. The fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, are quarreling, causing chaos in both the fairy world and the world of mortals. Puck, a mischievous sprite and servant of Oberon, causes further confusion and comic misadventures by casting spells that lead to mistaken identities and misplaced affections. Eventually, all is resolved, and the play ends with three happily married couples.

    The 581st 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 8th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

    The protagonist, a young stockbroker in New Orleans, is alienated, detached, and finds more reality in movies and books than in his everyday life. He searches for meaning in life, often through his relationships with his aunt and his cousin, while also dealing with existential dread and the impending reality of turning 30. This exploration of alienation and search for identity in the modern world won the National Book Award for Fiction.

    The 204th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Native Son by Richard Wright

    This novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in Chicago's South Side during the 1930s. Bigger's life takes a tragic turn when he accidentally kills a young white woman. The incident leads to his arrest and trial, revealing the deep-seated racial prejudices and injustices prevalent in American society at the time. The narrative explores themes of poverty, systemic racism, fear, and the effects of oppression.

    The 66th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

    The book is a memoir that recounts the author's experiences and observations living in Kenya, then British East Africa, from 1914 to 1931. It is a lyrical meditation on her life amongst the diverse cultures and wildlife of Africa. The author shares her trials and tribulations of running a coffee plantation, her deep respect for the people and land of Africa, and her intimate understanding of the subtle nuances of African culture and society.

    The 289th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

    Set in 1960s Dublin, the novel follows the life of a ten-year-old boy as he navigates through the adventures and trials of childhood. The protagonist's world is one of mischief, discovery, and familial relationships, but as his parents' marriage crumbles, he is forced to deal with adult realities. The narrative is marked by the boy's growing understanding of the world around him, his loss of innocence, and his attempts to keep his family together.

    The 2549th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton

    "Paradise Lost" is an epic poem that explores the biblical story of Adam and Eve's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. It delves into their temptation by Satan, their subsequent expulsion, and the consequences of their disobedience. The narrative also provides a complex portrayal of Satan as a rebellious angel, who, after being cast out of Heaven, seeks revenge by causing mankind's downfall. The poem is a profound exploration of free will, divine justice, and the human struggle with good and evil.

    The 94th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

    This classic novel explores the life of a young, independent American woman who inherits a large amount of money and moves to Europe, where she falls into a manipulative and oppressive marriage. The story delves into themes of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal, as the protagonist navigates the complexities of high society, love, and the consequences of her choices.

    The 60th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    This novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man's intellectual and artistic development in late 19th-century Ireland. The protagonist struggles with issues of identity, faith, and nationality, ultimately rejecting the traditional values of his Catholic upbringing to pursue his own path as an artist. The book is renowned for its innovative narrative style and its exploration of themes such as individuality, freedom, and the nature of art.

    The 68th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Set in early 19th-century England, this classic novel revolves around the lives of the Bennet family, particularly the five unmarried daughters. The narrative explores themes of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage within the society of the landed gentry. It follows the romantic entanglements of Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest daughter, who is intelligent, lively, and quick-witted, and her tumultuous relationship with the proud, wealthy, and seemingly aloof Mr. Darcy. Their story unfolds as they navigate societal expectations, personal misunderstandings, and their own pride and prejudice.

    The 9th Greatest Book of All Time
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

    The 5th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud

    "A Season in Hell" is a deeply introspective work, exploring the author's tumultuous life and struggles through a series of prose poems. The author grapples with his own moral crisis, spiritual torment and the anguish of unrequited love, while also critiquing society and the human condition. This journey through despair and redemption, filled with vivid and surreal imagery, is considered one of the pioneering works of Symbolist literature.

    The 270th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

    "The Snow Leopard" is a travelogue that recounts the author's two-month journey in the Himalayas with naturalist George Schaller. The duo trek through the rugged and remote mountains of Nepal on a quest to study the rare blue sheep and possibly spot the elusive snow leopard. The book is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one, with the author seeking solace and understanding following the death of his wife. The narrative explores themes of grief, nature, and Buddhism, offering a poignant and introspective look at life and loss.

    The 996th Greatest Book of All Time
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

    The novel revolves around a young boy in Illinois who befriends a new classmate, Cletus, whose father has been murdered. The protagonist becomes obsessed with the murder, imagining the events leading up to the tragedy from the perspectives of the involved parties. The novel explores themes of memory, guilt, and the impact of trauma on childhood friendships.

    The 436th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

    The novel is a poignant tale set in the 1920s post-World War I era, focusing on a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris who travel to Pamplona, Spain for the annual Running of the Bulls. The story explores themes of disillusionment, identity, and the Lost Generation, with the protagonist, a war veteran, grappling with impotence caused by a war injury. The narrative is steeped in the disillusionment and existential crisis experienced by many in the aftermath of the war, and the reckless hedonism of the era is portrayed through the characters' aimless wanderings and excessive drinking.

    The 45th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

    "The Tale of Genji" is a classic work of Japanese literature from the 11th century, often considered the world's first novel. The story revolves around the life of Genji, the son of an emperor, exploring his political rise, romantic relationships, and the complex court life of the Heian era. The novel is celebrated for its detailed characterization and its analysis of the different forms of love.

    The 147th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

    "Tales of the South Pacific" is a collection of interconnected stories set during World War II in the Pacific Islands. The book provides a vivid and diverse portrayal of life in the South Pacific during this period, exploring the experiences of the soldiers, nurses, and native inhabitants. The stories delve into themes of love, war, cultural clash, and the human spirit, offering a nuanced and poignant exploration of the complexities of war and its impact on individuals and societies.

    The 1016th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare

    "The Tempest" is a classic play about a sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan who has been stranded on an island for 12 years with his daughter after being betrayed by his brother. Using his magical powers and the help of an airy spirit, he conjures a storm to shipwreck his brother and other enemies on the island. The narrative explores themes of revenge, power, magic, and forgiveness as the sorcerer manipulates events on the island to regain his dukedom and secure a good future for his daughter.

    The 281st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

    This novel follows the life of a young man named Mizoguchi, who becomes an acolyte at a famous Zen temple in Kyoto. Mizoguchi is afflicted with a stutter and a severe inferiority complex, which leads him to develop a destructive obsession with the temple's beauty. As he struggles with his personal demons, his fixation escalates into a desire to destroy the temple. The book is a profound exploration of beauty, obsession, and the destructive nature of ideals.

    The 582nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

    This novel explores the life of Okonkwo, a respected warrior in the Umuofia clan of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria during the late 1800s. Okonkwo's world is disrupted by the arrival of European missionaries and the subsequent clash of cultures. The story examines the effects of colonialism on African societies, the clash between tradition and change, and the struggle between individual and society. Despite his efforts to resist the changes, Okonkwo's life, like his society, falls apart.

    The 50th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

    This classic novel tells the story of Tom Jones, a charming and good-hearted but impulsive young man, who is expelled from his adoptive family home due to his wild behavior and love for the beautiful Sophia Western. His journey through 18th-century England is filled with adventures, misadventures, and a colorful cast of characters, as he struggles with his identity and seeks redemption. The narrative explores themes of class, virtue, and morality, and is known for its humor, social satire, and vivid characterization.

    The 87th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

    This classic adventure novel tells the story of young Jim Hawkins, who stumbles upon a treasure map and embarks on a perilous journey to find the buried treasure. Along the way, he encounters a host of memorable characters, including the cunning and treacherous Long John Silver. The narrative is filled with action, intrigue, and suspense, as Hawkins and his companions face pirates, mutiny, and other dangers in their quest for the hidden treasure.

    The 96th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Ulysses by James Joyce

    Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

    The 2nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau

    This work is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, inspired by the author's two-year experience of living in a cabin near a woodland pond. Filled with philosophical insights, observations on nature, and declarations of independence from societal expectations, the book is a critique of the complexities of modern civilization and a call to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the natural world. It explores themes such as self-reliance, solitude, and the individual's relationship with nature.

    The 69th 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
  • Watt by Samuel Beckett

    The novel is a darkly comedic and absurdist exploration of the human condition. It follows the eponymous character, Watt, as he serves as a domestic servant in a bizarre, isolated household. Throughout the narrative, Watt struggles to make sense of his surroundings, the odd behavior of his master, and his own existence. The book is filled with philosophical musings, wordplay, and surreal humor, offering a unique and challenging reading experience.

    The 1312th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

    This classic novel is a tale of love, revenge and social class set in the Yorkshire moors. It revolves around the intense, complex relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan adopted by Catherine's father. Despite their deep affection for each other, Catherine marries Edgar Linton, a wealthy neighbor, leading Heathcliff to seek revenge on the two families. The story unfolds over two generations, reflecting the consequences of their choices and the destructive power of obsessive love.

    The 10th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

    "The Yearling" is a coming-of-age story set in the late 19th century, in the scrubland of Florida. It follows a young boy who adopts an orphaned baby deer and nurtures it into adulthood. As the deer grows, it begins to cause problems for the boy's family, who are struggling to survive as subsistence farmers. The boy is eventually forced to choose between his love for the deer and his responsibility to his family, leading to a heartbreaking decision that marks his transition into adulthood.

    The 970th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

    This self-help book provides a twelve-week program designed to help readers unlock their creative potential. It presents a comprehensive guide to artistic inspiration and spiritual enlightenment, using various exercises and activities to help individuals overcome self-doubt, fear, and other obstacles to creativity. The book encourages readers to explore their artistic talents and abilities through activities such as morning pages and artist dates, ultimately aiming to foster self-discovery and personal growth.

    The 5707th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Body Rags by Galway Kinnell

    "Body Rags" is a collection of poetry that explores the depth of human experience, from the physicality of everyday life to the metaphysical questions of existence. The author delves into themes of love, death, and the natural world, evoking a sense of profound connection to the universe and the human condition. The poems are marked by their raw emotion, vivid imagery, and a deep understanding of the complexities of life.

    The 3364th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Dark symphony: Negro literature in America by James A. Emanuel (Comp), Theodore L. Gross

    "Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America" is a comprehensive anthology that explores the rich and varied African American literary tradition. Compiled by two renowned scholars, the book features a broad range of works including poetry, essays, short stories, and excerpts from novels, plays, and autobiographies. These works, which span several centuries, reflect the struggles, triumphs, and unique cultural experiences of African Americans throughout history. The anthology serves as an invaluable resource for understanding the depth and diversity of African American literature.

    The 3364th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Death of a Lake by Arthur William Upfield

    In "Death of a Lake", a young woman goes missing in the Australian Outback, causing a detective to suspect foul play when a local lake begins to dry up and reveal disturbing secrets. The detective has to navigate treacherous environmental conditions, local superstitions, and a cast of eccentric characters to solve the mystery. As the water levels continue to drop, the tension rises, culminating in a dramatic climax that reveals the truth about the missing woman and the secrets hidden beneath the lake's surface.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Eight Men: Short Stories by Richard Wright

    "Eight Men: Short Stories" is a collection of tales that explore the lives of African-American men in a racially divided America. Each story delves into the experiences of these men as they navigate through the complexities of their existence, facing racial prejudice, social injustice, and personal dilemmas. The stories are a poignant portrayal of their struggles and resilience, offering a profound commentary on race relations and the human condition.

    The 2812th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Fire on the Moon by Norman Mailer

    "A Fire on the Moon" is a detailed account of the Apollo 11 mission, which resulted in the first man landing on the moon. The book offers an in-depth exploration of the technical aspects of the mission, the astronauts involved, and the political and cultural implications of the historic event. It also delves into the author's personal reflections and philosophical musings on space exploration, technology, and the human condition.

    The 3453rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

    This book is a powerful exploration of race relations in America in the early 1960s. The author presents his experiences and observations in the form of two essays. The first is a letter to his 14-year-old nephew, discussing the role of race in American history. The second essay takes a broader look at the civil rights movement and the author's own experiences with religion and identity. Throughout, the author presents a passionate plea for the recognition of the humanity and dignity of all people, regardless of race.

    The 1177th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

    "Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories" is a collection of narratives that delve into the depths of human nature, exploring themes such as morality, truth, and the complexities of the human psyche. The stories, set in various periods of Japanese history, range from tales of ancient samurai to accounts of disturbing personal experiences, offering a rich and diverse exploration of Japanese culture and society. The title story, "Rashomon," is a psychological examination of a servant's moral dilemma during a time of civil unrest.

    The 971st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Horseman, Pass By: A Novel by Larry McMurtry

    This novel takes place in a small Texas town where a young boy grows up on a ranch with his grandfather and a host of other characters. The story is about the boy's coming of age and his struggle to understand the adult world around him, especially when a devastating disease threatens the cattle on their ranch. The narrative explores themes of morality, love, and the harsh realities of life in a small, close-knit community.

    The 2812th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Kafka's Other Trial by Elias Canetti

    This book is a detailed examination and interpretation of the correspondence between a renowned author and his fiancée, Felice Bauer. The author uses these letters to analyze the writer's psyche, his relationships, and his work. The book provides a unique insight into the author's life and the influence of his engagement on his writing, particularly his novel "The Trial". The author's struggle between his commitment to writing and his relationship with Felice forms the central theme of the book.

    The 1431st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Marriage Of Cadmus And Harmony by Roberto Calasso

    "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony" is a unique exploration of Greek mythology. The narrative follows the journey of Cadmus, a Phoenician prince, and his marriage to Harmony, a goddess. The book delves deep into the complex and rich tapestry of Greek myths, presenting them as a continuous and ever-evolving story. It offers fascinating insights into the gods, heroes, and monsters of ancient Greece, while also drawing connections to modern life and thought.

    The 2658th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene

    "Monsignor Quixote" is a modern take on the classic Don Quixote tale, set in post-Franco Spain. The story follows a village priest who is elevated to the rank of monsignor through a clerical error, and his friend, the town's ex-mayor who is a staunch communist. The unlikely pair embarks on a journey across Spain, engaging in philosophical debates about faith, politics, and life. The journey and their friendship mirror the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, with the narrative exploring the absurdities and contradictions of life, religion, and politics.

    The 4463rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • My Book House by Olive Beaupré Miller

    "My Book House" is a comprehensive collection of literature for children, designed to progress with the reader, starting from nursery rhymes in the first volume to classic literature and poetry in the final volumes. The series, compiled over a span of 50 years, aims to cultivate imagination, foster a love for reading, and encourage moral character in children. It includes stories, poems, and folktales from various cultures around the world, carefully selected and edited to be age-appropriate and engaging.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • My Name Is Aram by William Saroyan

    "My Name Is Aram" is a collection of short stories narrated by a young Armenian boy living in Fresno, California, in the early 20th century. The stories depict the boy's experiences and interactions with his eccentric and often comical relatives and neighbors. The tales are filled with humor, warmth, and wisdom, providing a charming and insightful look into the lives of Armenian immigrants in America during this time period.

    The 990th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Negro Caravan: Writings by American Negroes by Sterling Allen Brown, Arthur Paul Davis, Ulysses Lee

    "The Negro Caravan: Writings by American Negroes" is a comprehensive anthology that compiles the works of African American writers from the 18th century through the mid-20th century. The collection includes a broad range of genres such as essays, poetry, drama, and fiction. It provides a deep and diverse representation of African American literary and cultural history, showcasing the struggles, achievements, and contributions of Black intellectuals and artists throughout the years.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth by Thomas Wolfe

    The novel is a semi-autobiographical work that follows the story of a young writer, Eugene Gant, as he explores his artistic ambitions and philosophical ideas while struggling with his Southern heritage. In his quest for self-discovery, Eugene travels from his home in North Carolina to Harvard University and then to New York City, before embarking on a voyage to Europe. The narrative is a poignant exploration of youth, time, and the relentless flow of life, highlighting the protagonist's internal and external struggles as he grapples with love, loss, and the relentless passage of time.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Open Secrets: Stories by Alice Munro

    "Open Secrets: Stories" is a collection of eight short stories that delve into the complex lives of women, exploring themes of love, loss, and the secrets that bind and divide people. Set in various locations, from small-town Ontario to Australia, the stories feature characters grappling with their pasts, negotiating relationships, and confronting the mysteries of life. The narrative oscillates between past and present, revealing the profound and often unsettling truths hidden beneath the surface of ordinary lives.

    The 5147th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Bone is Pointed: An Inspector Bonaparte Mystery #6 by Arthur William Upfield

    This mystery novel centers around Inspector Bonaparte, who investigates the disappearance of stockman Jack Anderson from a cattle station in the Australian Outback. As he delves into the case, Bonaparte faces a unique challenge: he's been cursed by an Aboriginal wizard. As his health declines, he must solve the mystery before the curse takes its toll. The narrative weaves elements of detective fiction with insights into Aboriginal culture and the harsh realities of life in the Australian Outback.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Poorhouse Fair: A Novel by John Updike

    The novel revolves around the residents of a poorhouse (a government-run facility for the destitute and elderly) in a small town. The narrative primarily focuses on the interactions between the residents and the young, ambitious prefect during an annual fair. The book is a profound exploration of aging, memory, dignity, and the clash between the old and new generations. The fair becomes a battleground where different philosophies of life and attitudes towards progress are debated and tested.

    The 2759th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Prince and the Pauper: A Tale for Young People of All Ages by Mark Twain

    This classic novel tells the story of two young boys in 16th century England who are identical in appearance: a pauper named Tom Canty and Prince Edward, son of King Henry VIII. Through a series of events, they end up switching places, with the prince experiencing the harsh realities of life on the streets and the pauper living in the luxury of the royal court. The tale is a social commentary on the inequality and injustices of the era, while also exploring themes of identity, compassion, and the inherent worth of individuals regardless of their social status.

    The 1042nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Richard Trilogy by Paul Horgan

    "The Richard Trilogy" is a collection of three novels that follow the life of Richard, a young man from New Mexico, from his childhood to adulthood. The trilogy explores the themes of family, love, loss, and personal growth against the backdrop of the American Southwest. The protagonist navigates the challenges of growing up, the complexities of relationships, and the pursuit of his dreams, all while dealing with the societal and cultural changes of his time.

    The 3453rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Times Are Never So Bad: A Novella and Eight Short Stories by Andre Dubus

    "The Times Are Never So Bad: A Novella and Eight Short Stories" is a collection of nine narratives that explore human emotions, relationships, and struggles. The stories are set in different environments, ranging from urban to rural, and feature a variety of characters, including priests, soldiers, and ordinary people, who are all dealing with their own personal battles. The narratives delve into themes such as faith, loss, love, and the harsh realities of life, offering a profound and poignant look at the human condition.

    The 4636th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit by Elias Canetti

    This book is a travelogue that captures the author's experiences and observations during a visit to Marrakesh, Morocco. The author vividly portrays the city's vibrant culture, bustling markets, and unique characters, giving readers a glimpse into the everyday life of Marrakesh. The book also explores deeper themes such as the clash between tradition and modernity, and the power dynamics between the city's various social classes.

    The 3364th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius

    "Lives of the Caesars" is a historical narrative that provides a detailed account of the personal and public lives of the first twelve Roman emperors, from Julius Caesar to Domitian. The author presents a vivid depiction of their character, behavior, appearance, and private lives, as well as their political actions, military exploits, and administrative policies. The book is a valuable source of information about the Roman Empire's early days, offering a unique perspective on the power, corruption, and extravagance of the Roman elite.

    The 1184th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Audubon by Robert Penn Warren

    The book delves into the life and legacy of a pioneering naturalist and painter, capturing his relentless spirit and profound connection to the American wilderness. Through a blend of poetic narrative and historical detail, it explores his tireless efforts to document and preserve the diverse bird species of North America, highlighting both his artistic genius and the personal sacrifices he made in pursuit of his passion. The narrative paints a vivid picture of the challenges and triumphs he faced, offering a poignant reflection on the intersection of nature, art, and human endeavor.

    The 3406th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Left-Handed Woman by Peter Handke

    "The Left-Handed Woman" is a poignant, introspective novel that explores the life of a woman who decides to live alone after her husband leaves on a business trip. She attempts to find her own identity and independence by distancing herself from her usual social circles, including her young son. The novel is a deep dive into her thoughts, feelings, and experiences as she navigates her new life, offering a profound exploration of solitude and self-discovery.

    The 1825th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Stories Of Breece D'j Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake

    This collection of short stories delves into the lives of working-class individuals in rural West Virginia, capturing their struggles, hopes, and the stark realities of their existence. The narratives are imbued with a profound sense of place, reflecting the harsh yet beautiful Appalachian landscape. Through vivid, evocative prose, the stories explore themes of isolation, loss, and the search for meaning in a world marked by economic hardship and personal turmoil. The characters are portrayed with deep empathy and authenticity, making their experiences resonate with universal human emotions.

    The 4636th Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

National Book Award, 100 Books

National Book Award-winning authors got together to select what was, in their opinions, 100 life-changing books.

This list was originally published in 2006 and was added to this site over 9 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 84%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • List: criteria is not just "best/favorite"
  • Voters: are mostly from a single country/location

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