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This is one of the 210 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The 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.

  • 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 Art of War by Sun Zi

    This ancient Chinese military treatise, written by a renowned general and military strategist, is a comprehensive guide on military strategy and tactics. It covers various aspects of warfare, from planning and preparation to execution and aftermath. The work emphasizes the importance of understanding one's enemy, using deception, and adapting to changing circumstances. It also stresses the importance of terrain, morale, and leadership. Despite its military focus, its principles have been applied to business, politics, and other fields, making it a timeless classic on strategy.

  • 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.

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    This novel unfolds in a dystopian United States where society's most productive citizens, including inventors, scientists and industrialists, refuse to be exploited by increasing social and economic demands. As a response, they withdraw their talents, leading to the collapse of the economy. The story presents the author's philosophy of objectivism, which values reason, individualism, and capitalism, and rejects collectivism and altruism. The narrative primarily follows Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and John Galt, a philosophical leader and inventor, as they navigate this societal breakdown.

  • The Bible by Christian Church

    This religious text is a compilation of 66 books divided into the Old and New Testaments, forming the central narrative for Christianity. It encompasses a variety of genres, including historical accounts, poetry, prophecy, and teaching, telling the story of God's relationship with humanity, from creation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the early Christian church. It is considered by believers to be divinely inspired and serves as a guide for faith and practice.

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel explores a society where human beings are genetically bred and pharmaceutically conditioned to serve in a ruling order. The society is divided into five castes, each with its specific roles. The narrative follows a savage who rejects the norms of this new world order and struggles to navigate the clash between the values of his upbringing and the reality of this technologically advanced, emotionless society. His resistance prompts a deep examination of the nature of freedom, individuality, and happiness.

  • 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.

  • Candide by Voltaire

    "Candide" is a satirical novel that follows the adventures of a young man, Candide, who is living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism by his mentor. When he is expelled from the paradise for kissing a baron's daughter, he embarks on a journey around the world, witnessing the horrors of war, natural disasters, and human cruelty. Throughout his journey, Candide maintains his optimistic philosophy, despite the constant hardships he faces, ultimately concluding that one must cultivate their own garden, a metaphor for taking control of one's own destiny.

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

    "A Canticle for Leibowitz" is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that explores the cyclical nature of history through the lens of a Catholic monastery in the American Southwest. After a devastating nuclear war, the monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz work to preserve the remnants of mankind's scientific knowledge until the world is again ready for it. Over the course of centuries, civilization rises and falls, wars are fought, and scientific advancements are rediscovered and then lost again. The novel is a poignant commentary on the potential for humanity to repeat its mistakes.

  • 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 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 City in History by Lewis Mumford

    "The City in History" explores the development of urban life over the course of history. The author provides a comprehensive evaluation of cities from ancient times to the modern era, examining their architectural, social, political, economic, and cultural aspects. The book also offers a critique of the urbanization process, highlighting its negative impact on human life and the environment, while advocating for a human-centered approach to urban planning.

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

    This novel follows the life of a violent young man named Alex, who is part of a youth subculture in a dystopian future England. Alex and his gang engage in a nightmarish spree of rape, assault, and robbery, until he is arrested and subjected to a psychological experiment by the government to "cure" him of his violent tendencies. The novel explores themes of free will, morality, and the nature of evil, while using a unique slang language invented by the author.

  • 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.

  • Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

    This influential political pamphlet advocates for the abolition of private property, the rights of the proletariat, and the eventual establishment of a classless society. The authors argue that all of history is a record of class struggle, culminating in the conflict between the bourgeoisie, who control the means of production, and the proletariat, who provide the labor. They predict that this struggle will result in a revolution, leading to a society where property and wealth are communally controlled.

  • First Folio by William Shakespeare

    This collection is a compilation of 36 plays by a renowned English playwright, published seven years after his death. It includes comedies, histories, and tragedies, some of which had never been published before. Notable works in the compilation include "Macbeth," "Julius Caesar," "Twelfth Night," "The Tempest," and "As You Like It." The collection is considered one of the most influential books ever published in the English language, as it preserved many of the playwright's works that might have otherwise been lost.

  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

    The novel is a comedic satire set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, centered around Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy, eccentric, highly educated, and socially inept man who still lives with his mother. Ignatius spends his time writing a lengthy philosophical work while working various jobs and avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. The story follows his misadventures and interactions with a colorful cast of characters in the city, including his long-suffering mother, a flamboyant nightclub owner, a beleaguered factory worker, and a frustrated hot dog vendor.

  • 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.

  • 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 Crucible by Arthur Miller

    Set during the Salem Witch Trials in the late 17th century, this play explores the hysteria, deceit, and religious extremism that plague a small Puritan village in Massachusetts. The protagonist, a flawed but essentially good man, is caught in a web of accusations when young girls in the town start displaying strange behavior and accusing others of witchcraft. The ensuing trials reveal not only the dangers of mass hysteria and false accusations, but also the destructive power of societal pressures and the human capacity for both cruelty and heroism.

  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

    "Cry, the Beloved Country" is a novel about a black Anglican priest from South Africa's rural Natal region who embarks on a journey to Johannesburg in search of his sister and son. The priest grapples with the racial injustice and social inequality of apartheid-era South Africa, while his son becomes involved in political activism and is wrongfully accused of a crime. The novel explores themes of love, fear, and social justice, while highlighting the destructive effects of apartheid on the human spirit and the South African landscape.

  • The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav

    "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" is a book that explores the concepts of quantum physics and relativity in an accessible way for non-scientists. The author uses metaphors and analogies, drawing on Eastern philosophies and spiritual concepts to explain complex scientific theories. The book delves into topics such as the nature of reality, the relationship between observer and observed, and the interconnectedness of all things, aiming to bridge the gap between science and spirituality.

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

    In this epic poem, the protagonist embarks on an extraordinary journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil and his beloved Beatrice, he encounters various historical and mythological figures in each realm, witnessing the eternal consequences of earthly sins and virtues. The journey serves as an allegory for the soul's progression towards God, offering profound insights into the nature of good and evil, free will, and divine justice.

  • 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.

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

    This classic novel follows the adventures of a man who, driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant and roam the world righting wrongs under the name Don Quixote. Accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, he battles windmills he believes to be giants and champions the virtuous lady Dulcinea, who is in reality a simple peasant girl. The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity.

  • The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

    This book is a personal account of the race to discover the structure of DNA, told from the perspective of one of the co-discoverers. It provides an insider's view of scientific research, the collaboration and competition, the dedication, the doubt, the exhilaration of discovery, and the often fraught relationship between science and the rest of life. The book also explores the personalities, quirks, and conflicts of the scientists involved in the groundbreaking discovery.

  • Dune by Frank Herbert

    Set in a distant future, the novel follows Paul Atreides, whose family assumes control of the desert planet Arrakis. As the only producer of a highly valuable resource, jurisdiction over Arrakis is contested among competing noble families. After Paul and his family are betrayed, the story explores themes of politics, religion, and man’s relationship to nature, as Paul leads a rebellion to restore his family's reign.

  • The Elements of Style by E. B. White, William Strunk Jr.

    This book is a definitive guide and classic manual on the principles of English language read by millions of readers. The 18 main topics are organized under headings such as Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style. The book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers, making it a beloved resource for those who want to write clear, correct and effective prose.

  • Entropy by Jeremy Rifkin, Ted Howard

    "Entropy" is a thought-provoking exploration of the second law of thermodynamics, also known as entropy, and its implications for society, economy, and the environment. The authors argue that our current economic systems and society are unsustainable due to the continuous consumption of energy, leading to increased disorder and waste. They propose a radical shift towards a more sustainable and equitable society, emphasizing the need for renewable energy sources, recycling, and energy conservation. The book serves as a compelling call to action for a more sustainable future.

  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

    Set in a bleak New England landscape, the book tells the story of Ethan Frome, a poor, hardworking farmer who is married to a sickly, bitter woman named Zeena. When Zeena's young cousin Mattie comes to live with them, Ethan becomes infatuated with her, leading to a tragic love triangle. The narrative explores themes of passion, duty, and the oppressive nature of rural poverty.

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    In a dystopian future where books are banned and burned by the government to prevent dissenting ideas, a fireman named Guy Montag, whose job is to burn books, begins to question the society he serves. After a series of events, including meeting a free-thinking teenager and witnessing a woman choosing to die with her books, Montag begins to secretly collect and read books, leading to his eventual rebellion against the oppressive regime. The narrative serves as a critique of censorship, conformity, and the dangers of an illiterate society.

  • 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.

  • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    The book is a tragic play in two parts that tells the story of a scholarly man named Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. In exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles after death. The narrative explores themes of ambition, despair, love, and redemption, ultimately leading to Faust's salvation.

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream 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 Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

    "The Federalist Papers" is a collection of 85 articles and essays written to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution. These works discuss the benefits of a stronger national government, the proposed structure of the government, and the division of powers among its various branches. They also address criticisms of the Constitution and detail the failures of the Articles of Confederation. The papers remain a primary source for interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the intentions of its framers.

  • Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott

    This novel is a satirical critique of Victorian society told through a two-dimensional world known as Flatland, inhabited by geometric figures. The protagonist, a square, guides the reader through his society, explaining its rigid class structure, before being visited by a three-dimensional sphere. The sphere introduces him to the concept of the third dimension, challenging the Square's understanding of his own world. The story then explores themes of perception, dimensions, and the limitations of understanding and knowledge.

  • Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima

    "Forbidden Colours" is a deeply introspective novel that explores themes of beauty, youth, old age, love, and betrayal, set against the backdrop of post-war Japan. The story follows a young, beautiful man who is manipulated by an elderly writer to seek revenge on women. The young man's beauty becomes a weapon, while the old man's bitterness and jealousy drive the plot. The novel delves into the darker aspects of human nature and society's obsession with beauty, providing a stark commentary on the human condition.

  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov

    This science fiction novel centers around Hari Seldon, a mathematician who has developed a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory. With it, he can predict the future on a large scale. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second great empire arises. To shorten this period of barbarism, he creates two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy. The book follows the first few centuries of the Foundation's existence, focusing on the scientists as they develop new technologies and negotiate with neighboring planets.

  • 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.

  • Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton Friedman, Rose Friedman

    This book is an influential work promoting the principles of economic and political freedom. The authors argue that individual freedom is directly linked to economic freedom, and they advocate for less government intervention in the economy. They explore topics like inflation, education, and consumer protection, and propose free-market solutions. The authors also provide historical examples to support their arguments and warn against the dangers of socialism and excessive government control.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

    This classic satire follows the travels of a surgeon and sea captain who embarks on a series of extraordinary voyages. The protagonist first finds himself shipwrecked on an island inhabited by tiny people, later discovers a land of giants, then encounters a society of intelligent horses, and finally lands on a floating island of scientists. Through these bizarre adventures, the novel explores themes of human nature, morality, and society, offering a scathing critique of European culture and the human condition.

  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

    Set in a dystopian future, this novel presents a society where women are stripped of their rights and are classified into various roles based on their fertility and societal status. The protagonist is a handmaid, a class of women used solely for their reproductive capabilities by the ruling class. The story is a chilling exploration of the extreme end of misogyny, where women are reduced to their biological functions, and a critique of religious fundamentalism.

  • Hiroshima by John Hersey

    This book provides a detailed account of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II, as experienced by six survivors. The narrative follows the survivors from the moment of the explosion to their lives in the following years. It explores their struggles, their resilience, and the profound physical, emotional, and social impacts of the event, offering a poignant examination of the human capacity to endure and rebuild in the face of unimaginable devastation.

  • How Democracies Perish by Jean François Revel

    This book provides a deep analysis of the threats faced by democracies, specifically from totalitarian regimes. The author argues that democracies are often their own worst enemies, being too tolerant and indecisive, which can lead to their downfall. He further discusses how democracies can be manipulated by totalitarian regimes through propaganda and misinformation. The book serves as a warning and a call to action for democratic societies to recognize these threats and take steps to defend their values and institutions.

  • 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.

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

    The novel is a poignant exploration of a young African-American man's journey through life, where he grapples with issues of race, identity, and individuality in mid-20th-century America. The protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the story, considers himself socially invisible due to his race. The narrative follows his experiences from the South to the North, from being a student to a worker, and his involvement in the Brotherhood, a political organization. The book is a profound critique of societal norms and racial prejudice, highlighting the protagonist's struggle to assert his identity in a world that refuses to see him.

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

    The novel follows the life of Jane Eyre, an orphan who is mistreated by her relatives and sent to a charity school. As she grows up, Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with the brooding and mysterious Mr. Rochester. However, she soon learns of a dark secret in his past that threatens their future together. The story is a profound exploration of a woman's self-discovery and her struggle for independence and love in a rigid Victorian society.

  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

    "Leaves of Grass" is a collection of poetry that celebrates the human form and condition, while also exploring themes of democracy, nature, love, and friendship. The book, known for its departure from traditional poetic form, features a free verse style and the use of everyday language. The poet presents himself as both an individual and a universal figure, representing the collective American experience and identity. The collection is also notable for its controversial content at the time of its publication, including candid depictions of sexuality.

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    A young prince from a tiny asteroid embarks on a journey across the universe, visiting various planets and meeting their strange inhabitants. Along the way, he learns about the follies and absurdities of the adult world, the nature of friendship, and the importance of retaining a childlike wonder and curiosity. His journey eventually leads him to Earth, where he befriends a fox and learns about love and loss before finally returning to his asteroid.

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

    This epic high-fantasy novel centers around a modest hobbit who is entrusted with the task of destroying a powerful ring that could enable the dark lord to conquer the world. Accompanied by a diverse group of companions, the hobbit embarks on a perilous journey across Middle-earth, battling evil forces and facing numerous challenges. The narrative, rich in mythology and complex themes of good versus evil, friendship, and heroism, has had a profound influence on the fantasy genre.

  • 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.

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    Madame Bovary is a tragic novel about a young woman, Emma Bovary, who is married to a dull, but kind-hearted doctor. Dissatisfied with her life, she embarks on a series of extramarital affairs and indulges in a luxurious lifestyle in an attempt to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Her desire for passion and excitement leads her down a path of financial ruin and despair, ultimately resulting in a tragic end.

  • Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

    This book is a memoir written by a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The author shares his experiences in the camps and his psychological approach to surviving and finding meaning amidst extreme suffering. He introduces his theory of logotherapy, which suggests that life's primary motivational force is the search for meaning, and argues that even in the most absurd, painful, and dehumanized situation, life can be given meaning.

  • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

    "Mere Christianity" is a theological book that explores the common ground upon which all of those of Christian faith stand. It provides an intellectual defense of Christianity that centers on the Law of Nature, arguing that God is behind this law. The book also explores Christian values, the cardinal virtues, and the theological virtues, ultimately arguing for the reasonableness of Christianity. The final section of the book discusses the doctrine of the Trinity and the process of becoming a Christian.

  • 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 Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

    "The Monkey Wrench Gang" is a novel about four environmental activists who form a group to sabotage projects that they believe harm the natural environment in the American Southwest. The group's activities range from vandalism to arson, as they target billboards, bridges, and bulldozers, among other things. The novel explores themes of civil disobedience, the ethics of violence, and the tension between individual freedom and societal structures, all set against the backdrop of the expansive western landscape.

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather

    This novel follows the life of Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant to the United States, through the eyes of her childhood friend, Jim Burden. The narrative explores their lives in the harsh environment of the American Midwest, their struggles with poverty, cultural adaptation, and personal growth. Antonia's resilience, strength, and love for life inspire Jim, who moves away for education and career but remains emotionally tied to the woman and the prairie life he left behind. The book is a compelling portrayal of pioneer life, human resilience, and the enduring power of friendship.

  • 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 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.

  • Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

    The novel follows the life of Philip Carey, a club-footed orphan who struggles with his disability and his passionate and unrequited love for a destructive woman. His journey takes him from a strict religious upbringing in England to an adventurous life in Paris where he attempts to become an artist before finally settling into a career in medicine. The story is a powerful exploration of human desire, ambition, and the search for meaning in life.

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

    The book is a tragic tale of two displaced ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. The two main characters, an intelligent but uneducated man and his mentally disabled companion, dream of owning their own piece of land. However, their dreams are thwarted by circumstances beyond their control, leading to a heart-wrenching conclusion. The book explores themes of friendship, dreams, loneliness, and the harsh realities of the American Dream.

  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    An aging Cuban fisherman struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream, isolated from the world and from human help. For days, he fights the marlin alone, admiring its strength, dignity, and faithfulness to its identity—its destiny is as true as his as a fisherman. He finally kills the marlin, but sharks attack and devour it before he can return to the shore. The fisherman returns home empty-handed but remains undefeated, having proven his abilities to himself.

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac

    This novel follows the story of a young man and his friend as they embark on a series of cross-country road trips across America during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The protagonist, driven by a desire for freedom and a quest for identity, encounters a series of eccentric characters and experiences the highs and lows of the Beat Generation. The narrative is a testament to the restlessness of youth and the allure of adventure, underscored by themes of jazz, poetry, and drug use.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel is a multi-generational saga that focuses on the Buendía family, who founded the fictional town of Macondo. It explores themes of love, loss, family, and the cyclical nature of history. The story is filled with magical realism, blending the supernatural with the ordinary, as it chronicles the family's experiences, including civil war, marriages, births, and deaths. The book is renowned for its narrative style and its exploration of solitude, fate, and the inevitability of repetition in history.

  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

    This groundbreaking work presents the theory of evolution, asserting that species evolve over generations through a process of natural selection. The book provides a comprehensive explanation of how the diversity of life on Earth developed over millions of years from a common ancestry. It includes detailed observations and arguments to support the idea that species evolve by adapting to their environments, challenging the prevailing belief of the time that species were unchanging parts of a designed hierarchy.

  • 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 Plague by Albert Camus

    The novel is set in the Algerian city of Oran during the 1940s, where a deadly plague sweeps through, causing the city to be quarantined. The story is told through the eyes of a doctor who witnesses the horror and suffering caused by the disease. The narrative explores themes of human resilience, solidarity, and the struggle against the absurdities of life. It also examines how individuals and society respond to death and disease, creating a profound meditation on the nature of existence and human endurance.

  • 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 Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

    This classic work of political philosophy provides a pragmatic guide on political leadership and power, arguing that leaders must do whatever necessary to maintain authority and protect their states, even if it means compromising morality and ethics. The book explores various types of principalities, military affairs, the conduct of great leaders, and the virtues a prince should possess. It is known for its controversial thesis, which suggests that the ends justify the means in politics.

  • The Quran by Unknown

    This book is a compilation of the religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God. It is divided into chapters, which are then divided into verses. The text discusses various aspects of life and provides guidance on morality, ethics, law, and personal conduct. It also includes narratives of several prophets, their lives, and their interactions with their communities. The book is considered the ultimate source of spiritual guidance for Muslims worldwide.

  • The Republic by Plato

    "The Republic" is a philosophical text that explores the concepts of justice, order, and character within the context of a just city-state and a just individual. It presents the idea of a utopian society ruled by philosopher-kings, who are the most wise and just. The dialogue also delves into theories of education, the nature of reality, and the role of the philosopher in society. It is a fundamental work in Western philosophy and political theory.

  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

    This book provides a comprehensive history of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, from its inception to its downfall during World War II. The author, an American journalist who reported from Germany and Austria during the Nazi era, uses firsthand accounts, interviews, and Nazi documents to detail Hitler's rise to power, the mechanisms of the Nazi state, and the events leading to and during World War II, including the Holocaust. The book concludes with an analysis of why the Third Reich fell and the aftermath of its collapse.

  • The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck

    This self-help book explores the concept that life is difficult and filled with problems, but we can overcome these issues through discipline, love, and spiritual growth. It encourages readers to confront their personal problems head-on, rather than avoiding them, and to accept responsibility for their actions. The book also delves into the nature of love, suggesting it is less about feelings and more about the act of will. Finally, it discusses the importance of spiritual growth and understanding in achieving a fulfilled life.

  • A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

    This book is an extended essay that explores the topic of women in fiction, and the societal and economic hindrances that prevent them from achieving their full potential. The author uses a fictional narrator and narrative to explore the many difficulties that women writers faced throughout history, including the lack of education available to them and the societal expectations that limited their opportunities. The central argument is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

  • A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

    This book is a compilation of nature-related essays that highlight the author's experiences and observations as a conservationist. The author provides a thoughtful and eloquent reflection on the relationship between land and people, emphasizing the importance of conservation and sustainability. Through his writings, he advocates for a 'land ethic' where humans view themselves as part of the natural community rather than conquerors of it, promoting a harmonious coexistence with nature.

  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

    This influential work explores the treatment and perception of women throughout history, arguing that women have been repressed and defined only in relation to men. The author presents a detailed analysis of women's roles in society, family, work, and in the creation of their own identities. She discusses the concept of 'the other' and how this has been used to suppress women, while also examining the biological, psychological, and societal impacts of this oppression. The book is a seminal text in feminist theory, challenging traditional notions of femininity and calling for equality and freedom for women.

  • The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

    This book is an autobiography of a man who, after a youth filled with worldly experiences and ambitions, converts to Catholicism and chooses to live his life in a Trappist monastery. His journey from a secular life to a deeply spiritual one is filled with introspection and profound insights about the nature of faith and the quest for a meaningful life. His story is a powerful testament to the pull of spiritual enlightenment and the peace that comes from dedicating one's life to a higher purpose.

  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

    "Siddhartha" is a novel about the spiritual journey of a young man named Siddhartha during the time of Gautama Buddha. Born into an Indian Brahmin family, Siddhartha rejects his privileged life to seek spiritual enlightenment. His journey takes him through periods of harsh asceticism, sensual indulgence, material wealth, and finally, to the simple life of a ferryman on a river where he finds peace and wisdom. The book explores themes of self-discovery, spiritual quest, and the desire for a meaningful life.

  • 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.

  • Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

    This book is a collection of essays that challenge the established economic paradigm, arguing for a shift towards smaller, more sustainable systems. The author criticizes conventional capitalism for its focus on profit and growth, suggesting instead that economies should prioritize human well-being and environmental health. He presents a vision of "Buddhist economics," where work is viewed as a means to personal development and fulfillment, not just income generation. The book also offers practical solutions for implementing this new economic model, such as decentralization, appropriate technologies, and renewable energy.

  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

    The novel presents a poignant exploration of a man's struggle with his dual nature. The protagonist, a middle-aged man, finds himself torn between his humanistic, intellectual tendencies and his more primitive, wolf-like instincts. As he navigates his way through the surreal and sometimes hallucinatory world, he encounters various characters who challenge his views and push him towards self-discovery and transformation. The narrative delves into themes of alienation, the subconscious mind, and the search for meaning in life.

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus

    The narrative follows a man who, after the death of his mother, falls into a routine of indifference and emotional detachment, leading him to commit an act of violence on a sun-drenched beach. His subsequent trial becomes less about the act itself and more about his inability to conform to societal norms and expectations, ultimately exploring themes of existentialism, absurdism, and the human condition.

  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

    The novel follows the life of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who was raised on Mars and returns to Earth in early adulthood. Smith struggles to understand human culture, norms, and conventions, while also possessing extraordinary psychic abilities. As he navigates Earth society, he begins to question many of its institutions and values, ultimately creating his own religion to pass on the wisdom he gained on Mars. The book explores themes of freedom, self-reliance, and the nature of humanity, and is considered a classic of science fiction literature.

  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

    This influential book examines the history of science, focusing on the process of scientific revolutions. The author argues that scientific progress is not a linear, continuous accumulation of knowledge, but rather a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions. During these revolutions, known as paradigm shifts, the old scientific worldview is replaced by a new one. The book also popularized the term 'paradigm shift' and challenged the previously accepted view of science as a steadily progressive discipline.

  • 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.

  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu

    This ancient text is a fundamental guide to the philosophy of Taoism, offering wisdom on how to live a balanced, virtuous life in harmony with the natural world and the Tao, the source of all existence. The book explores themes such as simplicity, humility, and non-aggression, emphasizing the importance of understanding and aligning oneself with the Tao. It provides guidance on leadership, personal growth, and spiritual enlightenment, advocating for a life of peace, contemplation, and connection with the universe.

  • Future Shock: The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler

    The book is a compelling analysis of the future, predicting the rise of a new society characterized by rapid technological change, globalization, and increased human connectivity. The author argues that these changes will lead to a "third wave" of civilization, following the agricultural and industrial revolutions, which will fundamentally transform our lives and institutions. He discusses the potential impacts of these changes, including social, economic, and political upheavals, and how we can prepare for and adapt to this future.

  • 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 Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry

    This book is a profound critique of modern industrial agriculture, arguing that it degrades the land and disconnects people from their food sources. The author advocates for a return to more traditional, sustainable farming methods, which he believes will lead to healthier communities and a more balanced relationship with the environment. He also explores the broader cultural implications of this shift, including the potential for greater self-reliance and a deeper sense of connection to the natural world.

  • Utopia by Thomas More

    This book is a fictional work that presents a detailed description of an ideal society on an imaginary island located in the Atlantic Ocean. The narrative is presented as a dialogue between the author's character and a traveler who has visited the island. The society described is devoid of private property, with citizens living in communal dwellings, and it promotes education, religious tolerance, and a welfare state. The book explores political, social, and religious customs, providing a critique of European society and offering an alternative model of social organization.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

    The book explores concepts of formal systems, recursion, self-reference, and infinity through the interdisciplinary lens of mathematics, art, and music. The narrative intertwines biographical sketches of the titular figures - a mathematician, an artist, and a composer - with dialogues and discussions to illustrate complex ideas. The author uses these figures as metaphors to delve into the nature of human cognition and consciousness, suggesting that our minds are essentially self-referential systems akin to the works of Gödel, Escher, and Bach.

About this list

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 100 Books

"This list was compiled by tabulating nominations by UWM faculty, staff and students for the Select 100. It includes changes which have resulted from nominations received since the original list was released. We asked you to recommend books which you have found to be so useful and important that no one could consider himself/herself an educated or enlightened person without having read them. This is your cumulative response."

Added about 9 years ago.

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