The New York Public Library's Books of the Century

This is one of the 212 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

    "Three Sisters" is a play that revolves around the lives of three sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina, who live in a provincial Russian town and yearn for their former life in Moscow. The story explores their relationships, dreams, and disappointments, as well as their interactions with the military officers stationed nearby. The narrative is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the relentless passage of time, highlighting the human struggle for meaning and happiness.

  • 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.

  • Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

    "Tender Buttons" is an avant-garde collection of prose poetry, divided into three sections: "Objects," "Food," and "Rooms." The book is renowned for its experimental, stream-of-consciousness style, and its abstract, often nonsensical language. It challenges traditional narrative and linguistic structures, creating a unique exploration of everyday objects and experiences. The work is a significant contribution to modernist literature and a pioneering example of feminist writing.

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    The book tells the story of a man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. His transformation causes him to lose his job and become ostracized from his family, who are horrified and repulsed by his new form. As he grapples with his new reality, he becomes increasingly isolated and starts to lose his sense of humanity. The book explores themes of alienation, guilt, and identity, and is a profound examination of the human condition.

  • Renascence and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay

    "Renascence and Other Poems" is a collection of lyrical and thought-provoking poetry that explores themes of love, death, nature, and the human condition. The book features the author's early works, including the titular poem, "Renascence," a long-form piece that garnered significant attention and acclaim. The author's expressive language and powerful imagery create a captivating and emotionally resonant reading experience.

  • The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats

    "The Wild Swans at Coole" is a collection of poems that reflect upon the transformation of life and the unchanging aspect of nature. The author uses the symbol of swans to express the themes of love, loss, beauty, and the passing of time. The poems are marked by a strong sense of melancholy and longing, as well as an acute awareness of the transience of life. The collection is also notable for its exploration of Irish mythology and folklore.

  • Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

    In this metatheatrical play, six characters come to life and demand that a theater director tell their tragic story, which was left incomplete by their author. As the director and his actors interact with these characters, the boundaries between fiction and reality blur, leading to a philosophical exploration of the nature of human identity, the reliability of art, and the unreliability of perception. The characters' story, involving a complex web of familial relationships, adultery, and suicide, further complicates the narrative, challenging the audience's understanding of truth and illusion.

  • The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

    "The Waste Land" is a long poem that presents a bleak and despairing view of the world following the devastation of World War I. The poem is divided into five parts and uses a wide range of literary and cultural references, as well as multiple narrators, to depict a world in ruins. It explores themes of disillusionment, despair, and the decline of civilization, and is often considered a seminal work of modernist literature.

  • 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 Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

    In this novel, the protagonist, a young, ordinary man, visits his cousin at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. Intending to stay for only a few weeks, he ends up remaining there for seven years, becoming a patient himself. The book explores his experiences and relationships with other patients and staff, delving into philosophical discussions on life, time, and the nature of disease. It also provides a vivid portrayal of the European society and intellectual life on the eve of World War I.

  • 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.

  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

    This novel is a pioneering work of modernist literature that explores the Ramsay family's experiences at their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The narrative is divided into three sections, focusing on a day in the family's life, a description of the house during their absence, and their return after ten years. The book is known for its stream of consciousness narrative technique and its exploration of topics such as the passage of time, the nature of art, and the female experience.

  • Gypsy Ballads by Federico García Lorca

    "Gypsy Ballads" is a collection of poems that depict the lives, struggles, and customs of the Andalusian Gypsy community. The poems are rich in imagery and symbolism, exploring themes of love, death, passion, and tragedy. With its vivid portrayal of the Gypsy culture, the book provides a unique insight into their vibrant and complex world, while also reflecting on broader human experiences.

  • 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 Portable Faulkner by William Faulkner

    This collection showcases the work of a celebrated American author, featuring selections from his novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, and essays. The book provides a comprehensive overview of the author's distinctive narrative style and his exploration of complex themes such as identity, race, and the human condition, set against the backdrop of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County in the American South. It serves as an excellent introduction to the author's oeuvre, demonstrating his profound influence on 20th-century literature.

  • The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden

    "The Age of Anxiety" is a lengthy poem divided into six sections, set in a bar in New York City during the Second World War. It presents four characters - Quant, Malin, Rosetta, and Emble - who represent different aspects of the modern age. Through their discussions, dreams, and soliloquies, the poem explores themes of isolation, fear, and the search for identity and faith in a world marked by societal and technological change. It is known for its complex structure and use of various literary styles and forms.

  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    "Waiting for Godot" is a play that explores themes of existentialism, despair, and the human condition through the story of two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait endlessly for a man named Godot, who never arrives. While they wait, they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters. The play is characterized by its minimalistic setting and lack of a traditional plot, leaving much to interpretation.

  • 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.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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

  • Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

    "Collected Fiction" is a compilation of stories by a renowned author that takes readers on a journey through a world of philosophical paradoxes, intellectual humor, and fantastical realities. The book features a range of narratives, from complex, multi-layered tales of labyrinths and detective investigations, to metaphysical explorations of infinity and the nature of identity. It offers an immersive and thought-provoking reading experience, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, past and present, and the self and the universe.

  • 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.

  • Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

    The novel is a first-person narrative, a monologue by a young Jewish man, Alexander Portnoy, who is speaking to his psychoanalyst. He shares his struggles with his identity as a Jewish man in America, his sexual fantasies and frustrations, his complex relationship with his overbearing mother, and his experiences of guilt and shame. The book uses humor and frank language to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and the Jewish experience in America.

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    The novel explores the life of an African-American man, Macon "Milkman" Dead III, from birth to adulthood. Set against the backdrop of racial tension in the mid-20th century United States, it delves into his journey of self-discovery and understanding his heritage. As Macon embarks on a literal and figurative journey south to reconnect with his roots, he encounters various characters that help him understand his family history and the power of community. The narrative is deeply rooted in African-American folklore and mythology, offering a profound commentary on identity, personal freedom, and the destructive power of racism.

  • The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck

    "The Life of the Bee" is a philosophical and scientific examination of the behavior and nature of bees. The author delves into the intricate world of the hive, exploring the roles and duties of the worker bees, drones, and queen bee, and the complex societal structure within the hive. The book also discusses the fascinating process of honey production and the life cycle of bees. The author uses the bee society as a metaphor for human society, drawing parallels between the two.

  • Treatise on Radioactivity by Marie Curie

    This scientific work delves into the groundbreaking research on radioactivity, including the discovery and study of radium and polonium, by a pioneering female scientist. The book provides a comprehensive analysis of the properties and effects of radioactive substances, as well as their potential applications. It is a seminal work in the field of nuclear physics and chemistry, laying the foundation for future research and advancements in the field.

  • Relativity by Albert Einstein

    This book is a comprehensive introduction to the theory of relativity written by the physicist who developed the theory. It covers both the special and general theories of relativity and provides an accessible explanation of the physics involved, including the nature of light, time, and gravity. The book also discusses the philosophical implications of relativity and its impact on our understanding of reality. Written for a general audience, it aims to make complex scientific concepts understandable to non-experts.

  • A Field Guide to the Birds by Roger Tory Peterson

    This book is a comprehensive guide to bird species, providing detailed information about various types of birds, their habitats, behaviors, and physical characteristics. It includes illustrations and descriptions to help readers identify different bird species, making it a valuable resource for birdwatchers, ornithologists, and nature enthusiasts. The guide also offers tips on birdwatching and advice on how to attract different bird species to your backyard.

  • 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.

  • King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Lorenz

    This book is a fascinating exploration of animal behavior by a renowned zoologist. It delves into the author's personal experiences and observations of animals in their natural habitats, focusing particularly on birds, dogs, and jackdaws. The author uses these observations to draw conclusions about animal psychology and behavior, often comparing it to human behavior. The book is named after the biblical King Solomon, who was said to have a ring that allowed him to understand the language of animals.

  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

    This influential environmental science book presents a detailed and passionate argument against the overuse of pesticides in the mid-20th century. The author meticulously describes the harmful effects of these chemicals on the environment, particularly on birds, hence the metaphor of a 'silent spring' without bird song. The book played a significant role in advancing the global environmental movement and led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides in the United States.

  • Smoking and Health by Surgeon General

    This book provides a comprehensive overview of the impact of smoking on health, as well as the societal and economic consequences of tobacco use. It delves into the scientific evidence linking smoking to various diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. Additionally, the book discusses the addictive nature of nicotine, the marketing strategies of tobacco companies, and the effectiveness of public health interventions aimed at reducing smoking rates. It serves as a valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding the full scope of the tobacco epidemic.

  • 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.

  • The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson

    This book is a comprehensive exploration of the variety and richness of life on Earth, written by a renowned biologist. It delves into the concept of biodiversity, examining its importance and the threats it faces. The author discusses the evolution and extinction of species, the complex interactions within ecosystems, and human impact on the environment. The book is a passionate plea for the conservation of the planet's diverse species and ecosystems.

  • The Battle with the Slum by Jacob A. Riis

    "The Battle with the Slum" is a historical documentation of the living conditions in the slums of New York City during the late 19th and early 20th century. The author, a social reformer and journalist, provides a detailed account of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that the city's poor were subjected to. The book also highlights the efforts of the government and philanthropists to improve these conditions and eradicate the slums, emphasizing the importance of housing reform and social welfare in urban development.

  • The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois

    This seminal work is a collection of essays that explores the history and condition of African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. It delves into the issues of race, class, and the socio-economic realities faced by black people post-emancipation. The author employs a combination of history, sociology, and personal narrative to present a powerful critique of American society, highlighting the struggle for civil rights, the importance of black spirituals, and the concept of "double consciousness" - the idea of viewing oneself through the lens of a society that sees you as inferior.

  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

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

  • Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams

    "Twenty Years at Hull-House" is a memoir that recounts the author's experiences co-founding and running a settlement house in a poverty-stricken, immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. The book details the struggles and triumphs of the community as they navigate social, economic, and cultural challenges, while also offering insight into the author's own evolution as a social reformer. Throughout, the author emphasizes the importance of empathy, understanding, and community engagement in addressing social inequality.

  • The House on Henry Street by Lillian D. Wald

    "The House on Henry Street" is a memoir by a prominent social worker and public health advocate, detailing her experiences and work in the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 20th century. The book chronicles her establishment of a settlement house in the area, which provided a range of services including healthcare, education, and employment assistance to the community. The narrative offers a poignant insight into the struggles and resilience of the immigrant population during this period, and the author's pioneering role in public health nursing and social reform.

  • The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens by Lincoln Steffens

    This autobiography is a detailed account of the life of a renowned investigative journalist during the early 20th century. The book explores his experiences and observations of political corruption in American cities, his coverage of the Russian Revolution, and his eventual disillusionment with American capitalism. It provides a unique perspective on major socio-political events of the era, while also offering insight into the author's personal beliefs and moral struggles.

  • U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos

    The U.S.A. Trilogy is a series of three novels that chronicle the lives of various characters in the first half of the 20th century in the United States. The narrative intertwines the stories of twelve characters as they navigate the societal changes and upheavals of the era, including World War I, the Great Depression, and the rise of Hollywood. The author uses a unique narrative technique that combines traditional prose, newspaper-style headlines, biographies, and stream-of-consciousness writing to paint a vivid picture of American life during this period.

  • 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.

  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee

    This book is an in-depth examination of the lives of three tenant families in the South during the Great Depression. The author combines detailed descriptions, journalistic reporting, and poetic prose to capture the harsh realities of poverty, racial discrimination, and the struggle for survival. The book also includes evocative photographs that further illustrate the living conditions and daily lives of the families. The work is a profound exploration of the human condition, offering a raw and unflinching look at the effects of economic and social injustice.

  • Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith

    "Strange Fruit" is a controversial novel set in the 1920s South, which explores the tragic consequences of a forbidden interracial relationship between a white man and a black woman. The narrative delves into the deeply ingrained racial prejudice, hypocrisy, and societal norms of the era, leading to a tragic end for the couple. The book is a powerful indictment of racism and a plea for understanding and change.

  • Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman

    "Growing Up Absurd" is a sociopolitical critique that explores the struggles of growing up in a society where the traditional routes to manhood – work, family, and citizenship – are increasingly invalidated. The author argues that this societal structure leads to widespread disaffection, mental illness, and juvenile delinquency among young people. He offers a profound analysis of contemporary culture and its effects on youth, also providing suggestions for societal change to address these issues.

  • 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 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

    This book is an autobiography narrating the life of a renowned African-American activist. It delves into his transformation from a young man involved in criminal activities to becoming one of the most influential voices in the fight against racial inequality in America. The book provides a deep insight into his philosophies, his time in prison, conversion to Islam, his role in the Nation of Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his eventual split from the Nation. It also addresses his assassination, making it a powerful account of resilience, redemption, and personal growth.

  • And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

    This book is a comprehensive chronicle of the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the United States in the 1980s. It explores how the disease was initially ignored by many health professionals and politicians, leading to its spread and the deaths of thousands of people. The book also examines the impact of the disease on the gay community and the role of various institutions, including the medical community, the media, and the government, in responding to the crisis. It's a powerful critique of the indifference and negligence that allowed the disease to become a global pandemic.

  • There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

    The book follows the lives of two young African-American brothers growing up in a public housing complex in Chicago during the 1980s. The narrative portrays their daily struggles with poverty, violence, and the drug trade, while also highlighting their dreams and hopes for a better future. The book provides an intimate and heartbreaking look at the harsh realities of inner-city life, systemic racism, and the failure of public institutions to support vulnerable communities.

  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

    The novel revolves around a young, idealistic British seaman, who commits a crime of cowardice at sea. He abandons his ship, leaving hundreds of passengers to their fate. He is publicly censured for this act and spends the rest of his life in shameful obscurity in the South Seas, trying to repress the guilt of his past and regain his lost honor. His quest for redemption leads him to a remote island where he gets a chance to prove his courage, but his tragic flaw ultimately leads to his downfall.

  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling

    "Kim" is a thrilling adventure set in India during the height of the British empire. The story follows the life of a young Irish orphan, Kimball O'Hara, who grows up on the streets of Lahore. Kim's life takes a dramatic turn when he becomes involved in the 'Great Game', the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia. Guided by an old Tibetan Lama on a spiritual quest, Kim is recruited by the British secret service and sent on a dangerous mission across the Himalayas. The novel explores themes of identity, imperialism, and East vs. West.

  • Satyagraha in South Africa by Gandhi

    This book is a personal account of the author's experiences during the Indian struggle for civil rights in South Africa. It details the development and implementation of the concept of Satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, as a means of combating social injustice. The book provides a unique insight into the author's philosophies and strategies of peaceful protest, including his belief in the power of truth and the necessity of self-sacrifice in the fight against oppression.

  • A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

    The novel takes place in British-ruled India, where the cultural divide between the British and the Indians is explored. The story focuses on the experiences of an Indian Muslim, Dr. Aziz, and his interactions with an English woman, Miss Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore. After an expedition to the Marabar Caves, Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of assault, leading to a trial that deepens the racial tensions and prejudices between the colonizers and the colonized. The novel is a critique of British imperialism and a study of the cultural and racial misunderstandings and ill-will between the British and the Indian people.

  • 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.

  • Charter of the United Nations by United Nations

    This book is a comprehensive guide to the Charter of the United Nations, an international treaty that lays out the responsibilities and rights of its member nations, and establishes the structure and functions of the United Nations. It explains the principles of international relations, the promotion of human rights, and the commitment to peace and security. The book is an essential resource for understanding the basis of international law and the global governance system.

  • 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 Family of Man by Edward Steichen

    "The Family of Man" is a renowned photography book that showcases a collection of 503 images from 68 countries, capturing the universal aspects of the human experience. The images, selected from a pool of nearly 2 million pictures, depict a wide range of human emotions, activities, and conditions, from birth to death, love to war, and work to play. The book serves as a powerful visual testament to the shared experiences and emotions that unite all humanity, transcending boundaries of geography, culture, and language.

  • 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 Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

    This book is a psychological and political analysis of the dehumanizing effects of colonization upon the individual and the nation. It provides a clear, passionate condemnation of colonialism and its legacy, arguing that violence is a necessary component of decolonization. The author also discusses the challenges that newly independent nations face, including the struggle to establish a national culture and the threat of neocolonialism.

  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

    This novel is a postcolonial prequel to "Jane Eyre," exploring the life of Mr. Rochester's mad wife, Bertha. Set in Jamaica during the 1830s, it follows the story of Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole heiress, from her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage and move to England. Caught in a society that both rejects and exoticizes her, Antoinette is ultimately driven into madness by her oppressive husband and the haunting legacy of colonialism.

  • Season of Migration to the North by Al-Tayyib Salih

    The novel is a post-colonial exploration of the complex relationship between the East and the West. It tells the story of a young man who returns to his village in Sudan after studying in Europe, only to find that a new villager, a man who has also spent time in the West, has brought back with him a very different perspective on the relationship between the two cultures. The story unfolds as a gripping psychological drama, filled with themes of identity, alienation, and the clash of cultures.

  • Guerrillas by V. S. Naipaul

    "Guerrillas" is a novel set on a Caribbean island, exploring themes of race, politics, and power. The plot follows a group of characters, including a disillusioned Englishwoman, a struggling black activist, and a charismatic but dangerous mixed-race man who leads a band of guerilla fighters. As the tension and violence escalate, the novel delves into the complexities of post-colonial society and the struggle for identity and self-determination.

  • The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

    "The Bride Price" is a novel that explores the life of a young Nigerian girl who, despite her father's disapproval, dreams of furthering her education. After her father's death, she is forced into an arranged marriage due to cultural traditions, but she defies the system and elopes with her lover. However, the consequences of unpaid bride price haunt her, leading to a tragic ending. The book highlights the clash between traditional African values and modern aspirations, the struggles of women in patriarchal societies, and the impact of colonialism on African cultures.

  • The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski

    "The Emperor" is a non-fiction account of the final years of Haile Selassie's reign as the Emperor of Ethiopia. It is based on interviews with his former courtiers and officials, providing a unique and intimate portrayal of a regime marked by lavishness, intrigue, and corruption. This work also explores the dramatic events leading up to the Emperor's downfall and the Ethiopian revolution.

  • I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchú Tum

    This book is an autobiographical account of a woman who grew up in a small village in Guatemala during a time of extreme political turmoil. Despite facing poverty, racism, and violence, she becomes a prominent activist for indigenous rights. Her story provides a firsthand account of the hardships and injustices faced by the indigenous people in Guatemala, and her tireless fight for their rights eventually leads her to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • The Lover by Marguerite Duras

    "The Lover" is a poignant exploration of forbidden love, power dynamics, and colonialism. Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the story of a tumultuous and passionate affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. The narrative delves into the complexities of their relationship, the societal norms they defy, and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. The protagonist's struggle with her family's poverty and her mother's mental instability further complicates the story, making it a compelling exploration of love, desire, and societal constraints.

  • Suicide by Emile Durkheim

    This classic sociological analysis explores the phenomenon of suicide and its social causes. Written by one of the world's most influential sociologists, this book argues that suicide is more than just an individual decision, but is influenced by social and societal factors. By examining suicide rates among different social categories, the author demonstrates that societal factors such as marital status, religion, and economic stability significantly affect suicide rates. The book is a pioneering work in sociological research, introducing innovative theories and methods that have since become standard in the field.

  • The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

    This groundbreaking work explores the theory that dreams are a reflection of the unconscious mind and a means of understanding our deepest desires, anxieties, and fantasies. The book delves into the symbolism of dreams and their connection to repressed thoughts and experiences, proposing that they are a form of wish fulfillment. The author also introduces the concept of "dream work," which transforms these unconscious thoughts into the content of dreams, and discusses various methods of dream interpretation.

  • Studies in the Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis

    This book explores the psychology of sex, delving into a wide range of subjects including sexual inversion, erotic symbolism, sexual impulse in women, and the sexual impulse in men. It also covers the analysis of the sexual instinct, its development in childhood and adolescence, and its manifestations in adulthood. The author uses a scientific approach, drawing on extensive research and case studies to provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic. It's considered a pioneering work in the field of sexology.

  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by Will James

    This book is an exploration of the diverse range of religious experiences, from the mainstream to the mystical. The author applies a psychological and philosophical approach, examining the individual, personal experiences of spirituality rather than organized religion. The book covers topics such as conversion, saintliness, and mysticism, and argues that religious experiences, rather than religious institutions, should be the primary focus of religious study.

  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

    "The Prophet" is a collection of poetic essays that are philosophical, spiritual, and, above all, inspirational. The central character, a prophet, is about to board a ship which will carry him home after 12 years spent living in a foreign city. Before he departs, he is stopped by a group of people, with whom he discusses topics such as life and the human condition. The book is divided into chapters dealing with love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death.

  • Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell

    "Why I Am Not a Christian" is a collection of essays that critique and challenge the concepts and institutions of religion, specifically Christianity. The author, a renowned philosopher, uses logic and reason to question the existence of God, the morality of religion, and the influence of the church, arguing that religion suppresses individual thought and progress. The book also explores alternative philosophies such as socialism and humanism, advocating for a moral code based on compassion and respect for others rather than religious doctrine.

  • Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead

    "Coming of Age in Samoa" is a groundbreaking anthropological study that explores adolescence, sexuality, and social norms in Samoan society. The author lived among the Samoans in the 1920s, observing and recording their way of life, particularly focusing on the experiences of teenage girls. The book challenges Western views on sexual morality and the nature versus nurture debate, suggesting that culture plays a significant role in adolescent development and behavior. The author's observations indicate that Samoan teenagers face less stress and confusion than their American counterparts, largely due to their society's relaxed attitudes towards sex and clear societal roles.

  • Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre

    This philosophical work delves into the concept of existentialism and phenomenology, offering an in-depth analysis of human consciousness and existence. The author argues that we are all essentially free and responsible for our actions, and that we construct our own identities through our actions and interactions with others. The book also explores the idea of 'nothingness' and 'bad faith', suggesting that we often deny our freedom and hide from the responsibility of our actions, leading to a life of inauthenticity.

  • The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock

    This book is a comprehensive guide to child rearing, offering practical advice and information on a wide range of topics, including feeding, sleeping, health, discipline, and psychological development. It emphasizes a flexible, common-sense approach to parenting, encouraging parents to trust their own instincts and knowledge of their child. The book also discusses the importance of treating children as individuals and fostering their independence and self-confidence.

  • 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.

  • The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

    "The Courage to Be" is a philosophical work that explores the concept of courage in the face of existential threats and anxieties. The author argues that courage is not simply a bold act in the face of physical danger, but also the strength to affirm one's own being in spite of non-being, despair, and death. The book also discusses the role of God as the ultimate source of courage and suggests that embracing our existential anxieties can lead to self-affirmation and spiritual growth.

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

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

  • The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary

    This book is a collection of essays, lectures, and articles by a well-known psychologist and advocate for psychedelic drugs. The author presents his views on various topics, including consciousness, spirituality, and human potential, arguing that psychedelic substances can be used as tools for exploring and expanding the mind. He also discusses the social and political implications of his ideas, arguing for a radical rethinking of societal norms and institutions. The book is a seminal work in the counterculture movement of the 1960s and continues to influence discussions on psychedelics and consciousness today.

  • On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

    This groundbreaking book explores the five stages of grief experienced by terminally ill patients. The author, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, introduces the concept of the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, which has since been universally recognized and applied in various fields. The book is based on the author's series of interviews with dying patients, providing an empathetic and insightful look into the emotional and psychological experiences of those facing death.

  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim

    "The Uses of Enchantment" is a psychological analysis of fairy tales and their importance in childhood development. The book argues that these stories allow children to navigate their emotions and understand aspects of life they are yet to experience. By exploring various themes, such as separation anxiety, oedipal conflict, and sibling rivalry, through well-known fairy tales, the author demonstrates how these narratives contribute to a child's moral education and understanding of the human nature.

  • 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 Turn of the Screw by Henry James

    A young governess is hired to care for two children at a remote English estate. However, she soon becomes convinced that the grounds are haunted by two former employees who have taken control of the children. As she fights to free the children from these apparitions, the line between reality and her own fears becomes increasingly blurred, leading to a chilling and ambiguous conclusion.

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

    This classic mystery novel follows a detective and his partner as they investigate a supernatural hound that has been haunting the Baskerville family for generations, supposedly causing the death of the recent family head. As the pair navigate the eerie moors surrounding the Baskerville estate, they unravel a plot of deception and murder, all while trying to protect the new heir from the same grisly fate. The story is a thrilling blend of mystery, suspense, and horror.

  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

    This novel follows the story of a young boy raised by apes in the African jungle after his aristocratic parents are marooned and later perish. He grows up learning the laws of the jungle and the ways of the wild, eventually becoming the leader of his ape tribe. His life takes a turn when he encounters other humans, particularly a young woman, which leads him to grapple with his dual nature as both man and beast. The book explores themes of identity, civilization versus nature, and the concept of the "noble savage."

  • Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

    "Riders of the Purple Sage" is a classic Western novel that tells the story of a woman named Jane Withersteen, who is persecuted by her Mormon fundamentalist church community in Utah for her friendship with a non-Mormon man. She is protected by a mysterious rider known as Lassiter, a gunslinger who is seeking revenge for the death of his sister. The novel explores themes of religious intolerance, the struggle for personal freedom, and the violent frontier life in the American West.

  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

    In this novel, a wealthy woman is found poisoned in her country home in England during World War I. A family friend who is visiting the house at the time of the murder calls upon his friend, a brilliant detective, to help solve the case. The detective uses his unique methods to investigate the crime, revealing a complex web of family secrets and betrayal. Throughout the investigation, the detective uncovers that the victim's husband, the housekeeper, and the victim's stepsons all had motives to kill her. The detective eventually solves the crime, revealing the unexpected murderer and their ingenious method of committing the crime.

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

    This iconic self-help book provides practical advice and techniques for mastering interpersonal skills and improving communication. It emphasizes the importance of understanding others' perspectives, showing genuine interest in people, and making others feel important. The book offers strategies for handling people without arousing resentment, encouraging others to share their ideas, and changing people's behavior without causing offense or arousing resentment. It also provides tips on how to make a good first impression, become a good conversationalist, and inspire enthusiasm among associates.

  • 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 Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

    In this classic detective novel, a private investigator is hired by a wealthy family to resolve a blackmail issue involving the younger daughter. As he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of deceit, murder, and organized crime. The detective's investigation is further complicated by his growing attraction to the older daughter, adding a layer of personal involvement to an already complex case. The novel is renowned for its gritty depiction of 1930s Los Angeles and its sharp, witty dialogue.

  • The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

    "The Day of the Locust" is a novel set in 1930s Hollywood, portraying the dark side of the American dream through the lives of its desperate characters. The protagonist, a young artist from the East Coast, finds himself disillusioned by the superficiality and decay of Hollywood society, which is filled with failed actors, charlatans, and lost souls. The narrative culminates in a violent riot, symbolizing the destructive power of frustrated dreams and the harsh reality of the American dream.

  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

    Set in a small New England town, the novel explores the lives and scandalous interactions of its residents. The story delves into themes of hypocrisy, social inequities, and moral bankruptcy, all hidden behind the façade of respectability. It follows the lives of three women in particular, each of whom grapples with issues like illicit love affairs, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. The book, with its explicit descriptions and controversial themes, became a sensation upon its release.

  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

    When a mischievous cat wearing a red and white-striped hat appears at the home of two bored children on a rainy day, their afternoon is turned upside down. The cat's antics, including juggling various household items and introducing two chaotic creatures, Thing 1 and Thing 2, create a mess and a series of adventures. However, just as their mother is returning home, the cat manages to clean up the mess with a special machine, leaving the children wondering if their wild afternoon was real or just a dream.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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

  • Ball Four by Jim Bouton

    The book is a candid and controversial diary of a professional baseball season. The author, a pitcher, provides an insider's perspective on the sport, revealing the daily grind, locker room antics, and the pressures and politics of the game. The book also delves into the personal lives of the players, touching on their struggles with family, fame, and substance abuse. Despite the backlash it received from the baseball community, the book is considered a groundbreaking work for its honest portrayal of the sport.

  • Carrie by Stephen King

    A young high school girl with telekinetic abilities is mercilessly bullied and isolated by her classmates and religious fanatic mother. After a particularly humiliating incident at her senior prom, she uses her powers in a fit of rage and despair, leading to a terrifying and catastrophic event that devastates her small town.

  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

    This novel follows the life of a successful Wall Street bond trader who, after a wrong turn in the Bronx, finds his life spiraling out of control. After a hit-and-run accident in a predominantly black neighborhood, he becomes the target of a political witch hunt, exacerbating racial tensions in the city. As the protagonist's world unravels, the story provides a satirical commentary on 1980s New York City, exploring themes of racism, classism, politics, and greed.

  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

    Set in the 1870s, the novel revolves around Newland Archer, a young lawyer from New York's high society, who is engaged to the beautiful and conventional May Welland. His life takes a turn when he meets May's cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned from Europe after leaving her scandalous husband. Torn between his duty and passion, Archer struggles with the constraints of the society he is a part of. The book offers a vivid portrayal of the struggle between individual desires and societal expectations in the upper-class New York society of the late 19th century.

About this list

New York Public Library, 173 Books

The following is a complete list of the titles included in the exhibition Books of the Century at The New York Public Library's Center for the Humanities, May 20, 1995-July 13, 1996, and in The New York Public Library's Books of the Century, published by Oxford University Press.

A celebration of the NYPL's centenary. The books were selected by public service and research librarians

Added about 4 years ago.

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

  • Voters: are mostly from a single country/location
  • List: only covers 100 years

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