The Big Read

This is one of the 280 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

    "His Dark Materials" is a fantasy trilogy that follows the journey of a young girl named Lyra Belacqua and her daemon, Pantalaimon, across parallel universes. Throughout their adventures, they encounter a variety of mythical creatures, confront religious and political systems, and grapple with complex themes such as free will, original sin, and the nature of consciousness. The series also delves into the mysteries of Dust, a strange particle integral to the multiverse's function.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    This comedic science fiction novel follows the intergalactic adventures of an unwitting human, Arthur Dent, who is rescued just before Earth's destruction by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for a galactic travel guide. Together, they hitch a ride on a stolen spaceship, encountering a range of bizarre characters, including a depressed robot and a two-headed ex-president of the galaxy. Through a series of satirical and absurd escapades, the book explores themes of existentialism, bureaucracy, and the absurdity of life, all while poking fun at the science fiction genre and offering witty commentary on the human condition.

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K Rowling

    In this fourth installment of a popular fantasy series, a young wizard finds himself unexpectedly entered into a dangerous tournament between rival schools of magic. He must compete in a series of challenging tasks, including a deadly dragon chase and a terrifying underwater rescue mission. Meanwhile, he's dealing with regular teen issues like crushes, jealousy, and school dances. But as he unravels the mystery behind his selection for the tournament, he uncovers a dark plot that puts his life in danger and hints at the return of a powerful dark wizard.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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

  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A Milne

    This classic children's tale follows the charming adventures of a lovable, honey-loving bear named Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. With his companions, including the timid Piglet, the gloomy Eeyore, the energetic Tigger, and the wise Owl, Pooh navigates through various situations and dilemmas, often with humorous and heartwarming results. The book is a celebration of friendship, imagination, and the simple joys of life.

  • 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 Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

    Four siblings are evacuated from London during World War II and sent to live with an old professor in the countryside. In his house, they discover a magical wardrobe that serves as a portal to the land of Narnia, a world filled with mythical creatures and ruled by an evil White Witch. The children are soon caught up in a struggle to free Narnia from the witch's eternal winter, aided by the majestic lion Aslan. The story combines elements of fantasy, adventure, and Christian allegory.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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

  • Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

    "Birdsong" is a historical novel that explores the horrors of World War I through the eyes of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman. The narrative alternates between Stephen's passionate love affair with a married woman in pre-war France and his experiences in the trenches of the Western Front. The novel also includes a subplot set in the 1970s, where Stephen's granddaughter tries to unravel the mystery of her grandfather's past. The book is a poignant exploration of love, war, and the endurance of the human spirit.

  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

    A young woman marries a wealthy widower and moves into his large English country house. She quickly realizes that the memory of her husband's first wife, Rebecca, haunts every corner of the estate. The housekeeper's obsessive devotion to Rebecca and the mysterious circumstances of her death continue to overshadow the second wife's attempts to make a happy life with her husband. As secrets about Rebecca's life and death are revealed, the new wife must grapple with her own identity and place within the household.

  • 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 Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

    "The Wind in the Willows" is a charming tale about the adventures of four anthropomorphic animal friends - Mole, Rat, Badger, and the rebellious and extravagant Toad. The story is set in the idyllic English countryside and explores themes of friendship, exploration, and respect for nature. The narrative is marked by Toad's reckless behavior, his obsession with motor cars, and his eventual redemption. The other characters, with their contrasting personalities, bring balance and depth to the story.

  • 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.

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

    This classic novel follows the lives of the four March sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy - as they navigate the challenges and joys of adolescence and adulthood in 19th century New England. As they grow, they grapple with issues of poverty, gender roles, love, and personal identity, each in her own unique way. The story is a testament to the power of family, sisterhood, and female resilience in a time of societal constraints.

  • Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

    Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during World War II, this novel explores the lives of the island's inhabitants as they experience the war's harsh realities. The narrative primarily focuses on the love story between a local woman and an Italian captain, who is part of the occupying forces. As the war progresses, the characters are forced to confront their beliefs, their relationships, and their identities, all while grappling with the devastating impacts of the conflict.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J. K Rowling

    The story follows a young boy, Harry Potter, who learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents' mysterious deaths, the dark wizard who wants to kill him, and the magical stone that holds immense power.

  • Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J. K Rowling

    In this second installment of a magical series, a young wizard returns to his school of witchcraft and wizardry for his second year, only to find that a mysterious entity is petrifying his classmates. With the help of his friends, he uncovers the dark history of the school, including a secret chamber hidden within the castle. Inside this chamber lurks a creature controlled by a memory from the past, and the young wizard must face it to save his school.

  • Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban by J. K Rowling

    In this third installment of the popular fantasy series, the protagonist enters his third year at a magical school, only to find out that a notorious prisoner has escaped from a supposedly inescapable prison and is believed to be after him. As the school year progresses, he learns more about his parents' history, uncovers secrets about his professor, and discovers a magical map. He also learns to summon a powerful defensive spell, confronts the escaped prisoner, and uncovers the truth about his parents' betrayal and death. The book ends with him saving an innocent life and learning a valuable lesson about the complexity of human nature and the importance of true friendship.

  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

    In this fantasy novel, a timid and unadventurous hobbit named Bilbo Baggins is whisked away on a grand adventure by a wizard and a group of dwarves. Their mission is to reclaim the dwarves' homeland and treasure from a fearsome dragon. Throughout the journey, Bilbo grows in courage and cunning, proving himself a true hero as he encounters trolls, goblins, giant spiders, and other perils. The novel culminates with a great battle involving various races of Middle Earth, after which Bilbo returns home, forever changed by his experiences.

  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

    This is a tragic tale of a young woman named Tess who comes from a poor family in rural England. Tess is sent to work for a wealthy family, where she is seduced by a man who abandons her after she becomes pregnant. The baby dies, and Tess is ostracized by her community. She falls in love with a kind man, but when she confesses her past, he rejects her. Desperate and heartbroken, Tess murders her former seducer and is eventually captured and executed. The novel explores themes of fate, injustice, and the oppressive sexual morals of its time.

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Set in the fictitious English town of Middlemarch during the early 19th century, the novel explores the complex web of relationships in a close-knit society. It follows the lives of several characters, primarily Dorothea Brooke, a young woman of idealistic fervor, and Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious young doctor, who both grapple with societal expectations, personal desires, and moral dilemmas. Their stories intertwine with a rich tapestry of other townsfolk, reflecting themes of love, marriage, ambition, and reform, making a profound commentary on the human condition.

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

    The book is a tale of two childhood friends, one of whom believes he is God's instrument. The story is set in a New England town during the 1950s and 1960s and follows the lives of the two boys, one small and with a strange voice, who has visions of his own death and believes he is an instrument of God, and the other, the narrator, who struggles with faith. The novel explores themes of faith, fate, and the power of friendship against a backdrop of historical and political events, including the Vietnam War.

  • 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.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

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

  • The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson

    The book revolves around a feisty 10-year-old girl named Tracy Beaker, who is living in a children's residential care home (nicknamed "The Dumping Ground") as she is in foster care. Tracy has a wild imagination and often tells stories about her life, which is filled with dreams of her mother coming back to take her away. The book is written in Tracy's voice, with her drawings scattered throughout, giving readers a glimpse into her mind and emotions. Despite the harsh reality of her situation, Tracy remains hopeful and defiant, making her a relatable and inspiring character.

  • 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.

  • The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

    Set in the 12th century, the novel is a sweeping epic of good and evil, treachery and intrigue, violence and beauty. It revolves around the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. The story is centered on the lives of three main characters: a master builder, a monk, and a noblewoman, whose destinies are intertwined with the building of the cathedral and the tumultuous events of the time, including war, religious strife, and power struggles.

  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

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

  • Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

    A young boy named Charlie lives in poverty and dreams of visiting the nearby chocolate factory owned by the eccentric and mysterious Willy Wonka. When Charlie finds one of the five golden tickets hidden in chocolate bars worldwide, he earns the chance to tour the factory. Accompanied by his Grandpa Joe and four other children, Charlie embarks on a magical and surreal adventure inside the factory, where he learns valuable lessons about greed, arrogance, and honesty.

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

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

  • A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

    "A Town Like Alice" is a novel about a young Englishwoman, who is captured by Japanese forces during World War II and forced to march with other women and children across Malaya. During her ordeal, she meets an Australian prisoner of war, whom she later seeks out in Australia after the war. With the help of an unexpected inheritance, she uses her entrepreneurial spirit to transform a desolate Australian town into a thriving community, similar to a quaint English village she once knew, hence creating a 'town like Alice'.

  • Persuasion by Jane Austen

    This classic novel revolves around the life of Anne Elliot, a woman of 27 who is unmarried and living with her vain, snobbish, and foolish family who are on the brink of financial ruin. Seven years prior, she had been persuaded to reject a marriage proposal from the man she loved, a poor but ambitious naval officer named Frederick Wentworth. When he returns from the war a wealthy and successful captain, old feelings are rekindled. The story follows Anne's journey towards self-realization and second chances at love amidst the complexities of her social class.

  • 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.

  • Emma by Jane Austen

    The novel revolves around Emma, a well-meaning but disaster-prone matchmaker, who ignores her own romantic feelings while setting out to find a suitor for her friend Harriet. Her efforts cause more problems than solutions as she leaves a trail of mishaps behind her. As her plans go awry, Emma realizes that she herself may be the one in love. The book is a classic exploration of social manners, love, and marriage in 19th-century England.

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

    The book follows the life of a young orphan girl who is mistakenly sent to live with an elderly brother and sister who originally wanted to adopt a boy to help them with their farm in Prince Edward Island. Despite the initial disappointment, the girl's charm, vivacity, and imagination soon win over her new guardians. The story details her adventures and mishaps in her new home, her struggles and triumphs at school, and her gradual maturing into a smart, independent young woman.

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams

    This novel follows a group of rabbits as they flee their warren due to a foreseen catastrophe. The rabbits, led by Hazel and his psychic brother Fiver, face numerous challenges and adventures as they search for a new home. They encounter predators, hostile rabbit communities, and human threats. The book explores themes of leadership, survival, and freedom, all set within the natural world and its inherent dangers.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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

  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

    The novel is a nostalgic story about the narrator's involvement with the Flyte family, British aristocrats living in a grand mansion called Brideshead. The story explores themes of faith, love, and the decline of the British aristocracy, primarily through the narrator's relationships with the family's Catholic faith and his complicated friendship with the family's son and his love for the daughter. The novel is set in the backdrop of the time period between the two World Wars.

  • 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.

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    This classic tale follows a miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge who despises Christmas and all forms of happiness. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and three spirits representing Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. These apparitions take him on a journey that forces him to confront his selfish ways, leading him to a transformation where he becomes a kinder and more generous person, embodying the true spirit of Christmas.

  • Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

    Set in rural England, the novel follows the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a young and independent woman who inherits her uncle's farm. She becomes the object of affection for three very different men: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Sergeant Frank Troy, a reckless soldier; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor. The narrative explores love, honor, and betrayal against a backdrop of the changing social and economic landscape of 19th century England.

  • Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

    Set during World War II, the story follows a young evacuee from London named William Beech who is sent to live in the English countryside with a gruff but kind elderly man named Tom Oakley. As William adjusts to rural life and overcomes his abusive past, he forms a deep bond with Tom. The novel explores themes of friendship, the impact of war, and the power of love and kindness to heal emotional wounds.

  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

    "The Shell Seekers" is a generational novel that follows the life of Penelope Keeling, a woman in her sixties, who reflects on her past while dealing with her three grown children, each with their own selfish motives. When Penelope discovers a valuable painting in her possession, her children's greed surfaces as they pressure her to sell it. Instead, Penelope embarks on a journey of self-discovery and reflection, revisiting her bohemian past, her wartime romance, and the beauty of her father's paintings. The novel explores themes of family, love, loss, and the importance of art and beauty in life.

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    A young, spoiled and unloved girl is sent to live with her reclusive uncle in a large, lonely house after the death of her parents. Through the discovery and cultivation of a hidden, neglected garden, she befriends a local boy and her sickly cousin, and the three children find healing and transformation through their friendship and the magic of the garden.

  • 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 Stand by Stephen King

    This post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel presents a world devastated by a deadly plague, killing 99% of the population. The survivors, drawn together by dreams of a charismatic and benevolent figure, gather in Boulder, Colorado to form a new society. However, a malevolent figure also emerges, attracting a following of his own and setting the stage for a classic battle between good and evil. The story delves into themes of community, morality, and the capacity for both destruction and regeneration within humanity.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in 19th-century Russia, this novel revolves around the life of Anna Karenina, a high-society woman who, dissatisfied with her loveless marriage, embarks on a passionate affair with a charming officer named Count Vronsky. This scandalous affair leads to her social downfall, while parallel to this, the novel also explores the rural life and struggles of Levin, a landowner who seeks the meaning of life and true happiness. The book explores themes such as love, marriage, fidelity, societal norms, and the human quest for happiness.

  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

    Set in 1950s India, this epic novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, focusing primarily on the young woman Lata and her mother's quest to find her a suitable husband. The narrative explores the political, social, and personal upheavals in a newly independent India, struggling with its own identity amidst the backdrop of a society grappling with religious tensions, land reforms, and the shaping of a modern democratic state. Lata's journey is an exploration of love, ambition, and the weight of familial duty.

  • The BFG by Roald Dahl

    The book tells the story of a young orphan girl who befriends a benevolent giant, known as the Big Friendly Giant (BFG). Together, they embark on a mission to stop the other evil, man-eating giants from terrorizing the human world. With the help of the Queen of England and her armed forces, they manage to capture the evil giants and bring peace. The BFG and the girl then live happily in England, with the BFG delivering good dreams to children and the girl living in a new home at the palace.

  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

    This classic children's novel follows the summer adventures of the Walker and Blackett children as they camp, sail, and explore the Lake District of England. The Walker siblings, who fancy themselves as the crew of the ship Swallow, meet the Blackett sisters, self-proclaimed pirates of the ship Amazon. The two groups form a fast friendship and embark on a series of exciting escapades, including a treasure hunt, a battle for control of an island, and a run-in with a mysterious man they suspect is a criminal. The story is a celebration of the outdoors, imagination, and the joys of childhood.

  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

    "Black Beauty" is a heartwarming and poignant novel that follows the life of a beautiful black horse named Black Beauty. From his early years as a carefree colt to his later life as a loyal and hardworking carriage horse, Black Beauty encounters various owners and experiences both kindness and cruelty. Through his eyes, readers witness the mistreatment of horses and the importance of compassion and empathy towards animals. This timeless classic serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring bond between humans and animals.

  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

    A 12-year-old genius and criminal mastermind, Artemis Fowl, kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short, for a large ransom of gold with the help of his bodyguard, Butler, to restore his family's fortune. In the process, he discovers an underground world of armed and dangerous fairies. The fairies fight back with magic, cunning, and technological weapons leading to a high-stakes battle of wits.

  • 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.

  • Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

    "Noughts and Crosses" is a thought-provoking novel set in a dystopian society where racial segregation is reversed. It follows the lives of two main characters: a girl from the ruling class (Crosses) and a boy from the underclass (Noughts). Despite their different backgrounds, they form a deep bond that eventually turns into a romantic relationship, challenging the societal norms and prejudices. The novel explores themes of love, racism, and power, offering a poignant commentary on the repercussions of societal divisions.

  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

    This novel is a historical fiction that provides a rich exploration of life in Japan before World War II, through the eyes of a young girl sold into the geisha lifestyle. The protagonist is trained in the arts of entertaining wealthy and powerful men, navigating a world of jealousy, love, and social politics. Her journey is one of resilience and survival as she strives to find personal happiness in a society that views her as a commodity.

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

    Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, this classic novel explores themes of class struggle, sacrifice, and resurrection. The narrative follows the lives of several characters, including a dissipated English lawyer, a man who is a long-term prisoner in the Bastille, and a woman who becomes embroiled in the political turmoil of the time. The story is a riveting tale of love and sacrifice, with the infamous guillotine looming in the background, symbolizing the violence and unrest of the era.

  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

    "The Thorn Birds" is a sweeping family saga that spans three generations of the Cleary family, set against the backdrop of the Australian outback. It focuses on the forbidden love between the beautiful Meggie Cleary and the family's priest, Father Ralph de Bricassart. The novel explores themes of love, religion, and ambition, as Meggie and Ralph struggle with their feelings for each other and the choices they must make.

  • Mort by Terry Pratchett

    In this comedic fantasy novel, a young, clumsy boy named Mort is taken on as an apprentice by Death, the grim reaper himself. As Mort learns the ropes of the family business, he struggles with the responsibilities of ushering souls into the afterlife. His compassion leads him to interfere with fate, causing a rift in reality that he must repair. Along the way, Mort encounters a colorful cast of characters, explores the peculiarities of the Discworld, and ultimately discovers his own place within it. The book combines wit, satire, and a deep exploration of the nature of humanity and destiny.

  • The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

    In this enchanting children's novel, a group of young siblings discovers an incredible tree in an enchanted forest near their new countryside home. This isn't just any tree; it's home to a variety of fantastical creatures and has magical lands that appear at its top, each with its own unique adventures and challenges. The children befriend the tree's quirky inhabitants and embark on a series of whimsical escapades, exploring lands filled with delights, dangers, and mysteries. Through their adventures, they learn the value of friendship, courage, and the boundless nature of imagination.

  • The Magus by John Fowles

    The novel is a psychological drama that follows a young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, who takes a teaching post on a remote Greek island to escape his dull life and a failed relationship. There, he meets a wealthy, mysterious man who introduces him to psychological games that blend myth, reality, and illusion. As Nicholas falls deeper into these manipulative scenarios, he begins to question his own sanity and reality. The story is filled with existential themes, exploring the nature of personal freedom, love, and the blurred line between reality and fantasy.

  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman

    "Good Omens" is a humorous take on the biblical Apocalypse, following an angel and a demon who have grown fond of Earth and its inhabitants, and are not too keen on the impending end of the world. As they try to locate the misplaced Antichrist and prevent the Four Horsemen from bringing about Armageddon, they encounter an array of quirky characters, including witch-hunters, modern-day witches, and the Four Horsemen themselves. The novel combines comedy, fantasy, and philosophical themes, offering a satirical critique of religious prophecy and human nature.

  • Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

    In a satirical twist on the fantasy genre, the story unfolds in a chaotic city where the inept and often ignored Night Watch finds itself facing an unexpected challenge when a secret society summons a dragon to achieve their political ambitions. The motley crew of guards, including a naive new recruit, a cynical captain, and a nobleman in disguise, must navigate through absurdity, corruption, and incompetence to save the city from fiery destruction. Along the way, they encounter a diverse cast of characters, including a formidable lady librarian and a magical swamp dragon, all while poking fun at the tropes of fantasy novels and exploring themes of duty, heroism, and the nature of power.

  • 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.

  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind

    Set in 18th-century France, this novel tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born with an extraordinary sense of smell but no personal scent of his own. He becomes an apprentice to a prominent perfumer and learns to create the world's most intoxicating perfumes. However, his obsession with capturing the perfect scent leads him down a dark path, as he begins to kill young women to extract their scent. The book is a chilling exploration of obsession, identity, and the power of scent.

  • The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, Peter Miles

    "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the lives of a group of working men in the fictional town of Mugsborough, and their struggle to survive in a society marred by poverty and exploitation. The story primarily focuses on a socialist protagonist who endeavors to enlighten his fellow workers about capitalism's inherent flaws and the necessity for social change, all while battling the dire conditions of his own life. The novel is a critique of capitalism and a call for a socialist revolution.

  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

    "Night Watch" is a satirical fantasy novel that follows the story of Sam Vimes, a city watch commander who is transported back in time. He must navigate the complexities of the past, assume the identity of his old mentor, and prevent a violent revolution, all while trying to find a way back to his own time. The book is filled with humor, social commentary, and a detailed fantasy world.

  • Matilda by Roald Dahl

    The book follows the story of Matilda, an exceptionally intelligent young girl who is neglected and mistreated by her parents. She finds solace and companionship in the local library, where she develops a love of books and a remarkable talent for telekinesis. Matilda eventually uses these abilities to defend her friends from their tyrannical headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, and help her kind-hearted teacher, Miss Honey, reclaim her life.

  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

    The book is a humorous and honest portrayal of a single woman's life in London. The protagonist, a 30-something year old woman, struggles with her weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption, all while trying to navigate her love life and career. The story is told through her personal diary entries, which include her daily calorie counts, number of cigarettes smoked, and other personal anecdotes. It's a modern take on romantic relationships and self-improvement, with a healthy dose of comedy.

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt

    A group of six classics students at a small, elite Vermont college, led by a charismatic professor, become entranced by the study of Greek culture and decide to recreate a Dionysian ritual, which ends in a tragic accident. The group, bound by their shared secret, begins to unravel as paranoia and guilt take hold. The novel explores themes of beauty and terror, the allure of the esoteric, and the destructive consequences of obsession.

  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

    A captivating tale of mystery and suspense, "The Woman in White" follows the story of a young art teacher, Walter Hartright, who encounters a mysterious woman dressed in white on a moonlit road. The woman is revealed to be a mental asylum escapee, and as Hartright delves into her story, he uncovers a web of deceit, madness, and dangerous secrets involving a wealthy, titled family. The narrative explores themes of identity, insanity, and the abuse of power, with a complex plot filled with twists and turns.

  • 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.

  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens

    "Bleak House" is a complex narrative that critiques the British judiciary system through a long-running legal case known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The story follows the lives of numerous characters, including the kind-hearted Esther Summerson, her friends Richard and Ada, and their guardian, Mr. Jarndyce, who are all caught in the web of a legal dispute over an inheritance. The novel is known for its detailed depiction of the legal system, its vivid characters, and its exploration of social issues of the time.

  • Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson

    The book centers around identical twins Ruby and Garnet who, despite their similar appearances, have contrasting personalities. Ruby is outgoing and assertive, while Garnet is shy and reserved. After the death of their mother, the girls' lives are upended when their father starts a new relationship, leading to a move that separates the twins from everything familiar. As they navigate this transition, the story explores themes of individuality, the bond of sisterhood, and the challenges of adapting to change. The twins must learn to embrace their differences and find their own paths, even as they struggle to maintain their close connection amidst the upheaval in their lives.

  • The Twits by Roald Dahl

    "The Twits" is a humorous children's book that follows the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Twit, a repulsive and mean-spirited couple who delight in playing nasty tricks on each other. With their hairy faces and twisted minds, they make life miserable for everyone around them. However, their wickedness eventually catches up with them when a group of mischievous monkeys decide to teach them a lesson they will never forget.

  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    "I Capture the Castle" is a coming-of-age novel that tells the story of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her eccentric family living in a dilapidated English castle during the 1930s. Cassandra's father is a reclusive writer suffering from writer's block and her stepmother is a bohemian artist. The family's life changes dramatically when two American brothers inherit the estate. The novel, written in diary format, explores themes of love, poverty, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

  • Holes by Louis Sachar

    This book follows the story of a young boy who is falsely accused of stealing a pair of sneakers and is sent to a juvenile detention center in the middle of a desert. Here, the boys are made to dig holes every day as a form of punishment. As the protagonist digs, he discovers the truth about the warden's obsession with the holes, the mystery of a hidden treasure, and a curse that has been haunting his family for generations. The story is a blend of adventure, mystery, and coming-of-age themes.

  • Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake

    Set in a vast, crumbling castle named Gormenghast, the story follows the life of Titus Groan, the heir to the Earl of Groan. The narrative explores the complex, rigidly structured society within the castle and the struggles and intrigues of its eccentric characters, particularly the scheming kitchen boy Steerpike. As Titus grows older, he begins to rebel against the stifling traditions of Gormenghast, setting the stage for a dramatic clash between the old and the new.

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

    This novel is a poignant tale of fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, who navigate through their childhood in Kerala, India, amidst a backdrop of political unrest and societal norms. The story, set in 1969, explores the complexities of their family's history and the tragic events that shape their lives. Their mother's transgression of caste and societal norms by having an affair with an untouchable leads to disastrous consequences, revealing the oppressive nature of the caste system and the destructive power of forbidden love. The novel also delves into themes of postcolonial identity, gender roles, and the lingering effects of trauma.

  • Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

    The book centers around a young girl grappling with the sudden loss of her best friend in a tragic accident. Overwhelmed by grief and guilt, she finds herself haunted by her friend's ghost, who appears to be as lively and domineering in death as she was in life. The spectral presence becomes a constant companion, influencing the girl's decisions and overshadowing her attempts to move on. As she struggles to assert her independence and cope with her sorrow, the story explores themes of friendship, loss, and the journey towards healing and self-discovery.

  • 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.

  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

    When a young, sophisticated woman is suddenly orphaned and left penniless, she decides to live with her eccentric relatives on their rundown farm. Using her urban sensibilities and wit, she sets about bringing order to the chaos and improving the lives of her relatives. Through her efforts, she manages to transform the gloomy, grim farm into a place of happiness and productivity. This novel is a hilarious parody of romantic, pastoral novels and is filled with eccentric characters and absurd situations.

  • Magician by Raymond E. Feist

    The book is a fantasy epic that follows the journey of a young boy named Pug, who rises from humble beginnings as an orphaned kitchen boy to become a powerful magician in the Kingdom of the Isles. His life takes a dramatic turn when he and his friend Tomas are swept into a conflict against an ancient enemy from another world, threatening not only their homeland but also the very fabric of reality. As Pug masters the arts of magic under the tutelage of the enigmatic magician Kulgan, he must navigate a path fraught with danger, political intrigue, and war. Alongside a diverse cast of characters, Pug's destiny unfolds as he becomes a key player in the struggle to save his world from destruction.

  • 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.

  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo

    The book revolves around the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone. When the don's youngest son, Michael, reluctantly joins the mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal. Although Michael tries to maintain a normal relationship with his wife, Kay, he is drawn deeper into the family business. The narrative follows the Corleone family's struggle to hold onto power in a rapidly changing world, as well as Michael's transformation from reluctant family outsider to ruthless mafia boss.

  • The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

    This novel tells the story of a young girl named Ayla who, after an earthquake kills her family, is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals known as the Clan. Ayla struggles to fit in with the Clan due to her physical differences and advanced cognitive abilities. Despite these challenges, she learns their customs and ways of life, and even becomes the apprentice of the Clan's medicine woman. The story explores themes of survival, acceptance, and the clash between cultures and species.

  • The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

    This book introduces readers to a flat, disc-shaped world balanced on the back of four elephants who stand on a giant turtle. The story follows an inept and cowardly wizard named Rincewind who is tasked with guiding a naive tourist through this chaotic and fantastical world filled with dragons, trolls, and magic. The narrative is a satirical take on fantasy genre clichés, with humorous and witty commentary throughout.

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

    A young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago dreams of finding a worldly treasure and sets off on a journey across the Egyptian desert in search of it. Along the way, he encounters a series of characters who impart wisdom and help guide his spiritual journey. The novel explores themes of destiny, personal legend, and the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. The boy learns that true wealth comes not from material possessions, but from self-discovery and attaining one's "Personal Legend".

  • Katherine by Anya Seton

    The novel is a historical romance that brings to life the true story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, set against the backdrop of 14th-century England. It follows the life of Katherine, a young woman of modest birth who rises to prominence through her enduring and controversial love affair with the Duke of Lancaster, one of the most powerful nobles of the time. Their relationship endures trials, social scorn, and political upheaval, ultimately shaping the course of English history through their descendants, who become the Tudor dynasty. The book weaves a rich tapestry of love, betrayal, and resilience, capturing the tumultuous era with vivid detail and emotional depth.

  • Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer

    "Kane and Abel" is a captivating saga that follows the lives of two men born on the same day on opposite sides of the world. One is born into a life of privilege and the other in extreme poverty. Despite their vastly different beginnings, their lives intertwine in a tale of ambition, rivalry, and revenge. Over the decades, they build successful lives, unaware of each other, until their paths cross, leading to a fierce battle that only one of them can win.

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel follows the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall passionately in love in their youth. However, Fermina eventually marries a wealthy doctor, leaving Florentino heartbroken. Despite this, Florentino remains devoted to Fermina for over fifty years, patiently waiting for her husband's death to have another chance at her love. The story is set against the backdrop of a cholera epidemic, serving as a metaphor for the transformative power of love and the destructive power of obsession.

  • Girls In Love by Jacqueline Wilson

    The book follows the life of a teenage girl navigating the complexities of adolescence, friendships, and romantic relationships. As she deals with the ups and downs of growing up, she and her two best friends support each other through their various experiences with boys, school, and family issues. The protagonist's witty and candid narration offers a humorous yet poignant look at the trials and tribulations of teenage life, capturing the essence of what it means to be a young girl in love and in search of one's identity.

  • The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

    The book follows the life of a teenage girl who discovers that she is the heir to the throne of a small European principality. Navigating the complexities of high school, she must also learn the intricacies of royalty and diplomacy. With the help of her grandmother, the reigning queen, she undergoes a transformation from an awkward adolescent to a confident young woman, all while dealing with the pressures of her newfound status, the media's attention, and the challenges of her personal relationships. Her journey is filled with humor, self-discovery, and the trials and tribulations of growing up.

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

    The novel tells the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact moment when India gained its independence. As a result, he shares a mystical connection with other children born at the same time, all of whom possess unique, magical abilities. As Saleem grows up, his life mirrors the political and cultural changes happening in his country, from the partition of India and Pakistan, to the Bangladesh War of Independence. The story is a blend of historical fiction and magical realism, exploring themes of identity, fate, and the power of storytelling.

About this list

BBC, 200 Books

The Big Read was a survey on books carried out by the BBC in the United Kingdom in 2003, where over three-quarters of a million votes were received from the British public to find the nation's best-loved novel. The year-long survey was the biggest single test of public reading taste to date, and culminated with several programmes hosted by celebrities, advocating their favourite books.

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