Finding Comfort in the Classics

This is one of the 273 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • 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.

  • How to Cook a Wolf by M. F. K. Fisher

    This book is a classic guide to cooking and living well during times of scarcity and austerity. The author offers practical advice, recipes, and tips on how to make the most of limited resources. The book is not only a cookbook but also a philosophical treatise on the importance of enjoying life and finding beauty in simplicity. It's a testament to the author's belief that one can live well and eat deliciously even in times of hardship.

  • Collected Essays of George Orwell by George Orwell

    This book is a compilation of essays by a renowned author, known for his sharp wit and critical eye. It covers a wide range of topics, from politics and language to literature and culture. The author's insightful and often provocative viewpoints provide a unique perspective on the world, challenging readers to question their own beliefs and assumptions. His straightforward writing style and keen observations make these essays as relevant today as when they were first published.

  • Possession by A. S. Byatt

    "Possession" is a novel that interweaves two storylines, one set in contemporary times and the other in the Victorian era. The contemporary plot follows two academics who uncover a secret love affair between two 19th-century poets, while the Victorian storyline presents the clandestine romance itself. As the modern scholars delve deeper into the past, they find themselves falling in love as well, mirroring the historical romance they are researching. The book explores themes of love, passion, and the power of the written word.

  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

    The book is a satirical critique of the nobility in 19th century Russia, focusing on the titular character, a lazy and apathetic nobleman who prefers to daydream and live in his own fantasies rather than engage with the real world. His indolence is contrasted with the energetic and ambitious character of his friend who tries to get him involved in societal affairs and business. The protagonist's lethargy and inability to adapt to changing times symbolize the decay and stagnation of the Russian nobility.

  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

    The book is a poignant exploration of mortality and the human condition, focusing on a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia who lives a seemingly successful and conventional life. However, when he is confronted with a terminal illness, he begins to question the meaning and value of his life, leading to an existential crisis and eventual spiritual awakening. Through his struggle, he comes to realize the superficiality of his previous life and the importance of genuine human connection. His story is a profound commentary on the nature of life, death, and the pursuit of happiness.

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

    A young boy named Milo, who is always bored and uninterested in the world around him, unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth. When he drives through it in his toy car, he is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Here, he embarks on a quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, who have been exiled by the warring brothers, King Azaz of Dictionopolis (where words are supremely important) and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis (where numbers are most valued). Along his journey, Milo learns the value of learning and the excitement that can be found in the world around him.

  • The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford

    This book is a critical examination of the funeral industry in the United States. The author explores the various ways in which the industry exploits the grief and vulnerability of the bereaved to upsell expensive services and merchandise, often with little regard for the actual needs or desires of the deceased or their loved ones. She also delves into the cultural and societal norms around death and burial in America, questioning their origins and the extent to which they are perpetuated by the industry for profit.

  • The Habit of Being by Flannery O'Connor

    "The Habit of Being" is a collection of personal correspondence by a renowned southern writer, offering a profound insight into her private life, thoughts, and creative processes. These letters, written over a span of two decades, reveal her struggle with lupus, her strong Catholic faith, her sharp wit, and her dedication to writing. The book also provides a glimpse of her relationships with literary contemporaries and her insightful thoughts on contemporary issues, literature, and religion.

  • William Trevor: The Collected Stories by William Trevor

    This collection brings together numerous short stories from a renowned author, demonstrating his masterful storytelling ability. The stories span a variety of themes and settings, often focusing on the complexities of human relationships and the subtle nuances of everyday life. The author's keen eye for detail and ability to capture the human condition in his works have earned him a place among the greatest short story writers.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

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

  • The 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.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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

  • Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

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

  • If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

    This book is a deeply moving and insightful memoir of a survivor of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The author, an Italian Jew, provides a detailed account of his life in the camp, the brutal conditions, the dehumanization, and the struggle for survival. The narrative is a profound exploration of the human spirit, resilience, and the will to live, despite unimaginable horror and suffering. It also raises profound questions about humanity, morality, and the capacity for evil.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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

  • The 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.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

    The Mayor of Casterbridge is a tragic novel set in the fictional town of Casterbridge, based on Dorchester in the English county of Dorset. The story follows the life of Michael Henchard, a skilled hay-trusser who, in a fit of drunken anger, sells his wife and daughter at a fair. When he sobers up, he is filled with regret and swears off alcohol for 21 years. He works hard and eventually becomes a successful businessman and the mayor of Casterbridge. However, his past returns to haunt him when his wife and daughter come back into his life, leading to a series of events that result in his downfall.

About this list

NY Times, 21 Books

Editors and writers on the Books desk — along with colleagues from the newsroom — recommend some time-tested books that offer escape from the present moment. This list came out during COVID

Added 2 months ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 68%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

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

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

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at contact@thegreatestbooks.org.