A Century of Reading

This is one of the 268 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • There There by Tommy Orange

    "There There" by Tommy Orange is a powerful and poignant novel that follows the lives of twelve Native American characters living in Oakland, California. As their stories intertwine and converge, the novel explores themes of identity, community, and the effects of historical trauma on Native American people. Through vivid and lyrical prose, Orange gives voice to a group of individuals who have long been marginalized and overlooked in American society, creating a compelling and unforgettable portrait of contemporary Native American life.

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

    The novel is a deeply moving portrayal of four friends in New York City, spanning over several decades. It primarily focuses on Jude, a man with a mysterious and traumatic past, who struggles with physical disability and emotional trauma. The story explores themes of friendship, love, trauma, suffering, and the human will to endure in spite of life's hardships. It is an epic tale of heartbreak and despair but also of resilience and enduring love.

  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

    "Citizen: An American Lyric" is a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of racial prejudice in contemporary America. The book, written in a blend of poetry, prose, and visual images, delves into the everyday experiences and microaggressions that people of color face. It also addresses larger events from the news that have impacted the Black community. The book is a powerful commentary on race, identity, and belonging, challenging readers to confront their own biases and perceptions.

  • Tenth of December by George Saunders

    "Tenth of December" is a collection of short stories that explore themes of class, love, loss, and the struggle of human existence in contemporary America. The stories range from a young boy's confrontation with a pedophile, to a middle-class woman's encounter with a drug-addicted veteran, to a futuristic tale about neuropharmacology. The collection is known for its dark humor, social criticism, and exploration of the human condition.

  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

    This novel tells the story of two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor neighborhood in Naples, Italy in the 1950s. Their intense, complicated friendship is marked by competition, mutual respect, and deep affection. As they navigate the challenges of adolescence, including family drama, academic struggles, and romantic entanglements, their bond is tested and transformed. The narrative explores themes of female friendship, social class, education, and the struggle for personal autonomy in a patriarchal society.

  • The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

    "The Tiger's Wife" is a captivating novel that weaves together the lives of a young doctor and her grandfather in war-torn Balkans. As the doctor embarks on a journey to uncover the truth behind her grandfather's mysterious death, she unravels a tapestry of folklore, superstition, and family secrets. Through her exploration, she uncovers the extraordinary story of the tiger's wife, a woman believed to possess the power to communicate with animals. This beautifully written tale explores themes of love, loss, and the enduring power of storytelling.

  • A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    "A Visit from the Goon Squad" is an interconnected collection of stories about a group of characters whose lives intersect in the music industry. The narrative spans several decades, tracing the characters' journey from their youth to middle age. It explores themes of time, change, and the impact of technology on human relationships and the music industry. The novel is known for its experimental structure, including a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation.

  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

    "The Sympathizer" is a gripping spy novel set during the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who is a communist double agent. After the Fall of Saigon, he moves to America with other South Vietnamese refugees and struggles to reconcile his dual loyalties as he continues to spy on his fellow countrymen in exile. The novel explores themes of identity, war, and politics, while providing a unique perspective on the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

    This novel follows the journey of Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, who escapes and embarks on a journey towards freedom via the Underground Railroad. The book presents a literal version of the historical Underground Railroad, portraying it as a physical network of tunnels and tracks beneath the Southern soil. As Cora travels from state to state, she encounters different worlds and harsh realities, each one illuminating the various forms of oppression Black people faced in America. The narrative is a brutal exploration of America's history of slavery and racism, and a testament to the unyielding spirit of those who fought against it.

  • My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

    The book in question is an autobiographical novel that delves deeply into the minutiae of the author's life, exploring his personal relationships, emotions, and the everyday experiences that shape his identity. It is a candid and introspective narrative that spans across various stages of his life, from childhood to adulthood, and examines themes such as family, death, love, and ambition. The author's unflinching honesty and detailed prose invite readers to reflect on the complexities of their own lives, as he scrutinizes the ordinary moments that, collectively, define who we are.

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    In a post-apocalyptic world, a father and his young son journey through a desolate landscape, struggling to survive. They face numerous threats including starvation, extreme weather, and dangerous encounters with other survivors. The father, who is terminally ill, is driven by his love and concern for his son, and is determined to protect him at all costs. The story is a haunting exploration of the depths of human resilience, the power of love, and the instinct to survive against all odds.

  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a haunting tale of three friends, who grow up together at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they mature, they discover a dark secret about their school and the purpose of their existence, which is to become organ donors for the rest of society. The story is a profound exploration of what it means to be human, the morality of scientific innovation, and the heartbreaking reality of love and loss.

  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

    The novel is a sprawling, ambitious work that spans continents and time periods, centering around an elusive, reclusive German author. It intertwines five different narratives: a group of European academics searching for the author, a professor in Mexico dealing with his own personal crises, a New York reporter sent to cover a boxing match in Mexico, an African-American journalist in Detroit, and the horrifying and unsolved murders of hundreds of women in a Mexican border town. The narratives are linked by themes of violence, mystery, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

  • Runaway by Alice Munro

    "Runaway" is a collection of short stories that explore the depth of human relationships, the complexities of love, and the consequences of life's unpredictable turns. The stories revolve around women of varying ages and circumstances, each dealing with her own unique situation. Some are escaping from their past or present situations, while others are struggling to find their place in the world. The narratives delve into themes like betrayal, loss, and the often complicated dynamics between parents and children, and husbands and wives.

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

    This novel is a unique blend of six different stories, each set in a different time and place, spanning from the 19th century South Pacific to a post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is written in a different style, reflecting the time and setting it represents, and they are all connected through shared themes and recurring motifs. The stories are nested within each other, with each interrupted by the next, only to be concluded in the second half of the book. The novel explores themes of predacity, civilization, reincarnation and the eternal recurrence of the same behaviors throughout history.

  • Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

    "Kafka On The Shore" is a surreal and philosophical novel by Haruki Murakami that follows two parallel storylines. The first is that of Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old boy who runs away from home to escape an Oedipal prophecy and searches for his missing mother and sister. The second storyline follows Nakata, an elderly man who has lost his memory but possesses the ability to communicate with cats. As their paths converge, they encounter strange and mystical events that challenge their perceptions of reality and identity. The novel explores themes of fate, free will, and the human psyche, and is a captivating and thought-provoking read.

  • 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.

  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    This novel follows the lives of two friends, a working-class Englishman and a Bangladeshi Muslim, living in London. The story explores the complex relationships between people of different races, cultures, and generations in modern Britain, with themes of identity, immigration, and the cultural and social changes that have shaped the country. The narrative is enriched by the characters' personal histories and the historical events that have shaped their lives.

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

    The book follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, one a skilled escape artist and the other a talented artist, before, during, and after World War II. They create a popular comic book superhero, which brings them fame and fortune. However, their success is complicated by personal struggles, including the escape artist's attempts to rescue his family from Nazi-occupied Prague and the artist's struggle with his sexuality. The narrative explores themes of escapism, identity, and the golden age of comic books.

  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

    The novel revolves around the lives of the Lambert family, an old-fashioned midwestern couple and their three adult children. The parents, Alfred and Enid, are dealing with Alfred's Parkinson's disease and their own marital problems, while their children are each facing their own personal and professional crises. The narrative explores the themes of family dynamics, societal expectations, and the struggles of modern life. The story climaxes with the family's last Christmas together at their childhood home.

  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

    "Interpreter of Maladies" is a collection of nine short stories, each exploring different aspects of life, love, and identity. The stories are set in both India and America, and the characters often grapple with issues of cultural identity, displacement, and the complexities of relationships. Themes like marital issues, communication breakdowns, and the struggle to fit in are prevalent throughout the stories, offering a poignant and nuanced glimpse into the human experience.

  • 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.

  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

    The book is a gripping and darkly humorous exploration of masculinity, consumerism, and identity in modern society, told through the eyes of an unnamed protagonist suffering from insomnia. Disillusioned with his white-collar job and desperate for escape, he forms an underground fight club as a radical form of psychotherapy, which evolves into a cult-like organization with a destructive agenda. The narrative takes a surreal turn as the lines between reality and the protagonist's mental state blur, leading to a shocking twist that challenges the reader's perception of the narrator and the nature of his reality.

  • Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

    This memoir is a profound and heart-wrenching account of the author's impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 1940s. The story is filled with tales of survival in the face of extreme poverty, an alcoholic father, a struggling mother, and the deaths of three siblings. Despite the harsh circumstances, the narrative is infused with a sense of humor and hope, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

    This novel is a complex, multi-layered narrative that explores themes of addiction, recovery, and the human condition in a near-future society. The story is set in a tennis academy and a halfway house for recovering addicts, and it intertwines the lives of its numerous characters, including a gifted but troubled teenage tennis prodigy, his filmmaker father, and a group of Quebecois separatists. The book is known for its length, intricate plot, and extensive use of footnotes.

  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

    The novel is a haunting and tragic tale of the five Lisbon sisters who live in suburban America in the 1970s. Their strict, overbearing parents keep them isolated from the world, leading to a sense of mystery and intrigue about the girls in their community. This fascination turns into morbid curiosity when one of the sisters commits suicide, and the remaining sisters become even more sheltered. The story is narrated by a group of neighborhood boys who are obsessed with the girls, and their suicides, trying to piece together the reasons behind their tragic ends.

  • Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

    The book is a collection of linked short stories narrated by a young, unnamed protagonist who struggles with drug addiction. The stories are set in various locations across the United States and are filled with surreal and sometimes violent experiences. Despite the bleak circumstances, the narrator seeks moments of beauty and grace, often finding them in unexpected places. The narrative is characterized by its disjointed chronology, hallucinatory descriptions, and dark humor.

  • 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.

  • Angels In America by Tony Kushner

    The play is a profound and complex exploration of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, intertwining the lives of several characters grappling with their sexuality, religion, and politics. Set against the backdrop of a conservative Reagan-era America, it delves into themes of abandonment, race, and the supernatural, as characters confront personal and societal challenges. The narrative weaves together the stories of a gay man diagnosed with AIDS, his closeted and conflicted lover, a Mormon couple facing their own crises, and a notorious real-life lawyer, Roy Cohn, also battling AIDS. Ethereal beings, including a heralding angel, intersect with the characters' lives, adding a fantastical dimension to the play's commentary on human suffering, redemption, and the quest for justice and love.

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

    The book is a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The story is semi-autobiographical, based on the author's experiences in the war. The narrative explores the physical and emotional burdens the soldiers carry during the war, as well as the lingering effects of war on veterans. It delves into themes of bravery, truth, and the fluidity of fact and fiction.

  • Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

    The novel follows two Indian actors who miraculously survive a plane explosion, and as a result, find themselves embodying good and evil. As they navigate their new identities, the story also delves into the life of a prophet and his creation of a new religion in a city of sand. The narrative is a blend of fantasy and reality, exploring themes of identity, religion, and the immigrant experience, while also providing a controversial interpretation of Islamic faith and the life of Prophet Muhammad.

  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

    A Brief History of Time is a popular science book that explores a broad range of topics in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes, light cones and superstring theory. The author does not shy away from complex theories and concepts, but explains them in a way that is accessible to non-scientific readers. The book also discusses the possibility of time travel and the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Throughout, the author emphasizes the ongoing quest for a unifying theory that can combine quantum mechanics and general relativity into one all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

    The book tells the story of two retired Texas Rangers who embark on a perilous cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the 1870s. The narrative focuses on the duo's adventures and the characters they meet along the way, including a variety of outlaws, Indians, and settlers. This epic tale of the Old West explores themes of friendship, unrequited love, and the harsh realities of frontier life.

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson

    In this groundbreaking cyberpunk novel, a washed-up computer hacker is hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack. As he navigates a dystopian future filled with artificial intelligence, corporate espionage, and virtual reality, he must confront his own past and the dark realities of the digital world. The narrative explores themes of technology, identity, and consciousness, pushing the boundaries of science fiction literature.

  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

    The book is a collection of interconnected vignettes that detail the experiences of a Latina girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. It explores her struggles with her identity, her desire for a better life, and her experiences with poverty and gender roles. The protagonist's observations and experiences weave a vivid picture of life in a Latinx community, and her dreams of a better future give the narrative a sense of hope and resilience.

  • White Noise by Don DeLillo

    The novel is a postmodern exploration of death and consumerism in the United States. It follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler Studies at a small liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, are afraid of death and are obsessed with finding a cure for their fear. Their lives are disrupted by an airborne toxic event, which forces them to confront their mortality and the toxic effects of modern life.

  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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

  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

    This collection of short stories explores the complexities of love through various perspectives. The narratives delve into the lives of everyday people, showcasing their struggles, their desires, and their failures. Love is depicted in its many forms, from passionate and romantic to destructive and obsessive, providing a raw and honest depiction of human relationships. The stories highlight how love can both heal and hurt, uniting and dividing people in unexpected ways.

  • The Shining by Stephen King

    A recovering alcoholic accepts a job as a winter caretaker at a remote Colorado hotel, hoping the isolation will help him reconnect with his wife and young son, and work on his writing. However, the hotel has a dark history and a powerful malevolent presence that influences him into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future. As the winter weather leaves them snowbound, the father's sanity deteriorates, leading to a terrifying climax.

  • Roots by Alex Haley

    This groundbreaking historical novel follows several generations of an African American family, beginning with Kunta Kinte, a man captured in Gambia in the 18th century and sold into slavery in the United States. Through Kinte and his descendants, the narrative explores the brutal realities of slavery and its aftermath, the struggle for freedom and civil rights, and the perseverance of a family through immense hardship. The story is based on the author's own family history, making it a significant work in the exploration of African American heritage and identity.

  • All the President's Men by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein

    "All the President's Men" is a non-fiction book that details the investigative journalism conducted by two reporters who uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation. The book provides a detailed account of the reporters' struggles to uncover the truth, the obstacles they faced, their persistence, and the ultimate revelation of a political scandal that shook the United States.

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

    The book is a philosophical novel that explores the protagonist's journey across the United States on a motorcycle with his son, during which he delves into questions about life, philosophy, and the nature of "Quality". The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to the protagonist's life before the journey, including his time as a university professor and his struggle with mental illness. The book aims to reconcile the dichotomy between classical and romantic understandings of the world, ultimately arguing for a holistic approach that integrates both perspectives.

  • Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

    This book provides a detailed and chilling account of the infamous 1969 Manson Family murders, where a cult led by Charles Manson committed a series of brutal killings, including that of actress Sharon Tate. Written by the prosecutor in the case, the narrative delves into the investigation, trial, and the bizarre and terrifying worldview of Manson that led to the violence. It offers an in-depth look at the criminal proceedings and the psyche behind one of the most disturbing crimes of the 20th century, painting a stark picture of the dark side of the 1960s counterculture.

  • The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort

    This book serves as a comprehensive guide to human sexual behavior, offering detailed illustrations and instructions on various sexual techniques and positions. The author emphasizes the importance of mutual consent, respect, and emotional intimacy in sexual relationships, and promotes a positive and open-minded attitude towards sex. The book also provides advice on sexual health and contraception, making it a valuable resource for anyone seeking to enhance their sexual knowledge and experiences.

  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

    The book is a coming-of-age story about a sixth-grade girl who is growing up without a religious affiliation, due to her parents' interfaith marriage. The protagonist is in search of a single religion while also confronting typical pre-teen issues such as buying her first bra, having her first period, coping with crushes and the changes that come with growing up. The book explores themes of friendship, religion, love, and self-identity.

  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

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

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

    This book is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the adventures of a journalist and his attorney as they embark on a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas. The narrative is a wild and hallucinatory exploration of the American Dream, filled with biting social commentary and outrageous antics. The protagonist's quest for the American Dream quickly devolves into an exploration of the darker side of human nature, highlighting the excesses and depravities of 1960s American society.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    The novel follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran who has become "unstuck in time," experiencing his life events out of order. This includes his experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allies' firebombing, his post-war life as a successful optometrist, his abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, and his eventual death. The book is a critique of war and a demonstration of the destructive nature of time, with a nonlinear narrative that reflects the chaos and unpredictability of life.

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

    This memoir recounts the early years of an African-American girl's life, focusing on her experiences with racism and trauma in the South during the 1930s. Despite the hardships she faces, including sexual abuse, she learns to rise above her circumstances through strength of character and a love of literature. Her journey from victim to survivor and her transformation into a young woman who respects herself is a testament to the human capacity to overcome adversity.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Ariel by Sylvia Plath

    "Ariel" is a collection of poetry which explores the complexities of the human psyche, mental health, female identity, and the personal struggles of life. The poems are known for their vivid and often disturbing imagery, reflecting the author's own experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. The collection is also notable for its exploration of the author's relationship with her father, her feelings of betrayal and abandonment, and her struggles with motherhood.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

    This book is a collection of essays that capture the essence of the 1960s in California. It portrays a society in the midst of social and cultural upheaval, as traditional norms are challenged by the counterculture movement. The author explores various themes including morality, self-respect, and the nature of good and evil, while providing a vivid picture of the era through her insightful and incisive observations.

  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

    This groundbreaking book is a sociological examination of the dissatisfaction felt by American housewives in the mid-20th century. The author argues that women are not naturally fulfilled by devoting their lives to homemaking and child-rearing, challenging the widely accepted belief of the era. It explores the idea of the "problem that has no name" - the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. The book is considered one of the catalysts of the second-wave feminist movement.

  • 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.

  • Exodus by Leon Uris

    The novel is an epic historical narrative centered around the founding of the State of Israel, following the intertwined lives of several characters who are Holocaust survivors, Jewish refugees, and key figures in the Zionist movement. The story delves into the struggles faced by Jewish immigrants as they endeavor to establish a new homeland in Palestine, overcoming British blockade and Arab opposition. It explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the enduring human spirit, set against the backdrop of political turmoil and the fight for a national identity. The book's title itself is a powerful allusion to the biblical Exodus, drawing a parallel between the ancient Israelites' escape from Egyptian bondage and the modern journey of Jews seeking a homeland.

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

    This book is a collection of essays that vividly capture the author's life in Harlem, his travels in Europe, and his views on everything from the sweet music of black church revivals to the biting prejudice of the 'then' contemporary world. It's an exploration of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in both Western societies and the American society. The author's reflections on his experiences as a black man in white America are profoundly insightful and continue to resonate today.

  • 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.

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

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

  • Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey

    This book is a groundbreaking scientific study that provides an in-depth analysis of human male sexual behavior. It presents a comprehensive survey of male sexual activities and preferences, based on thousands of interviews and case studies. The book challenges many societal norms and taboos of its time by revealing the diversity and complexity of male sexual practices. It also explores the psychological, social, and biological factors that influence male sexuality.

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

    This classic children's book follows a young rabbit's bedtime routine, as it says goodnight to everything around: from the red balloon and a pair of mittens, to the kittens, the picture of the cow jumping over the moon, the old lady whispering "hush", and more. The soothing, repetitive text and warm, detailed illustrations create a peaceful, comforting atmosphere that eases children into sleep.

  • A Street In Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks

    This book is a poignant collection of poetry that explores the lives and struggles of African Americans in the mid-20th century urban landscape. Through vivid imagery and emotional depth, the poems delve into themes of racial identity, social injustice, and the search for personal meaning within the confines of a segregated society. The poet's keen observations and lyrical mastery bring to life the vibrant community of Bronzeville, a neighborhood in Chicago, capturing both its beauty and its hardships, and offering a powerful commentary on the broader African American experience during this era.

  • 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.

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    This classic novel follows the life of Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up in the slums of early 20th century Brooklyn. The narrative explores her experiences with poverty, her pursuit of education, and her dreams of a better life. The tree in the title serves as a symbol of her resilience and hope, growing and thriving despite the harsh conditions around it, much like Francie herself.

  • The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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

  • 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 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.

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

    This novel follows the life of Janie Crawford, a young African-American woman, in the early 20th century. She embarks on a journey through three marriages and self-discovery while challenging the societal norms of her time. The narrative explores her struggle for personal freedom, fulfillment, and identity against the backdrop of racism and gender expectations, ultimately emphasizing the importance of independence and personal growth.

  • 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.

  • Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

    "Nightwood" is a modernist novel that explores the complex relationships and sexuality of a group of Americans and Europeans living in Paris in the 1920s. The story primarily revolves around the tumultuous love affair between two women, one of whom is a married aristocrat. The narrative, known for its poetic and dense language, delves deep into the characters' psyches, exploring themes of identity, gender, and desire. The novel is also notable for its frank and groundbreaking depiction of homosexuality and transgender issues.

  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

    This classic children's novel is about a boy named Peter Pan who never grows up and lives in a magical place called Neverland. Peter Pan, along with his fairy sidekick Tinker Bell, invites the Darling children - Wendy, John, and Michael - to Neverland where they encounter pirates, mermaids, and other fantastic adventures. The story explores themes of innocence, friendship, bravery, and the bittersweet nature of growing up.

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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

  • The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

    This novel tells the story of a poor farmer in rural China, who struggles to survive and prosper. Over time, he manages to build a life for himself and his family, eventually becoming a wealthy landowner. However, his newfound wealth and status lead to a moral decline, as he becomes disconnected from the land that gave him everything. The narrative explores themes of wealth, poverty, and the human connection to the earth.

  • The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker

    This book is a comprehensive guide to home cooking, providing readers with a wide range of recipes, techniques, and advice for all kinds of dishes. It covers everything from appetizers to desserts, with clear instructions and illustrations to make the process easy and enjoyable. The book also includes helpful tips on meal planning, food safety, and nutrition, making it a valuable resource for both beginners and experienced cooks.

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    This classic detective novel follows a private investigator who is hired by a mysterious woman to track down her missing sister. The case quickly becomes complicated when the investigator is caught up in a dangerous hunt for a priceless artifact, the Maltese Falcon. As he navigates a world of treachery, deceit, and murder, he must use his wit and courage to outsmart his enemies and solve the mystery.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

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

  • The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

    This book is a seminal collection of poems that delves into the African American experience during the early 20th century, capturing the struggles, joys, and cultural vibrancy of the Harlem Renaissance. Through its titular poem and others within the collection, the work explores themes of racial identity, social injustice, and the power of music and art as forms of resistance and celebration. The lyrical verses blend the rhythm of blues and jazz with vivid imagery, showcasing the author's innovative use of language and his profound connection to the Black community's heritage and spirit.

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    The novel chronicles a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman in post-World War I England, as she prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. Throughout the day, she encounters various characters from her past, including a former suitor and a shell-shocked war veteran. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and in and out of different characters' minds, exploring themes of mental illness, existentialism, and the nature of time.

  • Cane by Jean Toomer

    "Cane" is a collection of vignettes and poems that depict the life of African-Americans in both the rural South and urban North during the early 20th century. The narrative explores themes of racial identity, cultural heritage, and the African-American experience, blending elements of fiction, poetry, and drama. The work is divided into three parts, with the first and third focusing on life in the rural South and the second part on life in the urban North.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

    "Winesburg, Ohio" is a collection of interconnected short stories that paints a picture of life in a small town in the early 20th century. The book captures the hopes, dreams, and despair of the inhabitants of Winesburg, focusing on a young reporter as he interacts with the townspeople. Each character's story reveals their inner struggles, loneliness, and search for understanding and connection, providing a profound exploration of human nature and the complexities of life in a small community.

  • The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

    "The Magnificent Ambersons" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in the early 20th century that explores the dramatic changes brought about by the industrial revolution in America. It follows the decline of the once-prosperous Amberson family as their fortune and influence wane with the rise of new money and modern technology. The story is centered around the prideful and spoiled George Amberson Minafer, whose arrogance and inability to adapt to the changing world lead to his downfall.

About this list

Lithub, 118 Books

LitHub did a best of each decade for every decade of the 20th century. The lists seem to have been written by Emily Temple, which is an author and critic.

Added about 2 months ago.

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