Landmarks of World Literature

This is one of the 313 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

    "Eugene Onegin" is a classic Russian novel in verse that tells the story of a sophisticated and cynical young man, Eugene Onegin, who moves from the city to the country following the death of his uncle. Throughout the novel, Onegin engages in a series of interactions with other characters, including Tatyana, a young country woman who falls in love with him. Despite her sincere love, Onegin rejects Tatyana, leading to a tragic duel with his friend Lensky. The novel is renowned for its exploration of Russian society, love, and the human experience.

    The 383rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

    "Father Goriot" is a classic French novel that explores the themes of wealth, power, love, and social status in 19th century Paris. The narrative follows the lives of three main characters: a young, ambitious law student who seeks to rise above his modest background; an elderly, once-wealthy man who has sacrificed everything for his two ungrateful daughters; and a crafty, ruthless criminal who manipulates others for his own gain. Their stories intertwine in a boarding house, revealing the harsh realities of Parisian society and the destructive power of unchecked ambition and selfishness.

    The 184th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

    "Decameron" is a collection of 100 stories told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death, which was afflicting the city. The tales, which range from the erotic to the tragic, the hilarious to the instructional, are embedded in a rich framework narrative that provides a detailed portrait of the society of the Italian Renaissance.

    The 181st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

    Set in the fictional South American country of Costaguana, the novel explores the turbulent political and social changes of the era through the eyes of Nostromo, a respected and resourceful Italian expatriate. Nostromo's loyalty and heroism are tested when he is tasked with hiding a cache of silver from a revolutionary government. As the political landscape shifts, he finds himself caught in a web of moral dilemmas and life-altering decisions. The novel is a profound examination of power, corruption, and the human condition.

    The 173rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Adolphe by Benjamin Constant

    "Adolphe" is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of a young man, Adolphe, who falls in love with an older woman, Ellénore. The novel explores the complexities and consequences of their illicit love affair, as Adolphe struggles with his feelings and societal expectations. The story delves into themes of love, power, freedom, and the individual versus society, offering a profound psychological and moral insight into human nature.

    The 988th Greatest Book of All 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.

    The 21st Greatest Book of All Time
  • L'assommoir by Émile Zola

    The novel is a gritty portrayal of working-class life in 19th-century Paris, focusing on the struggles of Gervaise Macquart, a laundress who aspires to a better life. After her lover abandons her with two children, she marries a roofer, Coupeau, and they initially find happiness and modest prosperity. However, their lives spiral downward due to alcoholism, poverty, and the harsh realities of their social environment. The narrative delves into the impact of addiction on family dynamics and the broader community, painting a vivid and unflinching picture of the urban poor's descent into despair and degradation.

    The 1041st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Cantos by Ezra Pound

    This book is a comprehensive collection of the works of a renowned poet, known for his significant influence on modern literature. It includes his most famous poems, along with lesser-known pieces, providing a complete overview of his poetic style and themes. The author's work is characterized by his innovative use of form and language, his incorporation of various cultural and historical references, and his exploration of complex philosophical and political ideas. The book serves as an essential resource for understanding the evolution of modern poetry.

    The 1243rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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

    The 17th Greatest Book of All Time
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

    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 6th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Fortunata and Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós

    "Fortunata and Jacinta" is a novel set in 19th century Spain, that explores the lives of two women - Fortunata, a poor but beautiful woman, and Jacinta, a wealthy and well-bred lady. Both women are in love with the same man, a wealthy and idle individual who leads a life of debauchery. The novel offers a rich and detailed portrayal of Madrid society during the period, and the stark contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor. It raises questions about marriage, social status, and the role of women in society.

    The 684th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    This classic novel follows the emotional journey of a young artist named Werther, who falls deeply in love with a beautiful woman named Lotte, only to discover that she is already engaged to another man. His unrequited love and deep despair eventually lead him to take his own life. The story, told through letters written by Werther, explores themes of love, loss, and the tragic consequences of emotional turmoil.

    The 267th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg

    "Tristan" is a medieval romance that tells the tragic tale of the noble knight Tristan and the beautiful princess Isolde. The story is filled with themes of love, betrayal, and honor, as Tristan is sent to Ireland to bring back Isolde for his uncle, King Mark, to marry. However, on their journey back, they accidentally consume a love potion, causing them to fall deeply in love with each other. Their illicit affair eventually leads to their downfall, resulting in a tale filled with sorrow and heartbreak.

    The 846th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 82nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

    "Buddenbrooks" is a novel that chronicles the decline of a wealthy north German merchant family over the course of four generations. The narrative focuses on the fluctuating fortunes and internal struggles of the family, reflecting the societal changes and economic decline of the period. The family's personal and business relationships, their moral values, and their struggle to maintain social status are all explored against the backdrop of the changing political and social landscape.

    The 131st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

    The novel is a reimagining of the Faust legend set in the context of the first half of the 20th century and the turmoil of Germany in that period. It tells the story of a composer who makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited creative genius. The protagonist's life and work reflect the cultural and political journey of Germany leading up to World War II, providing a deep exploration of the individual's role in a society undergoing dramatic change. The novel is also a profound meditation on the nature of time, the art and the artist, and the destructiveness of human ambition.

    The 145th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Phèdre by Jean Racine

    "Phèdre" is a classic French play that explores themes of love, guilt, and retribution. The story revolves around the tragic heroine, Phèdre, who falls passionately in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. Battling with her forbidden desires, she eventually confesses her feelings to Hippolytus, leading to a series of devastating events. The play is renowned for its exploration of human emotions, moral dilemmas, and the destructive power of uncontrolled passion.

    The 621st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Waverley by Sir Walter Scott

    Set during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, this historical novel follows the story of Edward Waverley, an English gentleman who is sent to Scotland by his father. There, he becomes embroiled in the rebellion, torn between his loyalty to his family and the king, and his sympathy for the Jacobite cause. The novel explores the complexities of politics, culture, and identity during this turbulent period in Scottish history.

    The 929th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal

    The novel is a detailed psychological portrait of Julien Sorel, a young man from a provincial background who aspires to rise above his humble beginnings. He uses his intelligence and hypocrisy to advance in the post-Napoleonic French society, which is deeply divided by class and political loyalties. The story is a critique of the society's materialism and hypocrisy as Julien's ambitions lead him to a tragic end. The title refers to the contrasting uniforms of the army and the church, the two routes available to him for upward mobility.

    The 48th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

    The novel is a humorous, rambling narrative that chronicles the life of Tristram Shandy. The story is filled with digressions, anecdotes, and eccentric characters, as Tristram often interrupts his own tale to interject commentary or to recount stories from his family's past. Despite the seemingly haphazard structure, the novel is a clever exploration of narrative form and a satirical critique of traditional biographies and novels.

    The 56th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

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

    The 41st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Bible by Unknown

    The Bible is the central religious text of Christianity, comprising the Old and New Testaments. It features a diverse collection of writings including historical narratives, poetry, prophecies, and teachings. These texts chronicle the relationship between God and humanity, detail the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and follow the early Christian church. Considered divinely inspired by believers, it serves as a foundational guide for faith and practice, influencing countless aspects of culture and society worldwide.

    The 33rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 14th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Waves by Virginia Woolf

    "The Waves" is a novel that follows the lives of six friends from childhood to old age, using an innovative narrative style that intertwines their individual voices into a collective stream of consciousness. The novel explores themes of individual identity, the passage of time, and the human condition, presenting a unique and poetic meditation on the nature of life and death.

    The 347th Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

Cambridge University, 24 Books

This series provides concise and lucid introductions to major works of world literature. It is not confined to any single literary tradition or genre and cumulatively forms a substantial library of textbooks on some of the most important and widely read masterpieces.

This list was originally published in 2012 and was added to this site 3 months ago.

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