The Greatest "Humanities" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 268 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Humanities

The category of "Humanities" in books encompasses a wide range of subjects that explore the human experience and expression. This includes literature, philosophy, history, art, music, religion, and language. These books aim to deepen our understanding of the world and ourselves, and to explore the complexities of human culture and society. Through the study of humanities, readers can gain insight into the past, present, and future of humanity, and develop a greater appreciation for the diversity of human thought and expression.

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  1. 1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

    The novel follows the journey of a young boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. Set in the American South before the Civil War, the story explores themes of friendship, freedom, and the hypocrisy of society. Through various adventures and encounters with a host of colorful characters, Huck grapples with his personal values, often clashing with the societal norms of the time.

  2. 2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    This novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man's intellectual and artistic development in late 19th-century Ireland. The protagonist struggles with issues of identity, faith, and nationality, ultimately rejecting the traditional values of his Catholic upbringing to pursue his own path as an artist. The book is renowned for its innovative narrative style and its exploration of themes such as individuality, freedom, and the nature of art.

  3. 3. Oedipus the King by Sophocles

    "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play that revolves around the life of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who is prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. Despite his attempts to avoid this fate, Oedipus unknowingly fulfills the prophecy. When he discovers the truth about his actions, he blinds himself in despair. The play explores themes of fate, free will, and the quest for truth, highlighting the tragic consequences of human hubris and ignorance.

  4. 4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    The novel follows the story of a young woman who wins a guest editorship at a magazine in New York City and, after a series of personal and professional disappointments, suffers a mental breakdown and returns to her family, where she continues to struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. The protagonist's experiences in psychiatric institutions and her attempts to reclaim her life are depicted with brutal honesty, making it a poignant exploration of mental illness and the societal pressures faced by women in the mid-20th century.

  5. 5. 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.

  6. 6. Howards End by E. M. Forster

    This novel explores class relations and conflicting values in turn-of-the-century England. The narrative revolves around three families: the wealthy, capitalist Wilcoxes; the cultured, idealistic Schlegels; and the lower-middle class Basts. As their lives intertwine, the story grapples with themes of wealth, love, and death, and the struggle for personal connection in an increasingly impersonal society. The titular "Howards End" is a country home, and it becomes a symbol of England's past, present, and future.

  7. 7. The Republic by Plato

    "The Republic" is a philosophical text that explores the concepts of justice, order, and character within the context of a just city-state and a just individual. It presents the idea of a utopian society ruled by philosopher-kings, who are the most wise and just. The dialogue also delves into theories of education, the nature of reality, and the role of the philosopher in society. It is a fundamental work in Western philosophy and political theory.

  8. 8. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

    This renowned novel provides a harsh critique of American slavery through the story of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave. The narrative follows Tom as he is sold and transported to the harsh South, encountering a variety of characters, both kind and cruel. The novel powerfully explores themes of faith, the immorality of slavery, and the concept of humanity, ultimately contributing to the abolitionist cause and leaving a significant impact on the American perception of slavery.

  9. 9. 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.

  10. 10. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

    This influential book offers an in-depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of 19th century American democracy. The author, a French political thinker, provides a detailed examination of the democratic process and its impact on society, politics, and the economy. The work highlights the importance of civil society, local institutions, and the spirit of equality in ensuring the stability of democracy. It also delves into the dangers of majority tyranny, the potential for democratic despotism, and the critical role of religion and morality in sustaining a democratic nation.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

    This complex and challenging novel is renowned for its experimental style and intricate, dreamlike narrative. It explores the story of a publican in Dublin, his wife, and their three children, but the plot is not linear and often veers into surreal and abstract territory. The book is dense with linguistic games, puns, and allusions to a myriad of cultural, historical, and mythological sources. The narrative is circular, ending in the middle of a sentence that is completed at the start of the book, embodying the cyclical nature of life and history.

  13. 13. The Elements of Style by E. B. White, William Strunk Jr.

    This book is a definitive guide and classic manual on the principles of English language read by millions of readers. The 18 main topics are organized under headings such as Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style. The book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers, making it a beloved resource for those who want to write clear, correct and effective prose.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. The Bacchae by Euripides

    "The Bacchae" is a classic Greek tragedy where the god Dionysus, disguised as a mortal, returns to his birthplace in Greece to punish the impious King Pentheus who denies Dionysus's divine nature and refuses to worship him. The narrative explores themes of revenge, mortality, and the relationship between man and god. Dionysus uses his power to drive the women of the city into a crazed frenzy, leading to a tragic end for King Pentheus and his mother Agave.

  16. 16. The Quran by Unknown

    This book is a compilation of the religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God. It is divided into chapters, which are then divided into verses. The text discusses various aspects of life and provides guidance on morality, ethics, law, and personal conduct. It also includes narratives of several prophets, their lives, and their interactions with their communities. The book is considered the ultimate source of spiritual guidance for Muslims worldwide.

  17. 17. Season of Migration to the North by Al-Tayyib Salih

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

  18. 18. Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein

    This book is a seminal work in 20th-century philosophy, presenting a detailed critique of the notion that our language directly corresponds to reality. The author argues that the meaning of words is not inherent, but rather derives from their use within specific forms of life. The book also introduces the concept of language games, suggesting that our understanding of language is akin to learning the rules of a game. The author further explores the limits of language, the nature of understanding, and the relationship between public and private language.

  19. 19. Poems of W. H. Auden by W. H. Auden

    This book is a collection of poems by a renowned 20th-century poet. The poems cover a wide range of themes, including love, politics, religion, and the human condition. The poet's unique style combines traditional forms with modernist free verse and his work is known for its technical achievement, emotional depth, and engagement with moral and political issues. The collection provides an overview of the poet's career, showcasing his development and evolution as a writer.

  20. 20. Complete Poems by Elizabeth Bishop

    "Complete Poems" is a comprehensive collection of works by a renowned poet, showcasing her mastery of language and imagery. The book features a wide range of themes including travel, nature, loss, and human connection. The poet's keen eye for detail, unique perspectives, and her ability to infuse ordinary moments with profound insights, make this collection a compelling exploration of the human experience.

  21. 21. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein

    "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" is a seminal work in analytic philosophy that presents a comprehensive picture of reality and our knowledge of it. The book outlines a logical structure for all scientific discourse, arguing that language and its logical structure are the primary tools for understanding and representing the world. It proposes that all philosophical problems arise from misunderstandings of the logic of language, and that all meaningful propositions are pictures of states of affairs in the world. The book concludes with the famous line "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," suggesting that things that cannot be spoken about logically should not be spoken about at all.

  22. 22. Philoctetes by Sophocles

    "Philoctetes" is a Greek tragedy that tells the story of a skilled archer abandoned on a deserted island by the Greeks during the Trojan War, due to a foul-smelling wound on his foot. Years later, the Greeks discover a prophecy that they will need Philoctetes and his magical bow to win the war. They send Odysseus and Neoptolemus to retrieve him, leading to a moral dilemma as they must decide whether to deceive the bitter and mistrustful Philoctetes or to persuade him to willingly join their cause. The play explores themes of suffering, deceit, and the struggle between personal integrity and duty.

  23. 23. 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.

  24. 24. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

    This influential philosophical work explores the concept of personal freedom and societal limits, arguing that individuals should have the right to act as they want, provided they do not harm others. The book elaborates on the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual, and champions individuality and nonconformity. It also discusses freedom of speech, asserting that all opinions should be openly expressed to prevent any single viewpoint from becoming dogma.

  25. 25. The Prelude by William Wordsworth

    "The Prelude" is an autobiographical, epic poem that explores the author's spiritual growth and development. The narrative takes the reader through the poet's childhood and youth, his experiences in the French Revolution, and his subsequent disillusionment. It also delves into his relationship with nature, which he sees as a powerful, spiritual force that has shaped his life and consciousness. The poem is a reflection on the poet's personal journey towards understanding his own mind and the world around him.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

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