The Greatest "Poverty" 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 280 '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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Poverty

The category of "Poverty" in books refers to stories that explore the experiences of individuals or communities living in poverty. These books may examine the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to poverty, as well as the personal struggles and triumphs of those living in poverty. They may also shed light on the inequalities and injustices that exist within society and the impact they have on marginalized communities. Overall, books in this category aim to raise awareness and understanding of poverty and its effects on individuals and society as a whole.

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  1. 1. 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.

  2. 2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

    Set in early 19th-century France, the narrative follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his journey towards redemption. The story touches upon the nature of law and grace, and elaborates upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. It is known for its vivid and relatable characters, and its exploration of societal and moral issues.

  3. 3. 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.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. 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.

  6. 6. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    This novel provides a detailed account of a single day in the life of a prisoner, Ivan Denisovich, in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s. The narrative follows Ivan as he navigates the harsh realities of his daily routine, from the moment he wakes up to when he goes to bed. The book provides a stark portrayal of the brutality and inhumanity of the Soviet gulag system while also highlighting the resilience and dignity of the human spirit under such oppressive conditions.

  7. 7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

    The book is a tragic tale of two displaced ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. The two main characters, an intelligent but uneducated man and his mentally disabled companion, dream of owning their own piece of land. However, their dreams are thwarted by circumstances beyond their control, leading to a heart-wrenching conclusion. The book explores themes of friendship, dreams, loneliness, and the harsh realities of the American Dream.

  8. 8. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

    This novel exposes the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities. The protagonist, a young Lithuanian immigrant, works in the meatpacking industry and experiences the extreme poverty, poor working conditions, and lack of social services. The narrative explores the corruption of the American meatpacking industry in the early 20th century and the hardships faced by the working class, leading to significant public outcry that contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

  9. 9. 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.

  10. 10. The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

    This classic novel follows the life of a young orphan named Oliver Twist, who endures a miserable existence in a workhouse and then is placed with an undertaker. He escapes and travels to London where he meets the Artful Dodger, a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal, Fagin. Despite numerous adversities, Oliver remains pure at heart and is eventually saved from a life of crime, revealing his true identity and claiming his rightful inheritance.

  11. 11. Hunger by Knut Hamsun

    This novel is a psychological journey through the mind of a starving young writer in 19th century Norway. Driven by pride and stubbornness, he refuses to accept help and instead chooses to endure severe hunger and the mental and physical deterioration it causes. His struggle is not only with his physical condition but also with his own mind as he battles hallucinations, mood swings, and an increasingly distorted perception of reality. The book is a profound exploration of poverty, mental illness, and the human will to survive.

  12. 12. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

    "Cry, the Beloved Country" is a novel about a black Anglican priest from South Africa's rural Natal region who embarks on a journey to Johannesburg in search of his sister and son. The priest grapples with the racial injustice and social inequality of apartheid-era South Africa, while his son becomes involved in political activism and is wrongfully accused of a crime. The novel explores themes of love, fear, and social justice, while highlighting the destructive effects of apartheid on the human spirit and the South African landscape.

  13. 13. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

    Set in a bleak New England landscape, the book tells the story of Ethan Frome, a poor, hardworking farmer who is married to a sickly, bitter woman named Zeena. When Zeena's young cousin Mattie comes to live with them, Ethan becomes infatuated with her, leading to a tragic love triangle. The narrative explores themes of passion, duty, and the oppressive nature of rural poverty.

  14. 14. Silas Marner by George Eliot

    Silas Marner, a weaver, is wrongfully accused of theft and excommunicated from his community in Lantern Yard. He moves to the village of Raveloe, where he lives as a recluse, hoarding his money. After his money is stolen, he adopts a young girl named Eppie, who was abandoned near his home. Eppie's presence transforms Silas's life, and he becomes a cherished member of the community. The novel explores themes of betrayal, redemption, and the transformative power of love.

  15. 15. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

  16. 16. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee

    This book is an in-depth examination of the lives of three tenant families in the South during the Great Depression. The author combines detailed descriptions, journalistic reporting, and poetic prose to capture the harsh realities of poverty, racial discrimination, and the struggle for survival. The book also includes evocative photographs that further illustrate the living conditions and daily lives of the families. The work is a profound exploration of the human condition, offering a raw and unflinching look at the effects of economic and social injustice.

  17. 17. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

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

  18. 18. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    "A Fine Balance" is a poignant narrative set in India during the 1970s, a time of political turmoil and upheaval. The plot revolves around four diverse characters - a widow, a young student, and two tailors - who are brought together by fate. Through their interconnected lives, the book explores themes of caste, poverty, political corruption, and the human spirit's resilience. It offers a profound exploration of the delicate balance that sustains life amidst adversity.

  19. 19. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

    Set in Mississippi during the Great Depression, this novel follows the life of a young African American girl and her family who are struggling to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. The family owns a piece of land which provides them some protection from the harsh realities of racial discrimination. The story is a poignant exploration of how they navigate through a prejudiced society, face social and economic challenges, and fight to keep their land.

  20. 20. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

    The novel is a poignant tale of an African American girl named Pecola Breedlove who grows up during the years following the Great Depression. Living in a society that values beauty in terms of light skin and blue eyes, Pecola develops an inferiority complex and wishes for blue eyes, believing that it would make her beautiful and loved. The story explores themes of racial self-loathing, the standards of beauty, and the dynamics of power and oppression.

  21. 21. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, Peter Miles

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

  22. 22. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

    "Bastard Out of Carolina" is a poignant coming-of-age story set in South Carolina. The narrative follows the life of a young girl who, despite being born out of wedlock, strives to find her place in a world that continuously subjects her to physical and emotional abuse. The book explores themes of poverty, violence, and resilience in the face of adversity, providing a raw and unflinching look at the protagonist's struggle for acceptance and love.

  23. 23. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois

    This seminal work is a collection of essays that explores the history and condition of African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. It delves into the issues of race, class, and the socio-economic realities faced by black people post-emancipation. The author employs a combination of history, sociology, and personal narrative to present a powerful critique of American society, highlighting the struggle for civil rights, the importance of black spirituals, and the concept of "double consciousness" - the idea of viewing oneself through the lens of a society that sees you as inferior.

  24. 24. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

    "Little Dorrit" is a classic novel that revolves around the life of Amy Dorrit, a young woman who was born and raised in Marshalsea Prison where her father is incarcerated due to debt. The narrative explores themes of imprisonment and freedom, wealth and poverty, as well as social criticism of Victorian England. As Amy navigates her life in and out of the prison, her journey intertwines with that of Arthur Clennam, a man who returns to England after his father's death and becomes determined to solve a family mystery that involves the Dorrits.

  25. 25. Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

    "Nectar in a Sieve" is a tale of an Indian peasant woman named Rukmani who endures the hardships of rural poverty, natural disasters, and personal tragedy, while trying to raise her children and maintain her marriage. The book explores themes of love, hope, and the strength of the human spirit against the backdrop of a rapidly changing India. Despite the constant struggles, Rukmani never loses her faith and hope, symbolizing the resilience and strength of ordinary people in the face of adversity.

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.

Download