The 25 most famous books of all time (that you must read immediately)

May 2021 _ 25 famous books of all time
Main art by: Isabelle Feliu @isabellefeliu

Whether you’re a full-blown book nerd, or prefer the modern way of audio-reading, there are a number of famous printed works that are absolute classics, and must be read at least once in your lifetime.

WHETHER YOU’RE A FULL-BLOWN BOOK NERD, OR PREFER THE MODERN WAY OF AUDIO-READING, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF FAMOUS PRINTED WORKS THAT ARE ABSOLUTE CLASSICS, AND MUST BE READ AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFETIME.

Spanning over thousands of years, it’s been books that have broken boundaries and challenged perceptions. Some have inspired creative revolutions, others have been a vital way of sharing age-old information, knowledge and wisdom. Some books offer an escape into a dystopian or fantasy world where wizards and witches wield magic to survive against savage sorcery.

Reading is not only good for gaining knowledge and furthering education, studies have also shown that it’s beneficial for our health and wellbeing, fitting into society, and developing employment skills.

They also say that reading for your mind is like exercise for your body, so if you haven’t gotten a mental work-out lately, grab a pen and paper and get ready to make a list of these classic novels that will expand your literary palate and/or teach you a thing or two.

1. On the Origin of Species

by Charles Darwin

GENRE

Scientific Literature.

READ IF

You are interested in how animals adapt to their environment to survive.

FUN FACT

It took over 20 years for Darwin to research, develop and finally publish his book.

There’s been a handful of controversial books that have shaken up the very ground in which we build our beliefs on…. and Charles Darwin’s famous ‘On the origin of species’ has been like no other.

It all started on December 27, 1831, when the young naturalist left Plymouth Harbor aboard the HMS Beagle to spend the next (what turned out to be five long) years gallivanting around the globe conducting research on plants, animals and the environment in which they preside.

His adventure turned into one of the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind - the theory of evolution. What Darwin found along his travels, and what he would eventually declare to the scientific community and broader world, was that existing organisms better suited for adaptation to their environment survive, while those that are poorly suited to their environment do not.

2. The Great Gatsby

BY F SCOTT FITZGERALD

GENRE

Novel (however recent times would place it in the ‘historical fiction’ category).

READ IF

You are interested in the 1920’s Jazz Era in the United States.

FUN FACT

The book sold no more than 25,000 copies in Fitzgerald's lifetime, and then 25 million copies from then on.

The Great Gatsby was written in 1925 by an American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and set in the Jazz Age on Long Island. The novel depicts narrator Nick Carraway's interactions with mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby, his obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan and his love of lavish parties at a time when The New York Times noted "gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession".

Generations of readers have imagined, speculated, debated and thoroughly enjoyed the story and has become a true classic of twentieth-century literature.

This was Fitzgerald's third book, as well as the highest achievement of his career, however It wasn’t until F Scott Fitzgerald passed away that his work really began to gain interest. Eventually his book became a core part of most high school curricula in western cultures, especially American, with the strong focus of American popular culture. Numerous stage and film adaptations followed in the subsequent decades.

3. The Catcher In The Rye

BY J.D. SALINGER

GENRE

Novel.

READ IF

You’re interested in teenage angst, emotions and development.

FUN FACT

After publishing The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger became a recluse.

The Catcher in the Rye, was written by J.D. Salinger and published in 1951. The novel is set around the 1950s and is narrated by a young man named Holden Caulfield, who while telling the story, makes it clear that he is undergoing treatment in a mental hospital or sanatorium. The novel details two days in the life of the 16-year-old after he’s been expelled from school and touches on the emotions, instability and confusion that he’s experiencing with the ‘’phoniness’’ of the adult world.

This novel has become a fundamental part of western curriculum as its themes of angst, alienation, and critique on superficiality in society is an important read for adolescents perhaps experiencing similar emotions. The novel also deals with complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, connection, sex, and depression.

4. 1984

BY GEORGE ORWELL

GENRE

Dystopian social science fiction.

READ IF

You love reading about dystopian worlds, possible futures and if you’re a fan of the series Black Mirror.

FUN FACT

Orwell modeled the character of Julia on his second wife, Sonia Brownell.

1984 is a dystopian social science fiction novel and is written by English novelist George Orwell. The story takes place in an imagined future (the year 1984) when much of the world has fallen victim to totalitarianism, mass surveillance, manipulation of the past and propaganda.

The superstate is called Oceania and is ruled by the Party who employ Thought Police, whose job it is to persecute individuality and independent thinking. Winston Smith is the protagonist of the novel and although he is a responsible and reliable worker in the system, he dreams of rebellion. When his colleague, Julia, and him begin a forbidden relationship, he begins to remember what life was like before the Party came to power.

The novel examines the role of truth and facts within politics and the ways in which they are manipulated. Many of the terms and concepts found throughout the book - such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, and Memory hole, have become contemporary vernacular.

5. Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN

GENRE

Epic high fantasy novel.

READ IF

You love fantasy worlds and have a passion for heavy writing, deep explanations.

FUN FACT

Tolkien is said to have typed all 1,200 pages of The Lord of the Rings with two fingers.

The Lord of the Rings is an high fantasy novel, written between 1937-1949 by the English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien.

All three parts of the masterpiece are steeped in magic and otherworldliness. The epic story centres around Frodo Baggins, who is forced to leave his hometown of the Shire to make a perilous journey across the realms of Middle-earth to destroy a powerful ring, deep inside the territories of the Dark Lord. Sauron, the dark lord, has gathered all the Rings of Power, minus the one ring - the ring that rules them all - and needs this for his campaign to conquer and rule all of middle-earth. There Frodo must destroy the ring forever and foil the dark lord in his evil purpose.

The books have been turned into incredibly successful movies that tally up to nearly 12 hours of entertaining pleasure.

6. The Bible

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GENRE

Religious Text.

READ IF

You enjoy philosophy and symbolism texts.

FUN FACT

Over 100 million copies of the Bible are sold each year.

Yes, The Bible is a book and is one of the most successful of all time and also one of the go-to’s on deep morality. The Bible is a collection of religious texts or scriptures that have become sacred to Christians, Jews, Samaritans, Rastafari and other religious groups.

The influence the Bible has had on Western culture is immeasurable. For thousands of years this book has inspired the greatest writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, painters of our time. Love it or hate it, the bible has been one of the most pivotal books of all time in the western world.

7. War And Peace

BY LEO TOLSTOY

GENRE

"Not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle."

READ IF

You love a book full of it all - love, war, peace, tragedy, spirit, friendship.

FUN FACT

The 4-part film adaptation, filmed in 1965 in the Soviet Union, was 7 hours 11 minutes long. It was the most expensive Soviet film ever made.

War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy and published in its entirety in 1869. Often called the greatest novel ever written, and regarded as one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements, this historical war epic is a celebration of Russian spirit.

The novel chronicles the French invasion of Russia, or the Napoleonic wars, and follows the transformation of five aristocratic families against the backdrop of living through tragedy and war.

Tolstoy's memorable and well described characters seek fulfillment, fall in love, make mistakes, and become scarred by war in different ways. Offering a profound look into a human's experience during a hugely impactful historical event.

8. Harry Potter Series

BY J.K. ROWLING

GENRE

Fantasy Fiction.

READ IF

You are ready for a deep dive into a mysterious new world.

FUN FACT

J.K. Rowling invented the names of the Hogwarts houses (the school in the book) on the back of a barf bag.

Harry Potter is a series by British author, J. K. Rowling, and is made up of seven different novels. With the first book being published in 1997, the lives of little people around the world were changed forever. The Harry Potter world had well and truly began.

The series tells the story of a young wizard, Harry Potter who struggles against Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard who intends to become immortal.

The books have found immense popularity, positive reviews, and commercial success worldwide. They have attracted a wide adult audience as well as younger readers and are often considered cornerstones of modern young adult literature.

As of February 2018, the books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, making them the best-selling book series in history, and have been translated into eighty languages. The last four books consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, with the final instalment selling roughly eleven million copies in the United States within twenty-four hours of its release.

9. Great Expectations

BY CHARLES DICKENS

GENRE

Novel.

READ IF

If you love mystery, suspense and plot twists.

FUN FACT

Great expectations is one of two dickens novels written in the first person.

Great Expectations is the thirteenth novel by Charles Dickens and was first published as a series of stories in Dickens's weekly periodical from 1 December 1860 to August 1861.

The story follows Pip who leads a simple life until a bitter gentlewoman employs him as a sometime companion to herself and her adopted daughter. The novel is set in Kent and London in the 1900’s and is full of themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.

Great Expectations, has been translated into many languages and adapted into a film and various other forms of media. Upon its release, the novel received near universal acclaim.

10. Hamlet

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

GENRE

Shakespearean Tragedy Play.

READ IF

You are hellbent on reading the classics.

FUN FACT

Exact dating of the play is impossible, but most agree Shakespeare finished it in 1601.

Hamlet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. It is Shakespeare's longest play, with 29,551 words.

The play is set in Denmark and depicts Prince Hamlet, his revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother. The play vividly charts the course of real and feigned madness.

Hamlet is considered one of the most profound and influential works of world literature, and was one of Shakespeare's most popular works during his lifetime.

11. To Kill A Mockingbird

BY HARPER LEE

GENRE

Southern Gothic.

READ IF

You’re keen to explore complex themes of racism, justice and family values in 1960s deep south America.

FUN FACT

The book was almost called Atticus.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee, an American that found instant success when he published in 1960.

A coming-of-age story, set in the Great Depression, the whole book is narrated by a six-year-old girl called Jean Louise “Scout” Finch over the timeframe of three years. She lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father and lawyer, Atticus. Throughout the book, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race, violence, and class in the Deep South of the 1930s.

The historian Joseph Crespino explains, "In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its main character, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."

12. Moby-Dick

BY HERMAN MELVILLE

GENRE

Adventure fiction.

READ IF

If you are up to reading the ‘Mount Everest of literature’ named so for it’s length.

FUN FACT

The Starbucks coffee-house chain took their company name from a character in the novel.

Moby-Dick is an adventure novel written by American writer Herman Melville in 1851. Commonly known as a ‘challenging read’, the book follows a sailor Ishmael's and his obsessive quest of Ahab, a captain of a whaling ship. Ahab wishes to find revenge upon the whale Moby-Dick, who destroyed his last ship and took his leg. Throughout their voyage Ishmael questions all aspects of life.

The story features gay marriage, and is thought to be one of the first modern novels to showcase a gay couple. It hits out at slavery and predicts the climate crisis – 200 years after it was written, it’s never been more important and is often considered the exemplar of American Romanticism.

13. The Alchemist

BY PAULO COELHO

GENRE

Quest Adventure Novel.

READ IF

You like your personal dreams and goals to be challenged.

FUN FACT

Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist in only two weeks.

The Alchemist was written by brazilian author Paulo Coelho and was published in 1988. The book follows a young Andalusian shepherd, Santiago, on his journey to the Egyptian pyramids, after experiencing recurring dreams of finding a treasure there. The story delicately combines a mix of magic, mysticism, wisdom and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery.

Paulo Coelho spent years and years trying to turn his art into the modern classic we see today and has achieved success by selling millions of copies around the world.

14. The Diary of a Young Girl

BY ANNE FRANK

GENRE

Autobiography.

READ IF

You are interested in educating yourself about World War 11 and/or need a reminder of how fortunate you are.

FUN FACT

Anne’s sister, Margot Betti Frank, also wrote a diary.

One of the most famous accounts of living under the Nazi regime comes from the diary of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl, Anne Frank. In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, Anne and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding with another family in a “Secret Annexe” of an old office building.

Over the next two years she documented the lives of her and her family until one fateful day when their hiding place was found by the gestapo and Anne was never heard from again.

The book was eventually given to her father Otto H. Frank, the only survivor of the Frank family, and is a true story to be discovered by each new generation.

15. Brave New World

BY ALDOUS HUXLEY

GENRE

Dystopian social science fiction novel.

READ IF

You love o think outside the box and see what’s possible for the human being.

FUN FACT

George Orwell who wrote 1984 accused Huxley of plagiarism.

Brave New World is a dystopian social science fiction novel by English author Aldous Huxley and was published in 1932. The story tells of a terrifying vision of the future, where a perfect society achieves peace and stability through the prohibition of monogamy, privacy, money, and accepts complete surveillance.

Just like 1984, the novel that came before it, this is a spine-chilling peak into a dystopian world that leaves you speculating, asking questions, and looking for ways to live off grid.

16. Don Quixote

BY MIGUEL DE CERVANTES

GENRE

Spanish Psychological Novel.

READ IF

You are looking for a huge book to keep you going all summer.

FUN FACT

The first part of the book was written in 1605; the Second Part, 1615.

Don Quixote was written by Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote in the 16th century. Brimming with romance and adventure, his book is considered to be the greatest work in the Spanish literary world. It’s the tale of Quixote, who’s been driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances that he determines to become a knight-errant himself.

A very long book that demands time and respect. And how cool is it to tell your friends you read a book that’s 500 years old?

17. Crime and Punishment

BY FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

GENRE

Philosophical + Psychological Novel.

READ IF

You love a psychological thriller.

FUN FACT

The author Dostoevsky served time in prison.

Crime and Punishment was first published in twelve monthly installments during 1866 by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book was written on the return from ten years of exile in Siberia and is considered first great novel from the period of writing.

The book follows Raskolnikov through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder of a a pawnbroker women that no only loves, nor will mourn. The desperate former student murders without remorse or regret and imagines himself to be a great man.

Crime and Punishment is commonly seen as one of the greatest novels ever written and is a powerful psychological thriller with added philosophical conversation, and religious and social commentary.

18. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

BY MARK TWAIN

GENRE

Picaresque novel.

READ IF

You love classic adventure novels.

FUN FACT

It took Mark Twain seven years to write the book.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United Kingdom in December 1884, by American Mark Twain.

The story begins in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri, and with a nineteenth-century boy from a River town. Throughout the book he recounts his adventures as he travels down the Mississippi river with another boy who is a runaway slave.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn explores themes of race and identity and demand for the book was immediate and spread throughout the United States and further abroad into Canada and the United Kingdom.

19. All Quiet on the Western Front

BY ERICH MARIA REMARQUE

GENRE

War Novel.

READ IF

You’re a sucker for a historical novel full of innocence, tragedy and war.

FUN FACT

Was at one point banned in Germany as it was ‘anti-german’.

All Quiet on the Western Front was written by a German veteran of World War I called Erich Maria Remarque in 1928. The book follows an incredible story of a young unknown soldier that patriotically signed up to the ‘glorious war’, and his experience pre, present and post war.

This story is a powerful insight into the effects that modern warfare has on the human psyche and a must-read for not only the power of the story, but also, for offering the reader a glimpse into the horror of life in the trenches.

20. Pride and Prejudice

BY JANE AUSTEN

GENRE

Romance Novel.

READ IF

If you’re keen on popular classics, an enchanting romance story and comedy, too?.

FUN FACT

Like her characters, Jane Austen was rejected for not being rich enough.

Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Austen in 1813. Mainly falling into the romance novel category, the book follows the character Elizabeth Bennet, and her four sisters, and touches on manners, education, marriage, and money during the Regency era in Great Britain. Back then the importance of marrying for love rather than money or social prestige, wasn’t necessarily valued, which leads to an insightful look into cultural expectations.

Pride and Prejudice has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, with over 20 million copies sold!

21. Lord of the Flies

BY WILLIAM GOLDING

GENRE

Allegorical Fiction.

READ IF

You love a quick and intense read of a beautifully narrated story.

FUN FACT

The title Lord of the Flies is another name for Satan.

Lord of the Flies was written in 1954 by Nobel Prize-winning British author William Golding. The story follows a group of boys who are stranded on a deserted island and have to learn how to survive. With politics, clashing personalities, and strong survival instincts comes a story of morality and immorality. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. Lord of the Flies is a novel about “the end of innocence” and will have you question your human impulses toward civilisation and living by rules, whether peacefully or not.

22. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

BY KEN KESEY

GENRE

Psychological Fiction.

READ IF

If you love to look inside the mind of the characters and feel part of the story.

FUN FACT

The film rights to Cuckoo’s Nest were purchased before the novel was even published.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a novel written by Ken Kesey in 1962, and is set in an Oregon State mental hospital. The book is narrated by "Chief" Bromden, a gentle giant and patient at the facility who experiences the attempt of another inmate, Mcmurphy, who upsets the routines of the ward and is in an endless power struggle with the nurse.

Ken Kesey's first novel is powerful, and offers a devastatingly honest portrayal of the delicate boundary between sanity and madness.

23. Little Women

BY LOUISA MAY ALCOTT

GENRE

Romantic Drama.

READ IF

You love writings on women and feminism

FUN FACT

Little Women took just 10 weeks to write.

Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women over several months at the request of her publisher in 1868, who originally wanted a ‘girly’ book. The story tells the lives of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and follows their transition from childhood to womanhood.

Alcott based Little Women on her own early life and the success of her writing career, especially that of Little Women brought her fame and fortune. The book explores themes like love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.

24. The Picture of Dorian Gray

BY OSCAR WILDE

GENRE

Philosophical fiction.

READ IF

You want to read a new style of storytelling you’ve never read before.

FUN FACT

The famous book seller W.H. Smith refused to sell the book, it still sold well.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a philosophical novel written by Oscar Wilde and first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. The story was originally deemed indecent and edited without Wilde’s consent nor knowledge.

Oscar Wilde’s story is based on a young man, Dorian Gray, who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty after being subject to a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward.

Years later Wilde was on trial for his homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. With the book he wrote becoming a point of evidence and discussion throughout the trial. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks of me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.

25. Les Misérables

BY VICTOR HUG

GENRE

Historical Fiction.

READ IF

If you are a lover of books and want to read all the classics.

FUN FACT

Les Misérables is the fifth longest-running broadway musical of all time.

Les Misérables was written by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862 and is a French historical novel. The novel begins in 1815 and culminates in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. Hugo's tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, who has escaped from prison and is determined to start his life over and become a respected member of the community. Hilarity ensues!

Les Misérables has been turned into many forms of media, from plays to tv series to feature length movies and to great success.

So, how do you fare when it comes to reading the classics?
And which books do you think need to be added to the list?

We’d love to know what your take is on the top 25 most famous books of all time - which ones you’ve read, which ones are now on your list, and which ones you’ll never get around to reading.

“We do not
inherit the
Earth from our
Ancestors, we
borrow it from
our children”

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