25 Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once in a Lifetime
If you have been raised with the conception that reading is not cool, then it is time to grow up and lay your hands on those classics everyone is talking about. The most famous books of all time were written by genius minds and incorporate the most valuable life lessons, most unusual situations, accurate framing of the world and all human typologies existing.
Even if you are not much of a reader, you should still read these 25 books. You won’t even notice how little time you spent on them, but you will be surprised by how much they helped you evolve.
When you are tired of this world, pick one of these books and go ahead and travel through history, time and all seven continents.
- 25. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
- 24. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
- 23. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- 22. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
- 21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
- 20. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
- 19. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
- 18. 1984 – George Orwell
- 17. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- 16. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
- 15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz
- 14. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
- 13. That Thing You Do With Your Mouth – Samantha Matthews & David Shields
- 12. Maus – Art Spiegelman
- 11. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
- 10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
- 9. The Odyssey – Homer
- 8. The Art of War – Sun Tzu
- 7. Hard Times – Charles Dickens
- 6. Dubliners – James Joyce
- 5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
- 4. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- 3. The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank
- 2. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
- 1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
25. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is one of the giants of literature, and The Sun Also Rises is actually the first novel he published, and it presents raw desire and masculinity.
Although Hemingway published the book almost one hundred years ago, in 1926, it is still present in our lives due to its ability to enter our homes and hearts through authentic feelings and characters.
24. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Adolescence is a complex phase, and each person reacts differently to its challenges. Often, teenagers fall into the trap of isolation, and their thoughts become much bigger than them. Holden Caulfield is not just one character. He represents thousands of versions of the same person, all observed through the eyes of various readers at different reread it.
Holden will be brilliant, reckless, stupid, or just another person in the crowd. It all depends on how your mind evolves and how you turn from a Holden into the person you are now.
23. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A short novel published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is still an intense session of reading. It is, in big lines, a story about a neighbour who hosts the greatest parties, owns the most beautiful house and can manipulate anyone he encounters. The message is, however, more profound.
The book explains vices, loss, and desperate urge to fit in and gain what our heart desires most. You will learn that while money brings you power and influence will not guarantee you love and acceptance.
22. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
Do you want to learn the secrets and horrors of the war without going through the painful experience of reading long, heavy phrases that lose their sense somewhere in the middle?
Well, go find yourself a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, and you will receive some dark stories at the price of a light read. While the book totally moves you, it is written in such a manner that it does not harm your emotions if you are a sensitive person.
The main character is Billy Pilgrim, an outsider in all the power of the world, who experiences Wold War II. We will see a funny but also sad story that aims to discourage violence.
21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
A story that follows the evolution of a young man, The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn was named by the critics The first Great American Novel. The book includes not only friendship and adolescence difficulties but also heavy political issues subtly mentioned in between the pages.
Even after all these years, the novel still determines young men (and women) to look for adventure and see the world with their own eyes.
20. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
We cannot imagine our lives now without the internet and media, and as hard as we try to hide it, we are all unhealthy dependent on them. Bradbury saw all the flaws that came along with television and the internet and understood that such a powerful tool in the hands of a corrupt and prone to hatred society will create unrepairable damage to all people.
In Bradbury’s dystopian world books are banned, and it is our main character’s job to burn as many as he finds. The novel makes us reflect on our new age addictions and brings into the light issues you might have ignored until now.
19. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
We love a good World War II book, especially if it can be easily read by children or teenagers, too. In this volume, you will meet Liesel, a girl that saves a book from the fire. Little did she know at that time that that was not the first book she was going to steal, as her passion for reading, or for escaping the cruel world she was living in, was rapidly growing.
Her family decides to hide a Jewish man in their basement, which brings trouble and death over them, but also creates the opportunity for a great friendship. Written from a unique perspective, the book underlines the importance of reading and how it empowers people in the weakest moments of their lives. Rebellion and resistance come in many forms, that is certain.
18. 1984 – George Orwell
George Orwell raised a few controversies among readers, as he created a dystopian world that focuses on a dictatorial world built on fear, lies and terror. This world forbids love, freedom and individuality. The book aims to explain why these kinds of political regimes are a real danger to society.
They destroy every piece of humanity in a human, suppress every bit of love and acceptance. Orwell wanted to let people see what would happen if totalitarianism would take over the world, and the image was far from beautiful.
17. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Russian authors proved to be titans of literature. Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin and many others have created novels for all people, building new worlds with real-life characteristics. One thing you might notice when reading a Russian book is the host of names. They are not only many but also similar.
Crime and Punishment, published in 1866, presents the story of Rodion Raskolnikov. He kills a seedy man and steals his loot to give it to those in need. Kind of like Robin Hood, if you will. Dostoevsky focuses on incredible human psychology while being a master at storytelling.
16. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
This novel is heavy! If you are not ready to read about things that bother people, then you should start preparing, because it is time to understand the feelings of those who suffered.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay describes the struggles of Jewish people before the Second World War, the complications of being gay in America of the same years, how were big businesses scamming the whole world. However, these stories are easy to read, as the author resorts to playful ways of telling them.
15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz
Authenticity is often the key to a great book. This book describes the life of a nerdy, overweight boy growing up in Jersey. The narrator is Yunior, a character that speaks in a street-wise style.
Diaz masters the slang, which contributes to how real the story feels. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for its genius and is still appreciated by critics.
14. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
This collection of short stories presents the Vietnam War and the men who fought in it. While reading the book, you will often catch yourself thinking if the narrative is accurate or just the author’s imagination and point of view.
However, in our opinion, these doubts do not make the book less tragic or emotional. O’Brien tries to give some sense of humanity to those we were thought to see as just war machines and criminals.
13. That Thing You Do With Your Mouth – Samantha Matthews & David Shields
Some authors are simply putting their soul, experiences and personality into words. They are unfiltered, open as with a therapist, and this is exactly how Matthews presents herself in this novel. Samantha takes her sexual experiences and talks in a long monologue and explains how they affected her in different ways.
You will learn not only that it is okay to express your feelings regarding your love life but that there are multiple perspectives over one thing, and you are totally entitled to have your own.
12. Maus – Art Spiegelman
One of the greatest books about the Holocaust, Maus is a graphic novel that follows the story of the author’s father, who experienced the indescribable horrors that came along with Hitler’s leading position in Germany. Spiegelman uses animals that symbolize groups of people. The Jewish people are mice, while the Nazis are, suggestively, cats.
The book is one of the most touching war novels. It goes through all WWII and a few years after it, presenting the influence the War had on Jews and their children who managed to survive.
11. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
WWI was, for a long time after it finished, a subject of discussion at parties, select dinners with influential people, or simply at work. All Quiet on the Western Front stepped up in front of this endless talk about bombs and violence, explaining that war is not something we should discuss or be proud of.
It is not a subject that should be brought up while eating, playing board games or working. Every horror that happened during the war is related to someone’s life, and it is not exciting or fun. It is tragic. The book underlines how bad the war is and reminds people of the miserable conditions soldiers lived in for months.
10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
This book’s action happens in a mental asylum, where the sick male revolt against oppressive hospital workers. The patients know that the story will not end happily for everyone, but they choose to rebel anyway, to regain at least a part of their freedom.
Ken Kasey wants to transmit the value of identity and the worth of owning yourself and he’s definitely done it right.
9. The Odyssey – Homer
This book is more than what schools present to the students. It is not just Greek history and mythology, but also a violent narration, with detailed descriptions of mutilated people, abuse, and sexual contact. The Gods, monsters, or even people themselves punish other people in brutal ways.
The book presents the power of mermaids that attract men with their voices into the crawls of death. The truth is this is not a children book, and it should not be given to kids at such a young age to read. However, an adult or even a young person would most likely enjoy the story, as it is a brilliant book that teaches lessons of history and how Greek used to see things at the beginning of their existence.
8. The Art of War – Sun Tzu
This book appeared, believe it or not, over 2,500 years ago, and it is a masterpiece everyone uses. Sun Tzu was the first author to create such a complex book about military strategy. It helped armies and soldiers all over the world to become more intelligent in their plans, and it reminded people that an army takes more than just muscle.
Even if you do not plan on enrolling, this book will still teach you valuable lessons about life, and most of the reach people and intellectuals you see today have read this book.
7. Hard Times – Charles Dickens
When you hear the name Charles Dickens, you will not automatically think of this book, as it is an underrated piece of this amazing English author.
This is one of the most useful novels to read in times of economic difficulty and in a world of intolerance that holds people behind.
6. Dubliners – James Joyce
Joyce is unlike any author on the list. He is so much harder to read and understand, and you will definitely need help with some of his paragraphs.
This novel explores the secrets of Dublin in the early 20th century, while also being the door opener to Joyce’s other books that are even more difficult to elucidate.
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien is one of those people you must have heard of, even though you are not into reading. That is because his famous trilogy turned into famous movies that amazed everyone with their special effects and beautiful images. Middle Earth has almost as much history as our world, which is fascinating. Imagine that only one person was able to create such a story, while for our Earth it took billions of people.
The book teaches you the history of a fantastic world, where there are not only us, humans, monotonous creatures, but also elves, hobbits, dragons, wizards, and so many other beings. Once you open this book, you become part of that history, and it is most certainly beautiful.
4. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Who would have thought that a Bronte would make it so high on our list? The truth is that what makes us root for this book is its immeasurable capacity to create not only a love story but a detailed analysis of the human mind and emotions. The novel shows the dark side of love, the bright side of hatred, and proves that humans are imperfect beings, destined not only for success but also for failure.
Emily Bronte follows the story of Catherine and Heathcliff, two people who would have ended the world to be together, but somewhere along the process, they ended themselves. It is a book of great passion and eagerness, a masterpiece that you can hardly compare to any other book.
3. The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank
Anne Frank was not a usual teenage girl. She was curious, adventurous, and, unfortunately, one of the Nazis’ victims during WWII.
As she was hiding from the German soldiers, this girl wrote each experience in her journal, which was later published by her father, one of the few survivors of the Holocaust. While living a nightmare, Anne still believes in kindness and love. You will adore her!
2. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
This book is not fiction. The author invented nothing from what you will read in this novel. Capote used his talent to present to the world the tragic story of the Clutters, who were brutally murdered in their house in 1959. The author follows the murderers’ steps and describes the efforts of capturing them, and finally, their execution.
The author tries to go deep inside the criminals’ minds and understand the reason behind their actions. In Cold Blood is, besides a true-crime story, a fine analysis of the human psyche. Capote received help from one of his dearest friends, Harper Lee, who travelled with him during the investigations. They even made a movie after the book. That is how big of an impact it had on people’s lives.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The first book on our list is a masterpiece published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book analyses the human function and the collective behaviour of The Deep South, back at the beginning of the 20th century. The book presents humorously the flaws of society, including and not limited to hatred, prejudice and corruption.
The most controversial subject of the book is the way people used to perceive races. It is honestly terrifying to see how so many of those issues active back then are still present in today’s world. After reading this book, you will notice that we have not made considerable progress since the 30s.
Books are part of society, of the world as we know it. They are inexhaustible sources of knowledge, experience and lessons. If you don’t read, you miss the chance to walk around the world for free without leaving the comfort of your home.
If you are not a great reader, we recommend that you start with the books that seem easier on the list and then, after gaining some experience, you can move on to the complexities of the list (Dostoevsky, Joyce, Dickens, etc.).
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