ZEIT-Bibliothek der 100 Bücher

This is one of the 200 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Bible by Christian Church

    This religious text is a compilation of 66 books divided into the Old and New Testaments, forming the central narrative for Christianity. It encompasses a variety of genres, including historical accounts, poetry, prophecy, and teaching, telling the story of God's relationship with humanity, from creation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the early Christian church. It is considered by believers to be divinely inspired and serves as a guide for faith and practice.

  • The Odyssey by Homer

    This epic poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many obstacles including mythical creatures, divine beings, and natural disasters. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus fend off suitors vying for Penelope's hand in marriage, believing Odysseus to be dead. The story concludes with Odysseus's return, his slaughter of the suitors, and his reunion with his family.

  • Apology by Plato

    This philosophical text is a dialogue of Socrates' defense in 399 BC against the charges of 'corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel.' The dialogue is Socrates' defense at his trial and is his final public statement before his execution. In it, he discusses the moral and philosophical justification for his actions and beliefs, ultimately leading to his conviction and death.

  • The Aeneid by Virgil

    This epic poem tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travels to Italy, where he becomes the ancestor of the Romans. It includes a series of prophecies about Rome's future and the deeds of heroic individuals, and is divided into two sections, the first illustrating the hero's journey and the second detailing the wars and battles that ensue as Aeneas attempts to establish a new home in Italy. The narrative is deeply imbued with themes of duty, fate, and divine intervention.

  • Germania by Cornelius Tacitus

    "Germania" is a historical and ethnographic work that provides a detailed description of the lands, customs, and tribes of the Germanic people in the first century AD. The author, a Roman historian and senator, offers a comprehensive account of the geography, anthropology, social institutions, and military practices of the Germanic tribes, often comparing their culture and values to those of the Romans. The work is considered a valuable source of information about the ancient Germanic tribes, despite its possible biases and inaccuracies.

  • Daphnis and Chloe by Longus

    "Daphnis and Chloe" is a classic pastoral romance that tells the story of two young people, Daphnis and Chloe, who grow up together on the same farm in ancient Greece. Despite their humble beginnings as foundlings, they fall in love as they mature, but are initially too naive to understand their feelings. The narrative follows their journey towards understanding and expressing their love for each other, amidst various comedic and dramatic obstacles, including pirates, rival suitors, and the revelation of their true noble parentage.

  • Confessions by Augustine

    "Confessions" is an autobiographical work by a renowned theologian, in which he outlines his sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. It is written in the form of a long, introspective prayer directed to God, exploring the author's spiritual journey and deep philosophical ponderings. The book is renowned for its eloquent and deeply personal exploration of faith, making it a cornerstone of Christian theology and Western literature.

  • One Thousand and One Nights by Unknown

    This is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age. The stories are told by a young woman, who must weave a new tale each night for her husband, a king, to delay her execution. The tales are filled with magic, adventure, love, and betrayal, and include well-known stories such as "Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor".

  • Parzival by Wolfram Eschenbach

    "Parzival" is a medieval epic poem that tells the story of a young man's journey from ignorance and folly to wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. The titular character, raised in isolation by his mother, ventures out into the world completely unaware of its ways. His journey leads him to King Arthur's court, where he becomes a knight and embarks on various adventures, including the quest for the Holy Grail. The narrative explores themes of chivalry, courtly love, and the struggle between faith and reason.

  • 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 Nibelungenlied by Anonymous

    "The Nibelungenlied" is a Middle High German epic poem that narrates the story of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, his murder, his wife Kriemhild's revenge, and the destruction of the Burgundians. The narrative is set in the early medieval period and combines elements of Norse mythology, courtly love, and heroic legend. The poem explores themes of honor, loyalty, love, betrayal, and revenge, and is considered one of the most important works of German literature.

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

    In this epic poem, the protagonist embarks on an extraordinary journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil and his beloved Beatrice, he encounters various historical and mythological figures in each realm, witnessing the eternal consequences of earthly sins and virtues. The journey serves as an allegory for the soul's progression towards God, offering profound insights into the nature of good and evil, free will, and divine justice.

  • 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.

  • Utopia by Thomas More

    This book is a fictional work that presents a detailed description of an ideal society on an imaginary island located in the Atlantic Ocean. The narrative is presented as a dialogue between the author's character and a traveler who has visited the island. The society described is devoid of private property, with citizens living in communal dwellings, and it promotes education, religious tolerance, and a welfare state. The book explores political, social, and religious customs, providing a critique of European society and offering an alternative model of social organization.

  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais

    "Gargantua and Pantagruel" is a satirical and humorous tale of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel. The narrative is filled with bawdy humor, wordplay, and grotesque and exaggerated characters, reflecting the realities of 16th-century France. The book is also known for its profound insights on education, religion, and politics, often criticizing the corruption and hypocrisy of the powerful. The novel is a rich blend of fantasy, comedy, and philosophical discourse, making it a classic of Renaissance literature.

  • Essays by Michel de Montaigne

    This collection of essays explores a wide range of topics such as solitude, cannibals, the power of the imagination, the education of children, and the nature of friendship. The author employs a unique and personal approach to philosophy, using anecdotes and personal reflections to illustrate his points. The essays provide a profound insight into human nature and condition, and are considered a significant contribution to both literature and philosophy.

  • Simplicius Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen

    "Simplicius Simplicissimus" is a satirical novel set during the Thirty Years War in Germany. It follows the life of the protagonist, a naive and simple peasant boy, who is forced to become a soldier. As he journeys through the war-torn land, he encounters various adventures and misadventures, and through these experiences, he gradually loses his innocence and gains a deeper understanding of the world and human nature. The book offers a poignant critique of war and society, highlighting the absurdity and brutality of the human condition.

  • Pensées by Blaise Pascal

    "Pensées" is a collection of philosophical and theological thoughts and ideas by a renowned French mathematician and physicist. The book delves into various aspects of human existence, exploring the nature of faith, reason, and the human condition. It also presents arguments for the existence of God, including the famous wager argument. The book is known for its profound insights into the human experience and its exploration of the complexities of belief and doubt.

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

    The book is a classic adventure novel about a man who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued. The story is noted for its realistic portrayal of the protagonist's physical and psychological development and for its detailed depiction of his attempts to create a life for himself in the wilderness. The novel has been interpreted as an allegory for the development of civilization, as well as a critique of European colonialism.

  • 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.

  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

    This classic novel tells the story of Tom Jones, a charming and good-hearted but impulsive young man, who is expelled from his adoptive family home due to his wild behavior and love for the beautiful Sophia Western. His journey through 18th-century England is filled with adventures, misadventures, and a colorful cast of characters, as he struggles with his identity and seeks redemption. The narrative explores themes of class, virtue, and morality, and is known for its humor, social satire, and vivid characterization.

  • Tristram Shandy 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.

  • Candide by Voltaire

    "Candide" is a satirical novel that follows the adventures of a young man, Candide, who is living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism by his mentor. When he is expelled from the paradise for kissing a baron's daughter, he embarks on a journey around the world, witnessing the horrors of war, natural disasters, and human cruelty. Throughout his journey, Candide maintains his optimistic philosophy, despite the constant hardships he faces, ultimately concluding that one must cultivate their own garden, a metaphor for taking control of one's own destiny.

  • 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.

  • Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot

    The novel follows the adventures of Jacques and his master, exploring their philosophical discussions on life, fate, and free will. Jacques believes that everything that happens is predestined, while his master argues for the existence of free will. Their journey is filled with comical and absurd situations, unexpected twists, and intriguing stories within stories. The narrative structure is innovative and playful, often breaking the fourth wall and questioning the nature of storytelling itself.

  • Siebenkäs by Jean Paul

    The novel is a complex, satirical love story set in provincial Germany during the late 18th century. The protagonist, a poor and idealistic lawyer, is trapped in an unhappy marriage with a shrewish wife. To escape his miserable existence, he fakes his own death and assumes a new identity. The book is filled with philosophical musings, humorous anecdotes, and vivid descriptions of rural life, reflecting the author's unique blend of realism and romanticism.

  • Hyperion by Friedrich Holderlin

    The novel explores the life and thoughts of a young German named Hyperion who spends much of his time in Greece. He is torn between his love for his homeland and his disgust with contemporary German society. Through a series of letters to his German friend Bellarmin, Hyperion narrates his participation in the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, his disillusionment with war, and his intense love for the Greek woman Diotima. The novel is a meditation on beauty and suffering, wisdom and madness, and the dichotomy between the ideal and the real.

  • Sudelbücher by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

    "Sudelbücher" is a collection of thoughts, observations, and philosophical reflections by a prominent German satirist. The book is a compilation of his personal notebooks, where he jotted down everything from scientific observations to social commentary and personal introspection. The author's unique perspective and witty voice provide a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an 18th-century scholar, making this book an important piece of German literature and Enlightenment thought.

  • Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    This novel explores the romantic relationships and social dynamics of four characters: a married couple, their close friend, and a young girl who becomes part of the household. The story is a study of how people's choices, passions, and societal norms can shape their relationships, often with tragic consequences. The narrative delves into themes of marriage, love, morality, and the intersection of personal feelings with societal expectations.

  • Stories by Heinrich von Kleist

    "Stories" is a collection of narratives that delve into the complexities of human nature, morality, and society. These tales, set in a variety of historical and geographical contexts, explore themes such as love, honor, sacrifice, and betrayal. The author's signature style of abrupt, dramatic storytelling and his exploration of extreme emotional states provide readers with a profound and often disquieting exploration of the human condition.

  • Schatzkästlein des Rheinischen Hausfreundes by Johann Peter Hebel

    "Schatzkästlein des Rheinischen Hausfreundes" is a collection of short stories, anecdotes, and fables that offer wisdom and moral lessons. The book, written in the early 19th century, provides a glimpse into the culture and values of the time. The stories are known for their simplicity, humor, and unexpected twists, and they often feature everyday people facing moral dilemmas. The book remains a classic of German literature.

  • Household Tales by Brothers Grimm

    "Household Tales" is a collection of German fairy tales that includes popular stories such as "Cinderella", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Hansel and Gretel", and "Snow White". These narratives, often featuring magical elements and moral lessons, have been influential in shaping Western popular culture. The tales range from the whimsical and humorous to the dark and cautionary, reflecting a wide array of human experiences and emotions.

  • The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E. T. A. Hoffmann

    This novel is a satirical critique of society and the arts, told from the perspective of a highly intelligent and cultured tomcat named Murr. Murr writes his autobiography, displaying his views on life, art, and human nature, while also inadvertently including fragments of a biography of a musician friend. The narrative alternates between Murr's witty observations and the tragic life of the musician, creating a unique blend of humor and pathos.

  • History of My Life by Giacomo Casanova

    "History of My Life" is an autobiography of an Italian adventurer and author, who is best remembered for his often complicated and elaborate affairs with women. The book offers a fascinating insight into his life, travels, and encounters. It provides an intimate look at the social customs and life of the 18th century, as well as the author's personal philosophies on a variety of subjects, including love, luck, and the importance of maintaining a sense of humor.

  • Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts by Joseph von Eichendorff

    This novel tells the story of a young man who is deemed a 'good-for-nothing' by his father because of his lack of interest in work. The protagonist leaves home and embarks on a journey, where he encounters various adventures, including falling in love with a mysterious woman who turns out to be a noblewoman. The novel, set in a romanticized version of the early 19th century, explores themes of freedom, love, and the beauty of nature, and is known for its idyllic portrayal of life and its lyrical language.

  • 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.

  • Lenz by Georg Buchner

    "Lenz" is a novella that explores the mind of Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, a historical figure and playwright, during his descent into madness. The narrative presents a detailed account of Lenz's mental state as he struggles with depression, anxiety, and hallucinations while living in the mountains. It provides a profound look into the human psyche and the effects of isolation and mental illness.

  • Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac

    "Lost Illusions" is a sweeping narrative that focuses on the life of a young, ambitious poet from the provinces who moves to Paris in hopes of making a name for himself. Over time, he becomes disillusioned with the corruption and moral decay of the city's literary and high society circles. The protagonist's journey is marked by his struggle to maintain his integrity and idealism in a world dominated by materialism and selfish interests. The novel is a critical commentary on the destructive power of unchecked ambition and the pitfalls of vanity.

  • 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.

  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

    In this satirical novel, a man travels through Russia buying up the titles to deceased serfs (or "souls") from their naive landowners, under the guise of a get-rich-quick scheme. However, his real plan is to use these "dead souls" to create a phantom estate and secure a massive loan. The story explores the corruption and greed prevalent in 19th-century Russian society and provides a unique perspective on the human condition.

  • Either Or by Soren Kierkegaard

    "Either Or" is a philosophical work that explores the concept of existentialism through the lens of two contrasting life views: the aesthetic and the ethical. The aesthetic life is characterized by immediate pleasure and enjoyment, while the ethical life is defined by moral duty and responsibility. The book presents these two perspectives through the fictional letters of two characters, ultimately arguing for the superiority of the ethical life. However, it also suggests that a truly fulfilled life must find a balance between the two.

  • Germany, a Winter Tale by Heinrich Heine

    "Germany, a Winter Tale" is a satirical epic poem that criticizes the political and social state of Germany in the 19th century. The narrative follows the author's journey through his homeland, where he encounters various figures and situations that embody the cultural and political issues of the time. The author uses humor and irony to expose the hypocrisy, corruption, and stagnation in German society, while also expressing his longing for a more progressive and enlightened future.

  • The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe

    This collection brings together all of the author's most famous works, including poems, short stories, and novellas. Known for his macabre and gothic storytelling, the author's works are filled with themes of death, love lost, and human frailty. Notable inclusions are the haunting poem "The Raven," the chilling stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," and his only complete novel, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym."

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville

    The novel is a detailed narrative of a vengeful sea captain's obsessive quest to hunt down a giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. The captain's relentless pursuit, despite the warnings and concerns of his crew, leads them on a dangerous journey across the seas. The story is a complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the nature of reality, filled with rich descriptions of whaling and the sea.

  • The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx

    This historical work provides a detailed analysis of the coup d'etat that brought Louis Bonaparte to power in France in 1851. The author examines the social and political dynamics that allowed Bonaparte to seize control, including the role of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. He presents a critique of the event itself and its implications for the class struggle, suggesting that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

  • Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen

    This collection of stories offers a mix of enchanting fairy tales and narratives, many of which have become universally recognized classics. The stories range from tales of whimsical creatures and magical realms to poignant narratives that explore themes of love, sacrifice, and the human condition. Some tales are light-hearted and humorous, while others are profound and thought-provoking, demonstrating the breadth and depth of the author's storytelling abilities.

  • Green Henry by Gottfried Keller

    "Green Henry" is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the life of a young man who dreams of becoming a painter but faces countless obstacles on his journey. The protagonist leaves his Swiss village and travels to Munich to study art, but his lack of discipline and financial difficulties force him to return home. After his mother's death, he begins to reassess his life and eventually finds his place in society. The novel explores themes of identity, ambition, and the struggle between individual desires and societal expectations.

  • 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.

  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

    The book is a satirical critique of the nobility in 19th century Russia, focusing on the titular character, a lazy and apathetic nobleman who prefers to daydream and live in his own fantasies rather than engage with the real world. His indolence is contrasted with the energetic and ambitious character of his friend who tries to get him involved in societal affairs and business. The protagonist's lethargy and inability to adapt to changing times symbolize the decay and stagnation of the Russian nobility.

  • 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.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    This novel follows the story of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantastical world full of peculiar creatures and bizarre experiences. As she navigates through this strange land, she encounters a series of nonsensical events, including a tea party with a Mad Hatter, a pool of tears, and a trial over stolen tarts. The book is renowned for its playful use of language, logic, and its exploration of the boundaries of reality.

  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

    This classic novel explores the generational divide and ideological clash in 19th century Russia. The story focuses on the relationship between a liberal father and his nihilistic son, who challenges the traditional values and beliefs of his elders. As they navigate their personal differences, the novel delves into broader themes of progress, love, and societal change, offering a poignant commentary on the tension between old and new ideas in a rapidly changing world.

  • Abu Telfan, Return from the Mountains of the Moon by Wilhelm Karl Raabe

    The book follows the story of Abu Telfan, a Moroccan man who embarks on a perilous journey through the Mountains of the Moon, a mountain range in East Africa. Throughout his journey, he faces numerous challenges and hardships, but also experiences personal growth and self-discovery. The novel is a thrilling tale of adventure and survival, filled with vivid descriptions of the African landscape and insightful reflections on human nature and the struggle for survival.

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in the backdrop of the Napoleonic era, the novel presents a panorama of Russian society and its descent into the chaos of war. It follows the interconnected lives of five aristocratic families, their struggles, romances, and personal journeys through the tumultuous period of history. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the meaning of life, as it weaves together historical events with the personal stories of its characters.

  • Stories of Adalbert Stifter by Adalbert Stifter

    This collection of stories showcases the work of a renowned 19th-century Austrian author, known for his detailed and vivid descriptions of nature and the human condition. The stories explore themes of morality, beauty, and the simplicity of rural life, often through the eyes of children or simple folk. The author's style is characterized by a slow pace, meticulous attention to detail, and an emphasis on the moral and aesthetic values of the characters.

  • Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche

    This philosophical work delves into the human condition, exploring the nature of human emotions, cultural biases, and societal norms, while challenging traditional views of morality, truth, and freedom. The text examines the influence of religious and philosophical systems on human behavior, arguing that these systems often suppress individuality and creativity. The work also explores concepts such as the will to power and the eternal recurrence, ultimately promoting the idea of self-overcoming and the creation of new values.

  • Germinal by Émile Zola

    The novel is a bleak and realistic portrayal of coal miners' lives in 19th century France. The protagonist, a young man who starts work in a mine, becomes embroiled in the hardship and exploitation faced by the workers, leading to his involvement in a strike. The story explores themes of poverty, social injustice, and the struggle for workers' rights, while also providing a detailed depiction of mining life, from the dangerous work conditions to the close-knit communities.

  • The Son of a Servant by August Strindberg

    "The Son of a Servant" is a semi-autobiographical novel that details the early life of a boy growing up in a working-class family in Sweden during the 19th century. The protagonist, born to a servant, faces numerous hardships and struggles due to his low social status. The book provides a vivid depiction of the social conditions of the time, and the protagonist's journey towards self-discovery and personal development, despite the challenges he faces. The narrative also explores themes of class struggle, poverty, and the pursuit of knowledge.

  • 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.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

    The novel follows the life of a handsome young man who, after having his portrait painted, is upset to realize that the painting will remain beautiful while he ages. After expressing a wish that the painting would age instead of him, he is shocked to find that his wish comes true. As he indulges in a life of hedonism and immoral acts, his portrait becomes increasingly grotesque, reflecting the damage his actions have on his soul. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity, selfishness, and the pursuit of pleasure without regard for consequences.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce

    Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

  • Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos

    This novel presents a panoramic view of New York City between the 1890s and the 1920s, capturing the sense of the city through the lives of its inhabitants. The narrative weaves together the stories of numerous characters from diverse backgrounds, including immigrants, businessmen, and bohemians. These characters' lives intersect and diverge, reflecting the dynamism and complexity of the city itself. The city is portrayed as a place of both opportunity and disillusionment, where dreams are both realized and shattered.

  • The Castle by Franz Kafka

    This novel presents the story of a man who arrives in a village and struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities who govern it from a castle. The protagonist, a surveyor, faces the constant frustration of his efforts to make contact with the elusive authorities and integrate into village society. The book explores themes of alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system, and the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

    The novel presents a poignant exploration of a man's struggle with his dual nature. The protagonist, a middle-aged man, finds himself torn between his humanistic, intellectual tendencies and his more primitive, wolf-like instincts. As he navigates his way through the surreal and sometimes hallucinatory world, he encounters various characters who challenge his views and push him towards self-discovery and transformation. The narrative delves into themes of alienation, the subconscious mind, and the search for meaning in life.

  • The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov

    This collection of short stories explores the complexities of human nature and society in 19th-century Russia. Written by a renowned Russian author, the stories range from humorous to tragic, often focusing on the everyday lives and struggles of ordinary people. The author's keen observation and deep understanding of human nature shine through in these tales, making them timeless classics that continue to resonate with readers today.

  • 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 Stechlin by Theodor Fontane

    "The Stechlin" is a social novel set in late 19th-century Germany that explores the changes and tensions brought about by the modern world. The story follows an aging aristocrat who lives near Lake Stechlin and his interactions with the community around him, including his son who is a member of the Reichstag in Berlin. The novel is known for its detailed and realistic depiction of the social and political climate of the time, as well as its exploration of the conflict between traditional values and modernity.

  • The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil

    This novel explores the moral and psychological development of a young student sent to a military boarding school in Austro-Hungarian Empire. The protagonist witnesses and participates in the bullying and humiliation of a fellow student, leading him to question the nature of power, morality, and the thin line between civilization and barbarity. The book is a profound exploration of adolescence, authority, and the loss of innocence.

  • The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

    "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" is a semi-autobiographical novel narrated by a young man from Denmark living in Paris, who is trying to understand the world and his place in it. The protagonist is a poet and a dreamer, who spends his time observing and reflecting on the people and situations around him. The book is a collection of his thoughts, observations, and musings, which often revolve around themes of death, solitude, history, and the nature of existence. It's a deep and introspective exploration of the human condition and the nature of creativity.

  • The Loyal Subject by Heinrich Mann

    "The Loyal Subject" is a satirical novel set in Germany during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It follows the life of a petty bureaucrat who is obsessively devoted to the Kaiser and the state, despite the fact that his loyalty is constantly abused. His blind obedience and the absurdity of the system are used to critique the militarism and authoritarianism of the period. The story is a powerful indictment of the dangers of unchecked nationalism and the dehumanization that can result from excessive obedience to authority.

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

  • The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hašek

    "The Good Soldier Svejk" is a satirical novel set during World War I, following the story of a Czech soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army. Svejk, the protagonist, is a simple-minded, good-natured man who is frequently arrested for bungling jobs due to his apparent idiocy. Despite his constant run-ins with authority, Svejk manages to maintain his cheerful disposition and even takes advantage of his perceived stupidity to manipulate the system. The book offers a humorous and critical perspective on the absurdity of war and the incompetence of military bureaucracy.

  • Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

    Set in 1920s Berlin, the book follows the life of Franz Biberkopf, a man recently released from prison who is trying to make an honest life for himself. However, he is drawn back into the criminal underworld due to circumstances and the influence of his acquaintance, Reinhold. The book is a vivid portrayal of city life in Weimar-era Germany, exploring themes of poverty, crime, redemption and the struggle to maintain one's morality amidst chaos and corruption.

  • Track by Ernst Bloch

    "Track" is a philosophical exploration of the concept of utopia and the human desire for a better future. The author argues that utopia is not a specific place or time, but a driving force in human consciousness that propels us forward. Throughout the book, he delves into various aspects of culture, philosophy, and politics to illustrate his points, suggesting that the longing for utopia is a fundamental part of human nature and a necessary component of any progressive social change.

  • Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud

    This book is a seminal work in the field of psychology, exploring the inherent tension between civilization and the individual. The author, a famed psychologist, argues that civilization's imposition of societal norms and restrictions leads to individual unhappiness and discontent. He delves into the conflict between the human desire for freedom and society's need for order, suggesting that this tension is at the root of much human suffering. The book further explores concepts such as the super-ego, guilt, and the death drive, offering profound insights into the human psyche.

  • My Life by Leon Trotsky

    This autobiography provides a detailed account of the life of a prominent Russian revolutionary and Marxist theorist. The book traces his early life, education, and political development, his role in the Russian Revolution and Civil War, his leadership of the Red Army, and his expulsion from the Communist Party and subsequent exile. It offers a unique perspective on key events in 20th-century history and an insight into the author's complex personality and intellectual development.

  • Light in August by William Faulkner

    Set in the American South during the 1930s, this novel explores complex social and personal issues through the intertwining stories of its characters. The narrative primarily follows a man of ambiguous racial identity on a quest to find his father, a pregnant woman searching for the father of her unborn child, and a disgraced minister attempting to navigate his own moral compass. The book delves into themes of identity, race, and the human struggle for understanding and redemption, all set against the backdrop of the deep-rooted prejudices and social norms of the time.

  • Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka

    This collection of stories offers a comprehensive look at the work of a renowned author, known for his surreal and often unsettling depictions of modern life. The stories explore themes of existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity, often through narratives in which ordinary people face extraordinary, inexplicable circumstances. The collection showcases the author's unique style and his profound influence on 20th-century literature.

  • Journals: 1889-1913 by André Gide

    "Journals: 1889-1913" is a compilation of personal entries by a prominent French author, written over a span of 24 years. The journals offer a deep insight into the author's thoughts, emotions, and experiences, providing a unique window into his personal life and his creative process. The entries also reflect on the social, political, and cultural events of the time, making the journals not only a personal memoir but also a historical document of late 19th and early 20th century France.

  • The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers

    "The Seventh Cross" is a gripping tale set in Nazi Germany that revolves around seven men who escape from a concentration camp. The camp commandant erects seven crosses, vowing to hang each escapee on their return. The story primarily follows one escapee, who manages to evade capture and make his way back to his hometown. The narrative explores the psychological terror imposed by the Nazi regime, the resilience of human spirit, and the subtle forms of resistance within the German populace.

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus

    The narrative follows a man who, after the death of his mother, falls into a routine of indifference and emotional detachment, leading him to commit an act of violence on a sun-drenched beach. His subsequent trial becomes less about the act itself and more about his inability to conform to societal norms and expectations, ultimately exploring themes of existentialism, absurdism, and the human condition.

  • The Collected Stories of Heinrich Boll by Heinrich Böll

    This collection of stories provides a comprehensive view of post-World War II Germany and its people through the lens of a renowned author. The narratives, filled with irony, humor, and profound compassion, delve into the lives of ordinary individuals, exploring themes of war, poverty, and moral dilemmas. The author's keen observation and poignant storytelling offer a rich portrayal of human nature and the complexities of society in a changing world.

  • Querelle by Jean Genet

    "Querelle" is a provocative novel set in the seedy port of Brest, where the protagonist, an amoral, bisexual sailor, engages in theft, drug dealing, and murder. The story explores themes of identity, sexuality, and power, presenting a dark and complex character study that challenges societal norms and expectations. The narrative is imbued with homoerotic undertones, reflecting the author's own experiences and perspectives as a gay man.

  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    An aging Cuban fisherman struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream, isolated from the world and from human help. For days, he fights the marlin alone, admiring its strength, dignity, and faithfulness to its identity—its destiny is as true as his as a fisherman. He finally kills the marlin, but sharks attack and devour it before he can return to the shore. The fisherman returns home empty-handed but remains undefeated, having proven his abilities to himself.

  • I'm Not Stiller by Max Frisch

    The book is a profound exploration of identity and the human condition, revolving around a man who is arrested upon his return to his home country, Switzerland, after spending time in America. Although he insists he is not the man, Stiller, that everyone believes him to be, his protests are ignored. The story unfolds as he writes in his prison cell, reflecting on his past life and relationships, and grappling with the question of who he truly is. It's a thought-provoking narrative that challenges conventional notions of selfhood and personal identity.

  • Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss

    "Tristes Tropiques" is a blend of autobiography, travel literature, and anthropology by a renowned scholar. The book is a recounting of the author's travels and anthropological work, primarily in Brazil, in the 1930s. It provides a critical and philosophical reflection on his experiences and observations, offering insights into indigenous tribes like the Nambikwara and Tupi-Kawahib, and exploring themes of cultural change, the nature of anthropology, and the author's own disillusionment with Western civilization.

  • Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

    "Krapp's Last Tape" is a one-act play about an aging man who annually records a review of the past year of his life. On his 69th birthday, he listens to a tape from 30 years earlier, where he reflects on his life at 39, his lost love, and his isolation. The play explores themes of memory, regret, and the passing of time, with the protagonist's relationship with his younger self revealing a portrait of a man in decline.

  • The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

    The novel tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, a boy who decides on his third birthday that he will stop growing and remain a three-year-old forever. Oskar is gifted with a tin drum by his mother, which he uses to express his emotions and thoughts. Living in Danzig during the rise of Nazi Germany, Oskar's refusal to grow is a form of protest against the adult world. The book is a blend of magical realism and historical fiction, providing a unique perspective on the horrors of World War II and the post-war era in Germany.

  • Words by Jean Paul Sartre

    This book is a memoir that explores the author's early life and development as an intellectual. He reflects on his childhood experiences in a non-linear narrative, detailing his relationship with his mother and grandfather, his early education, and his evolving understanding of language and literature. The author also delves into his philosophical ideas, examining the concept of existentialism and the role of the individual in society. The book serves as a profound exploration of the power of words and the impact of childhood experiences on adult life.

  • Stories from the Lord Keuner by Dieter Wöhrle

    "Stories from the Lord Keuner" is a compilation of short, thought-provoking parables that explore philosophical, political, and social issues. The book features a fictional character who challenges conventional wisdom and societal norms through his insightful and often ironic observations and dialogues. The stories are crafted to stimulate critical thinking and encourage readers to question their beliefs and assumptions.

  • Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson

    "Anniversaries" is a novel that provides a detailed account of a year in the life of Gesine Cresspahl, a German immigrant living in New York City with her young daughter. The narrative unfolds through daily entries, spanning from August 1967 to August 1968, intertwining the protagonist's present-day experiences with her traumatic past in Nazi and post-war East Germany. The novel explores themes of memory, identity, displacement, and the complexities of history, offering a nuanced perspective on the immigrant experience and the lasting impacts of historical trauma.

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

    This classic novel follows the adventures of a man who, driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant and roam the world righting wrongs under the name Don Quixote. Accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, he battles windmills he believes to be giants and champions the virtuous lady Dulcinea, who is in reality a simple peasant girl. The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity.

  • The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    "The Possessed" is a complex political novel set in a provincial Russian town, exploring the destructive influence of radical ideologies on society. The narrative revolves around a group of revolutionaries, their philosophical debates and their destructive actions, driven by nihilism and anarchism. The story is a critique of the political and social chaos of the time, showcasing the author's deep understanding of human psychology and his profound insights into the human condition. It is an exploration of faith, reason, and the nature of freedom and is considered one of the most significant works of Russian literature.

  • Essays and Aphorisms by Arthur Schopenhauer

    This book is a collection of philosophical essays and aphorisms that delve into an array of topics including morality, religion, and philosophy. The author presents a pessimistic worldview, arguing that suffering is an inherent part of human existence. He discusses the nature of freedom, the importance of individuality, and the role of art and aesthetics in life. The book is known for its accessible style, making complex philosophical ideas understandable for a general audience.

About this list

Die Zeit, 94 Books

Added over 9 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 54%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • a low number of voters (more than 2)
  • voters are mostly from 1 location or country
  • List is too "western canon" focused

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at contact@thegreatestbooks.org.