The Bigger Read List

This is one of the 210 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Aesop's Fables by Aesop

    This book is a collection of short tales, often featuring animals as characters, which convey moral lessons. The fables, attributed to a storyteller from ancient Greece, are known for their brevity and poignant messages. The stories cover a wide range of themes such as honesty, wisdom, greed, vanity, and humility, and are often concluded with a simple, yet profound, moral lesson. The narratives have been passed down through generations and continue to be relevant in modern times.

  • The Wanderer by Henri Alain-Fournier

    "The Wanderer" is a poignant tale of a young man who embarks on a quest to find his lost love, Yvonne, who he had met as a child and never forgotten. His journey takes him to the mysterious and enchanting land of the "Great Meaulnes", where he experiences a series of adventures and encounters that lead him to profound self-discovery and a deeper understanding of the complexities of love and life. The narrative is imbued with elements of nostalgia, romance, and the struggle between reality and the ideal, making it a timeless exploration of youth, longing, and the ephemeral nature of time.

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

    "The House of the Spirits" is a multi-generational saga that explores the lives of the Trueba family, set against the backdrop of political upheaval in an unnamed Latin American country. The narrative is driven by the family's strong and magical women, including clairvoyant Clara and her granddaughter Alba. The story spans over three generations, weaving together personal, social, and political threads, and is rich in elements of magical realism. The novel explores themes of love, violence, social class, and the struggle for power.

  • 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.

  • Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis

    The novel is a darkly comic, yet tragic exploration of love, betrayal, and jealousy, told through the unreliable narration of the protagonist, a middle-aged man who believes his wife has cheated on him with his best friend. The narrative is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, forcing readers to question the reality of the events described. The novel is also a profound exploration of the human psyche and the destructive power of obsession.

  • 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.

  • Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac

    "Cousin Bette" is a novel set in mid-19th century Paris, focusing on the lives of the Hulot family and their cousin, Bette, an old maid who harbors a deep resentment towards her relatives due to their wealth and social status. When Bette learns that her cousin's husband is having an affair, she decides to exact revenge by manipulating various characters and situations, leading to the downfall of the Hulot family. The novel explores themes of jealousy, revenge, and the destructive power of repressed feelings.

  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

    This influential work explores the treatment and perception of women throughout history, arguing that women have been repressed and defined only in relation to men. The author presents a detailed analysis of women's roles in society, family, work, and in the creation of their own identities. She discusses the concept of 'the other' and how this has been used to suppress women, while also examining the biological, psychological, and societal impacts of this oppression. The book is a seminal text in feminist theory, challenging traditional notions of femininity and calling for equality and freedom for women.

  • 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.

  • Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

    "Labyrinths" is a collection of short stories and essays that explore complex themes of infinity, parallel universes, and the blurred lines between reality and illusion. The narratives often feature protagonists who are scholars or librarians, trapped in surreal, metaphysical landscapes. The author's unique writing style combines elements of magical realism, philosophy, and detective fiction, creating an intricate web of narratives that challenge the reader's perception of reality and fiction.

  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

    This novel is a complex narrative that weaves together three distinct yet intertwined stories. The first story is set in 1930s Moscow and follows the devil and his entourage as they wreak havoc on the city's literary elite. The second story is a historical narrative about Pontius Pilate and his role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The third story is a love story between the titular Master, a writer who has been driven to madness by the criticism of his work, and his devoted lover, Margarita. The novel is a satirical critique of Soviet society, particularly the literary establishment, and its treatment of artists. It also explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the nature of good and evil.

  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

    The novel is a postmodernist narrative that follows the adventures of the reader, who is trying to read a book called "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller." However, the reader keeps encountering obstacles that prevent him from finishing the book, including printer's errors, censorship, and interruptions from other characters. The story is interspersed with the beginnings of ten different novels, each interrupted at a moment of suspense. The book is a meditation on reading, writing, and the nature of narrative itself.

  • 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 Plague by Albert Camus

    The novel is set in the Algerian city of Oran during the 1940s, where a deadly plague sweeps through, causing the city to be quarantined. The story is told through the eyes of a doctor who witnesses the horror and suffering caused by the disease. The narrative explores themes of human resilience, solidarity, and the struggle against the absurdities of life. It also examines how individuals and society respond to death and disease, creating a profound meditation on the nature of existence and human endurance.

  • Journey to the End of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

    The novel is a semi-autobiographical work that explores the harsh realities of life through the cynical and disillusioned eyes of the protagonist. The narrative follows his experiences from the trenches of World War I, through the African jungles, to the streets of America and the slums of Paris, showcasing the horrors of war, colonialism, and the dark side of human nature. The protagonist's journey is marked by his struggle with despair, loneliness, and the absurdity of existence, offering a bleak yet profound commentary on the human condition.

  • 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 Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov

    "The Lady with the Dog" is a short story that revolves around an adulterous affair between a Russian banker and a young woman he meets while on vacation in Yalta. The narrative explores the protagonists' deepening feelings for each other as they continue their clandestine relationship back in Moscow, struggling with the moral implications of their actions. The story is renowned for its profound character development and exploration of the complexities of illicit love.

  • 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.

  • Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

    "Collected Fiction" is a compilation of stories by a renowned author that takes readers on a journey through a world of philosophical paradoxes, intellectual humor, and fantastical realities. The book features a range of narratives, from complex, multi-layered tales of labyrinths and detective investigations, to metaphysical explorations of infinity and the nature of identity. It offers an immersive and thought-provoking reading experience, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, past and present, and the self and the universe.

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

    A young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago dreams of finding a worldly treasure and sets off on a journey across the Egyptian desert in search of it. Along the way, he encounters a series of characters who impart wisdom and help guide his spiritual journey. The novel explores themes of destiny, personal legend, and the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. The boy learns that true wealth comes not from material possessions, but from self-discovery and attaining one's "Personal Legend".

  • 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.

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    A young, impoverished former student in Saint Petersburg, Russia, formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker to redistribute her wealth among the needy. However, after carrying out the act, he is consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading to a psychological battle within himself. As he grapples with his actions, he also navigates complex relationships with a variety of characters, including a virtuous prostitute, his sister, and a relentless detective. The narrative explores themes of morality, redemption, and the psychological impacts of crime.

  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    The book follows the story of a kind-hearted and naive protagonist who returns to Russia from a Swiss sanatorium, where he was treated for a severe epileptic condition. Despite his pure intentions, he gets entangled in a web of love, greed, and manipulation, leading to tragic consequences. The novel explores themes of innocence, love, sacrifice, and societal expectations, offering a profound critique of Russian society during the 19th century.

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

    A young sailor, unjustly accused of treason, is imprisoned without trial in a grim fortress. After a daring escape, he uncovers a hidden treasure and transforms himself into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo. He then sets out to exact revenge on those who wronged him, using his newfound power and influence. Throughout his journey, he grapples with questions about justice, vengeance, and whether ultimate power can ultimately corrupt.

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

    Set in 17th century France, the novel follows the adventures of a young man who leaves home to join the Musketeers of the Guard. He befriends three of the most daring musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and together, they navigate political intrigue, love affairs, and duels. Their main enemies are the powerful Cardinal Richelieu and the beautiful but treacherous Milady, who will stop at nothing to bring them down.

  • The Maias: Episodes from Romantic Life by Eça de Queirós

    "The Maias: Episodes from Romantic Life" is a compelling narrative set in Lisbon in the late 19th century that follows the lives of a wealthy Portuguese family, the Maias. The story centers around the romantic and professional life of Carlos Maia, but also includes a rich cast of secondary characters. The plot includes themes of love, betrayal, disillusionment, and tragedy, all set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Portuguese society. The novel is also a critique of the decadence and stagnation of Portuguese society at the time.

  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

    Set in a wealthy Italian monastery in the 14th century, the novel follows a Franciscan friar and his young apprentice as they investigate a series of mysterious deaths within the monastery. As they navigate the labyrinthine library and decipher cryptic manuscripts, they uncover a complex plot involving forbidden books, secret societies, and the Inquisition. The novel is a blend of historical fiction, mystery, and philosophical exploration, delving into themes of truth, knowledge, and the power of the written word.

  • Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert

    "Bouvard et Pécuchet" is a satirical novel that chronicles the lives of two Parisian copy clerks, Bouvard and Pécuchet, who decide to retire in the countryside after unexpectedly inheriting a fortune. Their attempts to become gentlemen farmers are thwarted by a series of comical failures. The pair then embarks on a quest for knowledge in various fields such as medicine, literature, politics, and religion, but their efforts lead to more confusion and absurdity. The novel is a critique of intellectual pretensions and a commentary on the futility of human endeavor.

  • 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.

  • The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

    This groundbreaking work explores the theory that dreams are a reflection of the unconscious mind and a means of understanding our deepest desires, anxieties, and fantasies. The book delves into the symbolism of dreams and their connection to repressed thoughts and experiences, proposing that they are a form of wish fulfillment. The author also introduces the concept of "dream work," which transforms these unconscious thoughts into the content of dreams, and discusses various methods of dream interpretation.

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

    This book is a real-life account of a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis during World War II, written in diary format. The girl and her family are forced to live in a secret annex in Amsterdam for two years, during which she writes about her experiences, fears, dreams, and the onset of adolescence. The diary provides a poignant and deeply personal insight into the horrors of the Holocaust, making it a powerful testament to the human spirit.

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel follows the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall passionately in love in their youth. However, Fermina eventually marries a wealthy doctor, leaving Florentino heartbroken. Despite this, Florentino remains devoted to Fermina for over fifty years, patiently waiting for her husband's death to have another chance at her love. The story is set against the backdrop of a cholera epidemic, serving as a metaphor for the transformative power of love and the destructive power of obsession.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel is a multi-generational saga that focuses on the Buendía family, who founded the fictional town of Macondo. It explores themes of love, loss, family, and the cyclical nature of history. The story is filled with magical realism, blending the supernatural with the ordinary, as it chronicles the family's experiences, including civil war, marriages, births, and deaths. The book is renowned for its narrative style and its exploration of solitude, fate, and the inevitability of repetition in history.

  • 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.

  • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    The book is a tragic play in two parts that tells the story of a scholarly man named Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. In exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles after death. The narrative explores themes of ambition, despair, love, and redemption, ultimately leading to Faust's salvation.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

    This book is a travel memoir that recounts the author's escape from a British internment camp in India during World War II and his subsequent journey through the Himalayas to Tibet, where he becomes a tutor and friend to the Dalai Lama. The book provides a detailed account of Tibetan culture, customs, and the political turmoil leading up to the Chinese invasion, as seen through the eyes of a foreigner who spent seven years living there.

  • The Iliad by Homer

    This epic poem focuses on the final weeks of the Trojan War, a conflict between the city of Troy and the Greek city-states. The story explores themes of war, honor, wrath, and divine intervention, with a particular focus on the Greek hero Achilles, whose anger and refusal to fight have devastating consequences. The narrative also delves into the lives of the gods, their relationships with humans, and their influence on the course of events.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka

    The book revolves around a bank clerk who wakes one morning to find himself under arrest for an unspecified crime. Despite not being detained, he is subjected to the psychological torment of a bizarre and nightmarish judicial process. The story is a critique of bureaucracy, exploring themes of guilt, alienation and the inefficiency of the justice system.

  • Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

    In this novel, a young intellectual who is immersed in books and ideas embarks on a journey with a passionate and adventurous older man named Zorba. The two men have contrasting personalities, which leads to a series of philosophical discussions and adventures. The story is set in Crete and explores themes of life, death, friendship, love, and the struggle between the physical and intellectual aspects of existence. Zorba's zest for life and his fearlessness in the face of death inspire the young man to embrace a more physical and spontaneous way of living.

  • Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward FitzGerald

    "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" is a collection of four-line stanzas, or quatrains, translated from Persian poetry. The poems, filled with contemplations on mortality and the transient nature of life, advocate for living in the moment and enjoying life's simple pleasures. The work is revered for its beautiful and evocative imagery, philosophical musings, and its exploration of themes such as love, faith, doubt, and the fleeting nature of time.

  • The Quran by Unknown

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

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

    Set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history, the novel explores the philosophical concept of Nietzsche's eternal return through the intertwined lives of four characters: a womanizing surgeon, his intellectual wife, his naïve mistress, and her stoic lover. The narrative delves into their personal struggles with lightness and heaviness, freedom and fate, love and betrayal, and the complexities of human relationships, all while offering a profound meditation on the nature of existence and the paradoxes of life.

  • Dangerous Liaison by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

    "Dangerous Liaison" is a tale of manipulation, revenge, and seduction set in the French aristocracy before the French Revolution. The novel follows the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. Their targets are the virtuous (and married) Madame de Tourvel and the young Cecile de Volanges. The book is a dramatic exploration of decadence, corruption, and ultimate retribution.

  • The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

    "The Leopard" is a historical novel set in 19th-century Sicily, during the time of the Italian unification or Risorgimento. It centers on an aging, aristocratic protagonist who is coming to terms with the decline of his class and the rise of a new social order. The narrative weaves together personal drama with the larger political and social upheaval of the time, providing a rich, nuanced portrait of a society in transition. Despite his resistance to change, the protagonist ultimately recognizes its inevitability and the futility of his efforts to preserve the old ways.

  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu

    This ancient text is a fundamental guide to the philosophy of Taoism, offering wisdom on how to live a balanced, virtuous life in harmony with the natural world and the Tao, the source of all existence. The book explores themes such as simplicity, humility, and non-aggression, emphasizing the importance of understanding and aligning oneself with the Tao. It provides guidance on leadership, personal growth, and spiritual enlightenment, advocating for a life of peace, contemplation, and connection with the universe.

  • Independent People by Halldor Laxness

    "Independent People" is a novel set in rural Iceland, following the life of a stubborn sheep farmer who values his independence above all else. Despite facing numerous hardships, including poverty, harsh weather, and family strife, he refuses to accept help or compromise his self-reliance. The book explores themes of pride, the struggle for survival, and the human spirit's resilience in the face of adversity.

  • Complete Poems of Giacomo Leopardi by Giacomo Leopardi

    This book is a comprehensive collection of the poetic works of a renowned Italian poet. The poems cover a wide range of themes, from love and nature to philosophy and social issues, showcasing the poet's profound understanding of human nature and the world. The collection also includes his celebrated "Canti" and other lesser-known works, all presented in their original Italian language, making it a valuable resource for those interested in Italian literature and culture.

  • Selected Stories of Lu Hsun by Xun Lu

    "Selected Stories of Lu Hsun" is a collection of short stories that provides a critical look at traditional Chinese society and culture. The author uses satire and irony to highlight the struggles and injustices faced by the common people, often focusing on themes such as education, poverty, and the oppressive nature of the ruling class. The stories are also notable for their exploration of the human condition and the complexities of individual morality.

  • Mahabharata by Vyasa

    The book is an English translation of the ancient Indian epic, originally written in Sanskrit, which tells the story of a great war that took place between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The narrative explores themes of duty, righteousness, and honor while also featuring a rich array of gods, goddesses, and supernatural beings. It is not only a tale of war and conflict, but also a profound philosophical and spiritual treatise, containing the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of Hindu philosophy.

  • 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 Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

    In this novel, the protagonist, a young, ordinary man, visits his cousin at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. Intending to stay for only a few weeks, he ends up remaining there for seven years, becoming a patient himself. The book explores his experiences and relationships with other patients and staff, delving into philosophical discussions on life, time, and the nature of disease. It also provides a vivid portrayal of the European society and intellectual life on the eve of World War I.

  • Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

    "Death in Venice" is a novella that explores the life of Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous writer in his early fifties who embarks on a journey to Venice after experiencing a creative block. In Venice, he becomes obsessed with a beautiful Polish boy named Tadzio, whom he sees at the hotel where he is staying. Aschenbach's fascination with Tadzio becomes a metaphor for his own internal struggle with his repressed passions and his need for aesthetic beauty. The story culminates in Aschenbach's death as a cholera epidemic sweeps through Venice. His demise symbolizes the destructive power of his unfulfilled longing and his ultimate surrender to his repressed desires.

  • Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao

    This book is a collection of speeches and writings by the former leader of the People's Republic of China. It covers a wide range of topics including communism, revolution, class struggle, and the correct handling of contradictions among the people. The book was published with the intention of promoting the leader's ideology and was widely distributed during the Cultural Revolution. It was considered an essential guide to life and politics in China during this period.

  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

    A man's search for his wife's missing cat evolves into a surreal journey through Tokyo's underbelly, where he encounters a bizarre collection of characters with strange stories and peculiar obsessions. As he delves deeper, he finds himself entangled in a web of dreamlike scenarios, historical digressions, and metaphysical investigations. His reality becomes increasingly intertwined with the dream world as he grapples with themes of fate, identity, and the dark side of the human psyche.

  • Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

    This influential political pamphlet advocates for the abolition of private property, the rights of the proletariat, and the eventual establishment of a classless society. The authors argue that all of history is a record of class struggle, culminating in the conflict between the bourgeoisie, who control the means of production, and the proletariat, who provide the labor. They predict that this struggle will result in a revolution, leading to a society where property and wealth are communally controlled.

  • Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima

    "Forbidden Colours" is a deeply introspective novel that explores themes of beauty, youth, old age, love, and betrayal, set against the backdrop of post-war Japan. The story follows a young, beautiful man who is manipulated by an elderly writer to seek revenge on women. The young man's beauty becomes a weapon, while the old man's bitterness and jealousy drive the plot. The novel delves into the darker aspects of human nature and society's obsession with beauty, providing a stark commentary on the human condition.

  • 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.

  • My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

    Set in the late 16th century Ottoman Empire, this novel explores the conflict between East and West, tradition and innovation, through the lens of miniaturist painters. When a renowned artist is murdered, his colleagues must solve the mystery while grappling with the changes in their art brought about by the western Renaissance. This complex narrative intertwines love, art, religion, and power, offering a deep exploration of the struggles between old and new.

  • 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.

  • Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

    Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Russian Revolution, the book follows the life of a physician and poet, Yuri Zhivago, as he navigates the political and social upheaval of the early 20th century. Torn between his love for two women, his wife Tonya and his passionate mistress Lara, Zhivago's personal struggles mirror the larger societal changes occurring around him. The novel explores themes of love, war, and the human spirit, offering a poignant and complex portrait of life during a time of revolutionary change.

  • Life, a User's Manual by Georges Perec

    The novel explores the lives of the inhabitants of a Parisian apartment block through a complex, multi-layered narrative. It delves into the interconnected stories of the building's residents, revealing their secrets, desires, and disappointments. The narrative is structured like a puzzle, with the author employing a variety of literary styles and devices, making it a complex and intriguing exploration of human life.

  • 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.

  • Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau

    A young, precocious girl named Zazie comes to Paris to stay with her flamboyant uncle, a professional female impersonator. She is obsessed with riding the Metro, but a strike thwarts her plans. As she explores the city on her own, she encounters a variety of eccentric characters, gets into mischief, and ultimately causes chaos in the city. The novel is a humorous and satirical look at Parisian life, filled with word play and surreal elements.

  • Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

    This novel centers around a 17-year-old girl living with her playboy father in the French Riviera. The pair lead a carefree, hedonistic lifestyle until the father decides to remarry, causing the protagonist to hatch a plan to prevent the marriage and return to their old way of life. The story explores themes of youth, love, and the struggle between desire and morality.

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    A young prince from a tiny asteroid embarks on a journey across the universe, visiting various planets and meeting their strange inhabitants. Along the way, he learns about the follies and absurdities of the adult world, the nature of friendship, and the importance of retaining a childlike wonder and curiosity. His journey eventually leads him to Earth, where he befriends a fox and learns about love and loss before finally returning to his asteroid.

  • 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.

  • Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

    The novel follows the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who was brought to England on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia during World War II. As an adult, Jacques embarks on a journey to uncover his past, including his original identity, his parent's fate, and his own lost history. The narrative is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and the lasting impact of the Holocaust.

  • The Emigrants by Winfried Georg Sebald

    "The Emigrants" is a novel that explores the experiences and memories of four different emigrants, each with a unique and complex history. The narrative primarily focuses on the psychological impact of displacement and the haunting nature of the past. The author delves deep into their lives, revealing their struggles with identity, loss, and the persistent influence of their roots. The narrative is interwoven with historical events, photographs, and other documents, creating a rich tapestry that blurs the line between fact and fiction.

  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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

  • The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal

    The novel follows the life of a young Italian nobleman, who, driven by romantic ideals and a thirst for adventure, leaves his comfortable life to join Napoleon's army. After surviving many trials and tribulations, he returns home to a life of political intrigue, love affairs, and power struggles in the court of Parma. The narrative provides a vivid and satirical depiction of the political and social life in Italy during the 19th century.

  • 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.

  • The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

    "The Makioka Sisters" is a novel set in pre-World War II Japan, following the lives of four sisters from a once-wealthy Osaka family. The story focuses on their struggles to maintain their traditional lifestyle and status in a rapidly changing society. The two elder sisters are concerned with finding a suitable husband for the third sister, while the youngest sister, more modern and independent, resists the constraints of her family's expectations. The book provides a detailed and nuanced exploration of the clash between tradition and modernity in Japanese society.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in 19th-century Russia, this novel revolves around the life of Anna Karenina, a high-society woman who, dissatisfied with her loveless marriage, embarks on a passionate affair with a charming officer named Count Vronsky. This scandalous affair leads to her social downfall, while parallel to this, the novel also explores the rural life and struggles of Levin, a landowner who seeks the meaning of life and true happiness. The book explores themes such as love, marriage, fidelity, societal norms, and the human quest for happiness.

  • 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.

  • The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

    The book is a historical novel that recounts the War of Canudos, a conflict in late 19th-century Brazil over religious fanaticism, political instability, and social inequality. The story is centered around an apocalyptic movement led by a charismatic, messianic figure who convinces the poor and downtrodden to rise up against the Brazilian government, leading to a brutal and bloody conflict. The book explores themes of faith, power, poverty, and the destructive potential of fervent belief.

  • 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.

  • I Ching by China

    This ancient Chinese text is a divination system and book of wisdom. It provides guidance for moral and ethical decisions through 64 hexagrams, which are six-line figures made up of broken and unbroken lines. Each hexagram represents a specific situation or state of affairs, and the text provides interpretations and advice for each. The book has been used for centuries as a tool for decision-making, prediction, and gaining deeper understanding of situations and relationships.

  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

    In this unique novel, a Venetian traveler describes 55 different cities to the Mongol emperor, each city more fantastical and surreal than the last. The cities are divided into categories such as "Cities and Memory," "Cities and Desire," "Cities and Signs," etc. As the traveler continues to describe these cities, it becomes clear that they are all actually the same city, Venice, seen from different perspectives and points in time. The novel explores themes of memory, perception, and the nature of human experience.

  • 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.

  • The Lusiad by Luís Vaz Camões

    "The Lusiad" is an epic poem that chronicles the historic voyage of Vasco da Gama, who discovered a sea route from Portugal to India in 1497-1498. The narrative is filled with both historical events and fantastical elements, including sea monsters and divine intervention. The story celebrates Portugal's maritime exploration and its heroes, while also reflecting on the human condition and the nature of life, destiny, and the cosmos.

  • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

    This book is a philosophical essay that explores the concept of absurdity, and how individuals should respond to life's inherent meaninglessness. It posits that life is essentially absurd due to the conflict between our desire for understanding and the chaotic, indifferent universe. The author argues that the only proper response to this absurdity is to live life to its fullest, embracing and rebelling against the absurdity, rather than resorting to suicide or turning to religion or philosophy for false comfort. The story of Sisyphus, condemned to eternally roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, is used as a metaphor for the human condition.

  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

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

  • 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.

  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

    This novel tells the story of two teenage boys sent to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's Cultural Revolution. There, they meet a local tailor's daughter, who becomes their friend and the object of their shared affection. The boys discover a hidden suitcase filled with forbidden Western classics in Chinese translation, and their lives are forever changed. The books not only awaken their passion for literature, but also allow them to educate the Seamstress, ultimately leading to a heartbreaking love triangle and a tale of personal freedom against the odds.

  • 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.

  • The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

    This book provides an intimate and eye-opening look into the everyday life of an Afghan family. The narrative follows a bookseller in Kabul, who despite the oppressive Taliban regime, courageously continues his trade. The story delves into his family dynamics, the struggles of his two wives, his children's lives, and the societal norms and customs they navigate. It paints a vivid picture of life in Afghanistan, exploring the themes of love, courage, resilience, and the power of literature.

  • The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    "The Gulag Archipelago" is a comprehensive and stark account of the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system. The narrative, based on the author's own experiences as a prisoner and on extensive research, documents the history, operation, and life inside the Gulag system. It also provides a critical examination of the regime's legal system, police operations, and political leadership. The book is an intense indictment of the Soviet Union's totalitarian regime, revealing its brutality, inhumanity, and vast scale of its prison camp network.

  • 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.

  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

    "Siddhartha" is a novel about the spiritual journey of a young man named Siddhartha during the time of Gautama Buddha. Born into an Indian Brahmin family, Siddhartha rejects his privileged life to seek spiritual enlightenment. His journey takes him through periods of harsh asceticism, sensual indulgence, material wealth, and finally, to the simple life of a ferryman on a river where he finds peace and wisdom. The book explores themes of self-discovery, spiritual quest, and the desire for a meaningful life.

  • The Art of War by Sun Zi

    This ancient Chinese military treatise, written by a renowned general and military strategist, is a comprehensive guide on military strategy and tactics. It covers various aspects of warfare, from planning and preparation to execution and aftermath. The work emphasizes the importance of understanding one's enemy, using deception, and adapting to changing circumstances. It also stresses the importance of terrain, morale, and leadership. Despite its military focus, its principles have been applied to business, politics, and other fields, making it a timeless classic on strategy.

  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

    "The Tale of Genji" is a classic work of Japanese literature from the 11th century, often considered the world's first novel. The story revolves around the life of Genji, the son of an emperor, exploring his political rise, romantic relationships, and the complex court life of the Heian era. The novel is celebrated for its detailed characterization and its analysis of the different forms of love.

  • Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

    "Some Prefer Nettles" is a novel that explores the complexities of a failing marriage in early 20th century Japan. The main characters, a husband and wife, are both aware of their fading love for each other and are drawn to other people, but are hesitant to divorce due to societal pressures and the welfare of their young son. The novel also delves into the cultural tension between traditional Japanese customs and the encroaching influence of Western culture.

  • The Half Brother: A Novel by Lars Saabye Christensen

    "The Half Brother" is a compelling narrative that follows the life of a young man named Barnum Nilsen. Born into a Norwegian family with a mysterious past, Barnum navigates through life with a half-brother, Fred, who is both his best friend and his rival. As Barnum grows older, he becomes a successful writer, but his personal life is marked by loss, loneliness, and the weight of his family's secrets. The book is a profound exploration of identity, love, and the bonds of family.

  • Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau

    "Les Enfants Terribles" is a haunting tale of sibling love and rivalry. The story revolves around two siblings, Elisabeth and Paul, who create a private world of their own, isolated from the outside world, in a Parisian apartment. Their intense bond is both destructive and all-consuming, causing them to reject the outside world and its conventions. This results in a tragic ending, as their intense relationship leads to a series of unfortunate events, including heartbreak, manipulation, and ultimately, death.

  • The Lover by Marguerite Duras

    "The Lover" is a poignant exploration of forbidden love, power dynamics, and colonialism. Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the story of a tumultuous and passionate affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. The narrative delves into the complexities of their relationship, the societal norms they defy, and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. The protagonist's struggle with her family's poverty and her mother's mental instability further complicates the story, making it a compelling exploration of love, desire, and societal constraints.

About this list

English PEN, 160 Books

The English PEN staff compiled a list of the best works not written in the English language. This list combines their list with the suggestions made by Fred Armentrout, President of Hong Kong (English-Speaking) PEN.

Added about 9 years ago.

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