- There are more great books in the world than there is time to read all of them.
- It makes sense, then, that we seek out lists of recommendations and reviews to ensure we find the tomes most worth our limited time.
- Below are the 100 books you should read in a lifetime, according to Amazon Books editors.
As of 2010, there were about 129,864,880 books in the entire world, according to Google’s estimate.
Even if you quit your job, subsisted off of dewdrops, and spent every waking hour reading, the odds that you could read every one of them are not in your favor.
So, for book-lovers, it becomes important to choose your next tome wisely. Before slipping into a 500-page and many-hours-long disappointment that could have been invested into something more worthy of our finite time, we read reviews, skim Goodreads lists, ask bookstore staff and friends and family, and use myriad other tactics to narrow our choices down to the best and most impactful.
Below, you’ll find 100 suggestions for books you should read in a lifetime, according to Amazon Books editors. Spanning beloved children’s classics to searing memoirs to classics, the list has a little bit of everything. If you’re looking for the Next Great Thing, here’s a good place to start your search.
100 books to read in a lifetime – according to Amazon Books editors:
“1984” by George Orwell
Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching…
A startling and haunting vision of the world, 1984 is so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the influence of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions – a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.
“A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin – and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending – or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?
“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers
Dave Egger’s parents died from cancer within a month of each other when he was 21 and his brother, Christopher, was seven. They left the Chicago suburb where they had grown up and moved to San Francisco. This book tells the story of their life together.
“A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah
This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.
What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.
“Breath, Eyes, Memory” by Edwidge Danticat
At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti – to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.
“Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession.
“Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond Ph.D.
Having done fieldwork in New Guinea for more than 30 years, Jared Diamond presents the geographical and ecological factors that have shaped the modern world. From the viewpoint of an evolutionary biologist, he highlights the broadest movements both literal and conceptual on every continent since the Ice Age, and examines societal advances such as writing, religion, government, and technology. Diamond also dissects racial theories of global history, and the resulting work – “Guns, Germs and Steel” – is a major contribution to our understanding of the evolution of human societies.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl
Willy Wonka’s Famous Chocolate Factory is opening at last! But only five lucky children will be allowed inside … and what Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Charlie Bucket find is even wilder than any of the wild rumors they’ve heard.
“The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel” by Barbara Kingsolver
“The Poisonwood Bible” is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in post-colonial Africa.
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.
“The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan
Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school … again. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to stay out of trouble. But can he really be expected to stand by and watch while a bully picks on his scrawny best friend? Or not defend himself against his pre-algebra teacher when she turns into a monster and tries to kill him? Of course, no one believes Percy about the monster incident; he’s not even sure he believes himself.
“Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir” by Frank McCourt
Born in Depression-era Brooklyn to Irish immigrant parents, Frank was later raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. His mother, Angela, had no money to feed her children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely worked, and when he did, he drank his wages. “Angela’s Ashes” is the story of how Frank endured – wearing shoes repaired with tires, begging for a pig’s head for Christmas dinner, and searching the pubs for his father – a tale he relates with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness.
“The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame
The riverside adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr. Toad have become a timeless classic of children’s literature. In this beautiful volume, we see that charming world through the eyes of renowned artist, Grahame Baker-Smith. Brimming with exquisite artwork, this beloved story is brought to life for a whole new generation of readers.
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal world.
When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does Jonas begin to understand the dark secrets behind this fragile community. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.
“The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe
Millions of words have poured forth about man’s trip to the moon, but until now few people have had a sense of the most engrossing side of the adventure; namely, what went on in the minds of the astronauts themselves – in space, on the moon, and even during certain odysseys on earth.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
This is the classic edition of the best-selling story written for the very young. A newly hatched caterpillar eats his way through all kinds of food.
“All the President’s Men” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing with headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward kept the tale of conspiracy and the trail of dirty tricks coming – delivering the stunning revelations and pieces in the Watergate puzzle that brought about Nixon’s scandalous downfall. Their explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post and toppled the president.
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
Max is the hero of this beloved children’s classic in which he makes mischief, sails away, tames the wild things, and returns home for supper.
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy – it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
“The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales” by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations. If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’ splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human.
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood,” and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.
“Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham
“Of Human Bondage” is the story of Philip Carey, an orphan eager for life, love, and adventure. After a few months studying in Heidelberg, and a brief spell in Paris as a would-be artist, Philip settles in London to train as a doctor. And that is where he meets Mildred, the loud but irresistible waitress with whom he plunges into a formative, tortured, and masochistic affair that very nearly ruins him.
“Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth
The famous confession of Alexander Portnoy who is thrust through life by his unappeasable sexuality, yet held back at the same time by the iron grip of his unforgettable childhood.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, “To Kill A Mockingbird” takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.
“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve – the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary.
This powerful book is Didion’ s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness … about marriage and children and memory … about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.“
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
A tour de force of wit and sparkling dialogue, “Pride and Prejudice” shows how the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet and the aristocratic Mr. Darcy must have their pride humbled and their prejudices dissolved before they can acknowledge their love for each other.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.
Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.
When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.
“Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel” by Kurt Vonnegut
Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
“Middlesex: A Novel” by Jeffrey Eugenides
So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.
“Selected Stories, 1968-1994” by Alice Munro
Spanning almost thirty years and settings that range from big cities to small towns and farmsteads of rural Canada, this magnificent collection brings together twenty-eight stories by a writer of unparalleled wit, generosity, and emotional power. In her Selected Stories, Alice Munro makes lives that seem small unfold until they are revealed to be as spacious as prairies and locates the moments of love and betrayal, desire and forgiveness, that change those lives forever.
“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens
Pip, a poor orphan being raised by a cruel sister, does not have much in the way of great expectations – until he is inexplicably elevated to wealth by an anonymous benefactor. Full of unforgettable characters – including a terrifying convict named Magwitch, the eccentric Miss Havisham, and her beautiful but manipulative niece, Estella, “Great Expectations“ is a tale of intrigue, unattainable love, and all of the happiness money can’t buy.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. The result is the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enslaves the few remaining fertile women. Offred is one of these, a Handmaid bound to produce children for one of Gilead’s commanders. Deprived of her husband, her child, her freedom, and even her own name, Offred clings to her memories and her will to survive.
“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall
Isolated by Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons, the blissful Tarahumara Indians have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. In a riveting narrative, award-winning journalist and often-injured runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover their secrets. In the process, he takes his readers from science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultra-runners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to a climactic race in the Copper Canyons that pits America’s best ultra-runners against the tribe.
“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel” by Haruki Murakami
In a Tokyo suburb, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat – and then for his wife as well – in a netherworld beneath the city’s placid surface. As these searches intersect, he encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists. Gripping, prophetic, and suffused with comedy and menace, this is an astonishingly imaginative detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets from Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria during World War II.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
Depicting the men of Alpha Company – Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of 43 – the stories in “The Things They Carried” opened our eyes to the nature of war in a way we will never forget.
“The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton
In the polished works of Edith Wharton, Old New York is a society at once infinitely sophisticated and ruthlessly primitive, in which adherence to ritual and loyalty to clan surpass all other values – and transgression is always punished.
“The Age of Innocence” is Wharton’s 1920 novel of love menaced by convention, played out against a gorgeously arrayed backdrop of opera houses, lavish dinner parties, country homes, and luxurious deathbeds. The young lawyer Newland Archer believes that he must make an impossible choice: domesticity with his docile and lovely fiancée, May Welland, or passion with her highly unsuitable but irresistible cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska. What Newland does not suspect – but will learn – is that the women also hold cards in this game.
“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in “Lolita,” Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. “Lolita“ is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
“Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” by Marjane Satrapi
In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages 6 to 14, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright.
“The Shining” by Stephen King
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote… and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted 5-year-old.
“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” by Chris Ware
This is a pleasantly decorated view of a lonely and emotionally impaired “everyman” who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time. An improvisatory romance which gingerly deports itself between 1890’s Chicago and 1980’s small-town Michigan, the reader is helped along by thousands of colored illustrations and diagrams, which, when read rapidly in sequence, provide a convincing illusion of life and movement.
“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs – yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945, Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory – known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”) – holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon
It’s 1939 in New York City. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat: smuggling himself out of Hitler’s Prague. He’s looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn’s own Sammy Clay, is looking for a partner in creating the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein” by Shel Silverstein
From the outrageously funny to the quietly affecting – and touching on everything in between – here are poems and drawings that illuminate the remarkable world of the well-known folksinger, humorist, and creator of “The Giving Tree,” “A Light in the Attic,” and many other classics that continue to resonate.
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan
What should we have for dinner? Ten years ago, Michael Pollan confronted us with this seemingly simple question and, with “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, his brilliant and eye-opening exploration of our food choices demonstrated that how we answer it today may determine not only our health, but our survival as a species. In the years since, Pollan’s revolutionary examination has changed the way Americans think about food.
“Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann
Dolls: red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight – for Anne, Neely, and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter, as long as the pill bottle is within easy reach. These three women become best friends when they are young and struggling in New York City and then climb to the top of the entertainment industry – only to find that there is no place left to go but down – into the Valley of the Dolls.
“The Color of Water” by James McBride
Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared “light-skinned” woman, evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, “The Color Of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.”
“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro
Robert Caro’s monumental book makes public what few outsiders knew: that Robert Moses was the single most powerful man of his time in the City and in the State of New York. And in telling the Moses story, Caro both opens up to an unprecedented degree the way in which politics really happens – the way things really get done in America’s City Halls and Statehouses – and brings to light a bonanza of vital information about such national figures as Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the genesis of their blood feud), about Fiorello La Guardia, John V. Lindsay, and Nelson Rockefeller.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll
The Mad Hatter, the diabolical Queen of Hearts, the grinning Cheshire-Cat, Tweedledum, and Tweedledee could only have come from that master of sublime nonsense, Lewis Carroll. In this brilliant satire of rigid Victorian society, Carroll also illuminates the fears, anxieties, and complexities of growing up.
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.
“Dune” by Frank Herbert
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for.
When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
“The World According to Garp: A Novel” by John Irving
A worldwide bestseller since its publication in 1978, Irving’s classic is filled with stories – inside stories about the life and times of T. S. Garp, novelist and bastard son of Jenny Fields, a feminist leader ahead of her time. Beyond that, “The World According to Garp” virtually defies synopsis.
“The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright
A sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America. Lawrence Wright’s remarkable book is based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews that he conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States.
“The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans!” by Lemony Snicket
Are you made fainthearted by death? Does fire unnerve you? Is a villain something that might crop up in future nightmares of yours? Are you thrilled by nefarious plots? Is cold porridge upsetting to you? Vicious threats? Hooks? Uncomfortable clothing?
It is likely that your answers will reveal “A Series of Unfortunate Events” to be ill-suited for your personal use. A librarian, bookseller, or acquaintance should be able to suggest books more appropriate for your fragile temperament. But to the rarest of readers, we say: proceed, but cautiously.
“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.
“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams.
“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
“Life After Life: A Novel” by Kate Atkinson
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization – if only she has the chance?
“Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis
“Moneyball“ is a quest for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, something that money apparently can’t buy: the secret of success in baseball. The logical places to look would be the front offices of major league teams, and the dugouts, perhaps even in the minds of the players themselves. Lewis mines all these possibilities ― his intimate and original portraits of big league ballplayers are alone worth the price of admission ― but the real jackpot is a cache of numbers collected over the years by a strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts: software engineers, statisticians, Wall Street analysts, lawyers, and physics professors.
“Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett
Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing.
It is a perfect evening – until a band of gun-wielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.
“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe
Okonowo is the greatest warrior alive. His fame has spread like a bushfire in West Africa and he is one of the most powerful men of his clan. But he also has a fiery temper. Determined not to be like his father, he refuses to show weakness to anyone – even if the only way he can master his feelings is with his fists. When outsiders threaten the traditions of his clan, Okonowo takes violent action. Will the great man’s dangerous pride eventually destroy him?
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger
The hero-narrator of “The Catcher in the Rye” is an ancient child of 16, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.
The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.
“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris
A recent transplant to Paris, humorist David Sedaris, best-selling author of “Naked,” presents a collection of his strongest work yet, including the title story about his hilarious attempt to learn French.
“The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler
In noir master Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” Philip Marlowe befriends a down-on-his-luck war veteran with the scars to prove it. Then he finds out that Terry Lennox has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife, whom he divorced and remarried and who ends up dead. And now Lennox is on the lam and the cops and a crazy gangster are after Marlowe.
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown
In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. “Goodnight room, goodnight moon.” And to all the familiar things in the softly lit room – to the picture of the three little bears sitting on chairs, to the clocks and his socks, to the mittens and the kittens, to everything one by one – the little bunny says goodnight.
“Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich
The first of Louise Erdrich’s polysymphonic novels set in North Dakota – a fictional landscape that, in Erdrich’s hands, has become iconic – “Love Medicine” is the story of three generations of Ojibwe families. Set against the tumultuous politics of the reservation, the lives of the Kashpaws and the Lamartines are a testament to the endurance of a people and the sorrows of history.
“Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown
Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Brené Brown PhD, LMSW, dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight nerd who – from the New Jersey home he shares with his old-world mother and rebellious sister – dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú – a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA.
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
“The Diary of a Young Girl” is the record of two years in the life of a remarkable Jewish girl whose triumphant humanity in the face of unfathomable deprivation and fear has made the book one of the most enduring documents of our time.
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.
As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy.
“The Liars’ Club: A Memoir” by Mary Karr
A powerfully funny, razor’s-edge tale of a fractured childhood, Mary Karr’s biography looks back through a child’s eyes to sort through dark household secrets. She witnesses an inheritance squandered, endless bottles emptied, and guns leveled at both the deserving and the undeserving. In a voice stripped of self-pity and charged with brilliant energy, she introduces us to a family ravaged by lies and alcoholism, yet redeemed by the revelation of truth.
“The House at Pooh Corner” by A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard
Return to the Hundred Acre Wood in A.A. Milne’s second collection of Pooh stories, “The House at Pooh Corner”. Here you will rediscover all the characters you met in “Winnie-the-Pooh”: Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Owl, Piglet, Kanga, tiny Roo, and, of course, Pooh himself. Joining them is the thoroughly bouncy and lovable Tigger, who leads the rest into unforgettable adventures.
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” by Hunter S. Thompson
First published in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is Hunter S. Thompson’s savagely comic account of what happened to this country in the 1960s. It is told through the writer’s account of an assignment he undertook with his attorney to visit Las Vegas and “check it out.” The book stands as the final word on the highs and lows of that decade, one of the defining works of our time, and a stylistic and journalistic tour de force.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
When Death has a story to tell, you listen.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
“The Stranger” by Albert Camus
When a young Algerian named Meursault kills a man, his subsequent imprisonment and trial are puzzling and absurd. The apparently amoral Meursault, who puts little stock in ideas like love and God, seems to be on trial less for his murderous actions, and more for what the authorities believe is his deficient character.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” by Judy Blume
Margaret Simon, almost 12, has just moved from New York City to the suburbs, and she’s anxious to fit in with her new friends. When she’s asked to join a secret club, she jumps at the chance. But when the girls start talking about boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret starts to wonder if she’s normal. There are some things about growing up that are hard for her to talk about, even with her friends. Lucky for Margaret, she’s got someone else to confide in … someone who always listens.
“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract”, which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?
“Charlotte’s Web” by E. B White
Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney
It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media – as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents – the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter – but is he really a killer?
“Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain spares no one’s appetite when he told all about what happens behind the kitchen door. Bourdain uses the same “take-no-prisoners” attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable book, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike. From Bourdain’s first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky-tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses, for the first time, the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the East Village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain’s tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable.
“Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
When Laura Ingalls and her family leave their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, they head west for the open prairie skies of Kansas Territory. They travel for many days in their covered wagon until they find the perfect spot for Pa to build them a new home. Soon they are planting and plowing, hunting wild ducks and turkeys, and gathering grass for their cows. But just when they begin to feel settled, they are caught in the middle of a dangerous conflict.
“Midnight’s Children: A Novel” by Salman Rushdie
A classic novel, in which the man who calls himself the “bomb of Bombay” chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947 – and examines a whole people’s capacity for carrying inherited myths and inventing new ones.
“The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien
In ancient times, the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages, it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.
From Sauron’s fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.
When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday, he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac
Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s adventures with Neal Cassady, “On the Road” tells the story of two friends whose cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naiveté and wild ambition and imbued with Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, “On the Road” is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope.
“Out of Africa” by Isak Dinesen
Danish countess Karen Blixon, known as Isak Dineson, ran a coffee plantation in Kenya in the years when Africa remained a romantic and formidable continent to most Europeans. “Out of Africa” is her account of her life there, with stories of her respectful relationships with the Masai, Kikuyu, and Somali natives who work on her land; the European friends who visit her; and the imposing permanence of the wild, high land itself.
“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson
Now recognized as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, “Silent Spring” exposed the destruction of wildlife through the widespread use of pesticides. Despite condemnation in the press and heavy-handed attempts by the chemical industry to ban the book, Rachel Carson succeeded in creating a new public awareness of the environment, which led to changes in government and inspired the ecological movement.
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley” by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Through a life of passion and struggle, Malcolm X became one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. In this riveting account, he tells of his journey from a prison cell to Mecca, describing his transition from hoodlum to Muslim minister. Here, the man who called himself “the angriest Black man in America” relates how his conversion to true Islam helped him confront his rage and recognize the brotherhood of all mankind.
“The Corrections: A Novel” by Jonathan Franzen
Stretching from the Midwest at midcentury to the Wall Street and Eastern Europe of today, “The Corrections” brings an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions into violent collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental health care, and globalized greed. Richly realistic, darkly hilarious, and deeply humane.
“The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” by Erik Larson
Erik Larson intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.
“His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman
Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal – including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.
Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.
But what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other.
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing, and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby – young, handsome, and fabulously rich – always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life, he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.
“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Still, if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells – taken without her knowledge in 1951 – became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.
“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
At first glance, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 classic “The Little Prince” – with its winsome illustrations of a boy prince and his tiny planet – appears to be a children’s fairy tale. It doesn’t take long, however, to discover that it speaks to readers of all ages.