Classics, often considered literary masterpieces, have left an indelible mark on the world of literature and continue to enchant readers of all ages.
Whether you’re an avid bookworm or simply looking to explore the literary canon, our carefully curated list of these 59 novels will definitely have something for you.
From timeless classics by renowned authors to lesser-known gems that deserve a place on your reading list, this collection spans a wide range of genres and eras.
Join me on a literary journey through the ages as we celebrate these remarkable works that have enriched the world of literature and left an indelible legacy.
59 Best Classic Books Ever
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Published in 1813, this novel is set in rural England and revolves around Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters in a family seeking suitable marriages. The story critiques the British landed gentry of the early 19th century and is known for its wit and character development, particularly the dynamic between Elizabeth Bennet and the enigmatic Mr. Darcy.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Released in 1960, this American novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The story is told through the eyes of six-year-old Scout Finch, whose father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer, strives to prove the innocence of a black man unjustly accused of rape in a small Alabama town.
“1984” by George Orwell
A dystopian novel published in 1949, “1984” explores the grim future of a society governed by totalitarianism, surveillance, and censorship. The protagonist, Winston Smith, struggles against the oppressive regime of Big Brother and the Party in a world where independent thinking is termed “thoughtcrime.”
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, near New York City, this 1925 novel tells the story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. It’s a critique of the American Dream and is known for its exploration of themes like decadence, idealism, and resistance to change.
“Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville
Published in 1851, this novel is a tale of obsession and revenge. It chronicles the journey of the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab, who is driven by the singular goal of killing the giant white whale, Moby-Dick, who had maimed him on a previous voyage.
“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
This epic novel, published in 1869, intertwines the lives of five aristocratic families with Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. It’s celebrated for its breadth and complexity, offering a detailed panorama of Russian society and exploring themes of war, peace, love, and philosophy.
“Ulysses” by James Joyce
Published in 1922, “Ulysses” is set in Dublin, and its events unfold over a single day, 16 June 1904. The novel is known for its stream of consciousness style and parallels with Homer’s “Odyssey.” It’s considered one of the most important works of modernist literature.
“The Odyssey” by Homer
An ancient Greek epic poem, attributed to Homer, “The Odyssey” follows the hero Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his journey home after the Trojan War. Known for its adventurous tales of monsters, gods, and goddesses, it’s a seminal work in Western literature.
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
A tragedy written by Shakespeare around 1600, “Hamlet” tells the story of Prince Hamlet and his quest for revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet’s father, taken the throne, and married Hamlet’s mother. The play explores themes of treachery, revenge, and moral corruption.
“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens
First published in 1861, this novel depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip. Set in Kent and London in the mid-19th century, it’s a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, that examines themes like wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
Published in 1951, this novel is narrated by Holden Caulfield, a teenager from New York City, who recounts the events following his expulsion from a prep school. The book is renowned for its themes of teenage angst and alienation, and its critique of superficiality in society. Holden’s experiences and his cynical, yet sensitive outlook on life and the adult world have resonated with adolescent readers.
“The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This last novel by Dostoevsky, published in 1880, delves into the lives of the Karamazov family: the father Fyodor and his sons Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha. It is a profound philosophical and psychological exploration of faith, doubt, morality, and the nature of justice. The novel addresses fundamental questions about God, free will, and ethics.
“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Published in 1866, this novel tells the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a former student living in St. Petersburg, who commits a murder and then struggles with guilt and paranoia. It explores themes of redemption, the psychology of crime, and the socioeconomic conditions of Russia at the time.
“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes
First published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, this novel follows the adventures of Alonso Quixano, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to become a knight-errant, renaming himself Don Quixote. The book is a farcical account of chivalric beliefs and an exploration of the concept of reality and fiction.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Published in 1967, this novel is a landmark in the genre of magical realism. It tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo. The novel explores themes of time, history, and the cyclical nature of human existence.
“The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri
Written in the early 14th century, this epic poem is one of the greatest works of world literature. It describes Dante’s journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso), guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil and then by Beatrice, the embodiment of divine love.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
Published in 1932, this novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that combine to profoundly change society. It presents a future dystopia where human life has been almost entirely industrialized, creating a society devoid of pain but stripped of human emotion and relationships.
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte’s only novel, published in 1847, is a dark, passionate tale of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. Set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, the novel explores themes of nature, social class, and the self-destructiveness of love.
“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
Published in 1878, this novel is a rich tapestry of 19th-century Russian society, revolving around the tragic love affair between the married Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. Tolstoy juxtaposes Anna’s story with that of the love and domestic life of Konstantin Levin, exploring themes of fidelity, social norms, and the pursuit of happiness.
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
First published in 1847, this novel follows the life of Jane Eyre, an orphaned girl who becomes a governess and falls in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester. The novel is notable for its exploration of classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminist themes, as well as its revolutionary portrayal of the inner life of a woman.
“The Iliad” by Homer
This ancient Greek epic poem is traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, it focuses on a few weeks in the final year of the conflict. The poem is famous for its detailed and dramatic depiction of the siege, the anger of Achilles, and its exploration of heroism, glory, and the human cost of war.
“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
Published in 1862, this French historical novel is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. It follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. The novel discusses themes of justice, law, and the nature of grace.
“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, this 1859 novel deals with themes of resurrection, transformation, and the impact of social injustice. It follows several characters, notably Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, whose lives intertwine in the backdrop of the revolutionary turmoil.
“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
Published in 1857, this novel focuses on Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. It’s a seminal work in literary realism, and Flaubert’s incisive critique of bourgeois mediocrity and societal mores.
“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
This 1955 novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a middle-aged literature professor under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze, whom he sexually molests after becoming her stepfather. “Lolita” is renowned for its intricate prose style and its exploration of complex themes like obsession and manipulation.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
Often called “the Great American Novel,” this book, published in 1884, is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Set in a Southern antebellum society, it’s a scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.
“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad
This 1899 novella is a stark, yet complex exploration of imperialism and racism. It follows the journey of Marlow, a steamboat captain, as he travels up the Congo River into the heart of Africa, and his encounter with the enigmatic Kurtz, an ivory trader who has become a despotic ruler of the indigenous people.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
Published in 1818, this novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley began writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition was published anonymously in London when she was 20. The novel is considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction.
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
This 1897 Gothic horror novel introduces Count Dracula and established many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy. The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of people led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890, is a work of classic gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme. It tells the story of a young man named Dorian Gray, who, influenced by a corrupt and hedonistic mentor, has his portrait painted. The portrait ages and reflects his moral decay while he remains young and handsome.
“A Passage to India” by E.M. Forster
Published in 1924, this novel explores the socio-political climate of British-ruled India. It focuses on the relationship between East and West, represented through the interactions between Indian Dr. Aziz and Englishwoman Adela Quested, who accuses him of assault. The novel delves into themes of colonialism, race, and the complexities of human nature.
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
This 1939 novel tells the story of the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. As part of the Great Depression era, it is a powerful insight into the struggles of the poor and the socio-economic forces at play.
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Published in 1952, this novel is a profound exploration of the African-American experience. The story follows an unnamed black narrator from the South to Harlem, New York, highlighting his struggle for identity and recognition in a society dominated by racial prejudice and bigotry.
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
Written in 1926, this novel is set in post-World War I Europe, following a group of American and British expatriates as they travel from Paris to Pamplona, Spain. The book is notable for its spare prose and depiction of the “Lost Generation,” highlighting the disillusionment and angst of the post-war generation.
“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas
This adventure novel, published in 1844, is a tale of injustice, revenge, and redemption. Edmond Dantès, a young merchant sailor, is falsely accused and imprisoned but escapes to find treasure and seeks vengeance against those who wronged him. It’s a rich narrative full of intricate plots and daring exploits.
“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
Published in 1868, this beloved novel follows the lives of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – as they grow up in Civil War-era America. The novel is a poignant and realistic portrayal of the transition from childhood to womanhood, highlighting themes of domesticity, work, and true love.
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
This allegorical novella, published in 1945, satirizes the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. The story, set in a farm where the animals overthrow their human farmer and take control, explores themes of power, corruption, and the flaws of revolutionary movements.
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Set in 17th-century Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, this novel (published in 1850) explores the life of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles against the public shaming and stigmatization for her sin. The novel delves deeply into themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.
“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
Published in 1937, this novella tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. It explores themes of friendship, dreams, and the harsh reality of American modernity, highlighting the plight of the working class.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
Published in 1953, this dystopian novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his role in suppressing knowledge and promoting ignorance. The novel is a critique of censorship and a defense of the importance of literature and free thought in society.
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
This satirical novel, published in 1961, is set during World War II and follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and the other airmen in his camp. The novel explores the absurdity of war and military life through its circular logic, dark humor, and the concept of “Catch-22,” a bureaucratic rule that embodies illogical and immoral reasoning.
“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
A semi-autobiographical novel published in 1969, it combines elements of science fiction with the horrors of World War II, particularly the bombing of Dresden, Germany. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time” and experiences his life out of sequence. The novel is a meditation on free will, fatalism, and the human condition.
“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
Published in 1952, this short novel tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. The book is a testament to Hemingway’s unique style, focusing on themes of perseverance, personal triumph, and the battle between man and nature.
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
A novel published in 1954, it follows a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempt to govern themselves. The book explores the descent into savagery and the inherent evil in human nature, presented through the breakdown of civilization and order among the children.
“A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess
This dystopian novel, published in 1962, is set in a near-future society and follows the life of Alex, a delinquent teenager with a taste for classical music and extreme violence. The book delves into themes of free will, the state’s role in rehabilitating criminals, and the use of conditioning as a method of control.
“Emma” by Jane Austen
Published in 1815, this novel is a comedic exploration of manners, focusing on Emma Woodhouse, a young woman who is self-satisfied and loves to play matchmaker. Through a series of romantic missteps and misunderstandings, the book humorously critiques class structure and social relationships in Regency England.
“David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens
First published in 1850, this novel is often considered Dickens’ most autobiographical work. It follows the life of David Copperfield from childhood to adulthood, depicting his struggles and the characters he encounters. Themes of societal change, personal growth, and the search for identity are central to the story.
“Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen
Published in 1811, this novel explores the lives and loves of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, who have contrasting approaches to life and love. Elinor is sensible and reserved, while Marianne is emotional and impulsive. The novel examines themes of love, marriage, and the balance between sense (logic) and sensibility (emotion).
“The Trial” by Franz Kafka
Published posthumously in 1925, this novel tells the story of Josef K., who is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. The novel is a bleak exploration of alienation, bureaucratic absurdity, and the seemingly endless frustrations of man’s attempts to stand against the system.
“The Stranger” by Albert Camus
This 1942 novel, also known as “L’Étranger,” is a prime example of existentialist thought. It follows the life of Meursault, an indifferent French Algerian who commits a senseless murder and faces the absurdity and inevitability of death. The novel explores themes of existentialism, absurdism, and the human condition.
“Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen
Published in 1814, this novel represents a departure from Austen’s other works. It focuses on Fanny Price, a poor young girl who is sent to live with her wealthy relatives at Mansfield Park. The novel explores themes of morality, education, and the repercussions of parental neglect.
“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier
A Gothic novel published in 1938, “Rebecca” narrates the story of a young woman who marries a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter, and moves to his large estate, Manderley. She finds herself living in the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy haunts the mansion. The book explores themes like jealousy, the nature of memory, and the struggle for identity.
“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift
This 1726 satirical novel is a commentary on human nature and the “travellers’ tales” literary subgenre. It recounts the story of Lemuel Gulliver and his voyages to fantastical lands like Lilliput and Brobdingnag. The book is a satire on human nature, society, and the “travelers’ tales” genre.
“Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe
Published in 1719, this novel is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. It tells the story of Robinson Crusoe, a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll
This 1865 novel is a landmark in the fantasy genre. The story follows a young girl, Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children.
“Bleak House” by Charles Dickens
Published in serial form between 1852-1853, this novel is one of Dickens’ most complex and tackles the injustices of the British legal system. It is known for its vast array of characters and subplots, centered around a long-running legal case, Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
“Middlemarch” by George Eliot
A novel published in serial form between 1871 and 1872, “Middlemarch” is considered Eliot’s masterpiece. It is set in a fictitious English Midlands town and offers a complex portrait of society during the 1830s, exploring issues like marriage, idealism, self-interest, and reform.
“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner
Published in 1929, this novel is a key work in the Southern Gothic tradition. It tells the story of the Compson family, including their decline and fall into financial ruin, social change, and personal tragedy. The novel is famous for its innovative narrative techniques, including stream of consciousness.
“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
First published in 1911, this novel is a classic of children’s literature. It tells the story of Mary Lennox, a sickly and unloved 10-year-old girl born in India to wealthy British parents. After being orphaned, she is sent to England to live with an uncle, where she discovers a walled garden that has been locked up for years. The book explores themes of rejuvenation and the healing power of nature.