Books You Must Read


Don QuixoteBy D. J. McAdam

I will begin this introduction to the list below in the worst possible way, which is by apologizing for the title.  No one must read anything, in the sense of being compelled to read something by another.

But those of us who love books, and who love reading, know that we must read.  The command is self-generated, and will not be denied.  To travel my morning commute into Washington without a book to read on the train is a punishment that I would not wish on my worst enemies.  Actually, I exaggerate; I have no “worst enemies,” and those that I disliked in the past were generally illiterate, anyway.  But I digress.

As I was saying, we – people like you and I – must read.  We must finish a book, and then begin another.  Sometimes, this transition is an easy one; at other times, less so.  There are occasions when we are forced to ask ourselves, “What book should I read next?”  There are times – dreadful times – when we find no easy answer to this question, when we wrack our brains until we reach a point when no book seems like the right choice. 

This happened to me recently.  I thrashed about for a week, figuratively, or at least semi-figuratively.  I became sullen.  I was morose.  The sunny skies of literature darkened.  All was dark, gray, gloomy, and empty. 

That was when the thought came to me.  If I didn’t know what to read next – and, clearly, I didn’t – maybe someone else did. 

There are hundreds – thousands, perhaps – of recommended reading lists.  I read all of them.  They were all (well, almost all) some help, and I am back to reading again.  But the thought occurred to me that none of them was quite perfect.  The list below may not be perfect, either, but I did have a specific design in mind when embarking upon assembling it.  I thought it better to offer a list of books one must read then a list of the 100 greatest books of all time, whatever they may be. In other words, the books on this list are books you want to be sure to read; whether or not they are great, or the greatest, is a moot point. 

A few more words of introduction, then we’ll surge ahead.  First, the list is not in a specific order, so you do not have to follow the order that the books are in. Dive in anywhere, or choose every fifth book, or something like that. Second, the list is one that I plan on adding to in the future; thus, if your absolute best, most favorite, most loved book is not on the list, please do not despair. Third, I am obviously not free of bias in terms of reading preferences. English is my primary language, I live in the United States, and I am male. The list no doubt reflects this orientation, though I would like to say that there seems to be a tendency which did not exist when I was young of male readers feeling a need to read male writers, and females reading female writers.  I can assure you that this is an utterly ridiculous approach to reading, and any male who is too self conscious to board a train with a copy of Jane Eyre under his arm should reproach himself for silliness.  Fourth, I have only listed books that I have actually read and enjoyed, an approach which certainly could leave out a great deal of worthwhile books.

At any rate, the next time you ask yourself, “What should I read next?” I hope this list will prove helpful. 

Books You Must Read

  1. Plato, The Republic
  2. Homer, The Odyssey
  3. William Shakespeare – One really must read all of Shakespeare.
  4. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  5. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables
  6. Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo. If one is reading this in the English translation, one would wish to read the unabridged version, translated by Robin Buss. If one has only read the abridged version, one owes it to oneself to read the full version.
  7. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  8. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
  9. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White.  This is the book Collins himself considered his masterpiece, though he is better remembered for The Moonstone.  It is, perhaps, the most meticulously plotted of all Victorian novels. 
  10. Owen Wister, The Virginian
  11. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  12. Franz Kafka, The Trial
  13. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
  14. James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  15. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  16. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
  17. Egar Allan Poe, Complete Short Stories
  18. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Essays
  19. Henry David Thoreau, Walden.  In my mind, Thoreau and Emerson should be read regularly by all Americans, but that’s just one man’s opinion. 
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  21. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
  22. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  23. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
  24. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  25. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  26. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  27. Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
  28. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  29. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  30. Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
  31. Jack London, The Call of the Wild
  32. Henry James, The American
  33. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
  34. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  35. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  36. George Orwell, Animal Farm
  37. Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
  38. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
  39. P. G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves
  40. Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth
  41. Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
  42. Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  43. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
  44. Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio
  45. Henry James, Daisy Miller
  46. E. W. Hornung, Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman
  47. Henry James, Washington Square
  48. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
  49. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.  This is the book you must read, but you might want to read The Fountainhead first.
  50. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  51. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
  52. Hermann Hesse, Demian
  53. Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
  54. Albert Camus, The Stranger
  55. Jack Kerouac, On the Road
  56. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  57. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  58. George Orwell, 1984
  59. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  60. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  61. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
  62. Thomas Paine, Common Sense and Other Essays
  63. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  64. Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
  65. St. Augustine, Confessions
  66. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
  67. W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
  68. W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
  69. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
  70. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
  71. Ernest Dimnet, The Art of Thinking
  72. Anne Rice, The Witching Hour
  73. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Brimstone. One could actually recommend all of the Agent Pendergast novels; if one were to begin at the beginning, one would choose Relic and proceed from there.
  74. Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native
  75. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons


Books Under Consideration (A Sampling)

English classic bookOrigin of Species, Common Sense, Utopia, Ivanhoe, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Compleat Angler, Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca, Travels of Marco Polo, The Moonstone, Death in Venice, Les Miserables, Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, The Cloister and the Hearth, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Treasure Island, The Vicar of Wakefield, St. Leon, Fahrenheit 451, Marius the Epicurean, The Red and the Black . . .


Books I Definitely Decided Not to Place On the List

To Kill a Mockingbird, The Way We Live Now, tons of other books….


Other – and Perhaps Wiser – Opinions