A classic book is a favorite of everyone, but where to start? Whether you read Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison or Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the fiction canon is so big that it’s easy to get lost and not know where to start or where to end.
Then, we asked our readers to tell us which of their favorite classic books they thought were the best. The list of must-reads is a great way to get ideas for how to start your classics journey. There’s a book for everyone, from family sagas and dystopian fiction to romances and history books. If you like this, you can also find out which books our readers think are the best books written by women, the best books for kids, and the best memoirs they’ve ever read. Start at the top of our list (books aren’t ranked in any way) and check off each one as you go on this handy downloadable list. You can also jump to:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Most people think of this charming and funny story of love and family when they think of Jane Austen. It’s true that most people think of this story when they think of her.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
We said that Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was written before its time. It talks about race, inequality, and segregation with both humor and heart. Iconic book Atticus Finch, a man who tries to fix racism in the Deep South, was also made famous by this book. Scout and Jem, two good-hearted rogues, tell the story through their own eyes.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
It is one of the best characters in American literature. Jay Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire who throws extravagant parties but doesn’t come, is one of the most important characters. This is F. Scott Fitzgerald at his best and worst.
A lot of people say this is the best and most scathing look into what’s going on inside the American dream. It was hypnotic and tragic, but also very relevant to its time and place.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by GabrielGarcía Márquez (1967)
We said:Gabriel Garca Márquez’s multi-generational opus was a big deal in Spanish literature.
It’s at its best when it comes to magic realism. Both funny and moving, this book made me think about time for weeks.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
We said: The “true crime” TV show or podcast you love probably has a lot to do with this book by Truman Capote. Thrilling and amazing.
After six years of hard work, Capote came up with a new type of book called a “Nonfiction Novel,” which used prose techniques to tell a story. During this time, the school of New Journalism was born, and the true crime genre was born.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)
Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre, and JeanRhys wrote a feminist and anti-colonial prequel called Jane Eyre Before Jane Eyre. It tells the story of Mr Rochester’s marriage to Antoinette Conway, or “Bertha,” as we come to know her.
You said that Rhys took a character from a classic book and gave her a new lease of life based on her own experiences and views on the world around her. In a very beautiful way, she showed how the stories we read become part of our lives and make new stories.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
We said: This is one of the best dystopian novels ever written, and everyone should read it.
You said that because of the rapid growth of AI, Machine Learning, and Robotics, Huxley’s vision is a cautionary tale for us to keep in mind. Will we fight back against those who want to change our future, or will we just go along with technology and be conditioned?
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
It may not be the same for everyone, but we can be sure that Cassandra Mortmain’s coming-of-age story, with all of its enchanting and disenchanting moments, will touch many people.
You said: A “children’s book” that talks a lot about unrequited love and broken families. Timeless. Funny, too. Our list of the 100 best books ever made needs some laughs.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
In our book, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s toughest heroines. In her short life, she’s had to deal with secrets, strange noises, and mysterious fires in her new home at Thornfield Hall. All the while, she fell in love with her boss, Mr Rochester. It was a Gothic masterpiece that broke new ground in how it used the first-person narrative.
Because Jane is a role model, you said:She stands up for herself, others, and what she believes in, but she isn’t too proud to give second chances to people whose time is up.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
We said: This book is a masterful and completely captivating depiction of a man who goes through a major mental breakdown. There is no amount of moral bargaining that Raskolnikov can do to get rid of the parasitic guilt that lives in his soul. If you liked Breaking Bad, this book is for you.
No other book has made me care so much about the main characters, how well the author has shown them. This book made me feel like an orphan when I was done reading. It’s the only book I’ve read over and over again.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
There are a group of smart, attractive students at a top university, and an outsider who has to hide a dark secret from them. Donna Tartt’s book is called “The Circle.” I found this book to be very interesting and tense.
As you said: A modern classic because it is very clear and written. This is something that is hard to find these days. Also, a great plot!
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
In the book “Buck,” Jack London wrote about a dog named Buck who becomes a leader of the wild. He used his own experiences to write the book. With themes about nature and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan landscape.
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
We said:The Chrysalids is an allegory of a dystopia written in the wake of the Second World War. It cleverly tries to denounce the actions of the past while also making a powerful plea for tolerance.
“A book that takes place after the end of the world,” you said. “It talks about intolerance and loneliness, friendship, and what it means to be human.” A great sci-fi book that is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s.
Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
We said: Austen’s last book before she died was one that was filled with heartache and regret. Anne Elliot has feelings for the handsome Captain Wentworth again when he comes back from the sea. Will they have another chance at happiness?
You said: This is still my favorite book. It is a more mature love story that is full of witty and delightful observations about how people act. A glimpse of redemption can be seen in it. The mistakes we make in our youth can be fixed. We grow up, and we learn from our mistakes as well.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
It’s been a goal for every American writer since 1851: to write a book that’s as big and important as Melville’s.
There are great characters, great language, a lot of Bible and Thomas Browne, and the best opening sentence ever. You said that the great American novel is the best. Why not?