Essential Books to Enrich Your Library (and Your Life)

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

Ancient Egyptian funerary text. From mysticism and philosophy to anthropology and astronomy.

Date: Around 1550 BC — 50 BC. Pages: 174

The Epic of Gilgamesh

An epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. Often regarded as the first great work of literature.

Pages: 304. Date: 2100 BC

Mahabharata

One of the two major epics of ancient India and one of the longest poems in existence.

Pages: 912. Dates: 400 BC-400 AD

Ramayana

A Sanskrit epic poem ascribed to the Hindu sage and poet Valmiki.

Pages: 1787. Dates: 4th century BC.

One Thousand and One Nights

A collection of Middle Eastern, West and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age.

Pages: thousands, abridged versions available. Dates: 9th century.

Shahnameh

The national epic of Persia.

Pages: 928. Dates: 1010

The Tale of Genji

A classic of Japanese literature. The world’s first novel.

Pages: 1216. Dates: 1008

Ruba’iyat

One of the most popular poems of all time.

Pages: 112. Dates: Attributed to Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), earliest manuscript found on 1460.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Attributed to Luo Guanzhong, a historical novel set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history.

Pages: 2339. Published: 14th century.

The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History

The classic Islamic history of the premodern world.

Pages: 512. Published: 1377

I Ching

Ancient divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics.

Pages: 576. Published: ?

The Bhagavad Gita

A Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

Pages: 288. Date of composition: 5th century BC-2nd century BC.

Bible

A collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity.

Pages: 1000. Date of composition: 2nd century BC-2nd century AD

Iliad

Ancient Greek epic poem, attributed to Homer.

Pages: 704. Date: 760–710 BC.

The Odyssey

A sequel to the Iliad.

Pages: 560. Date: 725–625 BC.

History of the Peleponnesian War

Contemporary account of the struggle between Athens and Sparta.

Pages: 648. Date: 431 BC.

The Republic

The cornerstone of Western philosophy.

Pages: 480. Date: 380 BC.

The Nicomachean Ethics

Addresses the question of how to live well.

Pages: 400. Date: 350 BC.

The Nature of Things

Combines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written, with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience.

Pages: 304. Date: first century BC.

On the Good Life

A wide range of reflections upon the importance of moral integrity in the search for happiness.

Pages: 384. Date: 70 BC-43 BC?

The Koran

Holy book of Islam.

Date: 610–632. Pages: 464

Metamorphoses

Latin narrative poem that cronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar.

Pages: 768. Date: 8.

City of God

One of the most influential documents in the history of Christianity.

Pages: 1184. Date: 426.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

One of the major texts of classical Japanese literature from the greatest master of haiku.

Pages: 176. Date: 1694.

In Search of Lost Time

Proust’s most prominent work, known for its theme of involuntary memory.

Date: 1913. Pages: 4211

On the Genealogy of Morals

A coherent discussion of morality in a work that is more accessible than much of Nietzsche’s previous writings.

Date: 1887. Pages: 208

The Picture of Dorian Grey

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray makes a Faustian bargain to sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty.

Date: 1890. Pages: 304

On Liberty

Date: 1859. Pages: 112

Has remained the basis of much liberal political thought.

Germinal

Expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope.

Date: 1885. Pages: 592

Madame Bovary

The novel that established modern realism.

Date: 1856. Pages: 384

Old Goriot

Balzac explored money’s uses and abuses with the particularity of a poet.

Date: 1835. Pages: 304

Les Miserables

At once a thrilling narrative — part comedy, mystery, romance and tragedy — and a social document of France’s turbulent revolutionary history.

Date: 1862. Pages: 1232

Praise of Folly

Its dazzling mixture of fantasy and satire is narrated by a personification of Folly, dressed as a jester, who celebrates youth, pleasure, drunkenness and sexual desire, and goes on to lambast human pretensions, foibles and frailties, to mock theologians and monks and to praise the folly of simple Christian piety.

Date: 1509. Pages: 256

Faust

One of the greatest works of German literature.

Date: 1808. Pages: 158

Candide

Voltaire’s satirical masterpiece.

Date: 1759. Pages: 208

The Misanthrope and Tartuffe

Two of the greatest comedies.

Date: 1664–1666. Pages: 336

Essays

Michel de Montaigne pioneered the modern essay form.

Date: 1580. Pages: 1344

Reflections on the Revolution in France

A defining tract of modern conservatism.

Date: 1790. Pages:400

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The trajectory of Western civilization from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium.

Date: 1776. Pages: 848

Leviathan

One of the most influential examples of social contract theory.

Date: 1651. Pages: 736

The Essays

Some have credited Bacon with having invented the essay form.

Date: 1597–1625. Pages: 288

Hamlet

Among the most powerful and influential tragedies in literature.

Don Quixote

The first modern novel.

Date: 1605. Pages: 1072

The Divine Comedy

An epic masterpiece and a foundational work of the Western canon.

Date: 1472. Pages: 752

Ethics

A profoundly beautiful and uniquely insightful description of the universe, one of the masterpieces of Enlightenment-era philosophy.

Date: 1677. Pages: 208.

The Rig Veda

The earliest of the four Hindu religious scriptures known as the Vedas, and the first extensive composition to survive in any Indo-European language; a collection of over 1,000 individual Sanskrit hymns.

Date: c. 1200–900 BC. Pages: 352

The Upanishads

An “Upanisad” is a teaching session with a guru, and the texts of the “Principal Upanisads” form a series of philosophical discourses between teacher and student that question the inner meaning of the world.

Date: eightth century BC. Pages: 592

Meditations

A series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

Date: 170–180. Pages: 304

The Oresteia

The only trilogy in Greek drama that survives from antiquity. In the Oresteia Aeschylus addressed the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos.

Date: 458 BC. Pages: 336

Fables

In a series of pithy, amusing vignettes, Aesop created a vivid cast of characters to demonstrate different aspects of human nature.

Date: 620–560 BC. Pages: 96.

The Letters of the Younger Pliny

Providing a series of fascinating views of Imperial Rome, The Letters of the Younger Pliny also offer one of the fullest self-portraits to survive from classical times.

Date: 61–113. Pages: 320

Capital

A foundational theoretical text in communist philosophy, economics and politics.

Date: 1867–1894. Pages: 1152 (Volume 1), 624 (Volume 2), 1152 (Volume 3).

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Locke’s pioneering work, which set the groundwork for modern philosophy.

Date: 1689. Pages: 816

The Social Contract

Rousseau theorized about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society.

Date: 1762. Pages: 192

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Relates the rise of the capitalist economy to the Calvinist belief in the moral value of hard work and the fulfillment of one’s worldly duties.

Date: 1905. Pages: 464

Meditations on First Philosophy

Descartes set out to dismantle and then reconstruct the idea of the individual self and its existence.

Date: 1641. Pages: 256.

Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous

Berkeley believed that the existence of material objects depends on their being perceived.

Date: 1713. Pages: 224

An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding

Hume’s arguments in support of reasoning from experience, and against the “sophistry and illusion”of religiously inspired philosophical fantasies.

Date: 1748. Pages: 304

Critique of Pure Reason

The masterpiece of the father of modern philosophy.

Date: 1781. Pages: 784.

The World as Will and Representation

The basic statement of one important stream of post-Kantian thought.

Date: 1818. Pages: 694 (Volume 1).

Either/Or

Using the voices of two characters — the aesthetic young man of part one, called simply ‘A’, and the ethical Judge Vilhelm of the second section — Kierkegaard reflects upon the search for a meaningful existence.

Date: 1843. Pages: 640.

Histories

The founding work of history in Western literature.

Date: 440 BC. Pages: 784.

Spiritual Verses

Thought to be the longest single-authored ‘mystical’ poem ever written.

Date: 1258–1273. Pages: 464

A Tale of Two Cities

The biggest selling novel of all time.

Date: 1859. Pages: 384

The Brothers Karamazov

Powerful meditation on faith, meaning and morality.

Date: 1880. Pages: 960

War and Peace

One of the central works of world literature, covering the impact of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia on five different families.

Date: 1869. Pages: 1440.

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