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
One of the two major epics of ancient India and one of the longest poems in existence.
Pages: 912. Dates: 400 BC-400 AD
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.
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
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
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.
A collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity.
Pages: 1000. Date of composition: 2nd century BC-2nd century AD
Ancient Greek epic poem, attributed to Homer.
Pages: 704. Date: 760–710 BC.
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 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?
Holy book of Islam.
Date: 610–632. Pages: 464
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
Date: 1859. Pages: 112
Has remained the basis of much liberal political thought.
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
The novel that established modern realism.
Date: 1856. Pages: 384
Balzac explored money’s uses and abuses with the particularity of a poet.
Date: 1835. Pages: 304
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
One of the greatest works of German literature.
Date: 1808. Pages: 158
Voltaire’s satirical masterpiece.
Date: 1759. Pages: 208
The Misanthrope and Tartuffe
Two of the greatest comedies.
Date: 1664–1666. Pages: 336
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
One of the most influential examples of social contract theory.
Date: 1651. Pages: 736
Some have credited Bacon with having invented the essay form.
Date: 1597–1625. Pages: 288
Among the most powerful and influential tragedies in literature.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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).
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.
The founding work of history in Western literature.
Date: 440 BC. Pages: 784.
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.