35 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lifetime
By Megan Willett
Books have the profound capacity to stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Whether they’re written for children, sci-fi lovers, mathematicians, or fiction aficionados, certain stories transcend their genre and should be read by everyone.
In a recent Reddit thread, users were asked what is a book that everyone needs to read at least once in their life?
Here are the top 35 books based on Reddit responses.
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig
The story of a father and son’s summer motorcycle trip across America from Minnesota to California, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is at its heart a philosophical journey.
The travel narrative is filled with fundamental questions on how to live your life and conversations between the father and his son: “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
“Watership Down” by Richard Adams
First told to his daughters as a bedtime story, Richard Adams weaves the tale of a band of rabbits who abandon their comfy holes in the English downs after one of the rabbits has a vision of it being destroyed by tractors.
“Watership Down” follows them as they encounter evil rabbits, crows, a fox, rivers, and countless other dangers as they journey to find a new home.
“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
An American professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch became famous after giving an upbeat lecture titled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” after learning he had pancreatic cancer and had three to six months of good health left.
After the success of his lecture, he co-authored the book “The Last Lecture” on the same theme of enjoying every moment in your life.
“A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson
One of the best rough guides to science, and written so that it could be accessible to the general public, Bryson describes everything from the size and history of the universe to the rise of human kind in “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
He also spends time talking about the eccentric archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians who have contributed to the world’s greatest discoveries.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl
Published in 1946, “Man’s Search for Meaning” was written by Viktor Frankl about his experience as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during WWII.
Filled with a rich understanding of the psychological experiences of his fellow inmates, Frankl ruminates on the meaning of life, and how every society has decent and indecent human beings.
“The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman
Written by a Vietnam veteran as an allegory of the Vietnam war, “The Forever War” follows reluctant soldier William Mandella as he leaves earth to battle the mysterious alien race, the Taurans.
But because of time dilating during his spaceship travels, he ages 10 years while 700 years pass by on earth. Mandella then returns to a completely different planet that he can no longer recognize.
“Cosmos” by Carl Sagan
Sagan somehow manages to explain 15 billion years of cosmic history while touching on philosophy, religion, and our society.
This book is written so even those without a strong science background can understand it, and manages to convey the profound unity of the cosmos.
“Bartleby The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street” by Herman Melville
A short novella, “Bartleby The Scrivener” is an absurdist tale of a man named Bartleby who works at a New York law firm. Bartleby is a great worker, until one day he is asked to proofread something and simply says, “I would prefer not to.”
That becomes his stock, passive response as he slowly ceases all activity much to the chagrin of the flabbergasted narrator.
“Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman
A Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel, “Maus” tells the story of a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and his son, a cartoonist who is trying to come to terms with his father’s story.
Illustrated with cats and mice to represent the Nazis and Jewish people (respectively), Maus is both about the bleak and horrifying truth of life under Hitler, as well as the son’s relationship with his aging father.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway
This graphic war story follows Robert Jordan, a young and idealistic American demolitions expert, fighting in the 1937 Spanish Civil War with the antifascist guerrilla forces.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” takes place over 68 hours while Jordan is trying to find a way to blow up an enemy bridge, struggling with the passive leader of the guerrilla forces, and falling in love with a young Spanish woman.
“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami
This mind-bending Japanese novel blends two interrelated plots between 15-year-old Kafka, who is on a mission to find his mother and sister, and the older Nakata, a mentally-challenged man who has the ability to speak with cats.
The two characters are on a collision course throughout “Kafka on the Shore,” which is a metaphysical journey filled with magical realism.
“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Originally published in French as “Le Petit Prince,” this novella tells the story of pilot who crashes his plane in the Sahara desert and is greeted by a young boy who claims to be from a different planet.
As the pilot repairs his plane, he learns the life of “the little prince” who yearns to return to his home planet. Though told as a children’s story, “The Little Prince” is one of the most poignant and profound books in French literature.
“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
“The Road” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, and with good reason. Set in a post-apocalyptic nuclear winter, a nameless man and his young son wander through the cold, dark, and bleak world where everyone has turned into their basest selves.
McCarthy writes in a minimalist style that suits the terrain as the man and boy struggle to find food and stay away from the roaming cannibalistic gangs who enslave the weak. But maybe, just maybe, there is something worth living for.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This book, which is full of magical realism, depicts the village of Macondo and its residents. It begins wth José Arcadio Buendía, the man who built the village, dealing with the shadows of a civil war and the ghost of the man he killed.
The story really does cover 100 years as each generation of the Buendía family is weighed down by past mistakes and spirals towards destruction.
“East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
Two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — live in California’s Salinas Valley. The novel follows each generation’s struggle with morality, right and wrong, and the bleak issues caused by sibling rivalry.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” was written in the 1930s, but most of Carnegie’s advice remains true today.
The interpersonal skills he recommends may seem obvious — like smiling and remembering people’s names — but plenty of fans recommend this classic how-to guide as a fundamental book about human decency.
“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Crime and Punishment” is the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates a plan to kill a pawnbroker for her cash, arguing that he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime.
A master at understanding human nature, Dostoyevsky weaves a world set against 19th century St. Petersberg as the murder takes a toll on Raskolnikov’s conscience.
“The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Russia in the 1870s sets the background for this tale of patricide and family rivalry. Part murder mystery, part courtroom thriller, and part social commentary, “The Brother’s Karamazov” follows the lives of three brothers and their father.
The last book of Dostoevsky’s career, “The Brother’s Karamazov” is worth the 800+ page read.
“The Stranger” by Albert Camus
Winner of the Noble Prize for literature, “The Stranger” begins with Meursault learning of his mother’s death. His lack of an emotional response sets the tone for the rest of the novel as events lead to Meursault murdering a man.
Divided in two parts, the story follows Meursault’s life both before and after the murder, and leads the reader through his trial and impending execution.
“Dune” by Frank Herbert
“Dune” is to science fiction what “Lord of the Rings” is to fantasy. Herbert is able to create complete histories, politics, religions, and ecological systems of this feudal interstellar society.
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides transforms into a mysterious man known as Muad’Dib as he sets out to avenge the murder of his father, and leads a revolution that earns him the emperor’s throne.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood imagines a future where the United States has become The Republic of Gilead, where women are strictly controlled. Unable to have jobs or money, they are either forced to be chaste, childless “Wives,” housekeeping “Marthas,” or reproductive “Handmaids” who turn their offspring over to the Wives.
The tale is told by Offred, a handmaid who can still recall the past and explains how the misogynistic society came to be.
“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery
One of Mark Twain’s favorite books, “Anne of Green Gables” is the story of a couple on Prince Edward Island who send for a boy orphan to help them out on the farm. Instead, they are given the 11-year-old redhead Anne Shirley.
Her imagination and penchant for trouble inspires plenty of comedic adventures as she ages from 11 to 16, meets new friends, and begins an arch rivalry with Gilbert Blythe.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
“Fahrenheit 451” is set in a dystopian future where literature (and all original thought) is on the brink of extinction. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn printed books — as well as the houses where they’re hidden.
But when his wife commits suicide and a young neighbor who introduced him to reading disappears, Guy begins hoarding books in his own home.
“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein
“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” One of the most-read children’s books, Shel Silverstein tells the story of a tree that loved a little boy so much that as he grew older, she gave him everything she had.
Both about unconditional love and selfishness, “The Giving Tree” still inspires extremely different interpretations, and remains one of the most powerful stories ever written.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is set in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression and follows the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, the trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman, and the mysterious character Boo Radley.
Despite its serious themes of rape, racial inequality, and gender roles, Lee’s story is renowned for its warmth and humor.
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
An allegory and satirization of Soviet Communism, “Animal Farm” is about a group of animals who take over a farm after ousting their human master.
And though everything starts alright as all the animals work together and productivity soars, their new society begins to break down as certain animals start to believe that perhaps not all animals are created equal.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque
Paul Baumer and his fellow classmates are convinced to join the German army in World War I only to live in atrocious conditions in the trenches years after year, struggling to gain insignificant bits of land.
The book shows the dark and gritty reality of war, as well as the effect it has on Paul and his young friends’ psyches.
“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas
Full of intrigue, love, fight scenes, and social satire, “The Count of Monte Cristo” is one of the best revenge books ever written.
It follows Edmond Dantès, a young sailor in 19th century France who is falsely accused of being a Bonapartist traitor and imprisoned for six years. After acquiring a secret fortune from a fellow prisoner, he remakes himself and sets out to find — and repay — everyone in his old life.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
The inspiration for the movie “Blade Runner,” “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is set in 2021, after a world war has killed millions of people, driving entire species into extinction. Those who remain build simulacra of past species including horses, birds, cats, sheep … and humans.
Because the androids are so realistic, it’s impossible to tell them apart from real people. But now it’s bounty hunter Rich Deckards job to do just that — and then kill them.
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
“Catch-22” follows Yossarian, a WWII bombardier whose men must keep flying more and more dangerous bombing missions. Yet if Yossarian tries to excuse himself from the deadly missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22:
A man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
What starts as a comedy slowly turns into a nightmarish tragedy as the war becomes increasingly real throughout the novel.
“Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim is a man who has become unstuck in time after being abducted by aliens, specifically Tralfamadorians for their planet’s zoo. The book follows his capture, as well as his time as an American prisoner of war witnessing the firebombing of Dresden in WWII.
“Slaughterhouse Five” is a comically-dark novel that combines both fantasy and realism.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
In the first book of the series, Arthur Dent is warned by his friend Ford Prefect — a secret researcher for the interstellar travel guide “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” — that Earth is about to be demolished.
The pair escapes on an alien spaceship, and the book follows their bizarre adventures around the universe along with quotes from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” like: “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
“Brave New World” is about a government that is conditioning and drugging people to convince them they’re happy.
Set in dystopian London in 2540 AD, the book explores themes of commodification, psychological manipulation, developments in reproductive technology, and the power of knowledge.
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
After the success of a surgery that increases the intelligence of a lab mouse named Algernon, the first human test subject, Charlie, undergoes the procedure. Charlie keeps diary entries as his IQ grows from 68 to a stunning 185.
But then Algernon suffers a sudden and unexpected deterioration. The book follows Charlie’s diary entries and Algernon’s progress reports.
“1984” by George Orwell
In a dystopian world nearly 40 years after the second world war, what remains of Earth has been split into three superpowers after an atomic war — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.
Everyone in Oceania, including protagonist Winston Smith, is closely monitored by the government. Orwell explores issues of censorship, propaganda, and individualism in “1984” as Winston struggles to escape his monotonous existence.
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Originally published at www.businessinsider.com on September 9, 2013.