15 Must-Read Classic Literature Books

Here are must-read classic literature books to add to your reading list this year.

Some novels are classics for a reason. From taking a deliberate stance on societal issues to capturing universal human truths, classic novels have stood the test of time. From Wuthering Heights to Huckleberry Finn, classic novels are a mainstay on high school reading lists and literature enthusiasts’ bookshelves.

While some classic novels were immediate best-sellers, it took time for others to be fully recognized for their greatness. Sadly, some authors of the great classics didn’t live long enough to see their work become loved by readers worldwide. Here, we’ll look a some of the most-loved classic literature books everyone should read, spanning from historical novels to more recent works.


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Best Classic Literature Books

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee
Harper Lee via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This coming-of-age tale tells the story of Scout and her father, Atticus, in the deeply prejudiced South. As Atticus works to fight injustice, Scout grows up, and readers get to watch both of them grow, learn, and decide how to fight for what’s right. The story is a tale of heroism and heartbreak, and readers love the way the characters interact with one another, teaching timeless lessons to keep readers engaged from the first page to the final word. First published in 1960, the book has become a mainstay in high school and college classrooms throughout the United States, opening discussions on racism, history, and justice.

To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Harper Lee (Author) - Sissy Spacek (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/08/2014 (Publication Date) - Caedmon (Publisher)

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell
George Orwell via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Written in 1946, Orwell’s satirical novel offers a unique take on the Russian Revolution and has become a beloved part of classic American literature. In the book, Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm changes into a democratic society, but the pigs emerge as leaders, and soon, the animals realize that the society is anything but equal. The book creates an interesting framework for readers to discuss how a society can change when some decide that they’re—for whatever reason—above a group named the “other.” For more titles like this, check out our guide to the best satire authors.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald via Wikipedia, Public Domain

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel was published in 1925 and provides a glimpse into the opulence of the Roaring Twenties. Readers are on the edge of their seats as they watch Gatsby begin his courting of Daisy, who he previously lost, and how he uses his tenant, Nick, in an attempt to win her heart once again. Gatsby’s parties spare no expense, and he believes that he’ll be able to use his great shows of wealth to get the love of his life back. The book provides an interesting take on the prohibition period of United States history. Today’s readers are often surprised at how much American life has changed over the past century.

The Great Gatsby
  • Audible Audiobook
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald (Author) - Jake Gyllenhaal (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 04/09/2013 (Publication Date) - Audible Studios (Publisher)

4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens
Great Expectations is widely recognized as an American classic

First published in 1861, Great Expectations is widely recognized as an American classic. The tale follows the misadventures of Pip, an orphan who rises from poverty. A mystery benefactor helps Pip rise to wealth. Pip is recruited to serve as a companion to a wealthy young lady named Estella, who makes fun of Pip’s humble beginnings and makes him embarrassed about his rough start in life. Pip eventually leaves for London and quickly learns that character, not wealth, is what makes a man.

Great Expectations
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Charles Dickens (Author) - Simon Prebble (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/24/2011 (Publication Date) - Blackstone Audio, Inc. (Publisher)

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This classic gothic American novel sheds light on questions of humanity, including the meaning of life and the thin line between good and evil. Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, creates a monster that quickly develops out of his control, creating events that young Frankenstein cannot mitigate. The scientist is forced to watch as his creation destroys the very things he loves, despite his attempts to destroy it. Sadly, it’s revealed that the monster wanted the things that humans crave most—love and affection—but its untoward appearance scared away anyone who could provide it with the comfort it so desperately desired. For more recommendations like this, check out our guide to the best horror authors.

  • Audible Audiobook
  • Mary Shelley (Author) - Dan Stevens (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/29/2013 (Publication Date) - Audible Studios (Publisher)

6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This coming-of-age tale shares the story of Holden Caulfield, a Pennsylvania prep school boy who leaves his comfortable home to explore underground New York City. Holden is both simple and complex and is devastatingly honest about his feelings and experiences. Holden is attracted to beautiful things (and people) and seemingly held hostage, but his inability to look away from things draws him in. Caulfield seems to contain more wisdom than should be possible for a 16-year-old, leaving readers with a relatable tale about growing up, learning, and deciding what’s important in life.

The Catcher in the Rye
  • Novel by J.D. Salinger, published in 1951. The influential and widely acclaimed story details the two days in the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after he has been expelled from prep school. Confused and disillusioned, he searches for truth and rails against the "phoniness" of the adult world. He ends up exhausted and emotionally ill, in a psychiatrist's office. After he recovers from his breakdown, Holden relates his experiences to the reader.
  • J. D. Salinger (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 01/30/2001 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)

7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë via Wikipedia, Public Domain

In this 1847 classic, two families—the Earnshaws and the Lintons—have an up and down relationship that hinges on the Heathcliff Earnshaw, the family’s adopted son. While the book is widely accepted as a classic today, it was controversial in its time. The story describes the difficulties and cruelty of Victorian life with a frankness that was uncommon for its time. While Wuthering Heights is the author’s only published novel, it’s become one of the most recognizable titles in literary history.

Wuthering Heights
  • Brontë, Emily (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 186 Pages - 12/22/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

8. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Herman Melville
Herman Melville via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Also known as The Whale, Moby Dick tells the story of Ahab, who is on a quest for revenge against Moby Dick, a sperm whale who destroyed one of Ahab’s whaling ships and caused the amputation of his leg below the knee. The book was published in 1851 and was a commercial failure. Melville never got to see the book’s overwhelming success before his death in 1891. Later, the book became known as a great American classic due to vast praise from literary experts and is recognized as one of the best books about the sea of all time.

Moby Dick
  • Melville, Herman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 378 Pages - 11/06/2018 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Set in the fantastical world of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series is known around the globe for its ability to envelop readers in a fantasy land that feels just a touch away from reality. The stories of wonder, adventure, and courage that Tolkien shares with the reader invoke a sense of imagination that can be hard to create on one’s own. Readers join Gandalf, Frodo, Aragon, and Samwise as they embark on travels that bring them through the full range of human emotions, including joy, sadness, sorrow, and triumph.

The Lord of the Rings
  • Audible Audiobook
  • J.R.R. Tolkien (Author) - J.R.R. Tolkien (Narrator)
  • 12/16/1999 (Publication Date) - Caedmon Audio (Publisher)

10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Published in 1878, Tolstoy’s story of a remarkable woman—Karenina—and her affair with Count Vronsky. Readers agree that the story is timeless and that Tolstoy’s intimate descriptions of his characters allow them to become fully invested in the storyline. Karenina and Vronsky’s affair represents how many people in the world—both in Tolstoy’s time and today—struggle to find satisfaction and peace. In addition to the romance between Karenina and Vronsky, readers also love the contrasting story of Kitty and Levins and how their relationship develops over time. Readers love how the two stories play against one another, showing that real love can differ for different people. For more like this, read our guide to the best Russian authors.

Anna Karenina
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Leo Tolstoy (Author) - Maggie Gyllenhaal (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/12/2016 (Publication Date) - Audible Studios (Publisher)

11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Little Women has stood the test of time, as the March sisters have become beloved by generations of readers and moviegoers alike. While Little Women is told from the female perspective, the lessons and situations in the story transcend time and gender, and readers from all walks of life find that they can identify with the march family. In addition to diving deep into love, life, and family relationships, this classic novel also delves into coming-of-age issues and societal restrictions faced by both women and people who were regarded as a part of the lower class.

Little Women: An Audible Original Drama
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Louisa May Alcott (Author) - Emily Bauer, Laura Dern, Lauren Fortgang (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/23/2019 (Publication Date) - Audible Originals (Publisher)

12. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Steinbeck’s American classic tells the tale of suffering during the Great Depression in America. First published in 1939, the book shocked readers with its detailed descriptions of life for migrants in the Dust Bowl. While the book heartbreakingly describes broken dreams, it’s also wildly relatable to those who have endured suffering and have experienced broken dreams. Steinbeck’s detailed descriptions of his characters and how their hardships affect their lives leave a lasting impact on readers. For more titles like this, read our guide to the best American authors.

The Grapes of Wrath
  • Audible Audiobook
  • John Steinbeck (Author) - Dylan Baker (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 06/15/2011 (Publication Date) - Penguin Audio (Publisher)

13. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This coming-of-age tale details the life of Milkman Dead. After a harrowing start to his life (his grandfather lept out of a window to his death on the day Milkman was born), Milkman struggles to make friends. The Dead family is wealthy, and many of the people surrounding Milkman struggle to relate to him. Throughout Song of Solomon, readers see Milkman travel, grow up and develop a deep relationship with his family, finally beginning to understand them. While Milkman struggles to see the lighter side of life at the beginning of the novel, over time, he takes on a more optimistic look—which many readers say rubs off on them.

Song of Solomon
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Toni Morrison (Author) - Toni Morrison (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 09/12/2017 (Publication Date) - Random House Audio (Publisher)

14. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This dystopian novel tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman who lives in a world where firefighters are charged with starting fires instead of putting them out. Montag is in charge of getting rid of printed books, as they’re forbidden in his society. Television rules the roost in both Montag’s society and his home, and he’s forced to return to his boring wife, Mildred, who spends her days staring at the television.

Eventually, Montag meets a new friend, Clarisse, who talks to him about the world of the past, where people immersed themselves in books instead of numbing their minds with television. Over time, Montag becomes intrigued with the world Clarisse describes and begins to hoard books in his home—and eventually is forced to flee after those in charge discover his illegal activities. For more books from this genre, read our guide to the best science fiction authors.

Fahrenheit 451
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Ray Bradbury (Author) - Tim Robbins (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/21/2014 (Publication Date) - Audible Studios (Publisher)

15. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Mark Twain
Mark Twain via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Twain’s 1884 novel has become a mainstay of reading lists across classrooms in America. The story is set in rural Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Illinois and tells the story of Huck Finn, a 13-year-old boy who is struggling to figure out who he is, who his friends are, and the difference between right and wrong. The classic novel wrestles with racism, prejudice, travel, and adventure issues. While some schools have banned the novel due to racist language, others have used it as a conversation starter on the history of racism and slavery in the United States.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (SeaWolf Press Illustrated Classic): First Edition Cover
  • Twain, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 358 Pages - 02/25/2021 (Publication Date) - SeaWolf Press (Publisher)

The Final Word On The Best Classic Books

Classic literature books are classics for a reason—the books listed above contain life lessons that have stood the test of time, told in a way that was as relevant in the time the books were written as they are in today’s day and age. Reading classic literature can offer a glimpse into the past while also learning how the issues of years ago are still relevant today. Be sure to add the classic books listed above to your reading list to expand your knowledge and learn more about the literature of years past.

Best Classic Books FAQs

What’s the best-selling classic literature book of all time?

According to Good Reads, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is the best-selling classic literature book ever written.

What’s considered the greatest American novel?

According to many literary experts, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the best American novel.

If you are interested in learning more, check out our roundup of the best dystopian novels!

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