It’s often tough to fathom that Amazon’s Kindle, the most popular ebook reader in existence, has been around since 2007. Even though Amazon has made a slew of proper tablets in the years since — most recently, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 — the Kindle remains the company’s flagship (and for good reason).
Thankfully for Kindle owners, there are thousands of titles currently available via Amazon, Google Play, and from an array of other online sources. To help you sort through the masses, we’ve rounded up some of the better free offerings to be had, including public domain works and self-published titles. Never before has it been so easy to become a master of literature without trekking to your local library.
A note before you begin …
Google Play does not offer books using Kindle’s proprietary format in the way Amazon and Project Gutenberg do. Instead of AZW and KF8 files, users are going to want to directly download Google Play books as PDF files, thus rendering the books compatible with Kindle. To do so, navigate to your Google Play Book library, click the three squares in the upper-right corner of any title and select “Download PDF” from the resulting drop-down list. Afterward, select your desired save location and drag and drop the resulting file from your computer to your device once finished downloading.
Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
Inspired by Barrie’s friendship with Llewelyn Davies family, Peter and Wendy is essentially the classic tale of Peter Pan, a boy who can fly and whisks a group of young children away to Neverland. All the usual suspects make their debut (Tiger Lily, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, etc.), but it might not seem as blatantly offensive to Native Americans as the 1953 Disney film.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
There are very few people who are oblivious to Dorothy’s cyclone-fueled romps in Oz with Wicked Witch of the West, yet revisiting the Kansas native’s harrowing quest for the Emerald City is always somehow reassuring. The Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow all add to Baum’s descriptive and vivid world. Victor Fleming’s music doesn’t quite do the novel the justice it deserves.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A touchstone in the realm of children’s literature, Burnett’s classic has been adapted time and time again for both the stage and the big screen. It revolves around heroine Mary Lenno, an orphan who’s shipped off from her colonial India to live on a dingy county estate in Yorkshire. There she learns the healing power of friendship through plant cultivation in her, ahem, secret garden. So heartwarming, yet insightful.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
The Brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales that were aptly, rather grim, but many of the beloved tales have undergone edits and numerous alterations to the point where they’ve become suitable for children rather than the grotesque, violence-laden stories they once were. You know the tales — Rapunzel, Cinderella, Hansel, and Gretel — but there are also plenty of great standouts that weren’t made into animated films.
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Taking place in grubby Victorian New York, Little Lord Fauntleroy is a rags-to-riches story about a young boy named Cedric who unexpectedly becomes royalty. While Cedric is whisked away to England by his grandfather to learn the ins and outs of aristocracy, he ultimately manages to teach his grandfather to become a more compassionate leader.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
It should go without saying, kids love animals. Kipling’s tale, culled as a standalone story from The Jungle Book, follows a valiant mongoose who works to defend his adopted family of British colonials from a menacing pair of cobras upon their arrival in India. Sure, you may need to explain some of the subtle Victorianisms to younger audiences, but the harrowing story exhibits some of the most vibrant and sharp personifications of any novel in existence.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
As one of my favorite childhood books, it makes me all warm-and-fuzzy inside knowing Grahame’s classic is readily available free of charge. It’s about four anthropomorphized animals — Toad, Mole, Rat, and Badger — and their various escapades in the English countryside. It’s chock-full of adventure, companionship, and moral reasoning, written by the former secretary of the Bank of England as bedtime stories for his son Alistair.
The Ghost Files by Apryl Baker
Mattie Hathaway is a 16-year-old girl with a terrible secret. Ever since her mother tried to kill her when she was five, she’s been able to see dead people of the spectral variety. When the ghost of her foster sister turns up, Mattie enlists the help of a young policeman to investigate her disappearance, but they better tread carefully because there’s a serial killer at work. This is smart teen fiction with plenty of twists and turns.
The Legend of King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles
The true origins and subsequent merits of the late King Arthur is controversial, to say the least. Knowles’ version of the legendary British leader is considered one of the most revered, though, grounded in knights, damsels, and a sword most peculiarly wedged into a stone. The older language can be cumbersome, the repetitiveness a bit drab, yet the source material remains a poignant take on Middle Ages. Camelot doesn’t do it justice.
The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker
Emperor’s Edge is the first book in a nine-novel series and follows the enforcer, Amaranthe Lokdon, as she stumbles in a plot against the Emperor. This tough, female police officer leads a colorful band of dubious misfits as she puzzles and battles her way through a series of scrapes, chases, and mysterious plots. There’s intrigue and thrills aplenty in this fantasy epic, though, the steampunk tale never takes itself too seriously.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
It was a toss-up between Twenty Thousand and Journey to the Center of the Earth, with the latter possibly losing due to the uber terrible film with Brendan Fraser back in ’08. However, Verne is renowned for his work in the sci-fi field, in both prose and creativity, and Captain Nemo’s trek through the Antarctic ice shelves, the Red Sea and other fictional and real-world locations is extremely engrossing. And then there’s the giant squid scene …
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London
London’s White Fang seemingly garners all the praise, but his world foray into the world of sci-fi shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Plague is set in a fictional, post-apocalyptic version of San Francisco, 60 years after an uncontrollable epidemic known as the Red Death obliterated Earth’s population. James Howard Smith tries to impart his knowledge onto his grandsons before it’s too late. It’s graphic, but the book’s prophetic nature is all too real.
Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott
If you’re looking for a philosophical novel that dabbles in math and exists in a two-dimensional fantasy realm where all inhabitants are geometric shapes, then Flatland is surely for you. It’s a satirical look on society and class distinctions in Victorian England, with one inhabitant trying to grapple with the concept of third and fourth dimensions, but it’s still laid out in a manner that is easy to grasp no matter your knowledge of the field.
The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper
Piper may have committed suicide in 1964 — often attributed to financial woes and marital problems — but not before he wrote a series of stellar short stories and several novels in the sci-fi vein. CosmicComputer, one of his last, is about a struggling, poverty-stricken post-war society who believes its survival depends on finding a computer known as MERLIN. The problem is, returning colonist Conn Maxwell knows otherwise. Troublesome.
The Crystal Crypt by Philip K. Dick
Thirty-one pages isn’t quite a marathon of a book, but Dick’s novels have inspired everything from Blade Runner to the Adjustment Bureau. In the novel, Mars and Earth hang on the verge of war. The last ship bound for Earth is stopped by Martian soldiers searching for three saboteurs who supposedly destroyed a Martian city. The three aren’t found, but it doesn’t mean those harboring the secrets of the Martian city’s demise aren’t on board.
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between Doyle’s work and Spielberg’s. However, the Victorian-era The Lost World offers a greater scientific basis than the blockbuster film created nearly a century later, even if it does see a young journalist and a small team scouring a remote Amazonian plateau in search of dinosaurs and other prehistoric beings. Doyle’s prose is dry and somewhat stale, whether he’s describing a band of ape-like humanoids or rehashing the genius exploits of Professor Challenger, but his tone is anything but.
Historical and historical fiction
The Journals of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806 by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Living in Portland, you can’t turn a city corner without being reminded of Lewis and Clark’s fabled journey across the Northwest. They traversed a nation with the aid of Shoshone guide Sacajawea in the early 1800s, chronicling all the flora, fauna, tribal encounters, and vast landscapes they encountered along their journey. The language can be difficult to decipher at times, but it’s a richly detailed account of our nation’s early natural history, and exploration.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was always renowned for his eccentric and intriguing personality, whether he was dabbling in electricity, drinking beer, or serving as Postmaster General of the United States. Needless to say, he remains a hallmark of American history more than 200 years after his death. His autobiography offers personal stories, exploits, and general insights to his life in the days before the American Revolution.
Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt
There are few people involved today that boast a background as sprawling and diverse good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt. He was the leader of the Republican Party and the short-lived Bull Moose Party of 1912, as well as an acclaimed naturalist, cowboy, hunter, author, and soldier in the Spanish-American War. The man is considered an American legend for both his exploits in office and outside of it — and his autobiography tells it all.
The Life of Buffalo Bill: An Autobiography by William Frederick Cody
Buffalo Bill is one of the most iconic and colorful characters epitomizing the American Old West. Although he was a plainsman, buffalo hunter, and scout (who had his Medal of Honor revoked and reinstated years later), his claim to fame was his Wild West show. His deeds were many, his prejudices few, and his autobiography follows his story from the time of his birth in 1846 until he was 44 years old. It’s not all of his life’s work, but it’s the foundation.
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana
After being stricken by measles and subsequent vision damage while attending Harvard, Dana enlisted as sailor on a two-year voyage around Cape Horn on the brig Pilgrim. He kept a diary of his travels along the way, known as Two Years Before the Mast, and filled it with passages of practical naval jargon, animated imagery and some of the first descriptions of 1830s California. However, it’s more so a historical tale than one of adventure.
‘Night and Day’ by Virginia Woolf
One of Virginia’ Woolf’s earlier works, Night and Day explores the lives of two women in Edwardian London. Night and Day is a nuanced exploration of the political and personal lives of women in the early 20th century. While some of Woolf’s later novels can be a challenge, Night and Day is an excellent read.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
The Mississippi River had a profound and pivotal on Twain from the time he was a little boy until his death in 1910. Mississippi is a memoir, a steamboat-era novel that summarizes the river’s discovery by Hernando de Soto in 1541, Twain’s time as a steamboat pilot, and his eye-opening return to the river many years after industry and greed had befallen upon the surrounding banks. It revels in Twain’s knack for observation while providing a backdrop for the author’s classic tales.
South: The Story of Shackleton’s Expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
It seems like almost all stories coming out of Antarctica either deal with penguins, polar bears, or survival. Being a first-hand account of 28 men marooned on polar ice a nearly fatal shipwreck in unforgiving waters, Shackleton’s tale represents the third option. It recaps the journey, from Shackleton’s burning desires to traverse Antarctica to the subsequent catastrophe and ensuing struggle to survive, albeit with descriptive prowess and sea-log flare.
Mystery, thriller, and suspense
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
Published anonymously in 1824, nothing can prepare you for this deliciously clever gothic mystery about the rivalry between two brothers in 17th-century Edinburgh and a powerful stranger known as Gil-Martin who stirs it all up. It’s a work of metafiction that delves into the psyche of religious fanaticism and presents a series of supposedly discovered documents, challenging you to unravel the enigma and make sense of what happened.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
An increasingly nightmarish journey on a steamboat in the Congo turns into a disturbing journey into the human psyche. This novella served as the inspiration for the movie Apocalypse Now, which shifted the action to Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War, instead of 19th-century Africa. It’s a haunting tale, as a steamboat captain, Marlow, struggles up the river to find the insane Kurtz. Later criticized as a xenophobic dehumanization of Africans, it reflects colonial attitudes.
Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank
It’s safe to say that Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes is not a classic novel. It revolves around DMV employee Rose Gardner, her mother’s unexplained death, and the slew of wishes she haphazardly scribbles on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt — ones Gardner hopes to accomplish before visions of her own death, or jail time, come to pass. The book is more lighthearted than you might think, too, reveling in a next-door romance and subsequent murders. Take it at face value.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Doyle did not invent the fictional detective archetype, that arguably goes to Edgar Allen Poe, but he certainly helped bring it to the mainstream. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes encapsulates 12 original tales featuring Holmes first published in The Strand Magazine, including classics like A Scandal in Bohemia and The Adventure of the Red-Headed League. Holmes’ astute reasoning logical is abound, as is his knack for forensics, fleshed out in easily digestible snippets only Doyle could write.
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
As the first of five novels featuring the beloved action-hero Richard Hannay, Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Step has long been heralded for creating the man-on-the-run character we often see in literature and blockbuster films. It follows a retired mining engineer who becomes wrapped up in an international plot upon discovering a body in his home and fleeing for his native Scotland. It offers a short read, with a tense introduction into the world of espionage novels.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Collin’s classic is a must if you’re looking for a tale of mistaken identity encased in a shroud of mystery. It’s considered among the first mystery novels ever written, incorporating elements of Gothic horror and psychological realism, and narrated by multiple characters. The book opens with teacher Walter Hartright encountering a mysterious woman in white upon a London road, but it unravels into a sensational love affair with subtle undercurrents of political commentary.
Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Having written more 80 detective novels during her lifetime, it’s safe to say Agatha Christie is considered a household name when it comes to the genre. Her second novel, Secret Adversary, introduces the reader to Tommy and Tuppence, two characters who reoccur in other Christie tales down the line. Their goal? To find a woman who vanishes with government documents without becoming completely entrenches in a tangle of secret intelligence, false evidence, and dubious affairs.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe
Arguably the first detective story ever written, the short tale is centered on a man named C. Auguste Dupin and his work to unravel the mystery surrounding a baffling double murder on a fictional street in Paris. Although numerous witnesses heard the suspect, no one can seem to agree on the language spoken, and the only other piece of apparent evidence is a lone strand of hair Dupin believes to be nonhuman. It’s captivating despite its age and serves as prototype for numerous fictional detectives.
Murder on the Mind by L.L. Bartlett
It’s not surprising Murder on the Mind is a fitting title given book’s main protagonist, Jeff Resnick, gains the ability to see murders happen through a series psychic visions after sustaining traumatic brain injuries during a mugging. He, along with his brother, set forth to investigate the crimes and unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his brother’s banker and another unsuspecting victim. It’s stark and well-paced, with twists to match.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky’s second novel following his return from exile in Siberia proposes more moral quandaries than any mystery or suspense novel on our roundup. It revolves around a penniless man named Rodion Raskolnikov who executes a plot to kill a corrupt pawnbroker to alleviate his financial woes and rid the world of corruption. Is murder warranted if it serves a higher purpose? It’s tough to say, but Dostoyevsky’s wordy tale and elegant style leave the question open.
Blindsided (A Thriller) by Jay Giles
Blindsided is an appropriate title for Giles’ lighthearted thriller given how many twists and turns comprise stockbroker Matt Seattle’s life once he begins looking into the death of his former client and friend, Joe Jesso. The storyline is plausible and well-orchestrated, though short and predictable at times, with just enough suspense and action that you might overlook the sheer amount of loose ends left dangling at the end. Just blame it Giles’ multifaceted, cartel-riddled plot and status as a newly minted author.
The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
If you like your tragedies bloody and grim, look no further than the Elizabethan playwrights, particularly John Webster. His play The Duchess of Malfi is a gruesome tale of corruption and the perils of being a woman in a world dominated by men. The central characters are Antonio, a man of low birth but high character, and the smart, kindly Duchess, with whom he falls in love and marries in secret. When the Duchess’ brothers discover the marriage, they decide to end it, violently.
Volpone by Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson is one of the rare contemporaries of Shakespeare whose plays still see widespread performances today. His most iconic work, Volpone, remains a popular, sharp satire of greed. The play centers on Volpone, a greedy Venetian aristocrat who orchestrates a complicated plan to swindle three similarly wealthy (and vile) men out of their money. Unforeseen consequences emerge and throw the whole scheme off the rails.
Action and adventure
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
This awe-inspiring adventure concerns Captain Ahab’s obsession with the great white whale, an obsession so powerful and furious that it consumes him. Melville captures that spirit so well that “white whale” has passed into common usage to describe something you’ve been searching for obsessively. Having served on whaling ships, Melville paints a detailed picture of life at sea in pursuit of whales, largely for oil that was used in lamps, soap, and many other products. The book is also packed with references and clever narrative techniques that have proven very influential in the years since its publication in 1851.
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
They say revenge is a dish best served cold and Dumas’ story of the false imprisonment and lustful vengeance of Edmond Dantes is one of the coldest. Wrongfully imprisoned by his best friend and various conspirators, Dantes vows to escape the confines of Château d’If, unearth the treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and reclaim what was once his. It’s one of Dumas’ most famous works alongside The Three Musketeers, and for once, we actually enjoy the 2002 movie that goes with it.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s classic is described as “buccaneers and buried gold,” but that’s not all it is. Yes, it helped set the bar for iconic pirate stereotypes — treasure maps marked with the letter “X”, tropical islands, etc. — but it’s characters like Long John Silver that add a level of complexity and moral depth to an otherwise straightforward children’s tale. Plus, it’s filled with historical allusions and wry, moral commentary that should entertain adults and young audiences alike.
Call of the Wild by Jack London
It’s hard to argue Call of the Wild isn’t Jack London’s magnum opus. Based on London’s experiences as a prospector in the Klondike, it follows a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie named Buck who is stolen, sold, and forced to survive as a sled dog in the harsh realities of the Arctic. It’s an endearing story, awash with themes of moral good doing and loyalty, and filled with London’s incredibly descriptive accounts of the terrain during the bustling gold rush of the late 1800s.
Ulysses by James Joyce
As one of the most significant works of modernist literature, Ulysses focuses on the life of a young Irishman named Leopold Bloom. The novel is divided into three books and 18 sections, and Bloom’s journey loosely resembles that of Homer’s Odysseus. Ulysses, is an exploration of the daily life of Bloom, his city and those who interact with him. The novel can be difficult at times, but its awkward pacing, excellent storytelling, and often dry humor makes it an excellent read.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn gets a lot of hype, but it’s the prequel the helped set the stage for later acts. It carries a somber note amid the air of Twain’s iconic humor and English vernacular, accounting the tale of a young boy growing up on the Mississippi and the various escapades he encountered doing so. Although it often revels in the innocence of childhood and bittersweet nostalgia, it’s still teeming with adult themes and the harsh realities of slavery, starvation, and murder.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
We will probably never know the inspiration for Defoe’s classic castaway tale, but it has certainly inspired an abundance of film adaptations and literary spinoffs. The main character, Robinson Crusoe, becomes stranded on a desert island following an intense storm at sea, equipped with no more than a pipe, a knife, and an inch of tobacco. Needless to say, 24 years pass before he confronts anyone, and when he does, it’s certainly not with open arms.
Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
Falkner’s most renowned novel is nothing short of gripping, which is likely the reason it was a staple of children’s literature until the ’70s. It parallels Treasure Island in many ways, notably the coming-of-age theme and quest for treasure, but it’s centered around the coast of Dorset, England and focuses on a young boy who takes up with a band of smugglers after discovering their secret. Be forewarned, backgammon references run amok.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
No more Twilight. Stoker’s novel defined the classic vampire, epitomizing Gothic horror and solidifying the character as one of the most iconic horror icons for years to come. The novel is written in an epistolary format as a series of letters and diary entrees among other things, and follows Dracula’s move from Transylvania to England and his confrontations with Professor Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker. You’ve seen Nosferatu, but Stoker’s vision kicked it all off.
The Doll by J.C. Martin
Dolls are creepy, plain and simple, and 30 pages of them are more than adequate. Martin writes about a young girl’s encounter with a cursed doll on trip to Mexico, one that later concerns her mother after she begins developing a peculiar set of worrisome mannerisms tied to the doll’s dark history. Though it falters grammatically at times, it’s well-paced and eerily captivating.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Shelley wrote and published Frankenstein by the time she turned 21. That’s a remarkable feat by any standard, especially given the lasting impression the novel had on the world of sci-fi, horror and countless other genres. It’s centered around scientist Victor Frankenstein and the monster he creates in his laboratory, along with the repercussions of abandoning the grotesque life he created.
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
Although only the first four tales in Chamber’s classic novel fall under the “horror,” they do so with macabre zest. The King in Yellow refers to a forbidden play that’s interwoven within the short stories from which madness and corruption befall upon its readers. Two of the stories take place in 1920s America, two in Paris, but all four focus on self-indulgent artists with their own shortcomings. Chambers’ seminal work and vague, evocative prose likely spurred H.P. Lovecraft and others.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Mad scientists were one of the catapults of the horror genre, so it’s not surprising Stevenson’s tale about a deranged doctor with split personalities, one good and one evil, made our list. It’s a psychological fantasy of sorts, culled from the modern theories of evolution and class at the time, and burgeoning with examinations of the duality of human nature and insights regarding Victorian-era culture. Still, many argue and provide merit that Dr. Jekyll is more multifaceted than most make him out to be and to say he has a dual personality is overly simplistic. Oy vey.
The Monk: A Romance by M.G. Lewis
“Scandalous” and “obscene” were two words commonly spurred by Lewis’ lurid story of a villainous priest succumbing to sexual temptations and overly violent impulses. Like numerous Gothic works of the time, it deals with how even the most moral of characters can be corrupted — in this case a priest who has sex with a young girl disguised as a boy and further delves into other sensational acts of sorcery, incest, torture, murder, and deceit. It’s erotic, but not in a 50 Shades of Grey kind of way.
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
You’ll be quickly absorbed in this supernatural tale that begins with a strange medical experiment and then takes a turn to delve into pagan Britain and ancient gods. It’s a novella where much is left to the imagination, but it unfolds beautifully and builds the suspense toward an unforgettably creepy climax. This atmospheric horror classic from the 1890s inspired H.P. Lovecraft among others and it was widely denounced when it was first published.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Sinclair muckraking socialist novel isn’t exactly uplifting. It’s a brutally realistic depiction of poverty, extreme working conditions and the prevalent hopelessness that engulfed the working class of the Chicago stockyards. It may focus on Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, but it is partly based on Sinclair’s seven-week stint working incognito in the Chicago meatpacking business as part of an investigative piece on behalf of his newspaper. The soul-crushing atrocities and horrendous accounts of the meat industry were so alarming they even spurred federal investigations in 1904.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
One of the first great novels in the Southern literary canon, The Awakening is complex yet beautiful. The novel focuses on the life of Edna Pontellier and her enlightened, but unorthodox, views on the socioeconomic status of women in the South. The Awakening is an insightful novel that explores a woman’s changing thoughts about her place in society in the beginning of the 20thn century.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
To put it simply, The Souls of Black Folk is an insightful examination of African-American life at the turn of the 20th century. It was and still is a momentous piece of sociological literature written as part of a semi-autobiographical essays looking at life after the Emancipation Proclamation. Du Bois’ prose is articulate and eloquent — whether addressing neoslavery, traditional music, or what he coins the “double consciousness” of the African American psyche — and serves as both historical analysis and a harrowing piece social-political commentary that’s difficult to ignore.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
We don’t know about you, but portions of the The Federalist Papers were mandatory high school reading for us on more than one occasion. The collection consists of 85 brilliant and eye-opening essays that delve into the establishment of various rules of governance and the promotion the U.S. Constitution. Forged by three of our nation’s Founding Fathers, the papers have been a political and historical landmarks ever since their initial release in late 1787 and early 1788. Like the Constitution however, they’ve open to interpretation, mentioned nearly 300 times in varying Supreme Court decisions.
Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
Before Henry David Thoreau moved to the woods to “live deliberately” and create his timeless classic, Walden, the author penned his vast political and philosophical musings in Civil Disobedience. The book focuses mainly on the issues of slavery and the also the Mexican-American War. Thoreau uses the injustices of the era to encourage readers to question moral justice when juxtaposed alongside de facto law. Given the current socio-political tension, these critical words still resonate today.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Although The Prince wasn’t officially published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death, a version of the treatise appears to have circulated almost 20 years prior. It’s regarded as one of the first and finest works of political philosophy, deeply rooted in Machiavelli’s fascination and political drive, and is considered a somewhat practical and straightforward guide on how to obtain power and become the ideal ruler. Perhaps the work is a political satire (following it to a tee could essentially undo someone in power), but nonetheless, the term “Machiavellian” didn’t arise from thin air.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Reign of Terror during the onset of French Revolution was a tumultuous and incredibly violent affair (17,000 deaths by guillotine is no laughing matter). Dickens’ classic tale of revolution and brash political upheaval features a love-laced plot, whirling around exiled French aristocrat Charles Darnay, English lawyer Syndey Carton and their indiscriminate fall at the hands of the revolution. Unlike other Dickens novels, it’s mostly devoid of humor, instead centered on providing political context that is both vividly alluring and dishearteningly frightening. Again, we truly doubt it was “the best of times.”
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
History is littered with political manuscripts and philosophers proposing their theories on class struggle and political dichotomy, but few of them carry the weighty influence of Marx and Friedrich Engels’ in-depth examination and critique of capitalism. It argues with labor comes wealth, which in turn increases the gap between economic classes with one becoming the ruling one at the expensive of the others. It lays down the theories and goals behind the movement, outlined rather vividly, and proposes complete revolution as the only way to overhaul an unstable governmental and class structure.
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Paine’s Common Sense is proof that writing to the people, for the people, is sometimes the way to go. The pamphlet, published anonymously in 1776 during the beginning of the American Revolution, presented an astute argument for the colonies to break free of British rule and establish their own independent republican government. It was written to be tangible and easily digestible, appealing to a mass audience of common people who were often left out the political dialogue, and helped convince its readership a land which upholds personal freedoms and lacks hereditary kingship isn’t that bad.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Have you ever heard of China’s Seven Military Classics? Didn’t think so, but you’ve likely heard of The Art of War. Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general and strategist, composed the treatise as early as 2nd century B.C., simultaneously solidifying the work as one of the most definitive and influential strategy books of all time. It’s divided into 13 chapters, each outlining a different aspect of warfare, and showcasing Tzu’s emphasis on the perils of war and its embodiment as a necessary evil to be carried out when no other alternatives exist.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been making audiences swoon for God knows how long, and has led to many adaptations — even one involving zombies. It recounts the tale of Elizabeth Bennett, one of five sisters with a mother hellbent on them marrying rich, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, an arrogantly wealthy English gentleman. What unfolds between them is a beguiling and lively courtship that is as charming as it is witty, filled with Austen’s keen humor and social commentary on marriage and manners among other things. Plus, it has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, offering further encouragement for you to download the title.
Roderick Hudson by Henry James
Roderick Hudson was Henry James first novel, originally published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly. The book explores the lives of a sculptor named Roderick Hudson and Rowland Mallet, his single male benefactor. During their travels to Europe, the two experience a number of hardships and failed relationships. An undercurrent of unrequited love appears to exist between the two, leading to an absolutely devastating ending.
Courting Cate by Leslie Gould
This modern take on The Taming of the Shrew is set in an Amish community in Paradise, Pennsylvania. Cate Miller has a reputation as a fiery, sharp-tongued harridan. Her younger sister, Betsy, isn’t allowed to get married until Cate does. Enter a new suitor for Cate who seems suspiciously intent on winning her hand. With more than 1,500 reviews on Amazon — most of which are positive — this blend of Amish fiction and Shakespearean drama seems to be winning hearts.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
You’ve seen the stage adaptation and the modern Leonardo DiCaprio spinoff, now it’s time to read the real deal. It’s arguably the romance novel, Shakespeare’s quintessential tale of star-crossed lovers plagued by their feuding families, the Montagues and Capulets. It’s written in Shakespeare’s iconic poetic dramatic structure, featuring some of the most memorable characters of all of literature and a balcony scene that has been hammered into our heads since we were children. It really is beautiful and enthralling though, with an ending the epitomizes the meaning of tragedy and doomed love.
Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
It wasn’t Leroux’s initial edition of The Phantom of the Opera that garnered all the praise and fanfare, but the 1925 film depiction and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical hit musical. However, the original tale about the Phantom living below the opera houses all the core elements of the latter adaptations: a menacing figure presiding over the opera, a talented chorus girl and an enchanting childhood sweetheart that comes between them. It’s a Gothic love triangle fit for all time, aloft with dark, theatrical color and Leroux’s gift for creating rich characters for which you sympathize, fall in love, and despise.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Just because one Brontë is not enough. Wuthering Heights is set in the stormy moors of England during the early 1800s and centered on a love that is disturbingly fierce and vividly dark. It’s told through a series of flashbacks recorded in a diary, chronicling Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff’s inseparable childhood and the ensuing turbulent, and vengeful, events that violently whittle away at a love doomed from the beginning. Despite being her first and only novel, Brontë’s prose is fluid and poetic, draped in lucid descriptions of the moorland and the characters who call it home.
To Catch a Bad Guy by Marie Astor
Everyone knows dating in the workplace can cause.. complications. Astor’s novel takes that into consideration and then some, spinning a tale about an undercover crime investigator who finds himself infatuated with an employee of the prominent New York investment firm he is looking to bust. It’s the first book in the Janet Maple Series, patchy and grammatically flawed, but it has enough clever moments and spry, romantic wit to make it well worth the nonexistent price.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Let’s be honest, adultery today doesn’t quite resonate with the same woeful shame it does in the harsh, Protestant community of Hawthorne’s memorizing narrative of legalism and sin. It spotlights a young, intelligent and thoughtful woman named Hester Prynne, who is publicly ostracized and forced to wear a piece of fabric in the shape of the letter “A” after having an illegitimate birth resulting from an affair with a minister while her husband is overseas. It’s dramatic and inspiring, rooted in a character that undergoes ample scorn only to retain her dignity and beauty in the end.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Russian author Leo Tolstoy knows all to well that we cannot help who we love. In his second acclaimed novel, the beautiful and passionate Anna Karenina leaves her husband when she falls head over heels for a wealthy army officer named Count Vronsky. Insecurities arise, with Karenina’s paranoid and jealous fits among other things begin tearing the marriage apart, and heartbreak ensues. The story regarding Konstantin Levin also contrasts alongside Karenina’s — heart-wrenching in a different way — but it’s teeming with many of the same undercurrents of societal values and carnal desire.
Philosophy and science
On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species is one of the few pieces of scientific literature that is actually readable, not to mention one of the most influential. It essentially built the foundation on which the concept of evolutionary biology is based, providing evidence from his voyage on the HMS Beagle and expanded on the theories he and Alfred Russel Wallace helped conceive. The initial text was highly controversial, both in the scientific and the religious fields, but it demanded attention given Darwin’s standing in the scientific community. It’s a warranted read no matter your beliefs on the origin of the species.
The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys by Bahá’u’lláh
Technically two distinct books written by the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, the novels serve as an examination of the soul through the various, spiritual stages of life (love, knowledge, unity, true poverty, etc.) upon the “Right Path.” The mystically charged text, written around the time Bahá’u’lláh quit his job and began endlessly wandering Iraqi Kurdistan, features highly poetic pose that has often been construed when translated from its native Persian. Still, it’s intellectually stimulating and presents intriguing ruminations on life you may have no thought to ponder.
Walden by David Thoreau
The exact reasons for the Thoreau’s two-year stay in a cabin near a small pond in Massachusetts have always been shrouded in mystery. Whatever the reasoning, the American transcendentalist produced a remarkable account of his experiences, condensed into a single calendar year swarming with insights and contemplative revelations emphasizing solitude, self-reliance, and mankind’s affinity for the natural world. Thoreau is a brilliant writer who seemingly has little trouble combining autobiographic details with an apt and poignant social critique of Western civilization.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
It’s been estimated that the Kafka burned nearly 90 percent of his work during his lifetime. Nonetheless, The Trial was published the year following his death, though never completed. The story revolves around Joseph K, a respectable chief financial officer at an undisclosed bank, and his arrest and subsequent prosecution for a crime that is never revealed to him or the reader. It’s a frighteningly dark, satirical novel that’s borderline surreal and fraught with unclear meaning.
The Republic by Plato
The ideal state is far harder to implement than it is to envision. Plato’s Socratic dialogue, written circa 380 B.C., examines a spectrum of assorted topics ranging from society and morality to education and philosophy. It also highlights the nature of reality, the just and unjust man, and Plato’s theory of Forms. It, along with several others, help develop political theory and add further fuel to period already swimming with philosophical debates. There’s no doubt that it will make you think.. but comprehending it in full may be a different story.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
There are countless books that deal with self-discovery and our spiritual journey through life, but Hesse’s ninth novel is one of the most celebrated and well-known in all of literature. The novel begins with the main protagonist, Siddhartha, voluntarily leaving his prosperous Brahman life for one more contemplative and full of meaning. He relinquishes his processions and conceives a son, but later relapses into a life of materialism until he finds salvation and enlightenment in the presence of a river. The novel’s simple, lyrical style renders it both praiseworthy and understandable, with heavy leanings on the concept of Om.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Dorian Gray is chic, young man of wealth and beauty who, under the influence of nobleman, decides to sell his soul and embark on an immoral path in order to retain his fleeting youth. In doing so, he hopes to outlast a portrait painted of him by artist Basil Hallward, but soon finds the painting a mere reflection of his debauched acts and hedonistic sins. Wilde was a major proponent of the aestheticism movement, emphasizing the beauty of art over its educational and societal value, and his novel is evidence of that. It was scandalous for the time, resulting in strict censorship, but remained distinctly Wilde nonetheless.
Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and Gravitation by James Malcolm Bird
Einstein was a brilliant physicist — that much is indisputable. While working at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland, he devised what would become the bedrock of modern physics and some of the most influential theories ever created. The novel focuses and details how the universe might function, including the concept of curved space-time, and disassembles Newton’s theory of time and space. Despite what you might think, it’s relatively (pun not intended) boiled down for amateur and professional scientific audiences alike.
Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
Sectioned into four books, Locke’s foray into the realm of human knowledge and basic understanding proposes the mind as a blank slate that becomes gradually more complex and intricate as we grow and expose ourselves to new experiences. The essay represents one of the principal sources of empiricism in philosophy, the idea that our knowledge is primarily derived from sensory experiences we encounter, and thus counters the theory that knowledge and traditions are innate. It’s a theory that holds a great deal of water and makes for an insightful read.
My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
The best part of short stories is the brevity, whether good or bad. My Man Jeeves is a comical collection of eight short stories originally published in various U.K. magazines prior to initial release as a book. Half of the stories are centered on silly escapades of the good-hearted aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his loveable valet Jeeves, while others concern Reggie Pepper (a similar character to Wooster). The formula for the stories is essentially the same — Jeeves always manages to save Wooster’s moronic neck — but the appeal lies in Wodehouse’s dry, British humor, and intellectual wit.
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Twain was fabled for embedding autobiographical accounts of his wanderlust years within his fictional works. Published in 1872, Roughing It chronicles Twain’s raucous journey throughout the American West with his brother, intertwining realistic stories of his travels with the developing rough-hewn, ironic humor that would later become synonymous with his name and most beloved works. It delves into his stints as a gold miner, a reporter, and a lecturer, as well as his stagecoach travels through Nevada and his side trip in Hawaii. Plus, it’s 10 times shorter than the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1.
Sloppy Seconds: The Tucker Max Leftovers by Tucker Max
Not only did Tucker Max make a name for himself with I Hope they Serve Beer in Hell, he even managed to land on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential List in 2009. Sloppy Seconds doesn’t quite epitomize “fratire” in the way his previous novel did, but it relies on the same vividly gross set of humor and drunken antics as his other works. It’s essentially a set of outtakes, littered with repulsive recaps of various stories regarding him and his cronies, and showcases just how adept Max is at being … well … a jerk. Read at your own risk.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Sure, Wilde penned his one and only novel in 1890, but it was his later works that helped become the acclaimed playwright we recognize him as. The Importance of Being Earnest is the embodiment of satire, a humorous examination of Victorian-era manners and marriage laced with rapid-fire wit and an eccentric cast of epigrams. It revolves are two refined gentlemen who adopt fake personas with the goal of dazzling their respected love interest. Unlike his novel, the play’s debut marked a high point in Wilde’s career and was met with a sea of critical acclaim and universal praise.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
If there ever was a Shakespeare play that relied on language to carry the plot more so than any other theme, it would be the Shrew. It’s the tale of Lucentio and Petruchio, two young men seeking to wed two wealthy sisters they encounter in the Italian city of Padua. However, trouble arises when Lucientio discovers that he can not marry the women he loves unless her ill-tempered and verbally aggressive older sister is wed — that’s where Petruchio comes into play. Although it’s been seen as misogynistic and patriarchal, it’s also one of the most Shakespeare’s most boisterous and comical plays, steeped with sharp-tongued banter and rhetoric.
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
Jerome’s novel is a far-flung departure from the serious travel and historical reference guide he originally intended it to be. Though still centered around Jerome’s travels, it’s more of a semi-autographical tale based on a boating holiday he and two of his real-life friends experienced on the River Thames. There’s no overarching plot — the novel consists of various witty ramblings regarding family, education, and fishing among other topics — but it still manages to capture Jerome’s initial concept, albeit with an abundance of sarcasm and tongue-and-cheek humor.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
If Laurence Sterns wasn’t well-read, he certainly plays it off like he is. His novel, a humorously rich satire regarding Tristram Shandy’s life story, is aloft with references to philosophical theories and allusions reminiscent of 17th-century metaphysical poets. The humor is bawdy and brash, whether focusing on Tristram Shandy’s rational father or his military-obsessed uncle, but frequently finds itself intertwined in bouts of digression regarding sex, insults and philosophical dilemmas. It’s entertaining, amusing and showcases a narrative just as inventive today as it was when it was released in the 1760s.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Chivalry is arguably on its way out, but it would likely never cease if the country gentlemen Don Quixote and his cunning squire Sancho Panza had anything to do with it. Saavedra’s classic canonical novel remains one of the most influential of the Spanish Golden Age and follows a retired country gentleman who takes up his lance on a dubious — and undeniably lengthy — quest to subdue the evils of the world. It’s playful, loaded with irony and delusion, and has been considered one of the first modern novels for more than 400 years.
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is the defining poem of modernism, and for good reason. Broken into five sections and dense with allusions, homages, and various languages, the poem conveys the feelings of a world shattered by World War I and the cultural upheavals of the 20th century. It also contains some of Eliot’s most striking lines, including the opening “April is the cruelest month …”
The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Shelley was one of the great figures in the Romantic movement, running in the same circles as figures such as Lord Byron and John Keats, and his poetry stands as some of the most iconic of the era, swelling with gorgeous imagery and masterful arrangements. This collection includes some of his most famous works, like the sonnet Ozymandias, as well as longer pieces like Prometheus Unbound.
Lyrical Ballads by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Long before John Lennon and Paul McCartney, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were the great lyrical duo of the age, publishing Lyrical Ballads and kicking off the Romantic movement. These poems, written in vernacular English, offer a glimpse into the lives of country folk and the beauty of nature.
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Written in the wake of the English Civil War and the Restoration of the monarchy, John Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic poem that chronicles the aftermath following Satan’s rebellion against God, and his later plan to corrupt Adam and Eve. It is a work of staggering power (and length) written in blank verse — and the magnum opus of one of England’s greatest poets.
One of the foundational texts of English literature, Beowulf follows the titular hero, a Geat who comes to the aid of the Danish king Hrothgar, whose land is besieged by the monster Grendel. Beowulf is a majestic work, one sure to please any reader who enjoys tales of heroes rending the limbs off monsters.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
There are plenty of stories that make up Arthurian legend, but one of the most famous is the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poem follows Gawain, one of Arthur’s knights, as he embarks on a journey to fulfill his side of a lost bet. Along the way, he must withstand the temptation to break his vows and the chivalric code.
Project GutenbergThe Iliad by Homer
Set near the end of the Trojan War, The Iliad is the story of the rage of Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes. The story begins with Achilles’ dispute with the petty king Agamemnon, and builds up to his fateful duel with the Trojan prince Hector. Like all Greek myths, it is a story of complicated, oft-flawed people, and the disastrous consequences of their actions.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets by William Shakespeare
For millions of high schoolers every year, writing even one sonnet, regardless of quality, seems like a Sisyphean task. That only makes it more impressive that Shakespeare wrote 154, some of which are among the greatest poems ever written. Shakespeare’s sonnets cover a variety of subjects, too, often toying with and subverting common topics such as love, gender, and the role of the artist.
The Odyssey by Homer
The story of Odysseus is one that has been told for more than 2,700 years. The epic poem, a followup to the Iliad, traces Odysseus’ 10-year return voyage to Ithaca following the end of the Trojan War. It’s an everyman’s tale — fraught with a cyclops, sirens and the slaying of suitors — written in dactylic hexameter with a non-linear plot comprised of Greek mythology and legend. While you’re at it, you might as well snag a free copy of the Iliad (Google)./
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The seminal — and overtly sexual — work of Walt Whitman should need no lengthy introduction. The original collection only contained 12 poems, but he continually labored away on the work for nearly 40 years, right up until the time of his death in 1892. Each version changed and adapted alongside Whitman and the world around him, becoming a landmark tome of more than 400 poems burgeoning with themes of American romanticism, industrialization, and nature among others. It contains some of his most notable, including the iconic Song of Myself and Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.
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