Take a peek at this list of all time ‘Classics’ and some of the best books ever written. We guarantee the average reader hasn’t heard of a majority of them.
1. The Holy Bible - King James Version
The Bible (from Greek τὰ βιβλία ta biblia “the books”) is the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity.
There is no single Bible, as the individual books (Biblical canon), their contents and their order vary between denominations. Mainstream Judaism divides the Tanakh into 24 books, while a minority stream of Judaism, the Samaritans, accepts only five. The 24 texts of the Hebrew Bible are divided into 39 books in Christian Old Testaments, and complete Christian Bibles range from the 66 books of the Protestant canon to the 81 books in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible.
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina is a novel by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger. Tolstoy clashed with its editor Mikhail Katkov over issues that arose in the final installment; therefore, the novel’s first complete appearance was in book form.
Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel, when he came to consider War and Peace to be more than a novel. The character of Anna was likely inspired, in part, by Maria Hartung (Russian spelling Maria Gartung, 1832–1919), the elder daughter of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Soon after meeting her at dinner, Tolstoy began reading Pushkin’s prose and once had a fleeting daydream of “a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow”, which proved to be the first intimation of Anna’s character.
3. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary (1856) is Gustave Flaubert’s first published novel and is considered his masterpiece. The story focuses on a doctor’s wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel’s true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. Flaubert was notoriously a perfectionist about his writing and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste (“the right word”).
The novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors when it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, resulting in a trial in January 1857 that made the story notorious. After the acquittal on 7 February 1857, it became a bestseller when it was published as a book in April 1857, and now stands virtually unchallenged not only as a seminal work of Realism, but as one of the most influential novels ever written.
4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace (Russian: Война и мир, Pre-reform Russian: «Война и миръ») is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and a well-known work of fiction. It is regarded as Tolstoy’s finest literary achievement, along with his other work Anna Karenina (1873–1877).
War and Peace delineates in graphic detail events leading up to the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. Portions of an earlier version of the novel, then known as The Year 1805, were serialized in the magazine The Russian Messenger between 1865 and 1867. The novel was first published in its entirety in 1869. Newsweek in 2009 ranked it top of its list of Top 100 Books.
Tolstoy himself, somewhat enigmatically, said of War and Peace that it was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less an historical chronicle.”
5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, first written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York, and later translated by the author into Russian. The book is internationally famous for its innovative style and infamous for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged Humbert Humbert, who becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze for whom his private nickname is Lolita.
After its publication, Nabokov’s Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name “Lolita” has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne.
Lolita is included on Time’s list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It is fourth on the Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.
6. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective).
The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about twenty years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.
7. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in the Kingdom of Denmark, recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering the old King Hamlet (Claudius’s brother and Prince Hamlet’s father) and then succeeding to the throne and marrying Gertrude (the King Hamlet’s widow and mother of Prince Hamlet). The play vividly portrays real and feigned madness — from overwhelming grief to seething rage — and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language. It has a story capable of “seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others.” During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the play was one of his most popular works, and it still ranks high among his most-performed, topping, for example, what eventually became the Royal Shakespeare Company’s list since 1879. It has inspired writers from Goethe and Dickens to Joyce and Murdoch, and has been described as “the world’s most filmed story after Cinderella”.
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The novel takes place following the First World War. American society enjoyed prosperity during the “roaring” 1920s as the economy soared. At the same time, Prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers. After its republishing in 1945 and 1953, it quickly found a wide readership and is today widely regarded as a paragon of the Great American Novel, and a literary classic. The Great Gatsby has become a standard text in high school and university courses on American literature in countries around the world and is ranked second in the list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century compiled by Modern Library, an American publishing company.
9. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past (French: À la recherche du temps perdu) is a novel in seven volumes by Marcel Proust. His most prominent work, it is popularly known for its considerable length and the notion of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine.” The novel is widely referred to in English as Remembrance of Things Past but the title In Search of Lost Time, a literal rendering of the French, has gained in usage since D. J. Enright adopted it in his 1992 revision of the earlier translation by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. The complete story contains nearly 1.5 million words and is one of the longest novels in world literature.
The novel as it is known today began to take shape in 1909 and work continued for the remainder of Proust’s life, broken off only by his final illness and death in the autumn of 1922. The structure was established early on and the novel is complete as a work of art and a literary cosmos but Proust kept adding new material through his final years while editing one time after another for print; the final three volumes contain oversights and fragmentary or unpolished passages which existed in draft at the death of the author; the publication of these parts was overseen by his brother Robert.
10. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Russian: Антон Павлович Чехов, pronounced [ɐnˈton ˈpavləvʲɪtɕ ˈtɕexəf]; 29 January 1860 – 15 July 1904) was a Russian short-story writer, playwright and physician, considered to be one of the greatest short-story writers in the history of world literature. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. Chekhov practiced as a doctor throughout most of his literary career: “Medicine is my lawful wife”, he once said, “and literature is my mistress.”
Chekhov renounced the theatre after the disastrous reception of The Seagull in 1896; but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Constantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Uncle Vanya and premiered Chekhov’s last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a “theatre of mood” and a “submerged life in the text.”
- Title: The Holy Bible c. | 1451-55 | More than 6 Billion
- Author: Mao Tse-Tung | Quotations from Chairman Mao | 1966 | 900,000,000
- Noah Webster | The American Spelling Book | 1783 | Up to 100,000,000
- Mark C. Young | Guiness Book of World Records | 1955 | More than 90,000,000
- World Almanac Editors | World Almanac 1868 | 73,500,000
- William Holmes McGuffey | The McGuffey Readers | 1836 | 60,000,000
- Benjamin Spock | The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care | 1946 | More than 50,000,000
- Elbert Hubbard | A Message to Garcia | 1899 | More than 40,000,000
- Charles Monroe Sheldon | In His Steps, What Would Jesus Do? | 1896 | More than 30.000,000
- Jacqueline Susann | Valley of the Dolls | 1966 | More than 30,000,000
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