Note: This list is from The Success Manual, the popular compilation of advice on 25 essential business skills and career skills. I arranged this list of 100 most influential and useful books of all time differently. Rather than the same old, bland categories of science, drama, fiction, and non-fiction, I have used these tags instead - ancient classics, all-time-great novels, books about modern man, fantasy books, science fiction books, philosophy, books about African American experience, coming-of-age books, books about how the world works and list of how to/self books.
In this way, I hope this list becomes accessible to a broader group of people.
What are the 100 greatest books every person must have? It is a tough, subjective question in any age. We have had lists of books every college student should read, list of books we should have read before we are 25 (or 30), list of books from big publishers, lists from big media properties, lists of most influential books, best science fiction books, best books for geeks...hell, there are websites based on book lists.
I think there are more than 100 books listed below. I have tried to list books that I think affect our peception of our world more than any other. I am sure this list can be made better.
The Iliad, Homer: The Trojan War, Achilles the great warrior, The Trojan Horse, Overambitious Kings, Cowardly Lovers, this epic poem has everything.
The Odyssey, Homer: This is a long story about the return of Odysseus from the Trojan War, as he overcomes various obstacles along the way. The book has become the template for most journey stories and road movies. [Note: Every civilization has its own list of great ancient books. I list these two from the Greeks because they have had the greatest influence on modern storytelling, as far as I can tell.]
Histories, Herodotus: One of the seminal works of history in Western literature written by the father of history. An un-impartial record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known around the Mediterranean and Western Asia at that time.
Parallel Lives, Plutarch: A series of biographies of famous Greek and Roman men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st Century.
Paradise Lost, John Milton: Great poem follows the arrogant angel Lucifer as he falls from grace and tempts Adam and Eve into sin.
The Divine Comedy, Dante: This epic poem work shows the medieval view of Christian afterlife including the infamous nine circles of Inferno
All Time Great Novels
This is a list that has influenced most readers and writers than others, including this writer.
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes: Considered by man y to be the greatest novel of all time. It is a engaging take on chivalry story, about an ageing man who thinks he is a knight and goes after imaginary enemies.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain: Read it for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. A template for the typical journey story.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy: Another claimant to the greatest novel of all time. This story tracks the fortunes of several Russian families during the Napoleonic Era.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Dark , existential story about the student Raskolnikov and his murderous plans.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville: The adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab, who is intent after Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale.
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair: This early 20th century by journalist-author about the plights of the working class novel helped expose the corruption and unsanitary conditions in the Chicago meat packing industry.
The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad: The book that inspired Apocalypse Now as well as The Beach (in my opinion). Timeless story that explores the parallel b/w evils inside us as well as society.
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque: Novel set in the First World War. The horrors of war and how it tramples mercilessly over lives of common people, even after the war has ended.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald: Believed to be a critique of the American Dream, it tells the story of Nick Carraway, a fresh graduate in a new locality, who learns that his next-door neighbor is a wealthy, mysterious Jay Gatsby who throws lavish parties hosting hundreds of people.
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway: Story about a group of expatriates living in Post WW1 Paris. Although many see is as the story of so-called lost generation, bull fights and unrequited love, this book made people aware of the unique writing style of Hemingway, whose understated narration is unparalleled till date.
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway: Hemigway's tale of a tragic love story during the First World War. Is semi-autobiographical in nature.
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway: His most detailed war novel about the doomed mission of an American fighting in Spain.
The Old Man the Sea, Ernest Hemingway: This novella tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman and his struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck: This American classic tells the story of the Joad family during the great depression and their journey from the Dust Bowl to California as they try very hard to find a stable, comfortable life.
Cannery Row, John Steinbeck: Steinbeck wrote great stories about common Americans. This is an engaging book about not one but a group of residents of a small street during the depression.
Animal Farm, George Orwell: The dystopian allegorical novella addresses not only the corruption of the revolution by its leaders but also how wickedness, indifference, ignorance, greed and myopia destroy any possibility of a Utopia.
1984, George Orwell: Another seminal dystopian novel on pervasive, invasive, always watching governments of modern times. The term Big Brother came from this great work.
The Stranger or The Outsider, (L'Étranger), Albert Camus: Existential story of Meursault, a nihilistic French man and his irrational murder of an Arab.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: Considered the most widely read book dealing with race in America, this warm story about a white lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: A violent story that revises the concept of the American Western. About a teenage runaway and his experiences with the Glanton gang, a historical group of scalp hunters who massacred Indians and others on the United States–Mexico borderlands in 1849 and 1850.
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Tool: This novel was published in 1980, 11 years after the author's suicide. Set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, the lead character is an educated but slothful 30-year-old man and the story describes his various adventures with colorful French Quarter characters.
Great Novels about the Modern Man
Naked Lunch, William Burroughs: Narrative of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the US to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac: Road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of the postwar Beat Generation that was inspired by jazz, poetry, and drug experiences.
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut: Based on Vonnegut's own experiences as a captured soldier during WWII, this novel mixes a critique of war with elements of science fiction and fantasy.
Catch 22, Joseph Heller: This novel has become has become the prototype for the disaffected employees of the world who hate the bureaucracy and numbness of the modern workplace.. Set in WWII.
Crash, J. G. Ballard: Ballard wrote so much about post-apocalyptic dystopia that this genre has come to be known as 'ballardian'. Crash is about symphorophilia or car-crash sexual fetishism: its protagonists become sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes. In fact, you should read all that Ballard wrte, including HighRise and Kingdom Come - about the blurry line between consumerism and fascism.
The Atrocity Exhibition, J.G. Ballard: Collection of "condensed novels", including chapter titles such as "Plans for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy," "Love and Napalm: Export USA," and the famous essay "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan. "
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Hunter S. Thompson: The story follows its protagonist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they descend on Las Vegas to chase the American Dream through a drug-induced haze.
Underworld, Don Delillo: The events of this huge novel span from the 1950s through the 1990s. The characters in the book respond to several historical events in America, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear proliferation.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace: This lengthy and complex novel takes place in a semi-parodic future version of North America where the U.S., Canada and Mexico are one. Topics include tennis, substance addiction and recovery programs, depression, child abuse, family relationships, advertising and popular entertainment.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy: Travels of a man and his son in a desolate and violent post-apocalyptic world.
Science Fiction Books
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein: Story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by Martians on the planet Mars, upon his return to Earth in early adulthood.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: Story about a future in which all books are banned and critical thought is suppressed.
The Foundation Series, Isaac Asimov: The term ‘Foundation Series’ include Asimov's famous Robot Series and Empire Series, which are set in the same fictional universe - fourteen novels and dozens of short stories.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams: Science fiction comedy series about the adventures of Arthur Dent, a hapless Englishman who, with his friend Ford Prefect, an alien, escapes the demolition of Earth by a bureaucratic alien race called the Vogons as they are building a superhighway through earth.
Dune, Frank Herbert: Story of the hero Paul and his family and their struggles in a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary fiefdoms are controlled by noble Houses that owe allegiance to the Imperial House Corrino. In a story that explores the complex interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick: Basically, the story asks this important question: Will the advanced robots of future have a soul? This book was made into a famous movie "Blade Runner". In fact, many of Philip K. Dick's stories have been made into movies, including "Minority Report".
Der Struwwelpeter, Heinrich Hoffmann: A collection of ten illustrated and rhymed stories, mostly about children. Each has a clear moral that demonstrates the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way. The title of the first story provides the title of the whole book. Literally translated, Struwwel-Peter means Shaggy-Peter. According to Ellen Handler Spitz, the book was intended as a highly-exaggerated send-up of the pietistic children's books of the day in which good little children came to good ends, and the ill-behaved did not.
Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein: The fantasy trilogy that gave birth to the fantasy series genre. Made more famous by the movie trilogy from Peter Jackson.
Watership Down, Richard Adams: Heroic fantasy novel about a small group of rabbits. Evoking epic themes, the novel recounts the rabbits' odyssey as they escape the destruction of their warren to seek a place in which to establish a new home, encountering perils and temptations along the way.
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket: Story about the Baudelaire orphans and their adventures.
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman: T he trilogy has drawn criticism from some religious individuals and groups due to its alleged negative portrayal of organized religion. And you must must love and promote any work that criticizes organized religion.
Coming Of Age Books
Now that you see Coming of age every where - movies, young adut books, tv shows...let's put a spin on it:
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens: One of the original coming of age astories. Story about the lead character from childhood until maturity. This Coming of age story is similar to Great Expectations, by the same author), as well as Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, published only two years earlier.
Lord of the Flies, William Golding: What if kids were allowed to rule themselves? This is an allegory about the possibilities for savagery in a lawless environment, where compassionate human reasoning is replaced by anarchistic, animal instinct.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov: Story about a sexualized kid. The book is internationally famous for its innovative style and infamous for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged Humbert Humbert, becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze. The book became so famous that the name "Lolita" has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious adolescent girl. Read this book and then watch "American Beauty".
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger: Story about an alienated kid. Famous novel about growing up - dealing with teen angst (against the phonies of the world), defiance and rebellion.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath: Story about an alienated, perenially sad young girl's descent into mental illness.
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess: A story about the pitfalls of insane youth culture, disturbed adolescence and how society/government can subvert our free will. The phrase "clockwork orange" means the prevention of the main character's exercise of his free will through the use of a classical conditioning technique.
Books on the African-American Experience
Beloved, Toni Morrison: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is based on the life and legal case of the slave Margaret Garner, examining both the mental and physical trauma caused by slavery.
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison: First-person narrative by an unnamed African American man who considers himself socially invisible, living in a secret location, who tells stories of his past and the things he has done.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker: Epistolary (told through letters) novel that won the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award on female black life during the 1930s in the Southern United States.
Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington: This book tells how Washington began life as a slave and ended up founding several vocational schools for African Americans, becoming an influential figure in American history.
Books on how the modern world works
Science, philosophy, social psychology and more
The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin: The definitive book on evolution. [You should also read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, which popularized the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme]
A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn: While most history books focus on histories of famous men, kings and nations, this groundbreaking book tells the history of America from the perspective of minorities and the working class.
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich: A first person perspective on poverty in America. Ehrenreich, a journalist, moves into a trailer and works as a waitress, hotel maid, and Wal-Mart sales clerk. Her experiences reveal the day-to-day, check-to-mouth reality of low-rent America.
Ideas that Have Harmed Mankind, Bertrand Russell: A must read from an author who wrote against the stupidity of organized religion, modern politics and prevalent education. Also read his other works, including A Free Man's Worship, Why I am not a Christian, and Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism. All available for free from Project Gutenberg.
Civil Disobedience, an essay by Henry David Thoreau: Remember this, governments everywhere will only get more dominat and complex in days to come. This book, first published in 1849, it argues that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican-American War.
How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker: From the evolutionary psychology tradition, which views the human mind as a kind of Swiss-army knife equipped with a set of specialized tools (or modules) to deal with problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors. Pinker and other evolutionary psychologists believe that these tools evolved by natural selection, just like other body parts.
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell: A famous book from the rising genre of social psychology, explains how the littlest of things can make a big difference in sociological situations.
Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner: Another famous book in the social psychology-cum-economics genre. The authors explore the hidden side of everything from the inner workings of a crack gang to the myths of political campaign finance to the true importance or unimportance of gun control.
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell: What separates the best, the brightest, and the most successful people from everyone else? The book gave the 10000 hours rule: It requires 10000 hours of practice before we become an expert at anything.
A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking: Complex ideas in astrophysics made easy for the layman. Time travel, anyone?
Millennium: A History of Our Last Thousand Years, Felipe Fernández-Armesto: An entertaining and illuminating look at the past millennium by a renowned British historian, once described by the Times as a man who makes history smart.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond: Using science and facts, explains why some societies flourish while others are easily conquered.
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson: One of the first books that exposed the dangerous effects that chemical pesticides were having on local ecosystems.
The Double Helix, James D. Watson: The pioneering and definitive book on the structure of thing that makes and connects us all - DNA .
The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins: The book contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that faith qualifies as a delusion − as a fixed false belief.
The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould: Book about how science has been used to legitimize genocide, racism, sexism and all kinds of prejudice.
War of the World, Niall Ferguson: Comprehensive analysis of the savagery of the 20th century. Ferguson shows how a combination of economic volatility, decaying empires, psychopathic dictators, and racially/ethnically motivated (and institutionalized) violence resulted in the wars, and the genocides of what he calls "History's Age of Hatred".
Colossus and Empire, Niall Ferguson: A study of 'empire-like' policies of the British Empire and present America. It also enumerates the things these rulers do in the occupied lands to create 'people like us'.
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser: In this expose of the American fast food industry’s underbelly, the author writes that “What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the last forty thousand”. Yet most Americans know very little about how that food is made, where, by whom, and at what cost.
The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki: Surowiecki, who also writes for the influential New Yorker magazine, uses facts to argue that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” For example: “…the TV studio audience of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire guesses correctly 91 percent of the time, compared to ‘experts’ who guess only 65 percent correctly.”
Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath: Why do some ideas and stories thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances that our ideas and stories will catch on with others? Moreover, what can we do to make things stick?
Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely: This entertaining book explores why so many of us make irrational decisions on a daily basis. Contains lots of life scenarios and related research.
Books on Philosophy
The Republic, Plato: Read it for a fundamental understanding of western political theory, for the idea of a benevolent dictator and for learning how life should be lived, justice should be served, and leaders should lead.
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand: A book that basically man to be selfish. This is on this list because many capitalists are influenced by it, so you will get to know what capitalists feel like. Story is set in a dystopian United States where leading innovators, ranging from industrialists to artists, refuse to be exploited by society. Ayn Rand wrote wrote the story to promote her philosophy of Objectivism
Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant: The basic idea behind this most influential of philosophy books is this: "For something to become an object of knowledge, it must be experienced, and experience is structured by our minds—both space and time being the forms of our intuition, "anschauung" in German". Deep, huh?
The Communist Manifesto, Frederich Angels and Karl Marx: The idea behind communism is a fine idea - group benefits over selfish, individual benefits. Sadly, people used this to impose authoritarian regimes around the world.
Book on leading a simple, reflective life
Walden, Henry David Thoreau: Classic American novel about independence, self-reliance and spiritual discovery based on Thoreau's retreat to the wilderness of Walden Pond.
How To/Self-improvement, and Business Books
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White: Perhaps the most influential and highly regarded authority on grammar and usage. E.B. White was a famous writer in his own right, having written "Charlotte's Web" among other notable works.
The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker What are the other important you must know other than knowledge to manage people better and get best results out of them?
The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck: The mother of all self-improvement books. Written by a psychologist, this book starts with this simple statement "life is difficult". Once we get it, we can set out to deal with it.
The Art of War, Sun Tzu: Classic Chinese treatise on leadership, strategy and planning that can not only work well in battle but in the workplace as well.
How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie: One of the most successful self-improvement books of al time, it is a comprehensive, easy to read guide for winning people over to your way of thinking in both business and personal relationships.
Ignore Everybody, Hugh MacLeod: Engaging book on inspiration and creativity from a blogger famous for his cartoons drawn on back of visiting cards. The lesson: Everyone is creative.
Getting Things Done, David Allen: The definitive modern guide to productivity through a organized work and life.
How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman: 2000 simple recipes, written by a New York Times food writer.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini: The definitive book on the science of persuasion. In it, Cialdini explains the six psychological principles of persuasion. This is a useful book to be aware of others' persuasion tactics as well.
An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't, Judy Jones & William Wilson: An intellectual history overview, this entertaining book takes an irreverent look through 12 different disciplines, from American studies to philosophy to world history with a plethora of useful information - trivia, charts etc.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey: Covey's influential book about taking a principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. Tip #1: Think Win-WIn.
The Now Habit, Neil Fiore: Useful guide on overcoming procrastination and living in the present.
Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi: A great guide on personal and professional networking written by a man who made his fortune by meeting people.
The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko: The authors interview and survey a pool of millionaires, attempting to find common connections among them. They discover that millionaires live below their means. They budget. They let their adult children make it on their own. This book introduces several key concepts, including degrees of wealth accumulation.
Secrets of Great Rainmakers: The Keys to Success and Wealth, Jeffrey J. Fox: In over 50 interviews with industry leaders from a wide variety of fields, learn the proven techniques of selling and self- promotion. A treatise on street-smart marketing.
Secrets of Closing the Sale, Zig Ziglar: How to effectively use 100 creative closes, and more tips and tricks on making that sale.
The Art of Start & Selling The Dream, Guy Kawasaki: Easy to read & follow books about entrepreneurship and cause promotion.
Bootstrapper's Bible, Seth Godin: Another easy to read & follow book on entrepreneurship by an author who specializes in smart books on marketing and self-management.
Also Read - Shakespeare: the Collected works: They say, "What Dante is to Italian, what Gothe is to German, Shakespeare is to English literature." Read him for he is one of the foremost writers who wrote for the masses.
I hope you will have your addition to list of most influential and useful books of all time.
Update #1. I missed these three great books in How the world works section:
Democracy in America (De la démocratie en Amérique), Alexis de Tocqueville: A great must-read on the democratic institution of the United States in the 1830s and its strengths and weaknesses. Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system. They arrived in New York City in May of that year and spent nine months traveling the United States, taking notes not only on prisons, but on all aspects of American society including the nation's economy and its political system. Tocqueville also discusses possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy.
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples, V. S. Naipaul: Naipaul draws a distinction between Arab countries and the countries of "converted peoples". Basically Naipaul calls Islam the Arabization of the world, a view opposed strongly by many. The book describes his five-month journey in 1995 revisiting four Muslim countries: Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia. Naipaul's other book about his journeys in Islamic countries is Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger: Written in 1995, this definitive, easily understandable book is about the effect of Internet on Businesses and Organizations. A set of 95 theses organized and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what is suggested to be a newly-connected marketplace.
Update #2: The next 2 books are In Modern Man section - if you want to be a good non-fiction writer, you should read both.
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote: A true-crime story about the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, Kansas; and his wife and two of their children. Capote took 6 years years to write one of the pioneering Journalistic Non-fiction novels. He interviewed the town's people, realtives of the deceased as well as the arrested killers who were hanged later.
Hiroshima, John Hersey: Originally, this account of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima filled a complete issue of the New Yorker in August 1946. The magazine ran no other articles. This Pulitzer-prize winning novel describes the events after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in continued detail, focusing on the lives of six separate individuals. One of the pioneering accounts written by journalists.
Update #3: God is not great, How religion poisons everything - Christipher Hitchens - You should read this too, if you liked The God Delusion. Hitchens, who died recently, was one of the most original and blunt journalists/authors of our time.
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