1000 books to read before you die!
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Desert Solitaire
Edward Abbey
Written in the middle of the 1960s, yet composed largely from journals kept a decade earlier during the author’s summers as a backcountry ranger at the Arches National Monument (“among,” as he puts it, “the hoodoo rocks and voodoo silence of the Utah wilderness”), Desert Solitaire evokes the paradox...show more
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Flatland
Edwin A. Abbott
A novel of mathematical whimsy, Flatland is set in the peculiar world that provides the book’s name and is home to its putative author, A. Square, a two-dimensional being in a world inhabited by lines, triangles, circles, and polygons. Ingeniously composed as a kind of dystopian memoir, Flatland is ...show more
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Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Composed in English and published in 1958, two years before Nigeria declared independence, Things Fall Apart was the first African novel to attain a wide international readership. It is a short, sparely told tale that nevertheless embraces themes of enormous import: fate and will, the determining i...show more
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My Dog Tulip
J. R. Ackerley
When first published in England in 1956, Tulip was considered shocking because of what one reviewer called its “scatological and gynaecological detail.” But while the messy details are certainly present in abundance (chapter 2, for example, is entitled “Liquids and Solids”), to be put off by them is...show more
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams
To say that Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that captured the zeitgeist of the late 1970s and the 1980s is an understatement. Beginning as a BBC comedy radio series, it would mutate into versions in print, on stage, in comics, and on screens small and big, becoming an ...show more
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The Education of Henry Adams
Henry Adams
Surveying national events from his birth through the era of the Civil War and the subsequent economic expansion of the United States, Adams’s distinctive autobiography is also a brilliant work of historical acumen. It depicts, with imaginative aplomb, the cultural transformations set in motion as th...show more
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Watership Down
Richard Adams
One of the most phenomenal international bestsellers of the 1970s, Watership Down is an immersive saga that traverses great themes and feelings—courage, frailty, community, ecology, responsibility, friendship, love—while holding readers on the edge of their metaphorical seats. And oh, yes—it’s a 500...show more
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Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Set in Nigeria during the decade culminating in the 1967–70 Biafran war, a secession conflict that left more than a million dead from violence and famine, this story is at once a historical drama and a tale of family struggles and romances gone right and wrong. Half of a Yellow Sun established Adich...show more
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The Oresteia
Aeschylus
If you seek between covers an education in the trials and tribulations, the hopes and fears, the terrors and triumphs of the human spirit, the majestic tragedies of the ancient Greeks are the place to begin, and perhaps the place to end as well. In their beautiful, haunting, unsparing plays, Aeschyl...show more
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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
James Agee and Walker Evans
In the summer of 1936, Fortune magazine commissioned James Agee and Walker Evans to report on the lives of sharecroppers in the Deep South. Agee was a twenty-six-year-old journalist who’d published a volume of poems two years earlier; Evans was a thirty-two-year-old photographer. The assignment took...show more
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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee
At the outset of his long, ever-evolving career as a dramatist, Edward Albee was an American heir to the intellectual energies of the European Theater of the Absurd. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, first staged in 1962, Albee moved his ferocity out of the absurd into a more realistic setting, a ...show more
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Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, the second of four daughters of a noted proponent of Transcendentalism, Bronson Alcott. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a friend of the family, as were Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Despite her transcendentalist pedigree, Louisa May Alcott ...show more
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The Book of Three
Lloyd Alexander
The Book of Three, the initial installment of The Chronicles of Prydain, a fabled five-volume series, was only Lloyd Alexander’s second novel, yet it permanently established him as a writer for adolescents whose work could be enjoyed with uninhibited and even critical pleasure by adult readers as we...show more
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
Drawing on Sherman Alexie’s personal experience growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a young adult novel that has more to say about big virtues like tolerance than a whole shelf of earnest adult tomes could ever manage. The book’s unflinchi...show more
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Voices from Chernobyl
Svetlana Alexievich
This book is an oral history of the nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl in 1986, and of the suffering, death, and contamination—biological, environmental, psychological, existential—left in its wake. It is constructed from the testimony of dozens of people whose lives were transformed by the disas...show more
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Inferno: The Divine Comedy, Book 1
Dante Alighieri
From the dark wood of its beginning, down through the nine circles of hell, across the seven terraces of purgatory, and into the ten heavens of paradise, Dante’s medieval tour de force gives us, in T. S. Eliot’s estimation, the greatest altitude and the greatest depth of human passion any writer has...show more
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Purgatorio: The Divine Comedy, Book 2
Dante Alighieri
Although the stories in hell are better than those in purgatory, sin being a sexier subject than penance, Dante’s poetry never palls. Throughout, he infuses his narrative with a current of feeling that humanizes the austere theological arc of his pilgrim’s progress.
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Paradiso: The Divine Comedy, Book 3
Dante Alighieri
As the Comedy ascends to a heaven of light, Dante completes the grand imaginative arc he began in the dark wood, having composed out of eschatological speculations an epic as thrilling as those of Homer, as filled with human sensibility as Virgil’s—one in which all the deadly sins, and all the longe...show more
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The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende
On January 8, 1981, journalist and former television host Isabel Allende, a Chilean political exile, sat down in Venezuela to write a letter to her nearly 100-year-old grandfather in an attempt to bridge the distance between her present and her family’s past. She began with an anecdote he had told h...show more
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Skellig
David Almond
Some books are like talismans, compact in their power, possessed of an aura mysterious and meaningful, even if—especially if—the precise nature of its mystery and meaning eludes us. Such a work is David Almond’s Skellig, which won the Carnegie Medal as best children’s book by a British author when i...show more
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