The thirty books listed here are of unparalleled prose, packed with wisdom capable of igniting a new understanding of the world. Everyone should read these books before their thirtieth birthday.
1. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
A powerful story about the importance of life experiences as they relate to approaching an understanding of reality and attaining enlightenment.
2. 1984 by George Orwell
1984 still holds chief significance nearly sixty years after it was written in 1949. It is widely acclaimed for its haunting vision of an all-knowing government, which uses pervasive, twenty-four/seven surveillance tactics to manipulate all citizens of the populace.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The story surveys the controversial issues of race and economic class in the 1930s Deep South via a court case of a black man charged with the rape and abuse of a young white girl. It’s a moving tale that delivers a profound message about fighting for justice and against prejudice.
4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A nightmarish vision of insane youth culture that depicts heart wrenching insight into the life of a disturbed adolescent. This novel will blow you away … leaving you breathless, livid, thrilled, and concerned.
5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
A short, powerful contemplation on death, ideology and the incredible brutality of war.
6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
This masterpiece is so enormous even Tolstoy said it couldn’t be described as a standard novel. The storyline takes place in Russian society during the Napoleonic Era, following the characters of Andrei, Pierre and Natasha … and the tragic and unanticipated way in which their lives interconnect.
7. The Rights of Man by Tom Paine
Written during the era of the French Revolution, this book was one of the first to introduce the concept of human rights from the standpoint of democracy.
8. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
A famous quote from the book states that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” This accurately summarizes the book’s prime position on the importance of individual human rights within society.
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
This novel does not have a plot in the conventional sense, but instead uses various narratives to portray a clear message about the general importance of remembering our cultural history.
10. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Few books have had as significant an impact on the way society views the natural world and the genesis of humankind.
11. The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton
A collection of thoughts, meditations and reflections that give insight into what life is like to live simply and purely, dedicated to a greater power than ourselves.
12. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell looks at how a small idea, or product concept, can spread like a virus and spark global sociological changes. Specifically, he analyzes “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.”
13. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Arguably one of the best children’s books ever written; this short novel will help you appreciate the simple pleasures in life. It’s most notable for its playful mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality, and camaraderie.
14. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
One of the oldest books on military strategy in the world. It’s easily the most successful written work on the mechanics of general strategy and business tactics.
15. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
One of the greatest fictional stories ever told, and by far one of the most popular and influential written works in twentieth-century literature. Once you pick up the first book, you’ll read them all.
16. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
This is a tale that lingers on the topic of attaining and maintaining a disciplined heart as it relates to one’s emotional and moral life. Dickens states that we must learn to go against “the first mistaken impulse of the undisciplined heart.”
17. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
Probably the wisest poetic prose of modern times. It was written during World War II, and is still entirely relevant today … here’s an excerpt: “The dove descending breaks the air/With flame of incandescent terror/Of which the tongues declare/The only discharge from sin and error/The only hope, or the despair/Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre–/To be redeemed from fire by fire./Who then devised this torment?/Love/Love is the unfamiliar Name/Behind the hands that wave/The intolerable shirt of flame/Which human power cannot remove./We only live, only suspire/Consumed by either fire or fire.”
18. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
This book coined the self-titled term “catch-22” that is widely used in modern-day dialogue. As for the story, its message is clear: What’s commonly held to be good, may be bad … what is sensible, is nonsense. Its one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century. Read it.
19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Set in the Jazz Age of the roaring 20s, this book unravels a cautionary tale of the American dream. Specifically, the reader learns that a few good friends are far more important that a zillion acquaintances, and the drive created from the desire to have something is more valuable than actually having it.
20. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This novel firmly stands as an icon for accurately representing the ups and downs of teen angst, defiance and rebellion. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder of the unpredictable teenage mindset.
21. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A smooth-flowing, captivating novel of a young man living in poverty who criminally succumbs to the desire for money, and the hefty psychological impact this has on him and the people closest to him.
22. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
This book does a great job at describing situations of power and statesmanship. From political and corporate power struggles to attaining advancement, influence, and authority over others, Machiavelli’s observations apply.
23. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau spent two years, two months and two days writing this book in a secluded cabin near the banks of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. This is a story about being truly free from the pressures of society. The book can speak for itself: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
24. The Republic by Plato
A gripping and enduring work of philosophy on how life should be lived, justice should be served, and leaders should lead. It also gives the reader a fundamental understanding of western political theory.
25. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This is the kind of book that blows your mind wide open to conflicting feelings of life, love and corruption … and at times makes you deeply question your own perceptions of each. The story is as devious as it is beautiful.
26. Getting Things Done by David Allen
The quintessential guide to organizing your life and getting things done. Nuff said.
27. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This is the granddaddy of all self-improvement books. It is a comprehensive, easy to read guide for winning people over to your way of thinking in both business and personal relationships.
28. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
A powerful and alarming look at the possibilities for savagery in a lawless environment, where compassionate human reasoning is replaced by anarchistic, animal instinct.
29. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck’s deeply touching tale about the survival of displaced families desperately searching for work in a nation stuck by depression will never cease to be relevant.
30. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
This anticommunist masterpiece is a multifaceted novel about the clash between good and evil. It dives head first into the topics of greed, corruption and deception as they relate to human nature.
31. BONUS: How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
900 pages of simple instructions on how to cook everything you could ever dream of eating. Pretty much the greatest cookbook ever written. Get through a few recipes each week, and you’ll be a master chef by the time you’re thirty.
32. BONUS: Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner
Franz Wisner had it all … a great job and a beautiful fiancée. Life was good. But then his fiancée dumped him days before their wedding, and his boss basically fired him. So he dragged his younger brother to Costa Rica for his already-scheduled honeymoon and they never turned back … around the world they went for two full years. This is a fun, heartfelt adventure story about life, relationships, and self-discovery.