18 must-read classic books that have remained popular years after their original publication
Millions of books have been published across the years — and many get buried under others.
While it can be hard for books to stand out among all the classic, thought-provoking and entertaining works available, there are certain titles that have been passed down from generation to generation and that retain their popularity.
There are hundreds of classic books worth the read, both fiction and nonfiction.
Many of these books have since been turned into classic movies, but it all started with a good story.
If you are looking for some classics, here’s a list to get yourself started.
Classic fiction books
- “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
- “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
- “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
- “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
- “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
- “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
- “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
- “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
- “1984 by George Orwell
Classic nonfiction books
- “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Anne Frank
- “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
- “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass
- “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
- “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
- “Hiroshima” by John Hersey
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
Classic fiction books
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Great Gatsby” was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925. This was the author’s third book.
“The Great Gatsby” is the story of self-made millionaire and man of mystery Jay Gatsby. The story is set in the 1920s and explores the life of Gatsby filled with lavish parties on Long Island and his love for Daisy Buchanan.
The story is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, a neighbor of Gatsby and cousin of Buchanan.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 and written by Harper Lee. The setting of the book is Maycomb, Alabama, and mainly covers the childhood of Scout and Jem Finch, along with their friend Dill.
Set during the 1930s, the story is told through the eyes of Scout. Scout and Jem’s father Atticus is a lawyer, defending a black man who was falsely accused of rape.
“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
“Of Mice and Men” is a 1937 John Steinbeck novel that tells the story of an unlikely duo, George Milton and Lennie Small, migrant workers hopping from place to place looking for work with a dream of owning their own ranch someday.
The book takes place during the 1930s and dives into the bond between the men and the hardships they face.
The 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath” is another Steinbeck work often considered a classic. This story uncovers the many struggles the Joad family faces as they travel west for better opportunities.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
In the dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” firefighters don’t put out fires, they start them.
The 1953 book by Ray Bradbury tells the story of firefighter Guy Montag, who is living in a futuristic time. Montag’s job as a firefighter at the time is to destroy any books that are found and the homes in which they are found.
Most people, including Montag’s wife Mildred, spend their days in solitude, surrounded by televisions that span the walls. Montag’s world is turned upside down when he meets young, free-sprited Clarisse, who introduces him to new ways of thinking.
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the classic novel “The Scarlett Letter,” which was published in 1850 and is about a woman named Hester Prynne and her struggle to create a new life in society after she has a daughter, Pearl, with a man she refuses to name and who she is not married to.
As punishment for her act, she is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A.” The story takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1600s.
“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
“Little Women” follows the lives of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy from childhood through adulthood.
The novel was written by Louisa May Alcott and was published in two volumes, one in 1868 and another in 1869. The story is roughly based on the author’s own childhood.
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
“Pride and Prejudice” has become one of the most popular classic novels of all time. It was written by Jane Austen and was the author’s second published book. Released in 1813, the novel is about the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
This classic horror story was published in 1897 and written by author Bram Stoker. The story of Count Dracula is written in epistolary form. In other words, the story is told through letters written by fictional characters, newspaper clippings, journal entries and other documents.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
“Frankenstein” is an 1818 novel written by the English author Mary Shelley. The book is about scientist Victor Frankenstein, who is successful in giving life to a creature he created from dead bodies.
“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
Like many popular classic novels, “Les Misérables” was made into a film.
Before that, it was adapted into a musical.
The original novel by Victor Hugo was published in 1862.
The story follows the life of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. The movie follows Valjean’s character on his road to redemption.
“1984” by George Orwell
This dystopian novel by George Orwell was published in 1949. The story follows protagonist Winston Smith, who is living under the control of a party headed by the watchful Big Brother. The people living in this time are constantly under surveillance, and there is no free speech or thought permitted.
Classic nonfiction books
“The Diary of Anne Frank” by Anne Frank
“The Diary of Anne Frank” shows the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of young Anne Frank, who was living in hiding in an attic with her family.
The diary begins on her 13th birthday on June 12, 1942, and continues until shortly after her 15th birthday.
The diary was later recovered by Miep Gies, and it was given to Otto Frank, the family’s only survivor. The diary was published in 1947.
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote tells the true story of the brutal 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holocomb, Kansas.
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass
The 1845 memoir of former slave Frederick Douglass is a classic nonfiction book that has continued to be read through generations.
“Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
“Walden,” a nonfiction book written by Henry David Thoreau in 1854, tells of the author’s time living in a self-built, secluded cabin at Walden Pond in Massachusetts for just over two years.
“A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking wrote “A Brief History of Time” in 1988. The book covers complex ideas like space, time, black holes and quantum theory in simpler terms for the average reader to comprehend.
“Hiroshima” by John Hersey
“Hiroshima” is a journalistic nonfiction book by John Hersey published in 1946.
The book tells the stories of six survivors of an atomic bomb.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was the first of seven autobiographical books by Maya Angelou.
She published her first of many books in 1969, and it covers her childhood from age 3-16.
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