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With so many books available, there is an endless list of potential titles, making it hard to spot those must-read books that should not be missed.

If you are searching for brilliant books that should be read in your lifetime, this round-up of the top 35 essential books will ensure your bookcase is well stocked. From classic novels to modern favorites, this list is designed to introduce you to new authors and genres.

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1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Widely considered the greatest novel of the 20th Century, To Kill A Mockingbird tackles the racist history of America’s deep south head-on. Often studied in schools and universities, Harper Lee’s classic novel covers racial prejudice, politics, friendship, love, and families and is one you won’t want to miss.

2. 1984 – George Orwell

This revolutionary tale is still relevant today as the futuristic story explores a totalitarian, dystopian world and a society controlled by lies and fear. The book, set in 1984, follows the story of Winston Smith fighting to overcome government control and ‘Big Brother’, who is always watching. This is a world where love, free will, and individuality are banned, and it is a shocking reminder of why freedom is so important.

3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Often described as the greatest American novel of all time, this short book by Mark Twain follows the life of a young slave in 19th Century Louisiana. The Mississippi River guides the young boy as he tries to find his way home during this tale of adventure, danger, excitement, and self-discovery. The main character Huckleberry ‘Huck’ Finn, appeared in several books by Mark Twain, but this tale from 1884 has become one of the most treasured American novels.

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Treasured by millions of people worldwide, the Harry Potter series provides escapism for readers of all ages. Seven books within the series follow Harry’s time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognizable fictional detectives of all time, so The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes certainly deserves a spot in our list of must-read books. The book is a collection of short stories starting with ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, first published in 1891. Join Sherlock and Dr. Watson as they solve famous mysteries such as the Greek interpreter, the resident patient, and the Norwood builder.

6. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

This will throw you into an unbelievable world of wizards, hobbits, orcs, goblins, and elves living on Middle Earth. This is the first book in the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which catapulted J.R.R. Tolkien to fame as the most highly regarded fantasy author. During this tale, Frodo is on a quest to protect Middle Earth from the wrath of Sauron once and for all.

7. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This book was first published in 1925 and it perfectly captures the decadent jazz age of 1920s New York. The story follows Nick Carraway, Daisy Buchanan, and the mysterious Jay Gatsby, as they enjoy a summer packed with fabulous parties. However, mixed with the excitement are sorrowful moments, as Nick struggles to earn the love of the woman he has become obsessed with, but sadly not everyone is lucky in love.

8. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho wrote this fantastic book in just two weeks, yet it has famously sold more than 2 million copies around the world. The magical tale follows Santiago’s journey to the famous Egyptian pyramids. As a young Andalusian shepherd on a mission to find worldly treasure, his mythical quest will capture the hearts of every reader.

9. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This moving story is based on an unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of the family’s servant. This unforgettable book will open readers’ minds to life in Afghanistan during a period of destruction and tragedy, as Amir tries to find his one true friend after the pair were sadly separated by their religious differences. Despite the troubles sweeping through Kabul, this is a heartwarming tale of true friendship.

10. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

This is one of the most famous classic novels of all time, and it follows the exciting story of a courtship between two very different characters. As one of the cornerstones of English literature, this 19th Century story delves into the lives of the five unmarried Bennet sisters who are thrown into a world where manners, society, family, and love are vitally important.

11. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

This amusing tale offers a different perspective of World War II through eyes of Billy Pilgrim, making Slaughterhouse-Five one of the best anti-war books around. This book will undoubtedly leave an impact, especially as readers follow Billy’s abduction by aliens. Despite being a poignant reminder of the dangers of war, this novel also has a funny side.

12. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

This is another wartime book, and as one of the most influential diaries ever written, The Diary of a Young Girl deserves a spot on our must-read list. The raw and vivid diary follows 13-year-old Anne’s life as she hides from Nazi soldiers, and despite her terrible ordeal, Anne still believes the world is a beautiful place to be. It is Anne’s belief in human love despite great suffering and loss which makes this diary such a compelling read.

13. The Aleph and Other Stories – Jorge Luis Borges

This collection of short stories offers a great insight into the remarkable wisdom and philosophical ideas of Jorge Luis Borges. Many short tales will stay in your memory, with ‘The House of Asterion’ and ‘The Immortal’ offering a haunting insight into magical realism. From philosophical puzzles to supernatural surprises, the characters within these stories are sure to bring your imagination to life.

14. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

This is one of the most outstanding children’s books of all time, yet it can also be enjoyed by adults of all ages looking to immerse themselves in a spellbinding fantasy novel. The book is set in the world of Narnia, where warring kingdoms are home to talking animals and mythical beasts. A group of children enter a wardrobe and find themselves thrown into this magical world where the kingdom’s fate rests in their hands.

15. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

This fantastic story follows Liesel’s life in Germany in 1939 as she rescues books which have fallen into the hands of the Nazis. During this time of conflict, Liesel’s family hides a Jewish fighter in their basement, which is an excellent example of fantastic courage during such horrendous circumstances. This thought-provoking tale also explores how friendships can form even in the most challenging and dangerous situations.

16. Animal Farm – George Orwell

Animal Farm is the second book by George Orwell to make our recommended reading list, and it is written to mirror the events which took place during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Despite the characters being pigs, Snowball and Napoleon offer a truly terrifying glimpse into the risks associated with revolution and the dynamics of human behavior.

17. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

This classic novel was first published in 1847, and it tells the harrowing story of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff as they struggle with revenge, betrayal, and love. Set on the English moors, the dramatic tragedy follows the characters passionate affair. Despite being the only novel ever written by Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights secured her place as one of the most highly regarded authors of her time.

18. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Dive into the world of the four March sisters during 19th Century New England. Despite plenty of family drama, Beth, Meg, Jo, and Amy grow from little women into strong, capable women, each with their struggles as they age. This book will draw you into their lives and very different personalities, where you will get to know their joys, fears, struggles and flaws.

19. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

This is the of the Bundren family and their harrowing journey to bury Addie, mother and wife, in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. As the fifth novel by American author William Faulkner, this book is undoubtedly a story of loss and poverty, however, it is the moments of humor and disastrous catastrophes which really bring this story to life. This novel from 1930 is consistently ranked as one of the best examples of 20th Century literature, and despite being written almost 100 years ago it is still a brilliant read.

20. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

This classic coming of age story follows the character of Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old teenage boy who decides to finish prep school in Pennsylvania and move to the bright lights of New York City, despite having no plans in mind. This wistful story perfectly captures the youthful feelings of optimism, fearlessness, angst, and alienation in a charming yet cynical storyline.

21. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

This is a magical story set on a busy farm where Fern, a little girl, tries to save her pet piglet Wilbur from slaughter. However, when he is sold to Homer Zuckerman, his life takes a worrying turn, and the animals of the farm rally together with an ingenious plan. This tale reminds us all to be kind to animals and enjoy the simple things in life, especially as the star of this brilliant children’s novel is an adorable spider called Charlotte.

22. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

This famous Gothic novel has inspired countless Halloween costumes and adaptations since its publication in 1818. This story explores what it means to be human through the lens of Victor Frankenstein’s infamous monster. If science fiction or horror is your thing, Frankenstein is a must-read to add to your list.

23. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

This famous book is set during The Civil War period in the deep south of Georgia, and the tale was quickly turned into one of the most popular films of all time. The main character, Scarlett O’Hara, is living during a very difficult time, and with war brewing, she has to learn how to navigate life and love. As the spoiled daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, this coming-of-age story follows her life as she has to claw her way out of the poverty she was suddenly thrown into.

24. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Set shortly, this cult classic explores themes of good and evil and what our freedom to choose how we behave means. The main character, Alex, a teenage protagonist, is arrested due to his violent behavior within a dystopian society. The novel follows his treatment at the hands of the government, which is trialing experimental methods of punishment and reform. Written in the fictional slang language used by the teenage gangs, Nadsat, A Clockwork Orange is often considered one of the best English language novels of the 20th century.

25. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

This controversial tale is set during the Great Depression and follows the story of two migrant workers, George Milton and Lennie Small. Their friendship and lives are filled with tragedy, however, their hope and dedication help the duo to work together on dusty ranches as they strive to fulfill their dreams of owning their own California shack. This is just one of the brilliant tales written by John Steinbeck, with this book often being described as his greatest masterpiece.

26. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

This is the tale of a group of English boys who find themselves marooned on an uninhabited Island, where their isolation turns them into savages. Their once joyful island experiences quickly become a nightmare when their attempts to govern themselves fail. Written by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding, this classic novel from 1954 was his debut book and it explores exciting themes of individuality, morality, and immorality.

27. Beloved – Toni Morrison

This award-winning book earned the author the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and it was also a finalist in the 1987 National Book Awards. The book tells the story of Sethe, a former slave whose dysfunctional family is haunted by the ghost of a baby she was forced to murder. It is set in the period following The Civil War and is based on the life of Margaret Garner, a formerly enslaved woman who fled Kentucky and settled in Ohio. However, U.S Marshalls tried to capture Margaret and when they broke into her cabin, she was found attempting to murder her children, rather than them being forced into slavery.

28. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

the only man to survive the destruction of Earth as he begins his hilariously funny adventure through space. Arthur and his alien companion meet many interesting characters from far-flung planets, and they also discover the importance of never taking life or the universe too seriously. Together, they begin to compose their book ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, which is undoubtedly a tale of adventures.

29. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

No list of must-read books would be complete without a novel written by Charles Dickens, and is an excellent example of Dickens ability to bring characters from another time to life. The novel introduces the character Dr. Manette, who was a political prisoner for 18 years. Upon his release, the Doctor and his daughter Lucie return to England, where Lucie wins the heart of two madly in love men. The men become entwined in this captivating story of love and sacrifice, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution.

30. Holes – Louis Sachar

Within this popular children’s book, Stanley Yelnat is unfortunately sent to the horrific Camp Green Lake, a very strict juvenile corrections facility in the heart of Texas. As punishment for often minor misdemeanors, the boys are forced to dig holes all day in the scorching sun, with the group soon uncovering centuries-old mysteries as they unravel the secrets of the camp. As a celebrated modern classic, this book follows Stanley on his journey to answer essential questions about his fate, survival, and the very meaning of his life.

31. Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

Not all love stories have a happy ending, and the story of Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous love story of all time. This tragedy follows the lives of two young lovers who are caught up in a bitter family feud, and despite their pure love for each other, they are destined for a tragic end. Romeo and Juliet have won legions of fans for centuries, so this book deserves a place in our list of must-read books.

32. The Shadow in the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This fascinating book is a story within a story, with young man Daniel Sampere discovering a book titled ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ in a cemetery of forgotten books. There is a mystery surrounding the book’s author, and as Daniel uncovers the tale, he is forced to protect the truth from a character determined to burn every possible copy of the book. Set in war-torn Barcelona in 1945, this is an epic story of madness, murder, mystery, and doomed love.

33. The Color Purple – Alice Walker

This sorrowful tale has won many awards, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, with Alice Walker’s ability to bring to life the lives of black women in 1930s America sure to leave all readers shocked and shaken. It is a harsh reality that was faced by many women, with this story following two women who used their strength and close bond to overcome the everyday challenges they faced within a truly difficult society. This book resulted in the author becoming the first African American woman ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize.

34. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This was written in 1866 and it follows the life of a poor student living in St. Petersburg. The student is struggling to make ends meet and makes a terrible decision to rob and kill a frail and elderly pawnbroker, with the story exploring feelings of greed and morality. The book is often described as one of the greatest novels written by Dostoyevsky.

35. Dracula – Bram Stoker

In this famous book from 1897, a group of friends must stop the evil vampire Count Dracula from spreading the curse of the undead throughout England and the rest of Europe. As the original vampire story that has inspired countless books, films, and plays, this gothic fantasy novel has genuinely stood the test of time and it deserves a spot within our comprehensive list of must-read books.

Traditional classics to modern giants – top 35 fiction books

Whether you are searching for interesting characters, classic stories, new perspectives, vivid dramas, or spine-tingling horrors, we hope our list of the ultimate 35 must-read books will guide your reading journey. Many of the books included within this list will introduce you to new authors, genres, and collections, and you may even find that some of the novels have a profound impact on the way you view the world around you.