There are countless lists of the greatest books ever written and to be honest most of them are pretty damn good. But if you are truly looking for THE greatest books of all time you came to the right place.
So what separates my list from the others besides my own audacity to that I think I am qualified to pull this list together? Well, besides being incredibly written and immensely power works of art, I tried to pick books that have had a profound impact on society beyond the page. In some way they were born into the world and through the power of the words, they not only made the world come to life on the page they changed it.
Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner is the story of the South and for better or worse the story of the south is the story of America. The way we look at and judge history matters because it makes us who we are and what we can become.
Absalom, Absalom! The Corrected Text
If Absalom, Absalom is the story of the South than Beloved by Toni Morrison is the story of the unimaginable horror of Slavery. If any book can make us understand that horror it is this one.
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Mark Twain invented subversion and thank goodness for it. If Huck can learn what excuse do we have for not?
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
There is no greater punishment than the human mind. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment reveals more about the psyche than most psychology text books.
Crime and Punishment
Because "Big Brother is Watching You" Not often does a novel come along that can present a version of the future that is still horrifying yet possible 30 years after it was supposed to happen
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Ouch
The Great Gatsby
Written in 1899, The Awakening by Kate Chopin was shocking to readers. While the theme of infidelity is no longer controversial, Edna Pontellier's feelings of being trapped and her gradual awakening to the limitations of her life is heartbreaking.
The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner is ultimately a story of rebirth. One Quentin is replaced with another and time and progress wins as it always will.
The Sound and the Fury
The scenes of Hester Prynne's public humiliation and the final image of the gravestone where "on a field, sable, the letter 'A' gules" are incredibly powerful and will remain with you forever if you have the good fortune of reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
Undeniably, Jack Keroac's On the Road captures the spirit of the beat generation. But it is much more than that; it is about the desire in every person to search for something more and to find some deeper meaning.
On the Road
Never did an author love one of his characters more than Thomas Hardy loved Tess. She was "A Pure Woman faithfully presented" and boy did she suffer for it.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Their Eyes Were Watching God was out of print for almost 30 years. Thankfully, we can now experience Zora Neale Hurston's powerful and moving story of Janie Crawford.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Willie Stark is the personification of the Lord Acton quote "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." All the King's Men could have been written yesterday and that is really scary.
All the King's Men
Anthony Burgess's masterpiece A Clockwork Orange is an uncomfortable and unforgettable novel that presents what freedom really means and how easily we can lose it if we are not vigilant. Personally, I will never forget the moment I found the book in my high school store room and asked our English teacher if we could read it knowing she would say no because it was too controversial for our impressionable young minds. When she said yes, she went from an amazing teacher to legendary hero.
A Clockwork Orange
What Valdimi Nabakov achieves with Lolita is staggering. Always controversial, this disturbing story show the depravity of the human mind and makes us laugh at the same time.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird
At its core, Light in August by William Faulker is a story of hope and how hope comes from within. If you let others define what they think you are, you will ultimiately become that thing.
Light in August
Besides being one of the funniest novels ever written, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 reveals the absudity of war like no other novel before or after has ever be able to do.
A chronicle of the great depression, a turning point for America, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is the ultimate story of the haves and have nots and how true dignity can prevail.
The Grapes of Wrath
As Addie Bundren realized “words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride.”
As I Lay Dying
If you are looking for suggestions on where to start, may I suggest a book pairing. A Fan of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Try A Clockwork orange. For some strange reason I think Alex would get a kick out of Huck. And maybe, just maybe, Huck could have helped him avoid that brainwashing.
Related: Most Overrated Books of All Time