The Web is grand. With its fame for hosting informative, easy-to-skim textual snippets and collaborative written works, people are spending more and more time reading online. Nevertheless, the Web cannot replace the authoritative transmissions from certain classic books that have delivered (or will deliver) profound ideas around the globe for generations.
The 30 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 30th birthday.
- 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.
- 1984 by George Orwell – 1984 still holds chief significance nearly 60 years after it was written in 1949. It is widely acclaimed for its haunting vision of an all-knowing government which uses pervasive, 24/7 surveillance tactics to manipulate all citizens of the populace.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – The story surveys the controversial issues of race and economic class in the 1930’s 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.
- 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.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – A short, powerful contemplation on death, ideology and the incredible brutality of war.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 20th-century literature. Once you pick up the first book, you’ll read them all.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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 20th century. Read it.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Set in the Jazz Age of the roaring 20’s, 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.
- 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.
- 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 phychological impact this has on him and the people closest to him.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Lolita – 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.
- Getting Things Done by David Allen – The quintessential guide to organizing your life and getting things done. Nuff said.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 30.
- 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.
On the top of the list, the book ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand should be put up. It’s the most powerful book you will ever read.
I love how lists like this spark debate. While I would add a few, too, like Austin, Bronte and Shakespeare (plays also count, right?) it makes me very happy to see #32 on the list. This book is on my shelf and will remain there alongside other favorites that have already been named.
Barbara Cox says
Great list but I would add Animal Farm, a short little parable.
48 LAWS OF POWER IS MISSING…
Why specifically by age 30?
Of the books on your list that I’ve read (a little under half of them), the only one where age at reading seems to be a factor is The Great Gatsby — which I re-read last year, and resonated with me much more at age 25 than it had the first time around at age 15.
I suspect it might lose some of that poignancy as I get older — Fitzgerald wrote it in his 20s, and Nick is just about to turn 30 in the book, and the issues that he has Nick contemplate felt very relevant to me at this point in my life, this transitional phase between “youth” and “real adulthood”.
But the others? What would, say, Catch-22 lose by being read at age 45?
I have 15 years more left to read all of these book and I want to read at least 70% of the list . Literally I have one of the book in the list read at this time: How to Win Friends
These are all great reads!! I would also HIGHLY recommend not only “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, but ANY of his books. They are beautifully written in a though provoking way while still telling a story. They are all full of life truths! I really like the fact that each book has a theme tied to it. Such as “The Alchemist” is based around wisdom. They are also very short and can really be read at almost any age!
I totally agree! “The Alchemist” is a fantastic read.
Also another great book is “Believe and Achieve” by Napoleon Hill. It’s a great read about hard work and determination and to make your own life!!
The Watchmen’s gotta be a must-read, no? Or does that not count as a book?
I’d add The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.
The World Is Flat 3.0 is an essential update on globalization, its opportunities for individual empowerment, its achievements at lifting millions out of poverty.
Thank You so much for all the time you spend encouraging, and giving thoughtful, helpful information….What a blessing you two are! About all the rude, immature comments on here….Weeell that’s all they are, rude and IMMATURE. Good list of reads will pick one I haven’t read with an open mind! 🙂 Remember that when people comment rudely is that their heart and mind hasn’t been disciplined to respect others opinions and a self respect for ones self. If we do not respect ourselves how could we possibly respect others…just saying…:-)
I read 9 of the books on the list (e.g. 1984, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, The Tipping Point) before turning 30 but missed out on some of these titles. Glad to see that you encouraged some titles from other countries and languages like “War and Peace.”
If you were to write an update to this list, I would suggest adding Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers.” I found it even better than “The Tipping Point.”
I realize everyone who reads this list will have personal favorites… guess I’ll add 5 of mine to your list.
Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque)
Heart of Darkness (Conrad)
Diary of Ann Frank
The Stranger (Camus)
I would like to start reading some of these books. I’m an extremely slow reader and this makes it hard for me to read all the books that I wish to read. Thus, I need to choose the ones that I REALLY am interested in. I’d like to try the “How to Win Friends and …..” book.
Nice list, thank you.
I would add Sigmund Freud’s The interpretation of dreams and JRR Tolkien’s The hobbit to this mix … I know one is a child’s and the other a psychoanalysis book, but for me they should be added to my personal 30 books before 30 list.
I’ve read lots of your blogs….you write informative and common good sense just as a good life coach should. …..but I can’t believe you have not got the bible as top 30 books the worlds no 1 best seller……..I agree with all you write to live a happy and successful life….I learned all you say through reading the bible for the last 30 years……
I thought The Hobbit and Harry Potter were better reads.
No “Prayer for Owen Meany?” Changed my life, but then again I read it after I was 30.
Great list. I would add “Jonathon Livingston Seagull,” a simply parable that I read every so often as it seems to add perspective on my life at any age.
Ken Ashe says
Great list. I’m proud to say that I’ve read most of these. Catch 22 has been my favorite book for years. I’ve probably read it about ten times.
Ron Sheckler says
I have read 90% of the Books on the list but would add:
Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
The Martian – Andy Weir
The Goal – Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier