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.
Literature Fan says
Great list, though I would not call ‘Lolita’ beautiful. I am not saying that it is not a great read but perhaps a different word beside beautiful would describe the moral of the story.
Looks it is a great list. I have read maybe at the most 1-2 books from this list. Almost getting through with Siddhartha. I think The Alchemist should be on this list also.
How about “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath? Or “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte? For that matter, what about anything by the Bronte sisters… We’ve got “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf and “Delta of Venus” by Anais Nin.
I’ve read 14 of these. All good choices, but there are so many more you could add. A few notable exclusions (in my mind) I would add in are Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Cervante’s Don Quixote.
You’re missing On the Road. Considering Jack took that trip in his mid to late 20’s, it definitely fits here.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a must read. Always read through it every couple months or so. This book does not contain any secrets, it’s everything you know already (i.e. give a genuine smile and genuine compliments, be polite, “be lavish in your praise and hearty in your approbation”). So, for the times when you do slip, keep this book close by as a constant reminder
WOW… I’m at an utter loss of words… I’m 14 and the last three books i read were Lord of The Flies, A Clockwork Orange (my favorite book nothing anybody has ever read comes close except maybe…) and The Catcher in The Rye… I was about to start reading The Great Gatsby too. I believe Ulysses by James Joyce deserves honorable meantions, it’s only known as one of the greatest books ever writtwn after all. Also, I think this list is missing something truly horrific, Bret Easton Ellis, Stephen King hell if I know, but their works are recent fun to read and much better than supposes modern day classics like Harry Potter.
Well, I’m 20 and I’ve read all of the 30 books, but I have a huge list of books to read that is on my bucket list. The 30 books that are on this list is amazing!
wow! great list!
i would add ayn rand’s the fountainhead.
i have 12 years left to finish the list! 🙂
Thanks for an awesome list. Btw I am 22, so I want to finish reading these books as soon as possible. I will add Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – stunning memoir 🙂
Going to be 25 years old soon but I have read only one of these books. Thanks for the list. I will surely cover most of them before 30. Just picked one up at the library.
Honestly, a great list. But I’d love it if there were a few more female writers in the bunch.
Great list for books to consider reading. I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into creating this list.
As for the people who needed “more books”, “different books”, “more female writers”, etc., why not make your own list?
The Education of Henry Adams : an Autobiography
In 1999 Modern Library, in their much noted survey, listed the Education as the best nonfiction book, written in English, of the twentieth century.
I had encountered it’s difficulties and succumbed to its magic long before that appraisal was published, indeed long before I was 30.
The enjoyment of making The Education’s’ acquaintance has stayed with me through succeeding years with the greatest of satisfaction. It could possibly be one the most treasurable of all reading experiences.
John Galt says
No book list would be complete without both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Life changing!
I’ve read more than I’d have thought. Josh – a bunch of these are movies! ‘Spose seeing them doesn’t count. “Autobiography of Malcolm X” had an impact on me in the 60’s – Lately, “The New Jim Crow” Michelle Alexander, 2010.
This list is a great starting point for young readers. I would include “Night” by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of Anne Frank. These books are essential for understanding what man is capable of doing to his fellow man as well as a testament to human survival and compassion.
Trish Kahle says
Some additions I’ll suggest to add diversity to your list:
Sembene Ousmane — “God’s Bits of Wood”
Thrity Umrigar — “The Space between Us”
Toni Morrison — “Beloved”
Walter Rodney — “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”
Misha Glenny — “The Balkans”
Duong Thu Huong — “No Man’s Land”
Julie Takase says
I ABSOLUTELY AGREE!!! The tipping point and the republic are the most amazing books!!!
This is first time I am coming across this kind of inspiring website and gave me lot of joy after reading all the lovely comments. This particular article is a great feast for book lovers. I would like to add a great book: “A monk who sold his Ferrari” by Robin Sharma.
I turn 30 on Dec 31st! I have A LOT of reading to do! Ha ha! Excellent list! I look forward to reading some of the books I haven’t yet read.
Richard Dubin says
Good list… Here’s a few books by women that would make a good addition:
Silent Spring (Rachel Carson)
Mindfulness (Karen Langer)
Centering (M. C. Richards)
Start Where You Are (Pema Chodron)
Loving KIndness (Sharon Salzberg)
One Hundred Names for Love
Kitchen Table Wisdom (Rachel Remen)
Wake Up and Live (Dorothea Brande)
Several suggested Ayn Rand. I disagree. A more hard and cold depiction of humanity you could not find than anything by her. A list of books to suggest is more appropriate than saying “should”. I’m 54 years old and a bookworm. Many of these I’ve read, many I’ve heard of and what they’re about, and some I’ve never heard of. Reading “War and Peace” felt like drudgery. And how about Charles Dickens? Still interesting, though, and a good basic list.
How about “Unbroken” by Lauren Hillenbrand? I also agree that “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak is a must read.
I’m really surprised nobody had mentioned it yet on this thread from what I see, but an incredible book is “The 5 people you meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom. It’s a great read and really leaves you thinking about life’s purpose and the people that come in and out of our lives.
I still have 13 years left xD. I just became interested in literature recently, great stuff.
I think that this list looks great. I would recommend the Poisonwood Bible as well as it completely changed my outlook on life. I think the most important part of this list is simply reading books that you think might help you become a better, more well-rounded person
Great list, but “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill is a book everyone should read before his 30s, too.
Honey Moon With My Brother does seem to be a very intriguing and heart felt story. I am definitely looking forward to it. Thanks for sharing a wonderful list.
To Kill A Mockingbird? How about Invisible Man by Ellison instead.
Melissa P says
Why do some people have to be so judgmental. I’m certain that the list wasn’t picked based on gender. Nor do I believe they are insinuating that these are the ONLY 30 books one should read prior to 30. This is a blog and they are choosing a catchy title to share their opinion on 30 must reads prior to 30. Geesh, I tell ya!! I appreciate your list and although at 33 I am ashamed to admit that I have only read two, I am always looking for a good book so I plan on working off this list for a while. Thank you for sharing!!
I am glad that I read 15 out of the 30 before I reached the age of 30. If I can get the other 30 in by the time I am 60 I will be happy. I think this is a great list and I am glad that you put it together.
Luke Elliot says
Great list! Let’s not forget that every moment you become a new person and that even if you’ve read some of these books before you can always read them with new eyes and ears for subsequent readings. You never get it all on the first go!
My suggestions to this list would be:
1) Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
2) Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
3) Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
4) The Foundation, Isaac Asimov
5) Brave New World or Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley
The Journeys of Socrates(Peaceful Warrior saga) by Dan Millman.- a novel that embeds itself into your psyche taking you through fear and terror to empowerment and stillness. Very very readable.
Rose Heredia says
This website is awesome! I love all your posts! Another great post. Great books! 🙂 Keep it comin’!
Great list of books! I’m surprised I’ve read a few of them since I don’t read that much. Definitely going to pick up 1984 now. I think LOTR should be higher up and some like Clock Work Orange should go further down. But that’s just my opinion.
Excellent list. I’d better get cracking if I’m even going to make it into double figures. Plenty of summer time reading if the sun ever starts shining here.
Great list! Not perfect, but the real problem is there are just more than 30 greats.
Only truly missing book is Trouble in Cherry Blossomland; its a timeless classic (that I accidentally found on Amazon) and I can’t find anywhere else.
great list and just noticed that i have not ready any of the above books. i got some serious reading to do.
I’m so glad to see the novel “The Great Gatsby” on this list. I read it in my AP English course in high school and it completely changed my world. At first, it’s hard to find all the truly unique features of this book. However, if you slowly connect all the symbols of this book you will find it’s beyond what you can imagine. I’m hands-down, completely obsessed with this novel. I have all the movies, and multiple copies of the book. I cannot wait for the new movie coming out this Christmas.
The other books on this list are good choices, however, I have lots of reading to do myself. Luckily, I’m only 19. 🙂
How can you forget the Count of Monte Cristo?
the Harry Potter series!!!
(good assortment of books though)
I really like this list. I read a few of the books. I will add more to my list. Actually, I think I’ll start with Tipping Point. Also, I’m curious. Are you ranking these books because I didn’t wouldn’t put Siddhartha over How to Win Friends? Anyway, I really like this list. I saw a few that I’ve already read and really enjoy but also some that interested me.
I keep reading that people should read so many of these titles while in high school…I totally disagree. So much is lost on high school English students! Give them time to grow and when they are a little older, these books WILL become treasures! Reading should be enjoyable, a gift, a place to explore and unwind. I have gone back to my AP reading lists and revisited so many of these titles. I enjoy (and can relate and understand) them so much more AFTER 30!
An amazing plethora of knowledge. I rue that lot of them I am yet to read. But at the same time I thank GOD that I have read books like “One Hundred Years of Solitude” & “Crime & Punishment”. They are the real jewels a human being should possess.
Well, this seems to be an old post. And, I must confess that I haven’t read these books except one by Dale Carnegie. But, I would like you to add one more book to this coveted list.The book is-“THE POWER OF NOW” by “ECKHART TOLLE”.
Hey there! I’m seventeen and have only read about four of these books, but cannot seem to get properly into War and Peace which is 1500 pages long in teeney tiny writing. What I would add, though, is this epic book called ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl. It’s unbelievable. The title is a little inaccurate, but that doesn’t deduct from the fact this book really gives you an insight into the real experience of Victor’s years in Auschwitz and the psychology behind human beings when they are treated in such a way. All I can say to truly advertise it though, is this book really gives you something.
Durel Wiley says
I stumbled across a phenomenal book this year on a bookshelf belonging to a friend that I mine regularly. An amazing multi generational story of Africa, adventure, mans capacity for violence, and the trajectory of our human family. It is called “The Zanzibar Chest” by a guy named Aidan Hartley. It is non fiction, but has most fiction beat to a bloody pulp in every way possible. I recommend it to anyone and everyone. It will leave you breathless and amazed.
Any William Wilding
The Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock (T. S, Eliot Poem –
The Bone People
In Watermelon Sugar (Brautigan)
and 1001 Books to read before you Die!
Our Nige says
A great list and some great comments. Unfortunately I’m 56 so a bit late. I was though surprised as I’ve actually read about 15 or so and the ones I have read I probably did read before I was thirty. Has made me think I need to be doing more reading and a good list to start me off.
Many thanks for your other lists and posts which keep me thinking and questioning so a big THANKS for allowing me to join your community and share your wisdom and grace.
Many thanks to all
Our Nige says
Hi Marc and Angel a great list and I was surprised that I’d read about a dozen and actually had read them before I was thirty. This made me realise I need to do more reading and vary it a little more than I do.
Some great comments and additions to the list too. I would agree with Stranger In A Strange Land and The Prophet but there are so many good books out there.
I would like to thank you for allowing me to be part of this community and sharing in your grace and wisdom and that of your readers too.
So a big THANKS.
Bless you all.