We tend to focus on our physical fitness, but we should not neglect our mental fitness. Reading is an excellent workout for the mind. With that said, here are our top 10 best classic books to read, in ascending date order. Each story has a message that is just as relevant today as when the book was written.
1: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (1597)
Arguably the greatest tragic love story ever written. This play deals with the theme of love in its most raw and painful form. Everything is against the lovers, yet the hold that love has over them causes them to risk everything, and unfortunately, lose.
“These violent delights have violent ends.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
2: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
A quintessential coming-of-age story. Young Jim Hawkins goes on a quest for buried treasure but discovers that the treasure is, in fact, the journey itself. He develops his own sense of morality by witnessing how greed for material wealth leads to immoral behavior and ultimately, to ruin
3: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
There are many meanings to be gleaned from this tale of excess vs. renunciation. Indeed, the message may be that extremes, either way, are not healthy and that moderation is best. This is a Buddhist principle called ‘The Middle Way,’ living life between denial and self-indulgence.
4: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
A great story in itself, this book also deals with some important themes. Firstly, that wealth and status do not define the person – when we die; we are all the same. Secondly, mirroring Shakespeare’s portrayal of desperate love, causing us an extreme attachment to another person, and thus making illogical or even immoral decisions.
“He looked at her the way all women want to be looked at by a man.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
5: 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
Orwell demonstrates that any government that has absolute power will use it for manipulation and gain. The acts of social injustice by the totalitarian government achieved by propaganda and manipulation of language and, therefore, of thought – shows us that there is much power in the words we speak and that freedom of speech is extremely precious.
6: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
This book covers a similar theme to 1984 – it details how valuable words and language are. In the story of Fahrenheit 451, it is literature that is censored in favor of television. The message is that on TV (and now, the internet), reality can be manipulated and skewed, and therefore we cannot depend upon it for the truth. The censorship of literature is the censorship of independent thought and speech.
7: Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Golding skillfully shows us that civilization and democracy are fragile, and, given the right circumstances, humans are very capable of reverting to their savage primal instincts and behaviors. He also demonstrates how easily fear, especially fear of the unknown, can and will be manipulated by people who seek ultimate power and control.
8: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (1954)
This trilogy is the ultimate story of good vs. evil. This epic tale deals with many themes. With the one ring, Tolkien demonstrates that having absolute power will always corrupt the wielder. He teaches us the importance of friendship, community, loyalty, and hope. He shows that there are more valuable treasures in the world than gold. And that even the smallest person can make the biggest impact when they act with courage and selfless motivation.
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
9: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Lee’s classic novel deals with the themes of racial and social prejudice. The mockingbird represents innocence. To judge a person by anything other than their actions is to be spiritually and morally corrupt.
10: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)
Like ‘Treasure Island,’ the protagonist is on a quest for treasure and must face many obstacles and, in the process, learn universal truths. This story tells us never to stop following our heart, for it will always guide us, and that we already have all the resources we need to succeed. Coelho teaches us that we will fail on the road to our dreams, but that is part of the rite of passage to achieving them – only those who do not give up deserve to be rewarded with their heart’s desire.
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.