Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Melville's classic is considered by many to be the greatest American novel ever written. In case you've managed to sleep through every English lit class of your life, the book tells the tale of the whaling ship Pequod as its captain, Ahab, pursues an obsessive mission to hunt down and kill Moby Dick. A worthy sea yarn if ever there was one.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment tells the story of Raskolnikov, a St. Petersburg student who commits murder. While he is not initially a suspect, it is not long before Rakolnikov's guilty conscience forces him to confess. Considered one of Dostoyevsky's most important novels, the story illuminates social changes in Russia during the late 19th century.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Fed up with life in the bustling town of Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau retreated to the woods where he built a cabin and spent two years among the birds, woodchucks and squirrels. The author's ruminations resulted in Walden, an important philosophical classic of American literature.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Capturing life in early 19th century France, Victor Hugo's classic novel is sprawling with philosophy, politics and religion - among other topics. These big ideas are explored through the life of Jean Valjean, a convicted thief who is trying to reform his life after spending time in prison.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina is widely regarded to be among the greatest novels ever written. This masterpiece of realism reveals the story of families thrown into upheaval by deception and adultery. The familial conflict is mirrored in the rapidly changing social milieu of 1870s Russia.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
In literal terms, this novella by Joseph Conrad follows the journey of steamship captain Marlow as he travels up the Congo River on a trade mission. On a deeper level, though, it is a psychological examination of colonialism's corrosive effects - most evident in the figure of the iconic Kurtz. Many people will recognize this story in Francis Ford Coppola's famous film Apocalypse Now, which sets the plot of Heart of Darkness in the context of the Vietnam War.
Dubliners by James Joyce
If you want to know what it was like to live in Dublin in the early 20th century, this is your book. Joyce's classic collection of short stories brilliantly details the more difficult aspects of life while offering subtle social criticism. With many stories focused on disappointment and mortality, the portrait of Dublin is one tinged by sadness.
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
This novel features the prophet Zarathustra, who has become enlightened to a true way of living as an 'Overman.' As is often the case, however, few people are willing to heed or adopt the prophet's wisdom. Thus Spake Zarathustra presents many of Nietzsche's most famous philosophical insights through narrative action.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Exploring love and courtship at the turn of 19th century England, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has enjoyed a recent renaissance due to the popular zombie fan fiction based on the classic novel. The original, though, is quite good in its own right. The book features the dramatics of the Bennet family, including independent-minded Elizabeth, who is among the most well-known and beloved figures in literature.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
What would you do if you turned into a bug? This is a question that might seem silly, but it is the one central to Gregor Samsa in this short story. The traveling salesman has awakened no longer a human, but an insect. Kafka's absurd tale explores very real aspects of the human experience.