100 Books to Read Before You Die

10 Feb 2016

The struggle to find the next book to read is always all too real. From the most enticing literary fiction to the most thrilling of mysteries and thrillers, to the most influential science fiction, fantasy, and young adult novels, to memoirs that are sure to inspire, we’ve found some of the best books ever published. We hope you find something you love on this list of 100 books to read before you die!

Literary Fiction

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is the story of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who were students at an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside called Hailsham. Now adults, Kathy and the others reflect back on their time at Hailsham as they realize that their lives have special purpose that they never knew as children.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer takes place after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, during which nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s father tragically passed away. Oskar embarks on a journey to find the purpose of a mysterious key that he found in his father’s closet and meets many fascinating strangers along the way.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel follows Pi Patel and his journey to land after the boat he and his family were on sank. Pi wakes up to find himself on a lifeboat with four different wild animals, including a 450-pound Bengal tiger, and attempts to get back to shore alive.

Beloved by Toni Morrison is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who fled to Ohio in search of freedom. She still lacks freedom 18 years after she fled, and her home is soon haunted by the ghost of her deceased child.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave is about a young Nigerian refugee who was just released from a British immigration detention center. Alone in a unfamiliar country, she seeks out Sarah, with whom she shares a dark and tumultuous past.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is about how Randle Patrcik McMurphy enters a mental ward and completely takes over. As McMurphy sets out to disrupt every rule of the hospital, he fights against the authority of the Big Nurse in open rebellion with the other patients.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a classic American novel that tells the story of millionaire Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan. This book serves as a cautionary tale to the American Dream, detailing the lavish parties and the obsession with money of the rich in the 1920’s.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy takes place in a desolate and ravaged landscape of America where a father and son are attempting to find hope among the world of ruin. With little resources, the two attempt to make their way to the coast while encountering extreme challenges on the way.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a true tale of tragedy and brotherly love, following four friends as they attempt to make a living in New York after graduating from college. Dealing with the ramifications of former abuse, Jude tries to overcome the emotional pain of his past trauma as the years go on and all of the friends grow up.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is a lengthy read, but its unique comedic approach to discussing the philosophy of entertainment make it worth the time. It is set in both a halfway house and a tennis academy

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg follows June on her journey to find a community after a disaster took the lives of all her family members. After this significant heartbreak, the community she left behind comes together to deal with the pain caused by the horrific tragedy.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the story of a French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in occupied France during World War II. As the 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it is a stunning tale of how people, against all odds, can help each other in times of need.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving tells the story of what happens after John Wheelwright’s mother is killed by a foul ball at a baseball game. After the accident, Owen Meany, a young boy who believes he is God’s Instrument, influences John’s life in extraordinary ways.

The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon follows John Kavalier as he uses his Houdini-esque escapist skills to escape from Nazi invaded Prague. He heads to Brooklyn to see his cousin, Sammy Clay, and they work together to create heroes and stories for their own comic books.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, which is recognized as one of the best novels ever written about American politics, details the rise and fall of Louisiana governor Willie Stark’s political career.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho depicts the travels of a young shepherd boy named Santiago who is searching for a treasure buried within the Pyramids of the Egyptian Desert. On his journey, however, he unwittingly discovers a treasure deep within himself.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, one of the most celebrated classic novels, details the love affair between Anna and Count Vronsky in late 19th-century Russia. Through course of her relationship with Vronsky, Anna becomes more isolated from the people around her and struggles to decide how she wants to live her life.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo begins with ex-convict Jean Val Jean trying to rebuild his life and rid himself of his criminal identity.Most of the book takes place during the 1832 French uprising, and the story depicts the endeavors of many characters who are struggling to live during this difficult time.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is about a man named Okonkwo and his life in the fictional Nigerian village called Umuofia. The story focuses on Okonkwo and his family, the customs of the Ibo people, and the influence of British colonialism on the village.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera takes place during the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. A waitress named Tereza falls for a man named Tomas, who despite his mutual love for her cannot give up his mistress Sabina.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is about two sisters, Celie and Nettie, and the struggles they face as women of color in southern United States in the 1930’s. The story follows their lives and details the struggles they encounter, including racism and sexism.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is about a talented and successful woman named Esther who is slowly becoming insane. The readers are taken so deep into her insanity that it begins to feel incredibly real and rational.


Nonfiction & Memoirs

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Quiet by Susan Cain is a book dedicated to highlighting the skills and strengths of introverts. It’s a must read for people of all personality types, because it helps introverts better understand themselves and teaches extroverts how to work with their quieter counterparts.

Night by Elie Wiesel is an autobiographical account of the tragedies that occurred for Jews during the Holocaust. We follow Elie as he attempts to survive the horrors Auschwitz and Buchenwald, two of the most notorious Nazi internment camps.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner addresses a variety of every-day life questions from an economic perspective. Ever wonder why drug dealers still live with their moms or what school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? This book answers those questions and more!

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay is a collection of essays that go through the author’s experience as a woman of color and explore the state of feminism as it is today. It is an incredibly insightful and humorous commentary on our culture and how we can improve in the future.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is the true story of the author’s decision to hike the Pacific Coast Trail after her life completely falls apart. Cheryl finds that the strenuous journey strengths and heals her, despite her having no prior hiking experience.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari is an humorous exploration of romance in the modern world. Ansari, a comedian who often jokes about the struggles of dating, teemed up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to create a massive research project about how people today approach their romantic lives.

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna walks you through the process of choosing between “shoulds” and “musts” in our lives and describes what happens when you are able to take the leap and pursue your dreams. We all encounter these moments at many times in our lives, and Luna says that it is up to us to choose which path will make us happier in the end.

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf tells the life story German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who is the creator of modern environmentalism. Although he became a lost player in environmental history, his achievements and adventures helped us gain a better understanding on the natural world.

Tuesday’s with Morrie by Mitch Albom is the story of how the author reconnected with his old mentor Morrie, who was dying from a motor neuron disease called ALS. As Mitch talks with Morrie, they discuss Morrie’s aphorisms on how to live life.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is the autobiographical memoir of the author’s life. Despite her experience with racism and abuse, Angelou learns to love herself through the kindness of others and the ideas of great authors.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is a collection of hilarious essays from the author’s life. From his experiences living in France to his crazy family, the stories in this book will surely make you laugh.

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan and Anne Fadiman is a posthumous collection of essays written by Keegan before she tragically passed away in a car accident. This book serves as a celebration of her life and an insight into how we can use our talents to make an impact on the world.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan is an exploration of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution and the development of science and civilization. This is the perfect book for anyone interested in learning more about science and the history of our universe.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is an inspiring story of about how to live your best life and achieve your childhood dreams. It focuses on his “Last Lecture,” which is the talk he gave before he passed away from cancer.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi focuses (no pun intended) on how you can achieve your peak performance potential. The concept of “flow” is a euphoric state of concentration and complete involvement that people experience when they are challenged in an activity and have the necessary abilities to complete the activity.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is the true story of a serial killer who wreaked havoc on 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. H. H. Holmes, the notorious killer, used his charm and charismatic personality to lure in his victims during the duration of the fair.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan explores the dimensions of choices that Americans experience when deciding what to eat. He discusses three main sources of food (industrialized food, “organic” food, and food that was hunted/gathered) and follows each food chain from the ground up.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a guide to overcoming creative blocks of any kind. Pressfield helps readers identify the problems they encounter when they are creating things and outline a plan to achieve success.

One Million Lovely Letters by Jodi Ann Bickley is the story of how a woman who suffered from a stroke overcame her health challenges by writing uplifting letters to people all across the world.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is the true story of a underprivileged settlement in Mumbai, India that deals with the effects global recession. It is a stunning story of how humans connect during times of continuous change and struggle.


Fantasy & Science Fiction

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is an epic fantasy that follows Kvothe, a musical troublemaker, who embarks on a journey to learn magic and discover more about the fantastical world around him.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is about an ex-convict named Shadow whose life gets turned upside-down after he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. He is taken on the journey of a lifetime across the United States, meeting strange and powerful people along the way.

1984 by George Orwell is a classic science-fiction novel that gives its readers a frightening vision of future controlled by an omnipresent government that can see into everyone’s minds. Winston, the main character, finds that he still has control over his own thoughts and attempts to fight back.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury takes place in a dystopian world where books are a thing of the past and television rules everyone’s lives. Guy Montag starts to question the restrictions of his world when a young, rebellious woman enters his life, and he finds himself in grave danger because of it.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is written for young adults, but it is a fantasy book that can captivate audiences of all ages. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are sent on a journey across time and space to find Meg and Charles’s father, a scientist who went missing while studying the mysterious tesseract.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller takes place after the world was destroyed by a nuclear war and recounts the rebuilding of civilization. The story focuses on the monks of the Order of Leibowitz who discover the remaining records of man’s scientific knowledge and attempt to study and preserve that information.

The Martian by Andy Weir is about astronaut Mark Watney, who is forced to fend for himself on Mars after a wicked storm left him stranded by his crew. With only his own knowledge of science and a little help from NASA, Mark attempts to stay alive long enough for someone to come rescue him.

The Children of Men by P.D. James is set in a world where the human race has become infertile and the remaining generation has reached adulthood. Theodore Faron is nostalgic about the past until he is approached by Julian, a young woman who is the leader of a rebellion that might be able to save the world from it ill-fated future.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman follows the adventures of young Lyra Belacqua and her daemon on their journey to find her kidnapped friend. They are headed to a mysterious phenomenon in the North called the Dust, which may be a part of an alternate universe.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is about a genius boy named Ender who gets chosen to be in a military training school to fight off a hostile alien race that’s attacking Earth. His intelligence and skill is the result of genetic experimentation, and he become a vital part of the battle against the Buggers.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams begins with Arthur Dent being told by his best friend that the world is about to end. From there, Arthur is taken on an adventure across the galaxy, meeting many different crazy people on the way.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is set in a world where everyone is awaiting the arrival of a creature called the Shrike. On the night before the Armageddon, seven pilgrims of the galaxy start on their final journey to Hyperion to solve the riddles of their lives.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is one of the most widely recognized science fiction novels, and it tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a lonely scientist who creates a monster from stolen body parts. Things don’t go quite as Victor planned, and he has to deal with the ramifications of his experiment.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is about a girl named Sophie, who is turned into an old woman from a spell cast by the Witch of Waste. The only way for her to reserve the curse is to befriend the Wizard Howl who lives in an ever-moving castle.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick takes place after a World War that killed millions of people and forced people to leave the planet. Since most species had been eradicated, the remaining people on Earth took to creating fake creatures, including human-like androids.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett takes place near the end of the world, when the armies of good and evil are preparing for the Armageddon. Everything is going as planned until an angel and a demon realized that they lost the Antichrist.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman is the story of Buttercup, who just lost the love of her life to the Dread Pirate Roberts. She is set to (unwillingly) marry Prince Humperdinck, when she is captured and taken on an adventure around the country.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin follows Shevek, a brilliant physicist from the isolated planet Anarres. He travels to the mother planet Urras to explain his scientific theories and ignite change.

Watership Down by Richard Adams is about special creatures who are forced away from their homes by the invasion of humans. The creatures attempt to travel to a promised land to create a better society.

Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is the story of Alex, a fifteen-year-old “droog” who wreaks havoc on his city after dark. After getting in trouble with the law one too many time, the state attempts to reform his delinquent behaviors.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut takes place after the death of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the creators of the atomic bomb. In the wake of his passing, he left behind a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet.


Mysteries & Thrillers

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson follows Mikael Blomkvist in his attempts to revatilize his name as a financial journalist by researching the disappearance of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families. He teams up with Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed genius with authority issues.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon tells the story of Christopher, a highly logical boy with a love for Sherlock Holmes, as he attempts to figure out how his neighbor’s dog died.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is about the disappearance of Amy Dunne on her fifth wedding anniversary to her husband, Nick. The story is told through accounts from Nick and journal entries from Amy, and it is unclear whether or not Nick is responsible for her disappearance.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie follows ten unsuspecting strangers who are invited to an island by a mysterious millionaire. Each person is marked for murder, and they are killed one-by-one as the story unfolds.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is about a detective and his partner heading to the asylum on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient. As the story unfolds, they learn more about the horrors that occur on this sinister island and slowly find out that nothing is as it seems.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the most popular of the Sherlock Holmes books, and it follows Holmes and Watson as they investigate the legend of the monster that haunts the moors around the Baskerville family’s home.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown begins when Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is recruited to investigate the murder of the Louvre’s curator. Along with French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, Langdon has to solve riddles and discovers clues in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci along the way.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell is about Ree Dolly and her journey to find her dad, who recently escaped from prison. The Dolly family is filled with mystery and a history of crime, and Ree discovers more about her family’s shady past as she searches for her father.

The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is the first book in the Hannibal Lecter series. FBI Investigator William Graham must follow the advice of the insane Dr. Hannibal Lecter to help find a serial killer who has been slaughtering families across the country.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is about Rachel, who takes the same train commute every day and observes the same lovely couple each time the train stops at the signal. Suddenly, she notices something shocking that she must divulge to the police.

The Stand by Stephen King is about a patient who escapes from a biological testing facility while carrying a strain of the super-flu that could nearly wipe out the entire human race. Two leaders emerge to attempt to bring the world together: one focused on peace and one who thrives off of chaos.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is about a group of men who meet up on the weekends and purposefully get into fist fights with each other. The narrator finds them and their enigmatic leader, Tyler Durden, and his life starts to completely change.

Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. explores the ramifications of addiction through multiple tragic story lines. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone think they can become rich by selling a pound of uncut heroin, but their junkie habits get the best of them. Harry’s mom become addicted to diet pills in her efforts to get thinner and appear on a game show.

Invisible by James Patterson and Davis Ellis follows FBI researcher Emmy Dockery as she tries to prove that hundreds of unsolved crimes are connected. Everyone thinks she is going crazy, but she is able to find a piece of evidence that people can’t ignore.

The Innocent by David Baldacci is about Will Robie, a hitman made a mistake by refusing to follow through with a job. Now that he is a target, he flees and ends up running into a teenage girl who may be at the center of a massive cover-up.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer tells the story of Gary Gilmore, a convicted killer who insists on being executed for his actions. Mailer also tell the stories of the people who involved in Gilmore’s life and drawn into the procession towards the firing squad.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr is about how a journalist and a psychologist find the mutilated body of a adolescent boy and are recruited to help solve the murder. In their investigation, they are challenged to create a psychological profile of the killer by studying his past crimes.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett tells the story of how investigator Sam Spade was hired by Miss Wonderley to find her sister, not realizing that she is really a cunning seductress named Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Spade finds himself in trouble as his partner is killed, and he begins to be followed by someone named the “Fat Man”.

In the Woods by Tana French is about Rob Ryan, a Dublin detective whose friends were murdered in the woods when he was a kid. Now that another young girl was found dead in the same woods, Rob is forced to remember the details of the unsolved murders to uncover the mystery behind the dark and silent forest.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is considered to be one of the first mystery novels, telling the story of Walter Hartright and his encounter with a mysterious woman dress in white. 


Young Adult

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is about a young German girl in World War II named Liesel, who develops an affinity for books. With the help of her foster father, she steals and reads books even though they are not allowed in her town.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is a touching tale of boy and girl who become inseparable over the course of the book. Together they create an imaginary world called Teribithia in the woods, where they are the rulers and anything can happen

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is the story of a Native American boy who decides to attend an all white school outside of his reservation. Throughout the story, he starts to distance himself the life he was supposed to live.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff is is about Sam, a boy who lost his best friend to suicide. All he has left is the memory of his friend and a playlist that he left behind to help Sam understand what he was going through. This book is a tale of heartbreak and self-reflection that is sure to connect with readers of all ages.

Looking for Alaska by John Green follows Miles, an ordinary boy whose life becomes anything but boring when he starts attending Culver Creek Boarding School. There he meets Alaska, a fascinating girl who changes his life forever. 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is about a wealthy family who spends every summer on their private island. One summer, young Cadence gets into a horrible accident and can’t remember what happened. After that, everything changes.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is about two solitary teen boys who slowly become friends. Through an engaging story of friendship and self-discovery, they develop a close-knit bond and learn more about themselves than they every thought possible.

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie is the classic children’s book about a young boy with magical powers who never grows older. He takes Wendy, John, and Michael Darling on adventure to Neverland, where they have amazing adventures. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to connect with his or her inner imaginative child.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson gut-wrenching story about a high school girl who is shunned by everyone she knows for calling the cops on an “end of summer” party. What her friends and schoolmates don’t know is that an upperclassman raped her at that party, and she now has to deal with the aftermath of the assault.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky follows Charlie, a quiet and introspective boy, as he tries to navigate through his freshman year of high school. This is a story that everyone can relate to, because we’ve all experienced the rollercoaster days of growing up. 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman puts a creative twist on the classic novel The Jungle BookNobody Owens stumbled upon a graveyard moments after his family was murdered, and the ghosts of the graveyard took him in as their own.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is the story of Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond. He finds life to be a bore until a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, and he is taken on an exciting adventure that shows him just how fun life can be.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is a young adult fantasy novel about Simon, who is the chosen one, and his nemesis Baz, who is an evil vampire. They both attend the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon is infuriated that Baz didn’t bother to show up for their final year of school.

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger follows Holden Caulfield, a cynical teenage boy who thinks everyone is a phonie. He leaves his prep school to wander around New York City and interacts with a variety of interesting characters.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a widely cherished book by both children and adults. The story is about a young prince who leaves his home planet to travel the universe and has extraordinary encounters along the way.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson is about young Octavian, a boy who was raised in a lavish household and has had the finest education. He begins to question his education and finds out secrets about his guardians that completely shock him.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is an American classic about young Francie Nolan and her life growing up in the slums of Williamsburg. It is a raw and honest depiction of her daily routine, which will make any reader immediately fall in love with her character.

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Sarah Pannenberg