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The Library 100 is the 100 novels ranked in order of how many world libraries have at least one print copy in circulation.
I have read about half the books on the list in their entirety, but as a former English teacher and curriculum developer, I am familiar with them all. For years, making sure that the students in my school had read the range of books that would best prepare them for whatever came after high school, and these are the first 5 books from this list I think are the most important to have read.
There are several books on the list of 100 that address the same ideas. In those cases, I picked 1, because the idea is to counter a range of different ideas rather than the same idea presented different ways.
Check out the Library 100 for yourself, and add your suggestions to the comments below.
1. 1984 by George Orwell
When I was a high school teacher, I taught 1984. It is the only book that students ever contacted me about from university. One messaged me to tell me that it came up her very first day, and the other starting thinking about it when she was studying Plato.
I was in 11th grade in 1984, which was conveniently the year that we did British Literature at my school, so I first read 1984 in 1984. I was impressed even then with Orwell’s insights, and that was before the government realistically had the ability to monitor us in our homes. Each time I reread it, I think it’s more prescient and more scary.
1984 is a book everyone should read, and I don’t say that about many books.
2. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Often called “the greatest war novel of all time.” If you like war novels, read this if you haven’t. If you only read one, read this one.
Considering the potential of war and violence is always a question in this world, it’s important that people who haven’t been to war understand something about what it is really like for those who have to fight it.
Note that the protagonist is a German in World War 1.
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
If you are a book lover, you need to read Fahrenheit 451. If you are one of those people who thinks that books are passé in the age of the Internet, you need to read Fahrenheit 451.
This book is especially scary to me because of Bradbury’s prescient take on the future of media, considering when this book was written.
If 1984 is the book that everyone should read in 11th or 12th grade (which they should), Fahrenheit 451 should be required in 8th or 9th.
4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I could easily argue that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the most misunderstood and under appreciated book in American literature.
The plot has been rehashed and shall I say bastardized to the extent that the versions people think they know are nothing more than simplistic caricatures of the original novel.
Even the term “Uncle Tom” has come to mean almost the opposite of the character that Harriet Beecher Stowe created.
Remember, it was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of this book, to whom Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “so this is the little lady who started this great war.”
We shouldn’t forget the role that Stowe and the other abolitionists, both White and Black, played in getting African Americans out of slavery and on the road to getting the rights as American citizens to which they are entitled…a road we are still on.
Note: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is in the public domain. Click here to find it on Project Gutenberg in English and here to find the audio version and other languages available. We do not recommend downloading public domain e-books from Amazon as the quality is unreliable.
If you need help with Project Gutenberg: How To Download FREE Books with Project Gutenberg and Why You Should
5. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
I wanted to put at least one fantasy book and one book published for children (which doesn’t mean only children should read it) because both childhood and fantasy are an integral part of life, and a childhood without enough fantasy never ends well.
As a rule, I do not like animal stories, but somehow Charlotte of the web is one of my favorite characters in literature.
We can learn a lot from a farm yard about what is important in life, not to mention the importance of just the right word.
Don’t have access to a library?
Check out these books that are free to download from anywhere.