21 best books everyone should have read in their lifetime

True masterpieces, written from the nineteenth century to today, that everyone should know: here are the 21 books to read once in a lifetime. The books to read in life  are many, and in general the more you read (of books) the better.

The ones we want to talk about here today, however, are the fundamental ones, those books that everyone should  read at least once in their life.

Masterpieces of literature, emotions and stories that have enchanted entire generations of readers, also becoming part of the connective tissue of society.

From Madame Bovary to Anna Karenina , passing through Dorian Gray and Holden Caufield : their adventures have marked  humanity.

And identifying with a dissatisfied wife of the nineteenth century, in a sixteen year old expelled from school in the fifties or in a clown who no longer makes people laugh in the second half of the twentieth century, is the magic that only literature makes possible and that allows us to embody ourselves in more lives, going back and forth in time.

In short: here are the  21 books to read in life , listed in chronological order. Enjoy your reading and have a good trip.

21 books to read in a lifetime (at least once)


21 books to read absolutely at least once in a lifetime

1. Madame Bovary , by Gustave Flaubert (1857)

One of the first realist novels, and very modern despite being from the mid-nineteenth century, because it tells what we all are as the “modern homo” species: continually dissatisfied with what we have and in the exhausting search for a better life.

Emma Bovary is disappointed by her husband’s mediocrity and a sterile life, so she seeks emotions in the arms of lovers.

Things will get out of hand. 

2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)

Anna Karenina also tells of a dissatisfied woman who seeks comfort in the arms of a man who is not her legitimate husband, like Madame Bovary.

But Tolstoy’s masterpiece is a hymn to love, not to the evil of modern living.

Anna is devoured by the passion for the handsome officer Vronsky but the choices she will make in the name of romanticism do not deal with the rigid social canons of the time. 

3. Pleasure , by Gabriele D’Annunzio (1889)

Andrea Sperelli is a young Roman dandy who enjoys life by focusing on beauty, in all its forms and declinations.

Surrounded by women, he conquers the widowed countess Elena Muti from whom, however, he will be left.

Desperate, he throws himself into the arms before the perdition and then Maria Ferres. 

4. The portrait of Dorian Gray , by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Inspired by Goethe’s famous Faust , Oscar Wilde’s novel tells of the title character who sells his soul to the devil so as not to grow old.

In its place, it will be a special portrait of him kept in great secret to perish.

The life he chooses has debauchery as its fil rouge . To be read even just for the many exceptional aphorisms that crowd these pages.

The most famous? There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about: not being talked about.


5. The conscience of Zeno , by Italo Svevo (1923)

If you want to introspect and forgive all your neuroses, then you must meet Zeno Cosini.

Tormented, neurotic, somewhat mean but so sincere and true that one cannot help but love him.

If you are also trying to quit smoking, you have more reason to read it ( US indicates yet another Last Cigarette).

6. The Enchanted Mountain , by Thomas Mann (1924)

Opera set in the Swiss sanatorium of Berghof that follows the transformation of the young protagonist.

Arrived as a visitor, on the strength of bourgeois respectability and presumed iron health, he comes out of it after a six-year hospitalization completely transformed.

Thomas Mann himself called it a quest for the Grail in the form of a novel.

7. The trial , by Franz Kafka (1925)

K. is a bank employee, rational by his very nature and pragmatic by professional bias.

One day two government officials show up at his home and declare him under arrest, without explaining what he is accused of.

Sure it’s a simple misunderstanding, the man begins a grueling process between courts, interrogations, lawyers and cryptic characters, ending up in a whirlwind of inevitability.

8. One, none, one hundred thousand , by Luigi Pirandello (1926)

Pirandello’s masterpiece tells of a rich man in his thirties who suddenly realizes that he has a slightly crooked nose, after a remark from his wife

Thus begins a journey desperate to destroy the many images that others have of him.


9. In Search of Lost Time , by Marcel Proust (1927)

The masterpiece of French literature, entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest novel in history (it is divided into 7 volumes), arises from the greatest challenge that man can aspire to: understanding the essence of time to escape its constraints.

Everything starts with a madeleine .

“It is enough that a noise, a smell, already heard or breathed in the past, is once again […] for immediately the permanent, and usually hidden, essence of things to be released, and our true self which, sometimes for a long time , he seemed dead, […] wake up » .

How many times have we experienced this sensation thanks to a stimulus, olfactory, auditory, etc.? Lose yourself in the pages of this precious writing, steeped in memories, drenched in strong emotions and vehicle of an introspection that not even years of psychoanalysis could offer you.

10. La nausea , by Jean-Paul Sartre (1938)

The protagonist Roquentin is in Bouville to write his history thesis, immersed in solitude and prey to constant nagging thoughts.

In this way he will savor that strange, composite and variegated sensation that he himself defines nausea.

Finally understanding that it is the malaise caused by existence itself that is revealed. 

11. 1984 , by George Orwell (1948)

If science fiction, sociology, political fiction and dystopia are literary bread for your teeth, then the number one title is undoubtedly 1984 .

In a post-atomic scenario that to say disturbing is an understatement, the super power of Oceania is governed by a totalitarian party headed by the so-called Big Brother. Shivering down my spine.

12. Young Holden , by JD Salinger (1951)

The coming-of-age novel starring that Holden named is a literary gem, although there are also those who do not particularly appreciate it.

The sixteen-year-old protagonist tells the story of his life in the first person, after being kicked out of school for misconduct.

Speak to the reader in a confidential tone, unleashing a narrative self that fits into what will become a friendship: between you and Holden Caulfield.

But it’s not all pink and flowers: a profound existential restlessness emerges and affects even the reader.

But only in this way will the initiation also be yours, not only of the protagonist.

Where on earth will Central Park ducks go to sleep during the winter?


13. Lord of the Flies , by William Golding (1954)

Following a plane crash, 12 children are shipwrecked on a desert island.

They set up shifts to keep the fire going in the hope of attracting help and elect a leader, organizing themselves into a kind of society.

But the situation degenerates until that society based on democracy and cooperation succumbs, plunging everyone into a deadly vortex.

The book that earned the author the Nobel Prize in Literature will keep you glued to the page. 

14. Boredom , by Alberto Moravia (1960)

Ruthless portrait of the Italian bourgeoisie with an economic boom.

Telling the life of an idle painter – passing through the themes of the uncut umbilical cord and destructive love – this Moravian masterpiece will enlighten you.

15. Opinions of a Clown , by Heinrich Böll (1963)

Hans is a clown who is no longer funny. He hasn’t been able to do it since he was left.

He finds himself on the verge of exhaustion but only from that edge, from that borderline area will he finally be able to look at the reality that surrounds him, with a clarity that is unprecedented for him.

He will finally understand that society is built on hypocrisy and falsehood, that is to say those values ​​of the bourgeoisie that was in favor of Nazism and that then, once this fell, it re-proposed itself in its candid guise which, however, is soaked in indelible blood.

It is embroidered with senseless rites and prejudices that ruin the very essence of man.

16. One Hundred Years of Solitude , by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)

Lovers of family sagas, here is the one par excellence. The most famous book of the Colombian Nobel Prize is the one that consecrated him to the number one exponent of the magic-realist movement of Latin American literature.

The novel tells the story of the Buendìa, a family whose vicissitudes are followed starting with the progenitor, Antonio, founder of the city of Macondo.

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17.  Invisible cities , by Italo Calvino (1974)

Given that you should read everything about Italo Calvino, if you want to start with this then you will have no choice (you will read the complete work in no time at all).

The emperor of the Tartars questions the explorer Marco Polo about the cities that make up his boundless empire.

With this narrative expedient, Calvino tells us about 55 fantastic, surreal, poetic and evanescent cities, in as many short descriptions in which his pen, daughter of the OuLiPo group’s experiments, leaves you speechless.

18. The name of the rose , by Umberto Eco (1980)

Umberto Eco’s masterpiece is set in 1327.

The novice Adso da Melk accompanies Friar Guglielmo da Baskerville, in charge of a diplomatic mission, to an Italian abbey.

Former inquisitor, friend of Guglielmo di Occam and Marsilio da Padova, friar Guglielmo must investigate a series of mysterious crimes committed within the walls of the abbey.

To solve the case, William will have to decipher all kinds of clues, from the behavior of the saints to that of heretics, from necromantic writings to the language of herbs.

A historical and deductive thriller that will sharpen your wits.

19. American Psycho , by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

Only and exclusively for strong stomachs, this postmodern masterpiece tells the story of Patrick Bateman firsthand.

He is a rich and fashionable son of a father.

But underneath that glamorous veneer there is much more: a brutal serial killer who tells the reader in the slightest, gruesome detail how he rapes and kills his victims.

A critique of consumerism and the alienation of individuals linked to it.

It’s not for everyone, especially the chapters titled Girls Who Are Abominable to say the least, like seeing sickly and lacerating snuff-movies. But it is a masterpiece and that is why it deserves a place among the books to read in life.

20. Blindness, by José Saramago (1995)

In times of a pandemic, there is no better title than this. Even before it left you speechless but today reading the pages of Blindness becomes even more impactful.

The space-time coordinates are deliberately unspecified and the story tells of how the entire population has gone blind due to a mysterious epidemic.

Nobel Prize for Literature, the Portuguese author points his finger at the darkness of reason.

He tells us a very black “fable” about indifference and selfishness, about the binomial power-oppression and about what, like it or not, remains the natural law of man: that of the jungle.

21.  Time is a Bastard , by Jennifer Egan (2010)

A series of stories that intertwine, with the same characters as a common thread .

At the center of the story are Bennie Salazar, a former punk musician who became a successful record company, and his assistant Sasha.

They move between past, present and future, jumping from San Francisco in the late seventies to the New York of SMS and social networks.

Between failed marriages and teenage mistakes, a gallery of unforgettable co-stars is shown.

A world-novel that earned the author the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2010 and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2011.