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The 21 Best Classical Literature Books of All Time According To Mark Manson

Literature possesses an enchanting quality that allows us to traverse time and space, inviting us to witness the beauty, turmoil, and intricacies of bygone eras.

In a remarkable selection handpicked by esteemed author Mark Manson, we embark on an enriching literary journey through the ages, delving into the hearts and minds of characters that have become timeless icons.

These twenty-one classical literature books are not mere stories; they are mirrors reflecting the depth of human experience, the complexities of society, and the eternal themes that bind us all.

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Tolstoy's magnum opus, "War and Peace," is an epic tapestry that weaves together the lives of nobles and peasants, soldiers and philosophers, during the tumultuous Napoleonic era. This monumental work explores the intricacies of war, love, and the indomitable human spirit.

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

"Anna Karenina" delves into the inner turmoil of its eponymous protagonist, capturing the tragic consequences of forbidden love in 19th-century Russia. Tolstoy's exploration of societal norms, passion, and redemption is a masterpiece of psychological depth.

“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.”

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" offers a stark portrayal of Emma Bovary's quest for fulfillment in a stifling society. Her pursuit of romantic ideals leads to a downward spiral, revealing the harsh realities of human desire and disillusionment.

“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”

― Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Homer's epic poem, "The Iliad," immortalizes the heroes and conflicts of the Trojan War, delving into themes of honor, heroism, and the capricious nature of the gods.

“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

― Homer, The Iliad

In "The Odyssey," Homer guides us on an odyssey of adventure and self-discovery as Odysseus navigates treacherous seas and faces mythical creatures on his journey home.

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”

― Homer, The Odyssey

Dostoevsky's psychological tour de force, "Crime and Punishment," follows Raskolnikov's descent into madness and redemption after he commits a brutal murder. The novel explores guilt, morality, and the transformative power of empathy.

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

A sprawling exploration of human nature and spirituality, "The Brothers Karamazov" delves into the tumultuous lives of Dmitry, Ivan, and Alyosha Karamazov as they grapple with faith, doubt, and the search for meaning.

“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

"Don Quixote" introduces us to the whimsical yet poignant escapades of the delusional knight-errant, Don Quixote, as he tilts at windmills and quests for chivalry in a world of disillusionment.

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”

― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

In "Great Expectations," Charles Dickens captures the social disparities of Victorian England through the life of Pip, an orphan who navigates ambition, love, and the complexities of human connections.

“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”

― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, "A Tale of Two Cities" intertwines the fates of characters in London and Paris, illuminating the duality of human nature and the enduring power of sacrifice.

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”

― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

"Jane Eyre" is a transformative coming-of-age narrative that follows Jane's journey from adversity to empowerment as she navigates societal constraints and discovers the true nature of love and self-worth.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

A timeless exploration of love, manners, and societal norms, "Pride and Prejudice" introduces us to the spirited Elizabeth Bennet and the enigmatic Mr. Darcy in a tale that continues to resonate across generations.

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Emily Bronte's haunting "Wuthering Heights" immerses readers in a world of dark passions and intense emotions as characters navigate love, vengeance, and the boundaries of societal convention.

“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

A literary marathon, "In Search of Lost Time" delves into memory, time, and the intricacies of human consciousness, offering an introspective exploration of existence and identity.

“Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.”

― Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" embarks on a Huck and Jim's adventurous journey down the Mississippi River, confronting societal prejudices and questioning the true meaning of freedom.

“That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.”

― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

"To the Lighthouse" defies conventional narrative structure as Virginia Woolf delves into the nuances of human thought and emotion, crafting an introspective exploration of the passage of time and its impact on relationships.

“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”

― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Franz Kafka's surreal novella, "The Metamorphosis," confronts existential absurdity as Gregor Samsa awakens to find himself transformed into a giant insect, sparking a cascade of introspection and turmoil.

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Voltaire's biting satire, "Candide," follows the misadventures of its naive protagonist as he navigates a world of absurdity and disillusionment, offering a scathing critique of societal hypocrisy.

“Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.”

― Voltaire, Candide

Victor Hugo's sprawling epic, "Les Miserables," unravels against the backdrop of revolutionary France, weaving a tale of love, sacrifice, and redemption amidst the struggle for justice.

“He never went out without a book under his arm, and he often came back with two.”

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

A tale of revenge, resilience, and renewal, "The Count of Monte Cristo" follows Edmond Dantes as he orchestrates a complex plan to reclaim his life and bring justice to those who wronged him.

“I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.”

― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Crist

"Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" is a tragic exploration of fate and free will, centering on Oedipus's pursuit of truth and the devastating revelations that reshape his destiny.

“How dreadful the knowledge of the truth can be

When there’s no help in truth.”

― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex


If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my Fiction/Literature book lists on my blog —


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