Some of these are way too heady for high school students, but it’s a good list for everyone.
1. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: WH Auden thought this tale of fantastic creatures looking for lost jewellery was a “masterpiece”.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: A child’s-eye view of racial prejudice and weird neighbours in Thirties Alabama.
3. The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore: A rich Bengali noble lives happily until a radical revolutionary appears.
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Earth is demolished to make way for a Hyperspatial Express Route. Don’t panic.
5. One Thousand and One Nights Anon: A Persian king’s new bride tells tales to stall post-coital execution.
6. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : Werther loves Charlotte, but she’s already engaged. Woe is he!
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: The children of poor Hindus and wealthy Muslims are switched at birth.
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre: Nursery rhyme provides the code names for British spies suspected of treason.
9. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons : Hilarious satire on doom-laden rural romances. “Something nasty” has been observed in the woodshed.
10. The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki: The life and loves of an emperor’s son. And possibly the world’s first novel
11. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch: A feckless writer has dealings with a canine movie star. Comedy and philosophy combined.
12. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing: Lessing considers communism and women’s liberation in what Margaret Drabble calls “inner space fiction.”
13. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin: Passion, poetry and pistols in this verse novel of thwarted love.
14. On the Road by Jack Kerouac: Beat generation boys aim to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.”
15. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac: A disillusioning dose of Bourbon Restoration realism. The anti-hero “Rastingnac” became a byword for ruthless social climbing.
16. The Red and the Black by Stendhal: Plebian hero struggles against the materialism and hypocrisy of French society with his “force diame.”
17. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: “One for all and all for one:” the eponymous swashbucklers battle the mysterious Milady.
18. Germinal by Emile Zola: Written to “germinate” social change, Germinal unflinchingly documents the starvation of French miners.
19. The Stranger by Albert Camus: Frenchman kills an Arab friend in Algiers and accepts “the gentle indifference of the world.”
20. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: Illuminating historical whodunnit set in a 14th-century Italian monastry.
21. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey: An Australian heiress bets an Anglican priest he can’t move a glass church 400km.
22. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: Prequel to Jane Eyre giving moving, human voice to the mad woman in the attic.
23. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Carroll’s ludic logic makes it possible to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
24. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Yossarian feels a homicidal impulse to machine gun total strangers. Isn’t that crazy?
25. The Trial by Franz Kafka: K proclaims he’s innocent when unexpectedly arrested. But “innocent of what?”
26. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee: Protagonist’s “first long secret drink of golden fire” is under a hay wagon.
27. Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan: Gentle comedy in which a Gandhi-inspired Indian youth becomes an anti-British extremist.
28. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque: The horror of the Great War as seen by a teenage soldier.
29. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler: Three siblings are differently affected by their parents’ unexplained separation.
30. The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin: Profound and panoramic insight into 18th-century Chinese society.
31. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: Garibaldi’s Redshirts sweep through Sicily, the “jackals” ousting the nobility, or “leopards.”
32. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino: International book fraud is exposed in this playful postmodernist puzzle.
33. Crash by JG Ballard: Former TV scientist preaches “a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology.”
34. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul: East African Indian Salim travels to the heart of Africa and finds “The world is what it is.”
35. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Boy meets pawnbroker. Boy kills pawnbroker with an axe. Guilt, breakdown, Siberia, redemption.
36. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak: Romantic young doctor’s idealism is trampled by the atrocities of the Russian Revolution.
37. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz: Follows three generations of Cairenes from the First World War to the coup of 1952.
38. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: This famous novella has been adapted for movies, opera and plays.
39. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: Swift’s scribulous satire on travellers’ tall tales (the Lilliputian Court is really George I’s).
40. My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk: A painter is murdered in Istanbul in 1591. Unusually, we hear from the corpse.
41. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Myth and reality melt magically together in this Colombian family saga.
42. London Fields by Martin Amis: A failed novelist steals a woman’s trashed diaries which reveal she’s plotting her own murder.
43. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaoo: Gang of South American poets travel the world, sleep around, challenge critics to duels.
44. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse: Intellectuals withdraw from life to play a game of musical and mathematical rules.
45. The Tin Drum by Gnter Grass: Madhouse memories of the Second World War. Key text of European magic realism.
46. Austerlitz by WG Sebald: Paragraph-less novel in which a Czech-born historian traces his own history back to the Holocaust.
47. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: Scholar’s sexual obsession with a prepubescent “nymphet” is complicated by her mother’s passion for him.
48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: After nuclear war has rendered most sterile, fertile women are enslaved for breeding.
49. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger: Expelled from a “phony” prep school, adolescent anti-hero goes through a difficult phase.
50. Underworld by Don DeLillo: From baseball to nuclear waste, all late-20th-century American life is here
51. Beloved by Toni Morrison: Brutal, haunting, jazz-inflected journey down the darkest narrative rivers of American slavery.
52. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: “Okies” set out from the Depression dustbowl seeking decent wages and dignity.
53. Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin: Explores the role of the Christian Church in Harlem’s African-American community.
54. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera: A doctor’s infidelities distress his wife. But if life means nothing, it can’t matter.
55. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark: A meddling teacher is betrayed by a favourite pupil who becomes a nun.
56. The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet: Did the watch salesman kill the girl on the beach? If so, who heard?
57. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre: A historian becomes increasingly sickened by his existence, but decides to muddle on.
58. The Rabbit books by John Updike: A former high school basketball star is unsatisfied by marriage, fatherhood and sales jobs.
59. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: A boy and a runaway slave set sail on the Mississippi, away from Antebellum “sivilisation.”
60. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle: A drug addict chases a ghostly dog across the midnight moors.
61. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: Lily Bart craves luxury too much to marry for love. Scandal and sleeping pills ensue.
62. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: A Nigerian yam farmer’s local leadership is shaken by accidental death and a missionary’s arrival.
63. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A mysterious millionaire’s love for a woman with “a voice full of money” gets him in trouble.
64. The Warden by Anthony Trollope: “Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money,” said WH Auden.
65. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: An ex-convict struggles to become a force for good, but it ends badly.
66. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis: An uncommitted history lecturer clashes with his pompous boss, gets drunk and gets the girl.
67. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts” in this hardboiled crime noir.
68. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson: Epistolary adventure whose heroine’s bodice is savagely unlaced by the brothel-keeping Robert Lovelace.
69. A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell: Twelve-book saga whose most celebrated character wears “the wrong kind of overcoat.”
70. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Published 60 years after their author was gassed, these two novellas portray city and village life in Nazi-occupied France.
71. Atonement by Ian McEwan: Puts the “c” word in the classic English country house novel.
72. Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec: The jigsaw puzzle of lives in a Parisian apartment block. Plus empty rooms.
73. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding : Thigh-thwacking yarn of a foundling boy sewing his wild oats before marrying the girl next door.
74. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Human endeavours “to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” have tragic consequences.
75. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell: Northern villagers turn their bonnets against the social changes accompanying the industrial revolution.
76. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: Hailed by TS Eliot as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels.”
77. Ulysses by James Joyce: Modernist masterpiece reworking of Homer with humour. Contains one of the longest “sentences” in English literature: 4,391 words.
78. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: Buying the lies of romance novels leads a provincial doctor’s wife to an agonising end.
79. A Passage to India by EM Forster: A false accusation exposes the racist oppression of British rule in India.
80. 1984 by George Orwell: In which Big Brother is even more sinister than the TV series it inspired.
81. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne: Samuel Johnson thought Sterne’s bawdy, experimental novel was too odd to last. Pah!
82. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells: Bloodsucking Martian invaders are wiped out by a dose of the sniffles.
83. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh: Waugh based the hapless junior reporter in this journalistic farce on former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes.
84. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy : Sexual double standards are held up to the cold, Wessex light in this rural tragedy.
85. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene: A seaside sociopath mucks up murder and marriage in Greene’s novel.
86. The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse: A scrape-prone toff and pals are suavely manipulated by his gentleman’s gentleman.
87. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Out on the winding, windy moors Cathy and Heathcliff become each other’s “souls.” Then he leaves.
88. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: Debt and deception in Dickens’s semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman crammed with cads, creeps and capital fellows.
89. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: A slave trader is shipwrecked but finds God, and a native to convert, on a desert island.
90. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Every proud posh boy deserves a bratty, prejudiced girl.
91. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: Picaresque tale about quinquagenarian gent on a skinny horse tilting at windmills.
92. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Septimus’s suicide doesn’t spoil our heroine’s stream-of-consciousness party.
93. Disgrace by JM Coetzee: An English professor in post-apartheid South Africa loses everything after seducing a student.
94. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Poor and obscure and plain as she is, Mr.
Rochester wants to marry her. Illegally.
95. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust: Seven-volume meditation on memory, featuring literature’s most celebrated lemony cake.
96. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: “The conquest of the earth,” said Conrad, “is not a pretty thing.”
97. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James: An American heiress in Europe “affronts her destiny” by marrying an adulterous egoist.
98. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Tolstoy’s doomed adulteress grew from a daydream of “a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow.”
99. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: Monomaniacal Captain Ahab seeks vengeance on the white whale that ate his leg.
100. Middlemarch by George Eliot: “One of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” said Virginia Woolf.