Overly ambitious purchases of War and Peace and Atlas Shrugged can be left on the bookshelf and swapped – temporarily – for one of these equally fulfilling, compact literary gems.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
When the animals of Manor Farm mutiny against head farmer, Mr Jones, a dream of subsequent equality and freedom is quickly dashed by a tyrannical gang of pigs within their ranks. Orwell’s allegorical tale (based on the Russian revolution and the Stalinist era that followed) is essential reading.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
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Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find that he has been transformed into a giant, beetle-like creature. He quickly becomes alienated from those dearest to him in Kafka’s harrowing, yet comic tale of isolation and inadequacy.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Unlucky Cuban fisherman Santiago looks to bring an end to an 85 day fishing drought by sailing out into the rich waters of the Gulf Stream. An epic duel between man and fish ensues, in what was to be the last book published by Hemingway before his death in 1961.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Two migrant workers – Lennie and George – seek work and the unattainable American dream in the Salinas Valley during the Great Depression. The odd pair constantly struggle as they look to find their place in an unforgiving and hopeless world.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s classic story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde studies man’s duality and the internal struggle of good and evil. The plot both moves and terrifies readers over a century on from its original release.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Narrator Marlow ventures up the river Congo in search of the enigmatic Mr Kurtz who rules over the local population. Conrad’s divisive book dives deep into the human psyche and raises questions about racism and imperialism.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
A dog named Buck has led a life of relative luxury in California all his life, until he is kidnapped and trained as a sled dog in the Alaskan wilderness. Buck relies on primordial instinct in order to survive the unforgiving environment.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
Ivan Ilyich spends his life without giving death a second thought – that is until he is diagnosed with a terminal and painful illness. At first Ilyich struggles against the illness, determined that he isn’t deserving of his fate, before accepting the inevitability of his death.
The Fall by Albert Camus
Set in Amsterdam, a supposedly model citizen regales how he glimpsed the hollowness of humanity and, as a result, lost his innocence and inhibition. Camus’s philosophical novel looks closely at the absurdity and tragedy of the human condition.
The Dead by James Joyce
Regarded by many as the greatest example of short fiction ever written, The Dead revolves around a New Year party and a shocking revelation made by the protagonist’s wife. Despite its length, The Dead is able to deliver a truly moving tale about passion and disappointed love.
The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol
Gogol’s short story follows hard-working clerk Akaky Akakievich as he saves for, purchases and loses an overcoat, after being bullied by younger colleagues. The Overcoat is a fascinatingly honest study of loneliness that subsequently inspired many of the Russian greats.
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Better known for its acclaimed feature film adaptation, Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx tells the story of a friendship that turns into a forbidden love between two cowboys.
The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling
Two Brits try to carve out a kingdom in a remote and near uninhabitable part of Afghanistan in one of Kipling’s earliest efforts. The novel skillfully dissects colonialism’s ‘noble’ and ‘heroic’ intentions.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli offers a brutally direct guide on how to gain political power and manipulate yourself into a position of power. Disturbingly relevant to today, The Prince makes for an intriguing read.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Dating back to the fifth century BC, The Art of War meticulously outlines various aspects of warfare. Despite its age the book is often thought of as a definitive work on military strategy and has also had an influence on business and legal strategy.