What is the best book of all time? This question is impossible to answer — to some, the best book of all time might be Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. To others, it could be A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. If we’re looking at plain numbers, it appears that The Bible is the best-selling book of all time — but does that really make it the best book of all time?
Because there are just so many books well worth a read, we’ve collated some of the very best stories ever told for you in the list below. They’re even sorted by genre, so you can pick your favourite and get started — do you like fiction, non-fiction, or romance, or even fantasy? We’ve got you covered. Read on to find our curated list of the best books of all time.
The Best Classic Books Of All Time
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Often described as one of the greatest novels of all time, Anna Karenina is a long but fulfilling read, with rich text overflowing with complex characters and a brutally beautiful panorama of Russia in the 1870s. Make sure your copy includes a list of characters at the beginning — there’s more than a dozen major characters throughout this sprawling eight-part novel.
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre follows the eponymous protagonist from childhood to adulthood, including her eventual love for Mr Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall, where Jane works as a carer for his ward Adèle. This novel is considered ahead of its time due to Jane’s independence and Bronte’s approach to sexuality and feminism within its pages.
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
This charming caricature of America during the 1920s is considered a classic for good reason. The story follows the ludicrously wealthy Jay Gatsby, his legendary parties and his undying love for Daisy Buchanan, all told through the lens of Jay’s neighbour and WWI veteran Nick Carraway. I’ll never forget reading the shock ending of this story when I read it for the first time.
Emma - Jane Austen
My personal favourite Jane Austen novel, Emma follows the titular character, an irrepressibly witty and facetious young woman who loves to play matchmaker amongst the members of her community. As you could expect, this little hobby eventually backfires quite spectacularly. Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most vivid, delightful characters, and this novel contains some of Austen’s most exciting, funny and illuminating societal commentary.
The Picture of Dorian Grey - Oscar Wilde
A classic of gothic literature, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s one and only novel. Our hedonistic protagonist, Dorian Gray, sells his soul to keep his body perfect and young, while a recently painted portrait of himself ages and reflects the sins of its subject’s real life. This novel feels like an unsettling dream and is well worth the read even if you know the storyline.
Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
Perhaps it’s just the horse girl inside me, but Black Beauty truly is one of my favourite books ever. The story follows Black Beauty throughout his life as a well-bred horse in London in the late 1800s. The novel preaches kindness to animals, as Black Beauty moves from owner to owner — some care perfectly for him, some are cruel to him, but most just do the best they can.
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
“To be, or not to be?” It’s the oft-quoted, oft-parodied line that has almost lost all meaning through repetition through the ages — which is why Hamlet is always worth a reread. Although it’s a play written in the complex language of Shakespeare’s time, the themes of the text remain as relevant today as they were when it was written: revenge, corruption, politics and appearances versus reality.
The Best Fantasy Books Of All Time
A Game Of Thrones - George R. Martin
If you’re looking to dive into a completely new, totally complex world, this is the best place to start. A Game Of Thrones is the first of the hugely famous series by George R. Martin, the books that sparked the global phenomenon of a television show. The stories are a little graphic, and shocking at times, but this is a world at war, and Martin leaves no dark ‘reality’ unturned, for better or worse.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - J.R.R. Tolkien
With over 150 million copies sold, and a classic film adaptation to boot, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the best-loved stories of all time. Follow hobbit icon Frodo and his friends on his perilous, unforgettable journey to destroy the One Ring, once and for all. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them…
Wheel of Time Series - Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson
Now this is a series to get totally and utterly lost in. Spanning fourteen volumes and a blueprint for the high fantasy genre, The Wheel of Time series is well known for its intricate, unique magic system and gobsmackingly detailed world. Author Robert Jordan sadly passed away before he could complete the epic series, so Brandon Sanderson finished the last three novels, following detailed notes from Jordan.
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula Le Guin
“It is very hard for evil to take control of the unconsenting soul.” A Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all of Earthsea — who was known as Sparrowhawk in his youth. Sparrowhawk messed about with long-held, sacred secrets as a reckless youth — and subsequently unleashed a great, dark terror upon the world. This story is told with great prose, showcasing Ursula Le Guin’s talent for concise and elegant writing.
The Eyes of the Dragon - Stephen King
This is the first Stephen King book I ever read as a young girl. Apparently, King actually wrote this story for his daughter — and although it is written with children in mind, there is still a lot to love as an adult (and quite a lot of poisoning, death and violence for a ‘children’s’ book, too!). A kingdom is in turmoil after the death of a longstanding king, murdered by a terrifying poison. The king’s son must save the day — but first he must make an epic escape from his cell in the high tower.
Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
This stunning coming of age fantasy story follows Kvothe, a boy raised in a troupe of travelling players who eventually becomes the world’s most notorious wizard. It is a beautifully written tale, featuring a legendary school of magic and the murder of a king — every fantasy fan will lose themselves in this glorious world.
The Broken Earth Trilogy - N.K. Jemisin
This fantasy/science fiction crossover is mind-bending in the best way possible. The story opens with three devastating events — a father murders his son and kidnaps his daughter. A thousand year-old empire collapses and its civilians are killed. A great red rift is torn throughout the earth, spewing lava and ash that darkens the sky. Essun will stop at nothing to find her daughter — but first she must contend with this terrifying world.
The Stormlight Archive - Brandon Sanderson
The Stormlight Archive is written by Brandon Sanderson, the author who wrote the final three Wheel of Time books, and this is a spectacular example of his impressive storytelling. Roshar is a turbulent world, where wars are won and lost over Shardblades and Shardplates, magical weapons and armour that render their users impenetrable. This story is the result of over ten years of planning — and the intricacy of this world speaks for itself.
Children of Blood and Bone - Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone is a young adult fantasy novel and the first of a planned trilogy — so if you love this one, don’t worry, there’s more to come. Inspired by West African mythology, this story is action-packed, fast-paced, and features magic, princesses, soldiers, and an examination of oppression and racially charged discrimination that reflects our modern world.
The Best Fiction Books Of All Time
My Year of Rest and Relaxation - Otessa Moshfegh
In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh puts a magnifying glass to the worst parts of humanity, creating a deliberately unlikeable protagonist who simply wants to sleep through an entire year. This is a strange, testing read from a bold new literary voice. Watch on in horror as our narrator embarks on her ‘relaxation’ journey, aided by a completely unethical and inept psychiatrist.
No One Is Talking About This - Patricia Lockwood
This moving, artful novel is split almost in two; the first half will resonate with the Very Online, as a woman grapples with suddenly becoming very famous on the internet for her social media posts. The second half sees this woman and her family contending with an unexpected tragedy. This book, which is both fragmentary and incisive, will challenge you — it’s not for everyone, but those who spend a lot of time online will find something enlightening here.
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Susie Salmon is a young girl who watches her family from her own personal Heaven after being brutally murdered in her hometown of Pennsylvania in the early ‘70s. This is a troubling and tragic story, told with brutal honesty, and demonstrates the differing affects grief can have on people. Readers should note this book has themes of rape and violence against women.
After You’d Gone - Maggie O’Farrell
This book broke my heart into a thousand pieces — like, crying on my lunch break as I finished the last few pages. It’s a beautiful, tragic love story that jumps backwards and forwards in time, while Alice, our main character, lies in a coma after what may or may not have been a suicide attempt. After You’d Gone unravels long-standing family tensions while meditating on what it means to love, and what it means to lose. Readers should note that this book has themes of suicide.
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
The Secret History follows Richard as he reflects on his time in the classics program at a liberal arts college. Due to his poor upbringing, he feels different, removed from the trust-fund babies that surround him at school, led by their overly charismatic professor. He wants to fit in — he wants to be accepted, and he’ll do anything to get involved…even if it means the ultimate ‘hedonistic’ act — murder.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier is a young artist slash magician from Prague, who escapes to America in 1939 after the Nazi invasion. He stays with his cousin Sammy Clay, who is looking for an artist to bring his comic book stories to life. This is a romantic, action-packed read full of possibility and heart, and each sentence is carefully crafted just so. It’s not hard to see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001.
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
Go back to where the ‘cool girl’ trope all began. Gone Girl is as chilling a story as ever — we follow Nick Dunne, a man coming to terms with his wife Amy’s sudden disappearance. A new strand of the truth unravels with each page turn, leading the reader towards an unpredictable twist that’ll have your heart pounding out of your chest even if you already know the story.
We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
We Need To Talk About Kevin slowly unravels every parent’s worst nightmare. Eva never really wanted to be a mother — and now, she finds herself in an unthinkable position after her son Kevin brutally murders seven of his school classmates. Eva reflects on her marriage, her parenting, and wrestles with a long-standing dislike of her own child. This is an elegant, unsettling read that will haunt the reader long after they’ve put the book down.
Normal People - Sally Rooney
Author Sally Rooney is often praised for her relatable characters that speak particularly to the millennial and Gen Z generations. Normal People is an expert character study in full force, as we follow university students Connell and Marianne throughout their dysfunctional, magnetic relationship. These are frustrating characters, but intensely and vulnerably human as well.
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
One of the best anti-war books ever written, Slaughterhouse-Five follows the life and experiences of Billy Pilgrim through his early years, to his time as a soldier and chaplain’s assistant during World War II, to his post-war years. Occasionally throughout this science-fiction infused story, Billy travels through time. This is a non-linear masterpiece; a modern American classic.
The Best Memoirs Of All Time
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson
"I have written love narratives and loss narratives," Jeanette Winterson writes. "It all seems so obvious now – the Wintersonic obsessions of love, loss and longing. It is my mother." In this powerful memoir, Winterson writes about her painful childhood growing up with a stern, religious adoptive mother whose response to her coming out as a lesbian becomes the title of this book. It is funny, heartbreaking and moving, as all good memoirs should be.
Trick Mirror - Jia Tolentino
It is so difficult to understand who we truly are in our modern culture that revolves so reliably around the idea of the self. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, this essay collection by writer and editor Jia Tolentino will speak to young people attempting to navigate adulthood in an unsettling online world. She covers scammers, literary heroines, efficiency and beauty unto death, and so much more.
Yes Please - Amy Poehler
This straightforward, hilarious memoir from Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live) is full to bursting of words to live by. Throughout, Poehler dips into a little bit of everything — sex, love, friendship, parenthood — with humour, wisdom and a little bit of sass. A must-read, especially for fans of Amy Poehler.
On Writing - Stephen King
This memoir is a classic, one to return to multiple times throughout life and still gain something meaningful upon each read. Part memoir, part masterclass on writing and creativity, On Writing intersperses King’s memories of his upbringing, early successes and his near-fatal accident in 1999, with practical and thoughtful advice for burgeoning writers.
I’m Glad My Mom Died - Jennette McCurdy
This much-anticipated, provocatively titled memoir from former child star Jennette McCurdy (Sam & Cat, iCarly) is finally here. McCurdy recounts, in painstaking detail, her mother’s influence on her life — from forcing her to weigh herself five times a day as a young girl, to showering with her up until the age of sixteen, all while sharing her income, diaries and email correspondence. This is a heartbreaking, incredibly brave and illuminating read.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
In Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, essayist David Sedaris interrogates the mundanities of regular life, poking holes in the thin structure of normalcy that society relies on to function. He attends a wedding. He mops a floor. He goes on holiday with his family. It might sound dull, but with Sedaris’s dark humour, cutting wit and insightful commentary, these essays are something deeply special.
Just Kids - Patti Smith
Just Kids chronicles the extraordinary relationship between photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith throughout the late sixties and seventies in New York City. This rich, generous memoir demonstrates the power of relationships, art, and the poignancy of two people practically fused by magnetism.
Know My Name - Chanel Miller
Once known to the world as Emily Doe, the author of a victim impact statement that went globally viral, Chanel Miller reveals her full story in this life-changing memoir. After raping her on Stanford’s campus, Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in county jail. Miller reclaims her power and her identity within these pages, telling her story on her own terms.
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
A book for anyone who has ever loved and lost, The Year of Magical Thinking follows one of America’s most treasured voices, Joan Didion, as she contends with the sudden loss of her husband. This is a generous and at times confronting examination of grief and love, a once in a lifetime masterpiece born of intense, powerful loss.
Crying in H Mart - Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner, also known for her globally successful music project Japanese Breakfast, reflects on her Korean-American upbringing, losing her mother and forging her own identity. Unflinchingly honest and raw, this beautifully written memoir will devastate you — but you will cherish the intimate stories within for a lifetime.
Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
Beloved New York chef and television host Anthony Bourdain’s book is even more precious after his tragic death. His generous writing illuminates his past, diving into sex, drugs and fine dining with finesse and good humour. Funny and shocking, this book is a treasure.
The Best Non-Fiction Books Of All Time
Come As You Are - Emily Nagoski
Come As You Are is a generous and accessible guide to sex and sexuality, written by Emily Nagoski, who has a PhD in human sexuality. This is a transformative and necessary book, written predominantly for people who identify as women, will plainly explain the science and research behind sex and desire, and gently guides women and their partners towards a more fulfilling sex life.
Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle - Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski
Also written by Emily Nagoski in partnership with her sibling Amelia Nagoski, Burnout is a total gamechanger. This book explains what burnout actually is, what it feels like, and how to overcome and ultimately prevent it. The book will provide hope to those who feel overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted, and will guide you towards a more well-rounded lifestyle.
Period Power - Maisie Hill
I will never forget reading this book for the first time, and being shocked by how much I did not know about my body and my period. Profound yet practical, Period Power clearly explains how the menstrual cycle actually works and how people who menstruate can change their routines as each phase of the period progresses.
The Obstacle Is The Way - Ryan Holiday
This is another gamechanger. The Obstacle Is The Way provides a simple entry point into Stoicism, the philosophy that encourages ‘stillness’ amongst life’s many waves. Ryan Holiday uses personal stories and stories from successful people from all walks of life to demonstrate the teachings of the great Stoics.
Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer
If you’re anything like me, you prefer to have your feet planted firmly at ground level. But for those with a little height-focused curiosity, this memoir of a disastrous Mt Everest climb will interest — or terrify — you. Jon Krakauer examines what it is about Mt Everest that fascinates humans so much, despite the danger and death it brings when people attempt to conquer it.
Ariel - Sylvia Plath
This is a collection of poetry from one of the greatest poets to ever live. Published after her death, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel is some of her best work; provoking, evocative and soul-baring, it’s easy to see why Plath’s work has connected with so many across the world.
De Profundis - Oscar Wilde
One of Oscar Wilde’s lesser-known works, De Profundis (Latin: from the depths) is a 50,000-word letter written by Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. This heart-wrenching, desperate, powerful work sees Wilde contend with hardship, ultimately realising that his soul was fulfilled by the fruit of experience despite the bitterness of the taste.
The Best Romance Books Of All Time
Red, White & Royal Blue - Casey McQuiston
Potentially the most-talked about romance novel of the last few years, Red, White & Royal Blue is the perfect, idyllic escape from the stress of the real world. The son of the President falls for the Price of England, they embark on a secret relationship (a steamy one at that) and contend with what it means to love each other with the entire world watching.
Boyfriend Material - Alexis Hall
Ah, the fake relationship trope. It’s a classic, and for good reason. Boyfriend Material takes this well-worn tale to new and exciting heights, as the son of a rockstar must find a nice, normal boyfriend to clean up his tarnished image. As expected, fake dating usually ends up feeling a lot like real-dating…
The Spanish Love Deception - Elena Armas
Another fake relationship! Catalina Martín really needs a cute American boyfriend to bring to her sister’s wedding in Spain. Her condescending and infuriating colleague Aaron Blackford surprises her by offering to step in, and despite her misgivings, she’s desperate enough to take him up on it. Maybe he’s not quite as bad as he seems in the office…
The Duke and I - Julia Quinn
Calling all fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton — you are cordially invited to indulge in the story that started it all. The Duke and I has everything you could ever want from a period romance: tension, opulence, brooding and handsome men riding about on horses. Julia Quinn has a knack for writing interesting, colourful characters, and the idyllic Bridgerton world is one you will want to escape to over and over again.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before - Jenny Han
This sweet novel, the first in a trilogy that follows the same characters, is the ultimate comfort read. Teenager Lara Jean has never openly admitted her crushes, but written each of them a letter — and now, somehow, the letters have been delivered to every boy she wrote about. Cue the drama! This is an adorable read, suitable for teens and adults alike.
Call Me By Your Name - André Aciman
The novel that inspired the life-changing film, Call Me By Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance between a teenage boy and a summer guest at his family’s mansion in the Italian Riviera. If you loved the film, it’s definitely worth reading the book that inspired it. This is an intense and passionate love story that is completely unforgettable.
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Dark and brooding, Wuthering Heights is a classic but tragic romance tale, full of drama, tension and power. The book was controversial at the time of publishing (1847) for its depictions of domestic violence and abuse, and challenges to societal moral values of the time.