Before reading this list, make sure you have seen :
The most important books to read before you die 1/5
and LIST 2 – The most important books to read before you die 2/5.
Here is the continuation of the most important books in human history, with a brief explanation of what makes these texts exceptional.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment – 1866: How would you feel after you had someone dies? After murdering someone? It is a real chaos of the mind that Dostoyevsky describes. The book, which was published in several parts in a magazine, was a success as soon as it came out. It is necessary to read it for the dark side that it shows, because there is something new there. As Dostoyevsky says: “There are bold and new things here.” The character is so tormented that some people say they cannot finish reading it. Will you be able to finish it?
- Jules Verne – Journey to the Center of the Earth – 1866: Mixing adventure and science, this is the great challenge that Jules Vernes took on. If we can say that science is not completely accurate – the 19th century is far from the truths of the 21st century, the adventure is quite authentic and more alive than today. Nobody has ever been to the center of the Earth. And there are good reasons for this. But if only it had been possible to go to the center of the Earth, what could you imagine finding there? Jules Vernes has done it for you, you just have to discover it by reading the book, which is quite thick but worth it.
- Karl Marx – The capital – 1867: a very difficult book. I might as well tell you that it is not the easiest book on the list; it is even a bit obscure. But it has left such a mark on society since its publication, its impact has been so enormous that it could not be on the list. If you are up for a bit of economics, or understanding how the rich exploit the poor, you can dive into this book.
- Leo Tolstoy –, Voïna I mir (War and Peace) – 1869: Are you ready to immerse yourself in the Russia of Napoleon I’s time? But this work, in addition to having a historical anchor, doubles as a philosophical perspective by insisting on the determinism of history. The characters are studied under the psychological angle.
- Arthur Rimbaud – Poetry: You can read in particular Le Dormeur du Val, Le Bateau over, Ma bohème… Arthur Rimbaud is a precocious genius. He wrote The Drunken Boat at 17 years old. He is also one of the cursed poets. So much spirit in such a young body must amaze you as you will read each of his poems with the thought that it is a real genius who wrote them.
- Émile Zola – L’Assommoir — 1877 : in the Rougon-Macquart series, here is the seventh: l’Assomoir. Dedicated to the working class, Zola said of his book that it is “the first novel about the people, which does not lie and which has the smell of the people”. Zola is the specialist of realism: the details are exceptional, the description is fantastically precise.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Бра́тья Карама́зовы (The Brothers Karamazov) – 1880: what do Sigmund Freud, Einstein, and Benedict XVI have in common? To have loved The Brothers Karamazov! To each brother corresponds to a function, a representation: faith, freedom, humanity. But these correspondences are more blurred than they seem, and the personalities of each brother are much more complex. Dostoyevsky considered this work to be his most accomplished.
- Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra – 1883–1885: This is Friedrich Nietzsche’s Bible. It is difficult to understand because Friedrich Nietzsche speaks in metaphors, in images. He tells a story. But this first reading is just as enriching and leaves the book accessible. One must try as much as possible to grasp the full philosophical scope of this work, which by the way is immense. It is primarily about morality, with several figures representing thoughts. In this work, we find the famous quote: “God is dead! God remains dead! And it is us who killed him!” or again: “The State is the coldest of all cold monsters: it lies coldly and here is the lie that crawls out of its mouth: “I, the State, am the People”.
- Guy de Maupassant — Bel-Ami — 1885 : Who has never dreamed of climbing the social ladder? To make a place for themselves among the elites? To be accepted in circles coveted by all? This is the idea that Georges Duroy’s life symbolizes. We are here in the realist trend. As much to say that you will have many details, precise descriptions, a painting of the life as close as possible to the things and the men.
- Émile Zola – Germinal – 1885: in the Rougon-Macquart series, I would like the thirteenth. The hero is hired at the mines of Montsou. Emile Zola, faithful to himself, has documented himself enormously. He accomplished a titanic work, to describe the reality as close as possible.
- Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – 1886: Who has never heard of this extraordinary struggle between good and evil? If it is an adventure novel, one can immediately see the philosophical scope of such a work. You will not have a hard time reading it, first because it is enjoyable, and second because it is short. You will love exploring 19th-century London through this story, which the wife had actually called “hogwash” but which finally managed to make its way into history.
- H. Rider Haggard – She: A History of Adventure – 1887: If you want to read a novel about the female figure, then she is an excellent choice. This story has sold extraordinarily well around the world. It has been adapted a dozen times for the cinema. Haggard was inspired by South Africa, and captures the thoughts of his time in England.
- Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – 1892: Choose one or two stories from this collection. But above all, read them. You have all heard of the famous private detective Sherlock Holmes. It is high time to find out what his original adventures are. For you may have discovered him in film or series investigations, but it is only by tackling the book that you will understand how Sherlock Holmes became an icon.
- André Gide – Les Nourritures terrestres — 1897 : the sensuality of this work does not leave one indifferent. It is an ode of love to life. The form is somewhat confusing: several genres are mixed to form a unity. The themes addressed have earned him criticism, such as that of Guéhenno: ‘The French intellectual youth will have to heal from Gidism to find the movement of history. One finds in Les Nourritures terrestres the formula remained famous: ‘Families, I hate you!
- Guillaume Apollinaire – Alcools – 1913: I might as well tell you right away that Alcools is a lot of junk. There is everything. It is poetry, but under all its forms. There is a certain modernity there. At least we can say with certainty that it is an experimental poetry. So you must be prepared to be disconcerted.
- James Joyce – Ulysses – 1922: like many of the novels on this list, Ulysses was first published in a magazine. The book is sulfurous. It was much criticized, and even banned in the United States. On the form, James Joyce adopts an original point of view, which is to describe from the inside the thoughts of his characters. The city of Dublin takes colors in this work, still read by posterity.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald – Gatsby the Magnificent – 1925: the setting? The Roaring Twenties, New York. It is the ideal setting for a character who is a millionaire. You have surely come across it, for example, in English class. English teachers like to introduce this book to their students because it has so many qualities and has marked its century. Several film adaptations have been made.
- Franz Kafka – The Trial – 1925: This is an extraordinary book. In fact, it is our favorite. The Trial is exceptional. It is possible that you do not understand everything, and it is normal. You will be destabilized. But the story and the writing are genius. It is a critique that covers many themes for example and as the title may suggest, of justice and bureaucracy. A study was done and proved that what will make you the most intelligent is not the easy readings, but on the contrary the ones that are difficult to access, even if you do not understand everything. But do not worry, you will be carried away by the story and you will enjoy it. Besides, this one is rather short.
- Franz Kafka – The Castle – 1926: True to form, Kafka delivers an obscure and terribly interesting work. It is about bureaucracy, but also about the power of the great over the little people. The book should never have been published and even destroyed according to Kafka’s wishes, but fortunately his friend who was in charge of publishing it refused to destroy it.
- Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time – 1927: did we tell you that Kafka was our favorite? Well, maybe that was before you read Marcel Proust. You have never seen such an elaborate and delightful style. The cliché of long sentences that stretch out over a page … is true. But how good is it when it is Marcel Proust! The story itself is not the most exceptional, it is mostly descriptions, as if you were describing your childhood, but the work touches on a wide variety of themes, all of them very rich, and which can only provide you with invaluable material for your reflection. It is necessary to take courage when you discover for the first time the thickness of the books, but you will not regret it.
- Sigmund Freud – Malaise in Civilization – 1929: drives, social demands, superego, ego, id, morality, religion, civilization… It is Sigmund Freud. One cannot live in the 21st century without knowing what Sigmund Freud brought to the contemporary reflection. Even if many people say that Sigmund Freud did not understand anything and only wrote nonsense, he had at least the merit to put the accent on an unknown domain until then. It is with him that psychology, psychiatry and reflection on the unconscious finally developed.
- Louis-Ferdinand Céline – Journey to the End of the Night – 1932: in this book, Céline (who is, of course, a man, needless to say) attacks everyone: humanity takes its toll. But also the war, this “international slaughterhouse in madness”. On the form, Céline uses an oral vocabulary, almost slang, and was for that reason much criticized. It is not our favorite style, but some may like it more. In any case, this book is a must read before you die.
- André Malraux – The Human Condition – 1933: Shanghai, in addition to being an exceptional city – go there one day – , is the scene of André Malraux’s book: The Human Condition. We can follow a group of communist revolutionaries who are waiting for only one thing: to take Shanghai. Commitment and the meaning of history are two themes that are very present in the book. How to exist by making history?
- Dale Carnegie – How to make friends – 1936: first book of personal development of this list. You absolutely must have read this book because it is invaluable in describing and helping with interpersonal relationships. It will make you question your attitude towards others, and how you react to them. Don’t let the title fool you. It is about much more than just making friends, it is about how to relate to others in a deep and effective way.
- Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich – 1937: The second personal development book on this list, this is a must read. The book was a bestseller and deserves it. Although it may seem esoteric in some aspects, it contains the sum total of Hill’s teachings after hanging out with the greats. Success in your life comes through this book, which is why it is on the list of books you must have read before you die.
→ LIST 4 – The most important books to read before you die 4/5.