The Iliad and The Odyssey Homer
Set during the Trojan War, The Iliad combines battle scenes with a debate about heroism; Odysseus' thwarted attempts to return to Ithaca when the war ends form The Odyssey. Its symbolic evocation of human life as an epic journey homewards has inspired everything from James Joyce's Ulysses to the Coen brothers' film, O Brother Where Art Thou?.
The Barchester ChroniclesAnthony Trollope
A story set in a fictional cathedral town about the squabbles and power struggles of the clergy? It doesn’t sound promising, but Trollope's sparklingly satirical novels are among the best-loved books of all time.
Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen
Heroine meets hero and hates him. Is charmed by a cad. A family crisis – caused by the cad – is resolved by the hero. The heroine sees him for what he really is and realises (after visiting his enormous house) that she loves him. The plot has been endlessly borrowed, but few authors have written anything as witty or profound as Pride and Prejudice.
Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift
Swift's scathing satire shows humans at their worst: whether diminished (in Lilliput) or grossly magnified (in Brobdingnag). Our capacity for self-delusion – personified by the absurdly pompous Gulliver – makes this darkest of novels very funny.
Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
Cruelty, hypocrisy, dashed hopes: Jane Eyre faces them all, yet her individuality triumphs. Her relationship with Rochester has such emotional power that it's hard to believe these characters never lived.
War and Peace Tolstoy
Tolstoy's masterpiece is so enormous even the author said it couldn't be described as a novel. But the characters of Andrei, Pierre and Natasha – and the tragic and unexpected way their lives intersect – grip you for all 1,400 pages.
David Copperfield Charles Dickens
David's journey to adulthood is filled with difficult choices – and a huge cast of characters, from the treacherous Steerforth to the comical Mr Micawber.
Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
'"I'm no Angel," answered Miss Rebecca. And to tell the truth, she was not.' Whether we should judge the cunning, amoral Becky Sharp – or the hypocritical society she inhabits – is the question.
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
Flaubert's finely crafted novel tells the story of Emma, a bored provincial wife who comforts herself with shopping and affairs. It doesn't end well.
Dorothea wastes her youth on a creepy, elderly scholar. Lydgate marries the beautiful but self-absorbed Rosamund. George Eliot's characters make terrible mistakes, but we never lose empathy with them.
BOOKS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
Das Kapital Karl Marx
His thinking may not be as popular as it was in the Sixties and Seventies, but it's as relevant. The cardinal critique of the capitalist system.
The Rights of Man Tom Paine
Written during the heady days of the French Revolution, Paine's pamphlet - by introducing the concept of human rights - remains one of modern democracy's fundamental texts.
The Social Contract Jean-Jacques Rousseau
'Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.' How are we to reconcile our individual rights and freedoms with living in a society?
Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville
This treatise looked to the new country's flourishing democracy in the early 19th century and the progressive model it offered ‘old’ Europe.
On War Carl von Clausewitz
The first, and probably still foremost, treatise on the art of modern warfare. The Prussian general looked beyond the battlefield to war's place in the broader political context.
The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli
Written during his exile from the Florentine Republic, Machiavelli's bible of realpolitik offers the ultimate mandate for those (still-too-many) politicians who value keeping power above dispensing justice.
Leviathan Thomas Hobbes
Hobbes's call for rule by an absolute sovereign may not sound too progressive, but it was based on the then-groundbreaking belief that all men are naturally equal.
On the Interpretation of Dreams Sigmund Freud
Drawing on his own dreams, plus those of his patients, Freud asserted that dreams – by tapping into our unconscious – held the key to understanding what makes us tick.
On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin
No other book has so transformed how we look at the natural world and mankind's origins.
L'Encyclopédie Diderot, et al
Subtitled 'A Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts', with contributions by Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot and others, the 35-volume encyclopedia was the ultimate document of Enlightenment thought.
BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR WORLD
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig
Pirsig's feel-good memoir about a father-son motorcycle trip across America became the biggest-selling philosophy book of all time.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull Richard Bach
Bach's fable about a dreamy seagull called Jonathan, who seeks to soar above the ideology of his flock, became a New Age classic, and is dedicated to the 'real seagull in all of us'.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
Originally broadcast on Radio 4, this quotable comedy about a hapless Englishman and his alien friend proved that sci-fi could be clever and funny.
The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell uses everything from teenage smoking to Sesame Street to show how one person's small idea, or way of thinking, can spark a social epidemic.
The Beauty Myth Naomi Wolf
Wolf, the controversial American feminist (and teenage victim of anorexia), argues that women's insecurities stem from society's demands on them either to be beautiful or face judgment.
How to Cook Delia Smith
The cookery queen's series is credited with teaching culinary delinquents how to prepare good wholesome food from scratch. Her latest book, How to Cheat at Cooking, does the opposite.
A Year in Provence Peter Mayle
For those who've dreamt of leaving it all to live in the South of France, expat Peter Mayle's diary offers a dose of reality, from unexpected snowfalls to an algae-coated swimming pool.
A Child Called 'It' Dave Pelzer
Pelzer's graphic account of his abusive childhood topped the bestseller lists worldwide. Since then, he's had to fight off accusations of embellishment and fantasy from family members.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves Lynne Truss
In an attempt to stamp out poor punctuation, Truss compiled a lively and useful account for all those in doubt about how to use an apostrophe.
Schott's Original Miscellany Ben Schott
Dip into Schott's compendium of trivia and impress your friends with such questions as, 'Do you know who makes the Queen's pork sausages?' The answer: Musks of Newmarket.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon
Compressing 13 turbulent centuries into one epic narrative, this is often labelled the first 'modern' history book. Gibbon fell back on sociology, rather than superstition, to explain Rome's demise.
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Winston Churchill
Taking us from Caesar's 55BC invasion to the Boer War's end in 1902, Churchill’s four-volume saga makes the proud, but now-unfashionable, connection between speaking English and bearing 'the torch of Freedom'.
A History of the Crusades Steven Runciman
Still the landmark account of the Crusades, Byzantine scholar Runciman's work broke with centuries of Western tradition, claiming the crusading invaders were guilty of a 'long act of intolerance in the name of God'.
The Histories Herodotus
Ostensibly about Greece's defeat of the invading Persians in the 5th century BC, it blends fact, hearsay, legend and myth to tell tales of life in and around Ancient Greece.
The History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides
Famously fastidious over the reliability of his data and sources, Thucydides – with this detailed study of the 25-year struggle between Athens and Sparta – set the template for every historian after him.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom T. E. Lawrence
Lawrence of Arabia's fascinating, self-mythologising account of how he united a string of Arab tribes and successfully led them to rebellion against their Ottoman overlords.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Compiled at King Alfred's behest in the AD890s, this is the earliest-known history of England written in old English. It's also the oldest history of any European country in a vernacular language.
A People's Tragedy Orlando Figes
Figes charts the Russian Revolution in stark detail, telling the tale of 'ordinary people' and boldly concluding that they 'weren't the victims of the Revolution but protagonists in its tragedy'.
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution Simon Schama
Before he was on television, Prof Schama offered 948 pages of proof that there was more to the French Revolution than fraternity, equality and eating cake.
The Origins of the Second World War A.J.P. Taylor
Was Hitler all that bad? Wasn't he just an opportunist who took advantage of Anglo-French dithering and appeasement? The label 'iconoclastic' applies to few historians so well as it does to Taylor. You are here: Telegraph > Arts > Books