50 Books to (Re-)Read at 50

Next Avenue's essential short list of novels, nonfiction and biographies

by Mike Hammer • Next Avenue
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

Got some time on your hands? This list of 50 great books is a good way to raise your literary IQ. It's by no means the "definitive" list, but each of these masterpieces is at least as relevant and powerful today as when it was written. And they're all still terrific reads.
The Bible, various authors, ca. 1446 BC
Not only is it the cornerstone of Judaism and Christianity, but this perennial best-seller is still a prerequisite for understanding many of the world’s literary classics.
The Iliad/The Odyssey, Homer, 1194–1184 BC
The world’s first and still baddest sandals-and-swords epics (poems, in this case, not Kirk Douglas or Russell Crowe vehicles) lend comic book muscle to actual and mythical Greek history from the Trojan War and the tales of brave Ulysses' 10-year commute back home.
Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1602 (estimated)
“To be, or not to be?” On this list, it’s a no-brainer. Arguably the most widely read and iconic piece of fiction ever. Shakespeare’s play mirrors the monarchal brutality of King Henry VIII — yet resonates with readers of all eras and cultures.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1818
The mother of all monster stories gave birth to the moral dilemma of whether science and mad ambition should trample on God’s private property — as well as to a million sequels, movies and TV spinoffs.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844
Payback is a bitch. A wrongly imprisoned man returns from 12 years in the Bastille as a mysterious and wealthy gentleman to exact revenge on the not-so-noblemen who stole his life, family and dignity. Written 150 years before the Innocence Project made its debut. 
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, 1850
Possibly the first “creative memoir.” Dickens calls this novelization of his childhood his favorite novel, and he's been joined in that opinion by plenty of other literary giants including Kafka, Tolstoy and James — not to mention countless devoted fans.
Moby Dick: Herman Melville, 1851
Whether or not you ever got past “Call me Ishmael,” the greatest fish story ever told is an important one to know. A maniacal Captain Ahab casts away his crew and humanity when he blindly fishes for revenge from the whale that took his leg in a good vs. evil parable of biblical proportions.
Les Misérables, Victor Hugo, 1862
Widely considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, this Dickensian novel with a French accent indicts the post-revolutionary Gaul-ing justice system through the struggles of a wrongly convicted, righteous man hounded by a twisted prison guard.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, 1869
The blueprint for epic storytelling, the count’s grandiose tale of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia straddles the line between brilliant historical fiction and gut-wrenching romance novel.

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First Published Wed, 2012-11-07 16:27

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