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50 classics from (almost) everyone's high school reading list

  • #10. The Scarlet Letter

    - Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
    - Score: 15,426
    - Average rating: 3.39/5, based on 642,352 ratings

    Nathaniel Hawthorne published "The Scarlet Letter" in 1850. In the novel, which is based on historical events, readers follow the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who is forced to wear a red A” on her clothes after she conceives a child out of wedlock. She bears the punishment alone when she refuses to name the baby’s father. Her character marked one of the first where a strong female was the protagonist. Hawthorne also touches on themes of hypocrisy, shame, guilt, and love.



  • #9. Of Mice and Men

    - Author: John Steinbeck
    - Score: 17,192
    - Average rating: 3.86/5, based on 1,743,236 ratings

    "Of Mice and Men" tells the story of George and his simple-minded friend, Lennie. The two have to get new jobs on a ranch because of some trouble in Lennie’s past. The novel, set during the Great Depression, tackles topics of sexism and racism.



  • #8. Hamlet

    - Author: William Shakespeare
    - Score: 17,276
    - Average rating: 4.01/5, based on 657,227 ratings

    Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, becomes vengeful after attending his father’s funeral, only to find his mother has remarried his uncle, Claudius. The stepfather crowns himself king, a role that should have gone to Hamlet. The prince finds out his father was murdered, after which he kills the new king. The tragedy, which launched the famous line To be, or not to be,” shines a light on some of the worst traits of humanity. Some consider the play Shakespeare’s greatest work.



  • #7. The Catcher in the Rye

    - Author: J. D. Salinger
    - Score: 17,633
    - Average rating: 3.80/5, based on 2,451,530 ratings

    J. D. Salinger aptly captures teen angst in "The Catcher in the Rye" when the reader gets a look at three days in the life of its narrator, the 16-year-old Holden Caulfield. The book was an instant success, but some schools have banned it from their libraries and reading lists, citing vulgarity and sexual content.



  • #6. Animal Farm

    - Author: George Orwell
    - Score: 18,315
    - Average rating: 3.92/5, based on 2,377,098 ratings

    A group of farm animals organizes a revolt after they realize their master, Mr. Jones, is mistreating them and offering them nothing in return for their work. When they challenge the leadership, they are disciplined for speaking out. This classic isn’t about animal rights. It is a larger critique on Soviet Communism. Orwell wrote it as an attack against Stalinism in Russia.



  • #5. Macbeth

    - Author: William Shakespeare
    - Score: 19,153
    - Average rating: 3.89/5, based on 605,131 ratings

    Another Shakespeare classic, "Macbeth" portrays the weakness of humanity. The character of Macbeth receives a prophecy that he will one day become king of Scotland. His unchecked ambition ends in murder; Macbeth kills King Duncan to steal the throne for himself. It shows the destructive influence of political ambition and pursuing power for its own sake.

  • #4. Lord of the Flies

    - Author: William Golding
    - Score: 20,677
    - Average rating: 3.67/5, based on 2,002,142 ratings

    "Lord of the Flies" tells the alarming story of a group of young boys who survive a plane crash, only to descend into tribalism on the island where they landed. Two of the boys—Ralph and Jack—clash in their pursuit of leadership. The novel, which has been challenged in schools, shows how struggles for power based on fear and division can result in a collapse of social order, themes that might seem relevant today.

  • #3. The Great Gatsby

    - Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
    - Score: 24,750
    - Average rating: 3.91/5, based on 3,322,289 ratings

    Nick Carraway, a Midwest transplant and Yale graduate, moves to West Egg, Long Island. Carraway enters a world of extravagance when he becomes entangled with millionaire Jay Gatsby and his mistress, Daisy Buchanan. The novel is viewed as a cautionary tale about achieving the American Dream of wealth and excess.



  • #2. Romeo and Juliet

    - Author: William Shakespeare
    - Score: 30,769
    - Average rating: 3.74/5, based on 1,878,322 ratings

    Two star-crossed lovers meet and perish in this tragedy. Juliet, a Capulet, falls in love with Romeo, a Montague. Because their families are rivals, they are forbidden to marry. They secretly wed before misfortune leads to their deaths. Losing their children inspires a peace among the families. Some critics claim the play’s childish view of love hasn’t stood the test of time, but others think the story is multilayered and deserves its classic status.



  • #1. To Kill a Mockingbird

    - Author: Harper Lee
    - Score: 39,482
    - Average rating: 4.27/5, based on 3,977,468 ratings

    Harper Lee’s first novel, which was published in 1960, tackles issues of racial and social injustice in the South. Set in Alabama, it introduces readers to Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman, his daughter, Scout, and Boo Radley, their reclusive neighbor. Lee’s work won her a Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because of some racial language, the book has been challenged in many schools throughout America.



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