Classic books to tick off your bucket list

From the gothic horror of Frankenstein to the social satire of Pride and Prejudice, here is our edit of the classic books to read at least once in your life.

2 minutes to read

What makes a classic? In his book Why Read the Classics? Italian writer Italo Calvino defined classics as ‘books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.’ Pan Macmillan’s own Harriet Sanders, Publisher of Macmillan Collectors’ Library, believes that a classic ‘has to have endured and stood the test of time . . . they will deal with themes that are still relevant today – universal themes.’

From gothic horror to romance, literary fiction to science that changed the world, here’s our edit of the classic novels you should be adding to your reading bucket list. For more on what makes a classic, don’t miss the Book Break episode below.


by Mary Shelley

Book cover for 9781509827756

Often copied but never bettered, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the influential and shocking story of a monster created by a mad scientist. Born out of a competition between Mary Shelley and the poets Shelley and Byron over who could write the best horror story, Frankenstein is more relevant than ever in today’s world of boundary-pushing genetic experiments.

The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

Book cover for 9781909621534

H. G. Wells was among the first to express a plausible scientific method of time travel, and he also coined the term ‘time machine’ in this science fiction novella. The book has been adapted into three different films, and still influences science fiction writers today. The Time Machine is a pioneering classic that is considered by many to be the most influential sci-fi book of all time.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Book cover for 9781509827770

Thousands of teenagers around the world have fallen in love with Marmee and her four daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. This semi-autobiographical novel charts the highs and lows of the four sisters as they navigate their way from childhood to adulthood.

On the Origin of the Species

by Charles Darwin

Book cover for 9781509827695

Darwin’s record of his theory of evolution which revolutionised our understanding of humanity's place in the natural world. On the Origin of Species is considered the foundation of evolutionary biology and is still hugely influential to this day.

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Book cover for 9781909621657

A tour de force of wit and sparkling dialogue whose characters and themes still resonate today. Ostensibly a romance full of gowns and balls, this social satire of marriage and relationships in 19th century England is much more cutting and incisive than it first appears.

Wuthering Heights

by Emily Bronte

Book cover for 9781509827800

Heathcliff and Cathy are one of the most romantic and passionate couples in literature and Wuthering Heights is unsurpassed in depiction of destructive love. This haunting gothic romance is one of the great novels of the twentieth century, and has influenced numerous songs and film adaptations.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

by Lewis Carroll

Book cover for 9781909621572

Alice, The White Rabbit, The Cheshire Cat and The Queen of Hearts have kept readers spellbound for more than 150 years. This much loved book has never been out of print since it was first published, and has been adapted into dozens of films and TV series, plays and ballets, as well as influencing countless fantasy writers.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover for 9781509826360

The book that best captures the flamboyance, the carelessness and the cruelty of the wealthy during America’s Jazz age. Evoking the glitz, glamour and the dark side of 1920s, The Great Gatsby is a cynical look at the limits of the American Dream which still resonates today.

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

Book cover for 9781509842889

This 1856 novel about being trapped in a loveless marriage is still so poignant today, and remains one of the best, and saddest, portraits of a woman ever written. Flaubert’s debut novel is a pioneering work of literary realism which faced obscenity charges when it was originally published but is now considered a masterpiece.

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Book cover for 9781509844395

Another unforgettable literary female character is Becky Sharpe – a woman willing to use everything in her arsenal to secure a rich husband and live like a queen. This dazzlingly entertaining satire of early nineteenth century high society is as popular now as it was upon publication.

For more from Macmillan Collector’s Library, check out this episode of Book Break where Emma talks to MCL Publisher Harriet about what makes a classic.