11 of the best Charles Dickens books (for every type of reader)

One of England’s best-loved authors, Charles Dickens was a prolific writer. If you’re unsure where to start with his many novels, travel books and short stories, here’s our guide to the best Charles Dickens’ books for every type of reader. 

Charles Dickens' books are an important part of Britain's literary heritage, and Dickens is one of the most beloved English writers of all time. Remembered as one of the great chroniclers of Victorian life, his brilliant wit and rich narratives brought him incomparable fame in the literary world, both in his own time and in ours. 

From the well-known A Tale of Two Cities to the story of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens’ era-defining novels explore social concerns like labour conditions, poverty and childhood cruelty while keeping love, friendship and sorrow at their hearts. If you're not sure where to start, we're here to help with this guide to the best Charles Dickens book for every type of reader. 

The best Charles Dickens novel for crime fiction fans

Bleak House

by Charles Dickens

Part tightly plotted murder mystery, part biting condemnation of the corruption at the heart of English society, Bleak House follows the inheritance case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The case has been drawn out for generations, and we’re introduced to myriad characters from all walks of life. There’s Esther Summerson, Dickens' feisty heroine; Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock, cocooned in their stately home in Lincolnshire; and Jo, the penniless crossing sweeper. With murder, secrets and spies, if your go-to genre is crime fiction, then this Charles Dickens book is the one for you.

Bleak House is his greatest novel . . . with its backdrop of a legal system more invested in obstruction and obfuscation than resolution, it remains utterly contemporary
Anna Quindlen, Independent

The best Charles Dickens book for younger readers

Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens

When orphaned Oliver Twist runs away from the workhouse he was born in and arrives by foot in London, he’s faced with a world of crime, unusual friends and unexpected kindness. Centred around the lives of Victorian children, Oliver Twist is part pleasure, part education and the perfect book to get children into Dickens.

Charles Dickens' most romantic book

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Also opening with a poor orphaned boy, Great Expectations tells the tale of how young Pip falls in love with a beautiful upper-class girl named Estella. Will class division get in the way of his heart? If you’re a romantic, this heartwarming, plot-twisting and captivating novel is the perfect Dickens novel to start with.

Charles Dickens' books that explore politics

Hard Times

by Charles Dickens

Set in Coketown, an imaginary town inspired by Preston, Hard Times is a novel of social and moral themes which George Bernard Shaw called a ‘passionate revolt against the whole industrial order of the modern world.’ A savage satire of the social and economic conditions of the time, it addresses the trade union movement and post-Industrial Revolution inequality. 

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

Set against the backdrop of the French revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is the best place to start for a tense political novel. Dr Manette is finally reunited with his daughter Lucie after eighteen years of wrongful imprisonment in the Bastille. But when Lucie falls in love with Charles Darney, who’s accused of treason against the English crown, their family equilibrium is once again thrust into danger in this tightly plotted story of revenge and sacrifice.

The funniest Charles Dickens novel

The Pickwick Papers

by Charles Dickens

Mr. Pickwick, Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass and Nathaniel Winckle are an unlikely band of travellers drawn together in the Pickwick Club of London. They journey around England befriending everyone from country squires to local literary giants in this hilarious and sentimental novel. The Pickwick Papers is the perfect, witty novel to get you into Dickens.

The scariest Charles Dickens novel

Ghost Stories

by Charles Dickens

Dickens began the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas, but his frightening and fascinating tales aren’t confined to the festive season. From gruesome legal drama ‘A Trial for Murder’, to eerie domestic farce ‘The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber’, you are guaranteed a fright in Dicken’s Ghost Stories.

The best Charles Dickens book if you like to read autobiographies

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

Although David Copperfield is a novel, it was partly based on Charles Dickens’s own life and he described it as the favourite of his novels. The book tells the life story of David Copperfield, from his birth in Suffolk, through the various struggles of his childhood, to his successful career as a novelist. The novel’s outlandish cast of characters, which includes the glamorous Steerforth, the cheerful, verbose Mr Micawber, the villainous Uriah Heep, and David's eccentric aunt, Betsey Trotwood, make it a joy to read.

A Charles Dickens novel that will transport you back in time

Scenes of London Life

by Charles Dickens

Scenes of London Life offers a genuine window into Victorian London through satirical short stories that take you from the colourful chaos of gin-shops to the destitution of pawnshops. If you want to be transported to another place, Scenes of London Life is an accessible way in.

The best Charles Dickens book to read at Christmas

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

An obvious choice perhaps, but Charles Dickens' beloved novella is a festive staple and the perfect Christmas read. A celebration of Christmas, a tale of redemption, and a critique of Victorian society, it follows the miserly, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge who views Christmas as 'humbug'. It is only through a series of eerie, life-changing visits from the ghost of his deceased business partner Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future that Scrooge begins to see the error of his ways.

If you only read one Charles Dickens book

Our Mutual Friend

by Charles Dickens

Often described as one of Dickens’ most sophisticated works, Our Mutual Friend was named one of the BBC’s Novels That Shaped Our World. The novel was the last that Dickens completed, and is a savage indictment of the corrupting power of money.  When John Harmon dies and his estranged son is also presumed dead, his riches pass to his servants Mr and Mrs Boffin. They hire a young man to be Mr Boffin’s secretary, but what is this secretive man’s true identity? 

I find it irresistible: the autumn evening closing in, the crazy little boat afloat on the filthy Thames, the strong young woman plying the oars and a ragged, grizzled man, her father, busying himself with something towed in the water behind them. You are some way into the narrative before it dawns on you that it is a drowned body.
Shirley Hughes, Independent

In this episode of Book Break Emma explores the English seaside, including Broadstairs where Charles Dickens stayed while writing Nicholas Nickelby and where the Charles Dickens Museum can now be found: