25 Time-Tested American Classics For Every Bookshelf

Best American classic novels to read now scaled

If I’m being very honest, I didn’t start reading classics until about 2 years ago, and ever since then, I have been immersed in some of the best books ever written.

Before the militarization and control of what gets into the public sphere, many authors were daring with everything from their narrative to the plotline. That’s why I always recommend classic novels to anyone looking for something to get into.

In this post, I have listed some of the best classic books by American authors that are simply brilliant and will draw you in from the very first page. America has spawned some of the greatest minds I have ever seen, and many of them are the perfect proof of that.

There is everything from romantic classics to nonfiction books and even utopian works that will keep you riveted from beginning to end. Make sure to check them out.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel explores themes of racial injustice, morality, and compassion in the American South during the 1930s. 

Through the innocent eyes of young Scout Finch, you’ll see her father, lawyer Atticus Finch, defending an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman.

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

Set in the Roaring Twenties, this novel paints a vivid portrait of the Jazz Age and the pursuit of the American Dream. 

Through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway, we will meet the mysterious Jay Gatsby, whose extravagant lifestyle hides a longing for lost love and acceptance into high society.

3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville


A classic tale of obsession and revenge, this American classic novel follows Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of the elusive white whale, Moby Dick. 

As the crew of the Pequod sails the seas, Melville explores everything from the themes of fate and morality to the destructive power of man’s obsessions.

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye

Narrated by the disillusioned teenager Holden Caulfield, this novel is a poignant exploration of teenage angst, alienation, and the search for authenticity in a world he perceives as phony. 

Holden’s journey through New York City digs deep into the notion of identity, loss, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Regarded as one of the greatest American novels, this book follows Huck Finn and Jim, an escaped slave, as they journey down the Mississippi River. 

Twain’s biting satire and Huck’s moral awakening leads to issues of race, freedom, and the hypocrisy of society.

Also See: Add These 17 Books To Your Independence Reading List

6. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath

Set during the Great Depression, this novel chronicles the Joad family’s journey from Oklahoma to California as they look for a better life. 

Steinbeck’s powerful depiction of poverty, resilience, and the human spirit captures the struggles faced by migrant workers during one of America’s darkest periods.

7. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this haunting novel goes into the legacy of slavery and its impact on African American identity. 

Sethe, a former slave, is haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter, Beloved, as she grapples with the trauma of her past and the desire for freedom and redemption.

8. 1984 by George Orwell


Though not strictly American, this dystopian novel is often included in discussions of American literature, as it is written by one of the greatest American authors. 

Orwell’s chilling portrayal of a totalitarian regime and the erosion of individuality and truth remains a powerful warning against authoritarianism and the dangers of unchecked power.

9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This groundbreaking novel follows an unnamed African American narrator as he tries to make sense of racism and identity in mid-20th century America. 

Through his journey from invisibility to self-discovery, Ellison shows the overarching effects of the race divide, the politics of visibility, and the quest for personal and social identity.

This is yet another one of the best American classic books that’s just as relevant now as it was when it was first released – Make sure you check it out. 

10. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

Set in 17th-century Puritan Massachusetts, this novel tells the story of Hester Prynne, who is shunned by her community after bearing a child out of wedlock. 

Hawthorne’s show of sin, guilt, and redemption examines the consequences of societal judgment and the search for moral truth.

11. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

A timeless classic of American literature, this novel follows the mischievous adventures of young Tom Sawyer as he tries to survive boyhood in the antebellum South. 

Twain’s vivid portrayal of childhood innocence and rebellion captures the spirit of youth and the joys of growing up along the Mississippi River.

12. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch 22

Set during World War II, this satirical novel follows Captain John Yossarian and his fellow soldiers as they grapple with the absurdities and paradoxes of military bureaucracy.

Heller’s dark humor and biting commentary on war, sanity, and mortality have cemented this novel as a classic of modern literature that everyone needs to read. 

13. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novella tells the story of an aging Cuban fisherman named Santiago and his epic battle with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream. 

14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury

Considered one of Faulkner’s greatest works, this novel employs a stream-of-consciousness narrative to explore the decline of the Compson family in the American South. 

Through multiple perspectives and nonlinear storytelling, Faulkner delves into themes of time, memory, and the collapse of Southern aristocracy.

15. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude

This masterpiece of magical realism is often included in discussions of American literature, even though it isn’t completely American. 

Set in the fictional town of Macondo, it chronicles the rise and fall of the Buendía family over seven generations, blending history, myth, and imagination to create a rich fabric of Latin American culture and identity.

16. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In cold blood

This groundbreaking work of true crime literature recounts the brutal murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas and the subsequent investigation and capture of their killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. 

Capote’s meticulous research and narrative skill blur the line between fact and fiction, which offers a chilling portrayal of crime, justice, and the human psyche.

17. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five

A satirical anti-war novel, this book follows the experiences of Billy Pilgrim, a soldier who becomes unstuck in time and experiences moments of his life out of order, including his time as a prisoner of war in World War II and his encounters with extraterrestrial beings known as Tralfamadorians. 

18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises

Set against the backdrop of the Lost Generation in post-World War I Europe, this novel follows a group of expatriates as they travel from Paris to Pamplona to attend the running of the bulls. 

19. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

Set in the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, this epic novel follows the life of Scarlett O’Hara, a headstrong Southern belle, as she tries to make sense of love, loss, and the changing social landscape of the antebellum South. 

Mitchell’s sweeping narrative and vivid characters have made this a beloved classic of American literature – I’ve read it a couple of times already and I still love it so much (watch the movie too!)

Related: 20 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books Set In The 1900s and 1910s

20. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this novel tells the story of Celie, an African American woman who survives abuse and oppression in the early 20th century American South. 

Through Celie’s letters to God and her sister, Walker delves into the themes of race, gender, sexuality, and the power of sisterhood and self-discovery.

21. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden

Set in California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling family saga follows the intertwined lives of the Hamilton and Trask families over multiple generations. 

Drawing inspiration from the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Steinbeck draws a complicated motif of good and evil, free will, and the search for identity and redemption.

22. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the road

A defining work of the Beat Generation, this semi-autobiographical novel follows the cross-country adventures of Sal Paradise and his friend Dean Moriarty as they crisscross America in search of freedom, meaning, and the essence of the American Dream. 

23. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The adventures of augie march

This coming-of-age novel follows the adventures of Augie March as he tries to survive in Depression-era Chicago while pursuing the American Dream.

24. Native Son by Richard Wright

Native son

A powerful exploration of race and identity in America, this novel follows Bigger Thomas, a young African American man living in poverty in Chicago, as he grapples with systemic oppression, violence, and the limitations imposed on him by society.

I read this lovely book in secondary school and aside from it making me cry a good number of times (the grittiness was on another level), it also felt like a fresh vantage point of life that was timely and necessary.

It’s easily one of the biggest classics in American literature and, if you haven’t watched it, you definitely want to give it a chance. 

25. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

This novel follows Janie Crawford’s journey to self-discovery and empowerment as she survives three marriages and confronts societal expectations of race, gender, and identity in early 20th-century Florida.

These are some of the best books if you would like to get into classic literature, and I promise you’re going to enjoy every single one of them.

Let me know which ones are your favorite, or if I missed anyone, in the comment section below. And make sure you check out the related posts for even more book recommendations.

For now, here is a list of books about the American Revolutionary War that you should add to your reading list right now.


Hi! I'm Preye ("pre" as in "prepare" and "ye" as in "Kanye"), and I am a lifelong book lover who enjoys talking about books and sharing bits and pieces of all the fascinating things I come across. I love books so much that I decided to become a developmental editor, and right now, I work with authors to help them tell their stories better. On this blog, I share everything from book recommendations to book reviews and writing tips, so feel free to stop by anytime you like!

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