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10 must-read classic books for beginners
Your gateway to enjoying literature.
- Classical literature constitutes a notable piece of work that has enduring quality over the years.
- The ranks of classics encompasses a small number of works over many languages.
- These works are accessible and timeless.
Classic literature isn't usually on a leisure reader's list. Classics tend to evoke views of dusty tomes, unapproachable texts or mere ornaments in some ersatz library. Mention to someone that you're reading Moby Dick, Brave New World, or some other renowned classic and you're sure to get lamentations of their experience reading said book in school.
Largely wasted on high schoolers with no true life experience and in extended adolescence through college, the classics remain for many an untapped source for growth, knowledge and generally just a good read.
Many of these novels are genuinely hilarious, thought-provoking and have commentary you wouldn't expect coming out of time periods sometimes decades, centuries, or even millennia prior to our modern day world.
Why should we read the classics?
A lesson by Professor Jeffrey Brenzel
This is by no means a definitive list. Classics abound in many genres and eras. You could spend your whole life reading just the Latin and ancient Greek great works or tumbling through the golden age reservoir of seminal science fiction works for that matter. Merely picking up one of these books will get you started reading something of the classic variety. And the best part is, it's all on your own volition this time!
Here are 10 classic novels that will hopefully begin you on a never-ending journey into the heart-soul of literary excellence.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Ernest Hemingway once remarked on Huckleberry Finn that: "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."
Twain's tour de force and most famous novel delves into a number of issues. Exploring racism, war, religion and so much more, the book is Americana canon. It's no stretch to say Huckleberry Finn is synonymous with American literature. Following an orphan boy and runaway slave in the Southern United States, Twain delved into the heart of so many important moral issues. With many poetic descriptions and the allure of once being a banned and censored book, Huckleberry Finn is a foundational classic.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Published just a year after Emily Brontë's death, Wuthering Heights would go on to become the archetype of the doomed romance. Continuing and ascending past the dark prince himself, Lord Byron, Brontë weaved a tremendous classic in the Gothic strain of literature. The tormented love and grief between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw has become a model for many great works since.
Written during the Victorian era, the characters and authorship of this book explores behavior that would have certainly made a Victorian blush to say the least. Brontë created an eerie and obsessive love story that transcended its time and genre.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Written with hilarious wit, Moby Dick is a profound meditation on the human condition. Filled with 19th century whaling lore and other periodic cultural artifacts and customs, Herman Melville's epic is unmatched. The prose is dense, allusive and cunningly archaic. Moby Dick isn't a book to be read, it's an experience to be had. Don't let any detractors stop you from diving in because of the supposed tediousness of whaling chapters. Within the never-ending treatises on whaling lines, cetology rambles and minute observations, there are sparkling lines of philosophical observations and timeless humor.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Literary excellence seemed to run in the Brontë family. Jane Eyre was an incredible breakthrough for an English novel at the time. Right away, the reader is brought into a very personal account of the story. Many literary critics believe that it is a forerunner for novels that heavily invest us into the internal monologues and consciousness of the character as the main prose point. Jane Eyre has all the workings of a Victorian novel as the romance between Jane and Rochester is told through an enchanting Gothic element.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice centers around a family with five unmarried daughters and their familial estate has been promised over to a male line descendant of the family. When the appearance of a rich Mr. Darcy comes to town, the action commences and we're left with this wonderful tale.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."
Colin Firth and the many excellent and so-so adaptations of this book aside, Pride and Prejudice proves to be a literary masterpiece.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Just 18 years old at the time of writing this novel, Mary Shelley was in quite the literary posse at the time. As the infamous story goes, she wrote the book on a bet with a number of renowned literati greats. She most definitely won that bet. Both a Gothic thriller and cautionary tale on the unbounded powers of science, Frankenstein paved the way for generations of writers to come. Drawing on biblical references such as the 16th-century Jewish Golem, in Frankenstein, Shelley shows her writing prowess and historical knowledge.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
A book of impassioned fancy and fantasy, Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, told quite the modern tale through Don Quixote. The real and illusory are blended and mixed to perfection. Don Quixote has had an enormous effect on many writers through the years. William Faulkner once remarked he would reread it once a year, quipping that he'd read it, "just as some people read the Bible."
Homer's The Odyssey
An outlier in our list of classics, The Odyssey deserves a special mention. Regarded by many to be the first novel of all time, this Greek oration withstood the test of thousands of years. It is the quintessential epic saga. All great works must pay their dues to the original. Lattimore's translation is what brought this book to a contemporary world audience. Technically spoken (or written) as a long-form poem, The Odyssey is a great and thrilling read after all of these years.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
An unforgettable novel that is an easy read for many just getting into the classics. By no means a light-hearted book, To Kill a Mockingbird deals with some heavy themes like racial inequality, rape and moral ethics. Harper Lee's inaugural novel was an instant bestseller and award winning book. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 after being published in 1960. There was later a thrilling adaptation and equally compelling classic film made a few years later – a rarity when it comes to some of the classics.
1984 by George Orwell
One of the most important works of the 20th century, 1984 brought many words into the cultural vernacular. Big Brother, doublespeak and the infamous slogan of War is Peace. George Orwell's masterpiece only grows more haunting and relevant as we move into the future. Political satire was never meant to be this real.
As our main character Winston Smith loses himself in the bureaucratic nightmare of Ingsoc, we look on in horror and disdain. Yet, taking a look around our world today when despotic regimes are implementing social capital systems, and the politics of the English language degrades in so many ways, 1984 starts to take on a disconcerting prescience.
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Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1049" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="481" data-height="720" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1400" data-height="787" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.
- The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
- Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
- The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty