Books have varied uses in our lives. They can transport us to worlds we might never know otherwise; like travelers in a strange town, we stroll down their streets without any maps. Books wake us up to the reports of our senses and introduce us to character qualities we might have ignored. Whether reading as an assignment or just for pleasure, we discover the distinctive satisfaction in exploration, especially the joy that comes from surprise and risk.

The astute poet Steven Vincent Benet reminds us that:

"Books are not men and yet they are alive.
They are man's memory and his aspiration
The link between his present and his past,
The tools he builds with."

Books are also good companions as we journey through life; they help us construct philosophies or responses to our own jaunty experiences. And, last but not least, books are a composite ticket to travel, companionship, intimacy, politics, change, family, death, and much more!

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die far surpasses other works of this kind thanks to its versatility and eclecticism. The book is organized by the author's name and spiced up with jacket covers and author photos. James Mustich cofounded and was for two decades the guiding force and voice of the acclaimed books catalog A Common Reader. He is currently the Vice President for Digital Product at Barnes & Noble.

Three or four paragraphs are devoted to each book along with quotations. We suggest that you tap into the creative and imaginative energy of this book and curate your own "Must Read List." Here's an example:

  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
  • America in the King Years by Taylor Branch
  • Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantar
  • The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer
  • The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • The Civil War by Shelby Foote
  • Critical Path by R. Buckminister Fuller
  • Dakota by Kathleen Norris
  • The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
  • The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
  • Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe
  • Memories of the Great and The Good by Alastair Cooke
  • Native Son by Richard Wright
  • O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • A Palpable God by Reynolds Price
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  • The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by R. M. Pirsig