The best short books: all of these are under 100 pages
Fantastic books that are quick to read but will stay with you forever.
We all want to be able to read more books and smash through our mounting to-read piles. But life gets in the way and our best intentions to plough through at least a book a week never materialise. If this sounds like you, it's time to kickstart your reading habit with one (or several) of the best short books of all time.
Adding a few of the best short books to your library is a great idea, especially over the summer. Rather than beat yourself up for not reading more books, take a break from those long tomes and dive into a short and sweet novella instead. This might get you out of your barely-any-attention-span funk or it may just be a way to indulge in stories without the investment of a doorstop of a novel at your bedside.
In our list below, you'll find our pick of the best short books of all time. We've included 17 fantastic stories, novellas, and even one really long poem, that you can gorge on in their entirety in an afternoon, meaning even the most time-poor amongst us can add a couple of ticks to that must-read list. It's time to put down your phone, hit pause on Netlfix, share that selfie tomorrow and get stuck into one of the best short books right now – you won't regret it.
*Additional reporting Marc Chacksfield.
The best short books
1. Animal FarmBuy now from Amazon
Author: George Orwell
Yes, we know you read it at school. We all read it at school. But pick it up again now that you’re a little older, a little wiser, and a little more pissed off at the world’s political failings, and it’ll seem like a whole new and important read to you.
2. The Art Of WarBuy now from Amazon
Author: Sun Tzu
"Been reading that book you told me about. You know, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I mean here's this guy, a Chinese general, wrote this thing 2400 years ago, and most of it still applies today! Balk the enemy's power. Force him to reveal himself. You know most of the guys that I know, they read Prince Machiavelli, and I had Carmela go and get the Cliff Notes once and he's okay. But this book is much better about strategy." – Tony Soprano, on finding mobster strategy inspiration in this book, in The Sopranos.
3. The Old Man And The SeaBuy now from Amazon
Author: Ernest Hemingway
It’s about an old man. And the sea. And the difficulties in admitting that we cannot control the uncontrollable.
4. The MetamorphosisBuy now from Amazon
Author: Franz Kafka
Felt a bit ropey when you woke up, did you? A touch hungover, perhaps? You know who definitely doesn’t care about your AM woes? Gregor Samsa, the protagonist in this, who “woke up one morning from unsettling dreams” to find he’d become a cockroach. Yep, a cockroach. Now take your aspirin, open up what’s often argued to be the finest short story ever written, and quit yo’ self-pitying.
5. The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. HydeBuy now from Amazon
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Perhaps the most classic tale of good versus evil, and a look into internal battles every man must deal with in life. The idea for this world-famous “shilling shocker” came to Stevenson in a dream, from which he woke in a blind fury and instantly began to write that morning.
6. The Call Of The WildBuy now from Amazon
Author: Jack London
A hero to Hemingway and Kerouac, London led a crime-filled youth before knuckling down to write more than 50 books before his drug- and drink-assisted death aged just 40. This, his adventurous tale of a sled dog that’s stolen away from domestic life and hurled into a world of cruelty, is as much about canines as it is about the conflicts in humanity.
7. The DeadBuy now from Amazon
Author: James Joyce
TS Eliot believed this, the final story from Joyce’s Dubliners collection that centres around an epiphany about life and death, to be one of the greatest short stories ever written. Yeah, take his word for it. He knew a thing or two about books, he did.
8. The Velveteen RabbitBuy the book now from Amazon
Author: Margery Williams
One of the most beautiful children's books ever made, The Velveteen Rabbit is all about a toy who is new to a nursery who wants to understand what being real means. And now we have tears all over our keyboard.
9. Heart Of DarknessBuy now from Amazon
Author: Joseph Conrad
A book perhaps best summed up by its most famous line, “The horror! The horror!” You’ve seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocolypse Now, right? Yep, all that madness was inspired by this. That should give you a good idea about how totally messed up and dark this work of literary art gets.
10. Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall StreetBuy now from Amazon
Author: Herman Melville
Melville’s tale of the big white whale is a good ten times the length of this read, and even at a snail’s pace you’ll get through this peculiar and compelling story of one man’s isolation in just an afternoon.
11. The Yellow WallpaperBuy the book now from Amazon
Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A wonderful book that showcases abuse and the mental turbulence it can cause someone. Having had enough, a woman locks herself in her room to get away from her abusive husband and begins to obsess about the yellow wallpaper. This is a book that has myriad interpretations and is one you will want to reread endlessly.
12. The Ones Who Walk Away from OmelasBuy now from Amazon
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
If ever the was a book that holds a mirror up to the current society we live in, it is this one. Over the course of 32 pages, Le Guin showcases a utopia and the price that is paid to have a city of such splendour. This story has all the power of a boxer's fist to the gut
13. Notes From The UndergroundBuy now from Amazon
Author: Fydor Dostoyevsky
Cracking into Dostoyevsky seems like a daunting prospect. Hell, it is a daunting prospect – his finest work, Crime and Punishment, is very heavy going. This relatively bite-sized book questions our obsession with destruction and chaos, and is a good place to start before committing to the big boy stuff.
14. The Turn Of The ScrewBuy now from Amazon
Author: Henry James
You’d need serious cojones to read this masterful gothic ghost chiller with the lights off. Serious cojones.
15. The LotteryBuy now from Amazon
Author: Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is the master of eerie vibes, and The Lottery is one of her most famous stories. It's incredibly short, only 16 pages, which is why you'll often find it included in short story collections rather than as a standalone book. We're going to warn you in advance this isn't an easy read. It's horrifying in a way that burrows deep into your psyche. But if you like to feel truly shaken by the fiction you read, give The Lottery a whirl.
16. The Rime of the Ancient MarinerBuy now from Amazon
Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner isn't a novel, it's a very, very long poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. You will find it in e-book and paperback form, though, often accompanied by beautiful illustrations. It tells the story of a sailor who has recently returned from a long sea voyage. It's beautifully-written, eerie and deeply atmospheric. You'll be lingering over the words and unique linguistic style as much as the vivid imagery.
17. Death In VeniceBuy now from Amazon
Author: Thomas Mann
Proof that the Devil really does make work for idle thumbs. An aging author’s escape from writer’s block leads him to Venice, and a world of fateful obsession, uncontrollable infatuation, painful lust, forbidden sex and doom.
- These are the best books to read before you kick the bucket.