Books & Plays
Entering the modern age, books supplanted many oral traditions as they became cheap to produce. Better access to books led to rising literacy among common people. This revolution in reading is one of the biggest changes of modernity, contributing to the Reformation and the Enlightenment.
Infoplease has collected several influential books and plays, many of which are staples of modern culture. Whether you're looking for satire, tragedy, or something else entirely, we invite you to peruse these classic stories.
Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is one of the world's most beloved stories, adapted to film and stage time and time again. The book tell the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve in hopes that he might learn the meaning of charity and goodwill. This Christmas classic continues to delight (and it's enjoyable year-round).
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a classic book by Lewis Carroll, famously adapted into an animated film by Disney. The book recounts the story of a girl, Alice, who is led to the bizarre underground world of Wonderland. The different episodes of the book are deeply ingrained in pop culture, being referenced in music, movies, and literature. On top of its influence, the book's rambling prose has delighted readers of all ages for generations.
Candide is the most famous work of acclaimed French writer Voltaire, regarded as one of history's greatest wits. Candide is a bitingly funny book written in response to a niche argument. German thinker Gottfried Leibniz argued a solution to the Problem of Evil. He claimed that as God was good and capable of creating any possible world, the world we live in must be "the best of all possible worlds." Voltaire relentlessly mocked this idea. The result is the tale of poor Candide who is subjected to an escalating series of absurd hardships as his Optimist teacher assures him "this is the best of all possible worlds."
The Celtic Twilight
The Devil's Dictionary is a product of American satirist Ambrose Bierce's work in the papers. Serialized over several decades before being compiled, the dictionary offers Bierce's cynical definitions of everyday words, like "Take: To acquire, frequently by force but preferably by stealth." The collected terms were very popular in their day, and modern readers will still find a great deal of humor in Bierce's critical eye.
This collection of stories by universally esteemed writer Rabindranath Tagore is one of his most accessible works available in English. Tagore is most famous for his 100 collections of poetry and his 50 plays. His stories, however, are enjoyable for readers worldwide. The collection here, The Hungry Stones, involves several stories covering a wide range of topics and styles; we encourage you to experience the author's diverse talents for yourself.
Jo's Boys is the sequel to Little Men, set ten years later. The book continues the stories of the children from the previous book as they encounter adult difficulties. The book covers a broader range of stories and genres than the coming-of-age tale in Little Women, and its covers them with less realism and nuance than its classic predecessor, but it offers a conclusion to the series that has more valuable lessons for young readers.
Little Men is a successor to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, in which the heroine of the prior book has founded a school. Little Men shifts away from the focus of Little Women and is more targeted at children, with more focus on its juvenile cast. The book didn't receive the same popularity as Little Women, but it's still a valuable read in the history of children's literature or for fans of the prior book who wish to know what happens to Jo March.
Little Women is probably the masterpiece of author Louisa May Alcott. It is undoubtedly her most popular work. Little Women is the story of four sisters coming of age in 19th century America, and learning to navigate the expectations of womanhood. The book revolutionized literature targeted at girls when it came out, and literature more broadly with its anticipation of literary realism. It has inspired generations of readers with its cast of ambitious and fully realized female leads, and its read of the gendered culture of its day.
Peter Pan, or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up is a classic work of fantasy about a boy who, as the title implies, refuses to grow old. This whimsical journey through childhood underscores the tensions of growing up, and offers a thorough glimpse into the adolescent mind. Although some aspects of the plot have aged very poorly (like the stereotypical Native American characters), the book usually retains its fanciful charm.
A staple of high school curricula, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the most famous novel by acclaimed writer Oscar Wilde. The book focuses on a strange supernatural occurrence in which the title character is kept youthful by a portrait of him he keeps in his home. The book tells a gripping tale of vanity and moral decay that has engaged generations of readers. Wilde maintains his characteristic wit and form, making it a rewarding read.
Based on a real-life German nobleman, Baron Munchausen is a braggart who recounts all sorts of outrageous tales about his exploits. The farcical baron, who claims to have ridden a cannonball and gone to the moon, is a beloved character of continental literature. Baron Munchausen has been highly influential, even lending his name to Munchausen syndrome, a condition where someone fakes illness for sympathy.
Tales from Shakespeare is a historical fiction collection meant to prime newer readers on the stories of Shakespeare's plays. The idea of the book is that knowing the stories will make it easier to engage with the (sometimes quite dense) old masterpieces. The stories themselves, which Shakespeare adapted from numerous older sources, are well worth a read even without the Bard's iconic verse.
Utopia by Sir Thomas More should be well known for the word it contributed to the English language, "utopian." Utopia is More's description of an idealized society from the perspective of More himself, filtered through the account of a fictional traveler. Although many aspects of Utopia aren't quite, well, utopian today (such as the inclusion of slavery and lifelong punishments for premarital sex) the concept itself has proven its immense staying power.
Billy Shakes's reputation precedes him. But, for readers who are unaware, William Shakespeare is the world's most performed playwright, with productions happening constantly around the world. The Bard, as he is known, wrote near the peak of the English Renaissance, and many of his 35 plays are considered incomparable classics. Readers will best know his four great tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth), his tale of youthful love Romeo and Juliet, and his historical plays Richard III and Julius Caesar.