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Simon Winchester's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Simon Winchester recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Simon Winchester's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Sister Carrie

When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.'

The tale of Carrie Meeber's rise to stardom in the theatre and George Hurstwood's slow decline captures the twin poles of exuberance and exhaustion in modern city life as never before. The premier example of American naturalism, Dreiser's remarkable first novel has deeply influenced such key writers as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, and Joyce Carol Oates. This...
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterThis is an urban story which is gritty and shows real life . . . now it is regarded as a classic of early American modernist literature. (Source)

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Winesburg, Ohio

A modern American classic, Winesburg, Ohio mixed Sherwood Anderson's memories of his boyhood in Clyde, Ohio, and his observations in turn-of-the-century Chicago, where he wrote advertising copy. It was a book that, for its time, broke all conventions. Its introduction and twenty-one loosely connected stories defied the genteel tradition that omitted anything sexual, harsh, or abberant from print. It embraced frankness and truth and dealt with people whose deeply moving lives were filled with secrets. Here are the inhabitants of small-town America: young George Willard, the newspaper... more
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterIt was very modern and groundbreaking for its time, an entirely new form of writing. He draws about 20 portraits of people who lived in this mythical town. (Source)

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Crossing to Safety

Two couples meet during the Depression years in Madison, Wisconsin, and become devoted friends despite vast differences in upbringing and social status. less
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterIn terms of human tenderness I find this particular book remarkable and unforgettable. (Source)

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William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within... more
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterIt is a story of intellectual determination and the ability of a man to find love simply in what he does. It is a book about love of learning. (Source)

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O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather's first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather's heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra's devotion to the land may come at the cost of love... more
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterIt’s an extraordinary story of a Swedish family who stepped over the frontier into this raw, untouched and very harsh land. (Source)

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The Twenty-One Balloons

Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on the secret island of Krakatoa where he discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions. Winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal, this classic fantasy-adventure is a joy for all ages. less
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterA short, silly and utterly charming book which a generation of children, particularly American children, have enjoyed. (Source)

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The Violins of Saint-Jacques

On an Aegean island one summer, an English traveller meets an enigmatic elderly Frenchwoman. He is captivated by a painting she owns of a busy Caribbean port overlooked by a volcano and, in time, she shares the story of her youth there in the early twentieth century. Set in the tropical luxury of the island of Saint-Jacques, hers is a tale of romantic intrigue and decadence amongst the descendents of slaves and a fading French aristocracy. But on the night of the annual Mardi Gras ball, catastrophe overwhelms the island and the world she knew came to an abrupt and haunting end. The Violins of... more
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterMy favourite book in the world. It’s about the worst volcanic disaster of the century where there was one survivor out of a population of 30,000. (Source)

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The Crater

The Crater is a political fable, set on a fictional Pacific island colony and expressing Cooper's opinions of the directions American democracy took in his later life in particularly direct fashion. less
Recommended by Simon Winchester, and 1 others.

Simon WinchesterA rollicking good adventure story but it also tells us something about the volcanic origins of coral atolls. (Source)

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The Last Days of Pompeii

The decadence of Roman society and the dramatic destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. less
Recommended by Simon Winchester, Mary Beard, and 2 others.

Simon WinchesterIt didn’t teach us much about the science of volcanoes but it taught us the aphorism that man lives on this planet subject to geological consent which can be withdrawn at any time. (Source)

Mary BeardThis book was phenomenally successful in the 19th century. When these books touch a generation there’s a reason for it. (Source)

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The intrepid Professor Liedenbrock embarks upon the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century: a journey down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth's very core. In his quest to penetrate the planet's primordial secrets, the geologist--together with his quaking nephew Axel and their devoted guide, Hans--discovers an astonishing subterranean menagerie of prehistoric proportions. Verne's imaginative tale is at once the ultimate science fiction adventure and a reflection on the perfectibility of human understanding and the psychology of the questor. less

Simon WinchesterA fantastic piece of science fiction – it’s basically about explorers who want to know what’s inside the earth. (Source)

Roxana BitoleanuIf I have to choose only one non-business book I would pick Jules Verne's "A journey to the center of the earth", as a symbolic journey to the unknown, deep down, just like our personal search for meaning, for our inner driver. (Source)

Tullis OnstottThe book has just enough science that it seems real. (Source)

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