Every year, thousands of American high school students read a common selection of great novels — classics loved by young and old readers alike. Today, we have selected 20 of the most popular books and highlighted ways that you can download versions for free, mostly as free audio books and ebooks, and sometimes as movies and radio dramas. You will find more great works — and sometimes other digital formats — in our twin collections: 600 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices and 550 Free Audio Books. So please give them a good look over, and if we’re missing a novel you want, don’t forget Audible.com’s 14 day trial. It will let you download an audio book for free, pretty much any one you want.
1984 by George Orwell: Free eBook – Free Audio Book – Free Movie
Although published in 1949, 1984 still captures our imagination generations later because it offers one of the best literary accounts of totalitarianism ever published. And it’s simply a great read.
Animal Farm by George Orwell: Free eBook – Free Audio Book – Free Animated Movie
Orwell’s 1945 allegorical novella took aim at the corruption of the Soviet Union and its totalitarian rule. The short book, which almost never saw the light of day, appears on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: eText – Free Radio Dramatization (by Huxley himself) – Free Audio Book by Audible
Little known fact. Huxley once taught George Orwell French at Eton. And, years later his 1931 classic, Brave New World, is often mentioned in the same breath with 1984 when it comes to great books that describe a dystopian future.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Free ebook – Free Audio Book (MP3) – Radio Drama version (1938) – Movie
Mary Shelley started writing the great monster novel when she was only 18 and completed it when she was 21. The 1823 gothic novel is arguably one of your first works of science fiction.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Free eBook – Free Audio Book (iTunes) – Radio Dramatization by Orson Welles (MP3)
More than 100 years after its publication (1902), Conrad’s novella still offers the most canonical look at colonialism and imperialism. So powerful was its influence that Orson Welles dramatized it in 1938, and the book also famously inspired Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in 1979.
Plays by William Shakespeare
No description needed. None given.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – Free eBook – Free Audio Book (iTunes)
Jane Austen’s 1813 novel remains as popular as ever. To date, it has sold more than 20 million copies, and, every so often, it finds itself adapted to a new film, TV or theater production. A must read.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Free eBook – Free Audio Book (iTunes)
When you think Huckleberry Finn, you think Great American Novel. It was controversial when it was first published in 1884, and it remains so today. But nonetheless Twain’s classic is a perennial favorite for readers around the world.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London – Free eBook – Free Audio Book (iTunes)
The Call of the Wild, first published in 1903, is regarded as Jack London’s masterpiece. It’s “a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.”
The Crucible by Arthur Miller – Free Audio Book from Audible.com
Arthur Miller’s 1952 play used the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693 to offer a commentary on McCarthyism that tarnished America during the 1950s. Today, The Crucible occupies a central place in America’s literary canon.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – Free Audio Book from Audible.com
This 1939 novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and later helped Steinbeck win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. It’s perhaps the most important book to give literary expression to the Great Depression.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Free eBook – Free Audio Book from Audible.com
It’s the classic portrait of the Jazz Age, a tale of decadence and excess. And today The Modern Library has called Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece the 2nd best novel of the last century.
The Odyssey by Homer – Free eBook – Free Audio Book
The Western literary tradition begins with Homer’s epic poems The Iliad (etext here) and The Odyssey, both written some 2800 years ago. It has been said that “if the Iliad is the world’s greatest war epic, then the Odyssey is literature’s grandest evocation of everyman’s journey through life.” And that just about gets to the heart of the poem.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Free Audio Book from Audible.com
It was Hemingway’s last major work of fiction (1951) and certainly one of his most popular, bringing many readers into contact with Hemingway’s writing for the first time.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – Free eBook – Free Audio Book (iTunes) – Free Movie
This Civil War novel won what Joseph Conrad called “an orgy of praise” after its publication in 1895, and inspired Ernest Hemingway and the Modernists later. The novel made Stephen Crane a celebrity at the age of 24, though he died only five years later.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Free eBooks – Free Audio Book – Movie
Though set in Puritan Boston between 1642 and 1649, Hawthorne’s magnum opus explores “the moral dilemmas of personal responsibility, and the consuming emotions of guilt, anger, loyalty and revenge” that were relevant in 1850 (when the book was published). And they remain so today.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Free Audio Book from Audible.com
Harper Lee’s 1960 novel takes an incisive look at attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South during the 1930s. It won the Pulitzer Prize a year later.
Note: We listed Audible.com as an option when books were still under copyright.