"Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison
"Song of Solomon" ends up on many to-read book lists because of the author's 1993 Nobel Prize for literature, and because the book itself won the prestigious National Book Critics Fiction award in 1977.
Somewhat like the James Joyce classic "Ulysses", this book combines historical elements, free association, and unanswerable questions in the life of its main character. Beginning with a suicide and a black child's birth into a Michigan hospital, Morrison explores the complicated role of black family life, its heritage and its possible future.
"Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Although essays aren't as popular as when Emerson was alive in the mid-1800's, this essay has become one of the author's most notable achievements. Emerson's philosophy as expressed in "Self-Reliance" embraced a combination of non-conformity to social trends. Also a great believer in the 'light within', Emerson gives continual nods to a divine Providence while holding fast to man's inherent goodness, and the necessity of holding to one's own convictions despite the inclinations and pressures of the crowd.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway
One of Hemingway's most celebrated novels, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is an adventure story of almost mythic proportions. The protagonist, a teacher named Robert Jordan, finds love and battle in the Spanish Civil War. Pilar, one of the most influential and passionate characters (though not the love interest), displayed the 'Everyman' fierce peasant spirit and embodied the name of the author's fishing vessel.
"The Federalist" by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
This book is made of a series of essays on the validity and necessity of the United States Constitution, though it is more commonly referred to as the Federalist Papers. The reasoning behind political phrases in common use today, such as "checks and balances" and "bill of rights", are worked out in 85 numbered works
"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene
While the main character in Graham Greene's novel "The Power and the Glory" hasn't lived the pure life of Jesus, his experiences while on the run in Mexico provide an eery similarity to his Lord's sufferings.
The nameless priest shows quite human flaws, with a daughter from a past love affair and a current drinking problem, while the antagonistic lieutenant (an atheist) appears more as a reverse Javier from Les Miserables. Greene personally suffered his way through a two-month research tour in Mexico, according to John Updike's New York Times review in 1990.
"FDR" by Jean Edward Smith
While many books have been written about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, focusing on his struggles with polio and foreign policy. FDR's relationships with women, from his strong and confident mother to his secretary (to his love-interest, Lucy) are covered just as well as the Japanese internment camps and the dynamics of the New Deal. Smith has shown up on the Pulitzer Prize nomination list, for a previous work on another former President (Grant).
"The Quiet American" by Graham Greene
Partly a mystery, partly a social commentary. Greene's book belongs on mystery, history, and social commentary reading lists. Ostensibly, it's about a love triangle between an American, an Englishman, and an Asian woman. Behind the human tragedy is the tragedy of the French Indochina war, which served as a precursor to the Vietnam War.
"Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak
This illustrated adventure book has been making book lists almost since publication. Sendak's classic won the Caldecott Medal in 1964, as the year's Most Distinguished Picture Book for children.
Max is a very relatable child who wants to dominate his environment, especially his mother. In a fantasy land of fearsome beasts, he is allowed to tame and conquer the way he would never be allowed to do at home, eventually becoming their honored king after a battle of wills.