100 Must-Read Quests

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Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

Transformations begin with a moment. A clue uncovered; a task charged; a revelation. Unexpected elements prompt moves into the as-yet unknown, from where one never returns exactly as they left.

These books are replete with tales of such epic quests, and include both fiction and non-fiction offerings. Some are family searches, plumbing genealogies, faded pictures, and myths for a fuller sense of self through the past; some are searches for artifacts so coveted they’d make Indiana Jones faint.

From Mordor to Mumbai, from unmapped space and unknown planets to once-fled from hometowns; between dimensions and into the grey areas of our memories; out of the South toward hoped-for opportunities, and back to a South where equality is still denied; down staircases that unwind into seeming infinity, and on the slow climb toward the American presidency; into future landscapes we’d be wise to avoid, and toward a clearer vision of a past we can’t undo; out of fairylands, toward the Emerald City, and back to the remnants of myths again, these books set their seekers down uncertain paths and transform everything in the course of the journey.

These are exciting, revelatory, inspiring, and upending stories—and are presented, let it be known, in no particular order, so please don’t treat number assignments as a map. Instead, find what intrigues you, and forge your own path of discovery, one page at a time.


  1. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  2. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne
  3. Dreams of Maryam Tair, Mhani Alaoui
  4. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
  5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
  6. Becoming Kirrali Lewis, Jane Harrison
  7. Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis
  8. Possession, A. S. Byatt
  9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  10. Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
  11. A Guide for the Perplexed, Dara Horn
  12. The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir, Susan Daitch
  13. Seven Wonders, Ben Mezrich
  14. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
  15. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  16. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
  17. The Hidden Keys, André Alexis
  18. Home, Toni Morrison
  19. Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
  20. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski
  21. Kafka’s Son, Curt Leviant
  22. The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith
  23. A Single Stone, Meg McKinlay
  24. Katherine Carlyle, Rupert Thomson
  25. Minnow, James McTeer
  26. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill
  27. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
  28. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
  29. Pictures at an Exhibition, Sara Houghteling
  30. Paradise Lost, John Milton
  31. The Theory of Clouds, Stephane Audeguy
  32. The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, Aimee Phan
  33. The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
  34. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Tom Rachman
  35. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
  36. The Sea Beach Line, Ben Nadler
  37. The Arrival, Shaun Tan
  38. Gentleman’s Agreement, Laura Z. Hobson
  39. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson
  40. Open City, Teju Cole
  41. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
  42. All We Have Left, Wendy Mills
  43. Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
  44. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker
  45. Searching for Caleb, Anne Tyler
  46. The Divine Comedy, Dante
  47. The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown
  48. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
  49. Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende
  50. The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
  51. By Blood, Ellen Ullman
  52. The Distant Hours, Kate Morton
  53. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
  54. Little, Big, John Crowley
  55. Contact, Carl Sagan
  56. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
  57. Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
  58. The Drowned World, J. G. Ballard
  59. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
  60. Alphabet of Thorn, Patricia McKillip
  61. Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
  62. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
  63. Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi
  64. The Lost Book of the Grail, Charlie Lovett
  65. Home, Marilynne Robinson
  66. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  67. Forgotten Country, Catherine Chung
  68. Valis, Philip K. Dick
  69. The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer
  70. Labyrinth, Kate Mosse
  71. The Calcutta Chromosome, Amitav Ghosh
  72. The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald
  73. Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins
  74. Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay
  75. The Odyssey, Homer
  76. The Gloaming, Melanie Finn


77. A Long Way Home, Saroo Brierley

78. In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi

79. The River of Doubt, Candice Millard

80. The Orpheus Clock, Simon Goodman

81. Walking the Llano, Shelley Armitage

82. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Tahir Shah

83. Full Moon Over Noah’s Ark, Rick Antonson

84. The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates

85. Wild, Cheryl Strayed

86. Catfish and Mandala, Andrew X. Pham

87. The Unconquered, Scott Wallace

88. The Lost Ark of the Covenant, Tudor Parfitt

89. One Drop, Bliss Broyard

90. Sacred Trash, Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole

91. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

92. A Princess’s Pilgrimage, Nawab Sikandar Begum

93. The Lost City of Z, David Grann

94. The Return, Hisham Matar

95. Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama

96. Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith

97. The Lost, Daniel Mendelsohn

98. The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson

99. The Book of Wanderings, Kimberly Meyer

100. Valverde’s Gold, Mark Honigsbaum