There are 272 words in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America has a scant 52 words, and it founded a whole country. In contrast, Smith and Roberson’s Business Law text book has approximately four hundred million words. Proof that length is not an indicator of quality. If you’re one of those who prefers good words over many words, here are the 17 best books under 100 pages.
The Dead by James Joyce
Normally, dinner parties are about feeling insecure that you brought rosé to pair with brisket, avoiding political topics so as to prevent fistfights, and pretending to be interested in whatever human resources does. When James Joyce writes a dinner party, it’s a reflective meditation on life, love, regret, happiness, and the unknowable depths of other people. Also, sirloins.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Here’s a ghost story that might not be a ghost story. Instead, it might be the psychosis generated when someone represses their sexual impulses so long that it starts to cause hallucinations. Either way, it’s a suspenseful little thriller that has been the inspiration for many a horror tale throughout the years. You’ll almost assuredly find yourself realizing “Oh, that’s where they got that idea.” Which provides an excellent opportunity to condescend to your friends later on.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria, where abuse and exploitation of women is common. This book is a version of the TED talk she gave on this topic, but more than that it is a persuasive essay about how the equality that drives feminism benefits everyone. Her style is gentle and doesn’t require that anyone agree with her. She merely presents a case for all people being treated with dignity and respect. It’s hard to be against that.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Like all the great love stories, this starts with a giant bug. Protagonist Gregor is transformed into a cockroach almost immediately, but he doesn’t get superpowers, unless you count self-loathing. Instead, he’s forced to face his feelings about himself and try to gain the love and acceptance of his family. Think of it as quasi-incestuous, insectile beauty and the beast. Then, read it anyway.
Optimism by Helen Keller
Imagine not being able to see or hear the world, and being stuck alone with your own thoughts. Worse, imagine doing that without alcohol. It’s enough to drive most people out of their mind. Well, perhaps it did and that’s why someone struggling with a pair of crippling handicaps is able to write so thoughtfully about optimism. In what is basically a pamphlet, Keller manages to make a thoroughly hard case for hope that dares even the most cynical to mock it.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Most people believe that their difficulties will be solved if they only had more wealth, power, beauty, youth, love, or enough single malt scotch to float Winston Churchill over to the colonies. For young Kino, the sole goal is a huge pearl. However, once he gets it, he finds out that Notorious B.I.G. was a sage when he lamented, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.”
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Forget your Sam Spades and your Philip Marlowes. Actually, forget your Walter Whites and your “gritty” Batmen while you’re at it. The Postman Always Rings Twice is true noir before it was full of trench coats and chain smoking private dicks. It’s also about anti-heroes who operate according to their own broken moral compasses. Despite being almost a century old, this is a shockingly lurid little story of vice, lust, and avarice at the lowest parts of the human ladder.
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
Fortunately, this story isn’t an internet debate about the shape of the Earth, which can easily be settled by watching ships sail into harbor. Instead, Flatland is about a world that exists only in two dimensions. Everyone in this world is a geometric shape on a plane. Then, a cube appears and begins to explain there’s actually a whole z-axis out there. Wackiness, along with major social discord, ensue.
I am Legend by Richard Matheson
If you’ve seen the movie adaptation of this book, you’re probably going to need a lobotomy to ensure you forget all about Will Smith flirting with mannequins. Or, maybe keep that part, but banish the rest of the film from your mind. The source material takes a very different course. It is mostly about a man trapped in his own home by malevolent forces outside. Soon, it becomes difficult to tell where the monsters are, whose side we should be on, and exactly what constitutes evil.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
There’s no need to plow through The 48 Laws of Power when you can get the original, condensed version right here. The Prince is the guidebook for despots and megalomaniacs. It teaches how to manipulate the system, use people as pawns and cat’s paws, and be a thoroughly terrible person while also gaining acclaim, wealth, and maybe a shiny hat with loads of bling.
Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu
The name of this book translates basically into “The Book of The Way.” Despite being as slender as it is, and only weighing in at a little over five-thousand words, it’s more confusing than Inception. What the Tao te Ching offers is a way of seeing that world wherein all things are defined by our point of view. Its relativism can bend the mind, and can quickly make a person wonder if they’ve been chasing the wrong things all along.
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift can be a satirist so subtle that a thousand of his witticisms could dance on the head of a pin. In A Modest Proposal, he suggests feeding the babies of the poor to the rich. Which shows he can also go the other way. This book is a brutal attack on classism and capitalist exploitation that is dressed up as a logical argument. Throughout the missive, Swift makes suggestions both reasonable and outlandish, which all follow the logical assumptions set forth in a society that venerates wealth and punishes poverty.
Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford
This book is the surrealist version of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. Two mariners are marooned on a floating barge somewhere in the ocean. They begin their journey by creating a garden to put Eden to shame. Then, one begins to grease the slippery slope of progress, devising a false, pink flamingo version of the garden with ever more complex contraptions and apparatuses, while annihilating the original. But, that’s just the beginning. It’s also about marriage, love, suicide, dystopia, madness, and more.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Roses must have hired some great PR people, because they usually get amazing press. However, the rose in The Little Prince is actually pretty self-absorbed and vain. To escape this narcissistic flower, the titular prince begins traveling among planets, meeting a lot of people with a lot of ludicrous jobs. On his voyage, the prince learns that as obnoxious as his rose may be, it’s company was better than the strife that runs rampant through the universe.
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth by Thomas Jefferson
This is a hotly debated book compiled by perhaps one of the most controversial of the founding fathers of the United States. Thomas Jefferson wanted a compressed, travel version of the Holy Bible, that focused on the lessons of Jesus, rather than the miracles. To accomplish this, he took a literal razor blade to the sanctified book and did some cutting and pasting before it was just keyboard commands. The result is striking, and worth reading wherever you land on the religious scale.
Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship by Edward Hemingway
In this world, apples and worms can’t be friends. Which makes a degree of sense, given that most friends don’t burrow into your head. At least, not physically. But Mac the apple and Will the Worm are happy to defy the odds. They learn that friendship doesn’t need to be defined by who we are, who we’re told we should be, and what shape love is supposed to take. It’s a clever variation on the Sneetches, with gorgeous oil artwork worth picking up your jaw over.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu posits that war isn’t necessarily something that happens outside ourselves. He opines that battles are not won or lost on the field of contest. Rather, he says the only war we need to win is within ourselves. From that wellspring, all victories become assured. He advises radical ownership of every facet of a war by generals, from the clarity of command to the treatment of the troops. It’s not just a treatise on combat, but on leadership, knowing one’s self, and executing any plan, from a simple meal to a global offensive.