Atelier de Nicolas de Largilliere, portrait of Voltaire at 24.
A gem of restrained outrage, Voltaire's novella speaks powerfully to us in this time of pandemics, floods, conspiracy theories and growing incivility.
First published 150 years ago, this work is shaped by Victorian-era sexual and racial stereotypes. But at a time when other evolutionists stressed humanity’s uniqueness, Darwin emphasised our 'lowly nature'.
Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions
First published in 1865, Lewis Carroll's children's book has never been out of print. It continues to appeal to adults who prefer childhood.
Written by Kenneth Grahame as a story for his young son, The Wind in the Willows has also been read as a social satire and a gay allegory.
National Film & Sound Archive
Miles Franklin's masterpiece features an untamed, unapologetic heroine, positing a choice between career and love rather than women 'having it all'.
A new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca stars Lily James and Armie Hammer. The novel on which it is based, first published in 1938, explores domestic entrapment.
A new film version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden opens today. First published in 1911, the novel foregrounds Edwardian beliefs about the importance of gardens that still resonate.
A scene from the Decameron painted by Carlo Coppede in 1916.
Written between 1348 and 1353, the Decameron is a prescription for psychological survival, a way of mentally distancing from today's death counts and grim economic forecasts.
A statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio.
Jean-Pol Grandmont/Wikimedia Commons
The Meditations, by Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, has been described as an ageless, secular gospel. Written in a time of pandemic, it speaks powerfully to us today.
H. G. Wells helped pioneer science fiction with his 1898 book The War of the Worlds. Many iterations later, it still scares and fascinates us.
The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) has been regarded as a classic of European literature since soon after its publication in 1958. It recounts the decline and fall of Sicily’s aristocracy.
What would happen if plague destroyed all of humanity? Mary Shelley's 1826 book suggests Earth would be better off.
Pawel Supernak/Poland Out/EPA
Camus' The Plague is an uncannily prescient description of the world of COVID-19, giving us reasons for reflection, and finally for hope.
The oldest surviving novel in Latin literature, Satyricon follows three young men on their misadventures and homosexual love triangle.
An illustration of the allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic.
Plato's Republic is one of the most influential books in history. It has been claimed by people on all sides of the political spectrum and continues to resonate today.
A holm oak: the longer Cosimo spends in the trees, the greater his identification with the natural world.
The protagonist of Calvino’s novel takes to the trees in a fit of adolescent rebellion and never comes down. Yet from his self-imposed isolation he remains enviably connected and committed to his community.
Robert Redford played the golden Gatsby in 1974.
Status anxiety and conspicuous consumption generate a dazzling, often surreal poetry in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. But Gatsby’s rise and fall exposes deep fissures underlying the American Dream.
Poet Walt Whitman in his home in New Jersey in 1891. Born 200 years ago this week, Whitman is celebrated in America for his daring poetry collection Leaves of Grass.
Samuel Murray/Wikimedia Commons
Walt Whitman is perhaps America's most admired poet. His work, now praised for its themes of equality and democracy, was once shunned for its experimental verse and discussion of sexuality.
Written as the Cold War became entrenched, 1984 was meant as a warning on the nature of state power. Understanding this power is even more important today.
George Orwell's dystopian classic can tell us a lot about contemporary politics and power, from Donald Trump to Facebook.
The death of popular prince Germanicus painted by Nicolas Poussin in 1627.
Tacitus' Annals is a powerful and darkly humorous examination of imperial Rome. Though his work was little read in the Roman world, it has influenced great thinkers such as Hobbes and Montesquieu.