10 big books that are absolutely worth the time to read

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Sometimes I just want to read an easy, short book that will take me a couple of days to finish.

But other times, the opposite is so much more appealing: a big book full of countless characters that spans generations, lifetimes, and even continents.

When chosen well, big books can offer the most immersive and memorable universes that stay with you for years to come. And if they’re gripping, you’ll probably read them much faster than expected, too.

Read on for my pick of the best big books ever written, including both literary classics and modern novels. Take your pick and find your next favourite big book to escape into…

How many pages is a big book? I’ve selected books with more than 500 pages (although I’ve let a couple sneak in that were a few pages short).

The best big books that are worth reading

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Read The Covenant of Water for a 736-page multi-generational saga about love, faith, and medicine, set against the historical progress of India from 1900 through to the 1970s.

Abraham Verghese’s long-awaited new novel has finally arrived, fourteen years after one of my all-time favourite books, Cutting for Stone.

The Covenant of Water is a big book about the whole spectrum of life, including both joy and sadness… quite a lot of sadness. There are some traumatic moments in the book that are difficult to read, so I wouldn’t recommend this novel if you want entirely stress-free, laid-back reading.

But that said, I still think it’s an incredibly well-written and ambitious book – one that I’ll absolutely be re-reading and thinking back to this year.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Read Cloud Cuckoo Land for a 626-page ambitious novel that masterfully toes the line between historical fiction and speculative fiction, crafting a tale of resilience and hope.

In this incredible novel from 2021, Anthony Doerr has crafted a dazzlingly imaginative story about common ground, the power of books, and dreamers and outsiders.

Immerse yourself in this big book (which I loved as an audiobook) and travel between Constantinople in the 15th century to a library in present-day Idaho and the interstellar ship Argos in a not-so-distant future.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo cover

Read The Count of Monte Cristo for 1,276 gripping pages of betrayal, reinvention, and revenge – and one of the best classic books that are actually easy to read.

The Count of Monte Cristo is a thick book – and a fantastic one. You might not expect this when you pick up the enormous paperback, but it’s one of the most gripping classic novels ever written.

Tumble into the (numerous) pages of this excellent book and enjoy a plot that may well remind you of The Shawshank Redemption.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the 480-page thriller that opens Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millenium series.

Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series is one of the most popular thriller series ever written, and it all starts here with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Immerse yourself in this gripping big book about journalist Mikael Blomkvist, tattooed prodigy Lisbeth Salander, and the iniquity and corruption they uncover.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Read Pachinko for a 496-page multi-generational epic about the journey of a poor Korean immigrant family to Japan and their reinvention over the following generations.

Pachinko is so compulsively readable. This bestselling big book is one of my top recommendations to help you fall back in love with reading, weaving a story of the changing fortunes of a family and the repercussions of an event over multiple generations.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Read The Overstory for a 502-page Pulitzer Prize winner that, at least in my eyes, is one of the best modern novels of the century so far.

Reading The Overstory doesn’t always feel like an easy undertaking. It took me a few attempts to get into the story, but when I did, I didn’t want it to end.

This award-winning big book is a paean to the vast, interconnected, and magnificently intricate world that we depend on in so many ways: the world of trees.

With stunning writing and ambition, Richard Powers weaves together interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Read Lonesome Dove for the 960-page Pulitzer Prize­–winning classic of the American West, following two aging Texas Rangers on one last adventure.

In a Reddit thread about the best long books, one reader shares: “{{Lonesome Dove}}!! SO GOOD. Don’t bother with the rest of the series – Lonesome Dove is completely independent and truly amazing.”

Escape into this epic of the frontier and voyage into the last defiant wilderness of America, meeting an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws along the way. The 900+ pages will feel like nothing.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace clothbound hardcover

Read War and Peace for a 1,300-page classic book full of love, loss, rebirth, and everything else life has to offer, really.

If you ask readers to name the most famous big book ever written, they’ll probably sayWar and Peace. Tolstoy’s classic novel has a reputation as one of the most difficult books to read, but I don’t actually think that’s true.

When you find the the right translation of War and Peace, reading it becomes so much easier. I first read Anthony Briggs’ translation of War and Peace (and have since re-read it several times) and found it so much easier and more enjoyable than I expected.

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva

Read Portrait of an Unknown Woman for a 496-page thriller that will grab your attention with a high-stakes search for the greatest art forger who ever lived.

As one of the best new suspense thrillers from the last year, Daniel Silva’s latest book is about renowned spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon, who has settled into his quiet retirement in Venice.

However, when London art dealer Julian Isherwood asks for his help to investigate the origins of a lucrative sale of a supposedly centuries-old painting, Gabriel is pulled back into a dangerous and elaborate game.

This is Book 22 in the Gabriel Allon series, but you can also do what I did and read it as a standalone. (I’d love to go back and read more of the series now.)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Read Wolf Hall for 653 pages of five-star historical fiction from Hilary Mantel’s bestselling Thomas Cromwell series.

With masterful storytelling and meticulous research, Wolf Hall is Hilary Mantel’s impeccably crafted tale of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to become one of the most powerful men in the court of King Henry VIII.

For more big books by Hilary Mantel, you can continue the series with Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & The Light.

More iconic long books that are worth reading:

  • Shōgun by James Clavell
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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