"The Wine of Wisdom: The Life, Poetry and Philosophy of Omar Khayyam"
Khayyám's poem is as well-known for its soul-searching beauty as for the fact that a mathematician wrote it. Explorations of life's temporary nature jogs elbows with alcohol, as the author strives to make sense of the call of religion versus the immediacy of death – and the folly of trying to find Paradise on earth.
“The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas
There should be more book recommendations made on Dumas' masterpiece, than just for the worn-out Musketeers' quote on the magic blend of individuality and brotherly unity. There are enough quotable insults to sink a small Shakespearian ship, just between Athos and Aramis and Porthos, besides the wrangles they have with the young hothead D'Artagnan. There is villainy most foul, with Cardinal Richelieu trying to have young King Louis XIII assassinated. A host of minor characters, including the Musketeers' manservants, keep the dialogue lively, and the sinister blend of high-level politics and love keep everyone occupied.
“The Brothers Karamasov” by Dostoevsky
This is one of the best allegorical novels to explain the fractured nature of 19th century Russia. Each character is representative of one of the ruling classes. There is the father Fyodor, the landowner who is negligent about his land, but greedy in using its produce for himself. There's Dmitri, who has been passed around from house to house, and has grown up an entitled but debt-ridden soul. There's the skeptic Ivan, who wishes to live more than people. Third is gentle Alyosha, the mystic and religious peacemaker, and the illegitimate Smerdyakov. Through out are themes of love, law, and duty, which makes this one of the best Dostoyesky books to read besides Crime and Punishment.
“Crime and Punishment” by Dostoevsky
This is Dostoyevsky's second most famous work (besides Brothers Karamasov), and also centers around a crime and a court case. Roskolnikov, a student deeply in debt and intellectual and moral issues, has a mad desire to kill the pawnbroker who owns some of his valuables, in order to pay his landlady. There are plenty of family and social issues to be explored, including the link between prostitution and arranged family marriages, the downward spiral of madness, and the nature of poverty and charity.
“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
More humanly centered than his other well-known work, War and Peace, Tolstoy makes it clear that life is far too complicated for easy handouts of mercy or judgment. The novel begins with a case of family brokenness and adultery. The contrast between Anna, who runs away with her lover Vronsky, and Lenin (who marries Vronsky's former romantic interest), is especially worth reading. As one falls, the other rises, seeming to imply that following one's heart is only as worthwhile as true morality is also followed.