Most stories can be boiled down to an essential conflict: the good guys and the bad guys. There’s always an ‘us against them’ element driving the plot forward. Here are six books I love that pit one group against another—all in different ways. They’re worth not only a first read, but perhaps even a few additional looks whenever it seems like the bastards are getting you down. (In other words, things could always be much worse.) Plagues, teenage gangs, witches, communists, incompetent bureaucrats, and a fictionalized Inquisition should keep the hours filled.
Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)
Humans against animals. Pigs against pigs. Communists against socialists. Everyone seems to be at each other’s throats in this mash-up of dark fairy tale, history lesson, and social commentary. No author writes screwed-up dystopia like Orwell, and Animal Farm proves you don’t need to create a brand-new world to get the point across.
Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand, 1957)
We can look at Rand’s novel in so many ways, but one perspective is this: An intelligent and strong career woman caught in the battle between two opposing factions, Dagny Taggart struggles with a choice, and for much of the book she doesn't even know it, far less understand the nature of the choice. There’s the added layer of her recognizing—almost too late—that she’s been on the wrong side of the fight all along.
Knowledge of Angels (Jill Patton Walsh, 1994)
This is my modern lit-fic pick, and as soon as I’ve got some free time, I’ll be reading Walsh’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel again. Set on a remote and seemingly idyllic island (think Mallorca!), Knowledge of Angels addresses themes of religion, atheism, and tolerance. Be prepared for an emotionally-charged read.
The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton, 1967)
Hinton’s classic (published in the year I was born) doesn’t hinge on the fantastic or supernatural. This is a timeless story about growing up in the midst of small-town conflict, and I give it extra points for the fact that it’s probably still banned by some libraries and schools.
Rosemary's Baby (Ira Levin, (1967)
Very little time passes before I end up mentioning one of Levin’s novels in conversation. This guy has a knack for scaring the hell out of me — and I love to be scared. Written long before The Handmaid’s Tale gave us a peek into a world where women’s bodies are manipulated, Rosemary’s Baby lets us into the much more intimate life of husband and wife, and the lengths to which some people will go to have it all. Plus, Rosemary had her baby in the same year my mum had hers.
The Stand (Stephen King, 1978 & 1990)
It’s hard to think of a book that pits good and evil against each other with as much simultaneous simplicity and complexity as King’s masterpiece. Read the restored version for further character insight (and an extra three hundred or so pages). Then read it all over again.
For similar blog content, read 7 audiobooks for runners.