The best classic books that expose the cruelty of society

Robin Friedman Author Of Nothing
By Robin Friedman

Who am I?

I am one of those people who always feels sorry for the monster at the end of the movie. I am always more disturbed by the avenging townspeople’s bloodlust than the monster’s destructiveness. At a deeper level, for me these horror stories actually depict compassion, acceptance, and the hysteria whipped up by self-righteous mobs. They are books with very dark themes, and they generally do not have happy endings, but rather than being depressing, I find them instructive, even enriching, and certainly valuable. More than anything, they show me – in bloody detail  the terrifying limits of conformity.

I wrote...


By Robin Friedman,

Book cover of Nothing

What is my book about?

For high school senior Parker, anything less than success is failure. A dropped extracurricular, a C on a calc quiz – one misstep, and his meticulously constructed life splinters. The countdown to HYP (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) has begun, and he will stay focused, no matter what.

That's why he has to keep it a secret. The pocketful of breath mints. The weird smell in the bathroom. Only Parker's little sister, Danielle, seems to notice that he's withering away.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).


By George Orwell,

Book cover of 1984

Why this book?

You’ve probably come across the byword “Orwellian” in current headlines. Well, it’s time to read the primary source for yourself. (And if you read 1984 – or any of these classics – in school, read them again!) If you did not read them, you’ll finally gain first-hand mastery of all those slogans people are constantly throwing around (Big Brother is Watching You, Thought Police, Ministry of Truth, 2+2=5).

Animal Farm

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Animal Farm

Why this book?

Even though this is another book by the same author, it can’t be left off this list. For one, it’s a very easy read, almost like a child’s storybook. And, once again, you’ll gain first-hand knowledge of slogans such as “Some animals are more equal than others.” You may even wince when the sheep in the story start chanting…familiar, isn’t it?


By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,

Book cover of Frankenstein

Why this book?

The mother of all monster stories, but deep in its soul, more a tragedy than a horror show, depicting the disastrous limits of acceptance, compassion, and deadly ignorance. In a world that seems to value free thinking less and less, this book will make you think long after you put it down. Mostly, though, it will force you to come to your own conclusions, which is actually the essence of free thinking, no matter who agrees or disagrees with you.

The Invisible Man

By H.G. Wells,

Book cover of The Invisible Man

Why this book?

Similar in vein, a more opaque story than Frankenstein, and with a more indeterminate morality surrounding the main character, who is, after all, a crackpot murderer, but eliciting perhaps the same complex reactions toward him and the other characters at the book’s tragic ending. 

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding,

Book cover of Lord of the Flies

Why this book?

The most vicious of the five books, but also the most honest. At its heart, Lord of the Flies is about the thinness of civilization’s veneer; how quickly a community disintegrates down to its barest savagery. It doesn’t take much to smash society  the strong preying on the weak - when kids with runny noses whoop through a jungle impaling each other with spears because they can’t think of anything else to do.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dystopia, totalitarianism, and mental disorders?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dystopia, totalitarianism, and mental disorders.

Dystopia Explore 221 books about dystopia
Totalitarianism Explore 34 books about totalitarianism
Mental Disorders Explore 86 books about mental disorders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Eight Minutes, Thirty-Two Seconds, We, and V for Vendetta if you like this list.