The best books about revenge that cross borders and time

The Books I Picked & Why


By William Shakespeare

Book cover of Hamlet

Why this book?

Though his stories are over 400 years old, there’s a reason why we all know the name William Shakespeare. His difficult-to-read but brilliant scenes and universal characters have enlightened us about the depths of human psychology and emotion for centuries. Hamlet, of course, is driven to avenge the death of his father, who was killed by his uncle, Cladius. Yet Hamlet is doubtful about almost everything, including if he can bring himself to kill Claudius. Thus: To be or not to be…? Indecision is what Hamlet is famous for and ultimately his quest for revenge goes horribly wrong. Everyone dies at the end, but no need to have a ‘spoiler’ warning here. The beauty of Hamlet rests in exploring the main character’s complexity and his existential dilemmas, prompting the audience to arrive at their own realizations about life. 

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By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Book cover of Frankenstein

Why this book?

Because of popular movie depictions, this is perhaps the most misunderstood novel and character of all time. In short, Victor Frankenstein is the name of the doctor who created the monster, not the monster–or massive creature you’ve seen stumbling around, arms extended, killing innocent people. The so-called Monster actually starts off with a kind heart until society rejects him, and then he seeks violent revenge. But because the Monster’s first victims are Victor Frankenstein’s family members, Victor becomes motivated to kill his own creation which leads him on a global search. By reading this classic, aside from getting the real story straight, you’ll also find some interesting themes about the responsibilities inherent in all scientific advances, questions of human nature, and superficial prejudice. 

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The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss

Book cover of The Count of Monte Cristo

Why this book?

A reference in the movie Shawshank Redemption drew me to this classic. Though modern attention spans might be turned off by the page count (600 pages abridged), who can resist the epic nature of Edmund Dantes’ lifelong mission to avenge those who framed him and stole his fiance? I mean, how can you not root for a guy who’s been unjustly imprisoned for twenty years and has the brains and physical ability to pull off the most amazing prison escape ever? Clearly, Dantes is a master at playing the long game and every single step he takes in his revenge mission (between France and Italy) is intensely satisfying. That is, until the end when Dumas gives us a truth bomb about the toxicity of revenge and human selfishness. Genius. Inspirational.

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True Grit

By Charles Portis

Book cover of True Grit

Why this book?

Before YA was a category, Charles Portis wrote a great young adult novel. The fact that it flipped the Western genre on its head and made the hero and protagonist a 14 year old girl, Mattie Ross, is even better. Set in the 1870’s, Mattie is on a mission to kill her father’s murderers but she needs the help of an experienced adult, Marshall Rooster Cogburn. 

Like all novels that center on revenge, the reader learns that though this kind of motivation may seem sweet–and prompt a memorable journey–it rarely ends well or as planned. And, now that I think about it, my novel The Unusual Suspects drew inspiration from this soon-to-be classic as well. 

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The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

By William Goldman

Book cover of The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

Why this book?

You might have noticed that all of the novels on this list have been made into films, but The Princess Bride was the only one that I watched before reading the book. The reason why I hold this one dear to my heart is not only because of the romance, revenge, humor, and sword-fighting action that fills the book as well as the movie. It’s because I read this entire plain-covered novel aloud to my first 4th grade class of predominantly Black students. They loved the reading and begged me to show them the movie. When I obliged, their disappointment at the introduction of each new character was unforgettable. Shocked facial expressions, noises, occasional shouts: What?! To their dismay, none of the characters were Black or Mexican, as they had imagined them. 

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