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13 hardest books to read of all time

13 Hardest Books To Read Of All Time

Reading is fun once you get habitual to it, but it can sometimes become a challenging job. There are many books out there that you might have a hard time completing. Some people avoid going for such books while others take them as a challenge they must meet. Take me, for example. If I encounter any such book, I try my best to complete it though I make sure I’m not already stressed out and have a lot of time in my hand.

I’ve been an active reader for quite some time now, which means I’ve experienced reading various books that differ in genre, length, and difficulty levels. I sure have come across multiple books which one might regard as being hard. Such books get a little challenging to complete, but they give me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment once I meet them.

If a book is long, uses vast vocabulary, or is set in an ancient period or civilization, we’re unfamiliar with it, and it may seem not very easy to read. Sometimes, a seemingly short book can also give you a hard time being comprehended. But if a book is hard to read, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be boring and monotonous. As you continue to read this article, you will find some such books which are considered hard to read because of such factors.

If you consider yourself an excellent and thorough reader who can read a book in the shortest possible time without any strain on your brain, keep reading to know about some books that might prove you wrong.

What Makes A Book Hard To Read?

It doesn’t matter if you’re an efficient reader. You must have come across such a book that you found difficult to go through. The fact is, every reader faces such a book at least once, which they find pretty hard to skim through like they usually did with ease. I have committed myself to such books, which I later found difficult to finish.

While reading such a book, you might find your reading speed decreased. You might even find yourself entangled and confused among two different story plots being mentioned in the book. You may be lost deep in thoughts while trying to comprehend what you just read. When such symptoms start to show up, that particular book is hard for you to read.

While the definition of a ‘hard’ may vary from person to person, a difficult book has some common traits. Either such a book is longer than it should be, the plot seems stretched aimlessly, combines more than one tale, is set in a period not familiar to the reader and contains the use of old English, or has a problematic vocabulary.

If a book is hard, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. The more challenging it is to complete, the more satisfaction it will give in the end and make you an even better reader than you already are.

13 Hardest Books To Read

Here is a list of 13 books that I, during my reading journey, found particularly hard to read.

1. Moby Dick

Moby Dick is an adventurous tragedy written by Herman Melville in 1851. It is a book that is portrayed by a sailor named Ishmael. The story of this book revolves around Ahab, captain of a whaling ship, Pequod, wanting to take revenge upon a white sperm whale, Moby Dick, to which he had lost one of his legs.

This book has a tragic ending with the death of almost all the main characters of the book. This book shows how extreme desire for revenge and vengeance can lead a person to his doom.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is one of the most challenging books to go through I’ve ever come across. Several reasons make it seem not easy to read.

Various metaphoric examples have been used in the book, with the literal meaning of many instances not clear enough for readers like us to understand.

This book is 822 pages long, making it a lengthy piece of work. This book is basically like a collection of various short stories and instances compiled within a single book, with the main story plot being carried forward alongside.

It involves the mansion of various life instances that might seem unrelatable to most readers. It also draws classics from western civilization, making it a bit tricky to read and understand.

2. Ulysses

Ulysses is a fictional novel written by John Joyce in 1922. It is a modern adaptation of Homer’s poem ‘Odyssey,’ whose plot runs parallel. This book records the appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom through the course of 16 June 1904, who was an itinerant living in Dublin.

The novel has a relatively plain and straightforward ending. The last few pages of the book describe the thoughts of Molly Bloom, Leopold Bloom’s wife, about how her husband proposed to her and what happened throughout their marriage while lying on the bed now that her husband was finally back home.

What makes this book hard to read:

Though the novel contains many interesting phrases one would like to include in one’s vocabulary, it still gives a hard time to the readers for being completed.

The book is 730 pages long, which is a bit too much, especially when all the book does is maintain a record of a person’s experiences during 24 hours. This book is even more complex because it piles up various instances, and the reader is left to sort things out independently.

I think this book over-explains even the most specific instances but in the most exciting way possible. Though this book is hard to read, it still is fun.

3. The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is a satirical book compiling 24 stories written by the father of English Literature, Geoffrey Chaucer, in 1392. The tales in this book are recitations in a story-telling contest of some pilgrims traveling London to Canterbury.

All the tales recited by various pilgrims of different classes and ranks are responses to the previously told story forming dialogues about social concerns of the middle age.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is around 700 pages long, and it covers 24 tales, making each one of it approximately 30 pages long, which is pretty long for an adventure that is for answering back the previously told tale.

All the tales in the book are set in the medieval time and represent the societal hierarchy of that period which modern readers like us might fail to understand or relate to, making the book seem a little hard to read. 

Also, this is a satirical book targeting the social issues of that particular period. Hence, as we weren’t familiar with the social scene when the book was written, we are bound to miss some significant drifts used by the author.

4. Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is a Satirical Tragicomedy written by David Foster Wallace in 1996. This book takes place over nine years in the near future, when society is all for pleasure, and nobody is living the life of a human being.

The main plot of the story is based on the life of the Incandenza family where the two children of the family represent the two kinds of people living in that society, the ones who are highly goal-oriented and are at the top but are slowly losing themselves into the pleasure-seeking society, and the others who are already a part of that society which is making them psychologically sick.

What makes this book hard to read:

First off, this book is 1,079 pages long, too long for any genre of book. Looking at this excessive length of the book, most readers avoid reading it or leave it halfway. The plot of the book is so vast that some readers who have finished reading it regard it as ‘unsummarizable’.

 The events and the instances described in the book are not in chronological order. The ending of chapter one can be considered the book’s climax, and all the chapters that follow are flashbacks to the current scenario.

This book contains many endnotes, making the reader turn the pages back and forth to understand the whole context, making it hard to read in one go.

5. Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake is a fictional novel written by James Joyce in 1939. This book blends the dream world with reality. The book revolves around the story of the Porter family, who lives a boring and typical life in Chapelizod, Dublin.

 The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Porter, who are parents to a pair of twin boys and a girl. In the day, their lives are every day, but at night when they sleep, they enter a dreamland where their names, personalities, and actions completely change, and they meet different versions of themselves.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is 688 pages long, which means its length is average. However, it is one of the most challenging books you can ever come across. Some old and experienced readers have given up on this book after reading some portions, and some have even tagged this book as ‘unreadable.’

The story of this novel remains unclear for the most part because of the overlapping of different storylines. There is evidence that James Joyce deliberately made this book so hard to read, like the notes and records he left behind clearly show that he took extra time to layer incidents over incidents.

The language used in this book is unusual. The author used his invented language in the reader with a jumble of words from standard English, different languages, and a blend of a few words which sound the same. 

This book has no beginning or end, as the first line of the text is the last part of the book’s final sentence, and the previous sentence is the first part of the first sentence, creating a cyclic loop.

6. Being And Time

Being And Time is a treatise written by Martin Heidegger in 1927 in the German language. It is an English Translated version that was released in 1962. Originally titled ‘Sein Und Zeit,’ this book was the Magnum Opus of the author.

As ‘Being And Time’ is not fiction and is a philosophical text, it does not follow any particular plot or storyline. This book serves as a source for the author to explain the fundamental question of the meaning of ‘being.’

What makes this book hard to read:

The original German version of this book is 437 pages long, and the translated version is 589 pages long, which means it is not that long of a book, but still, readers are finding it hard to read.

The main reason for us not getting through this book may be that the author’s theories and explanations are new and unfamiliar to us as we rely on the old belief system and views.

The author rejects and contradicts many theories and point-of-views that might be new for us to encounter through this book.

As ‘Being And Time’ is not fiction and is a rather philosophical text, it does not follow any particular plot or storyline. This book serves as a source for the author to put forward his explanations about the fundamental question of the meaning of ‘being’.

What makes this book hard to read:

The original German version of this book is 437 pages long, and the translated version is 589 pages long, which means it is not that long of a book, but still, readers are finding it hard to read.

The main reason for us not being able to get through this book may be because the author’s theories and explanations are new and unfamiliar to us as we are used to relying on the old belief system and theories.

The author rejects and contradicts many theories and point-of-views that might be new for us to encounter through this book.

7. Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow is a historical science-fiction written by Thomas Pynchon in 1973. Through metaphors, this book teaches one about how uncertain life is, so people should take a moment to appreciate and celebrate life.

It is a post-modernist book set in the Nazi-Germany in the last few months when Germany was still sending V2 bombs and missiles to England.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is 760 pages long, which means its length is slightly above average but still, it is one of the most challenging books you can come across. Reading it is actually like a challenge, and most people give up halfway through it.

This book uses many difficult and complex mechanical terms, deals with actual rocket science, and has the context of various such studies like Mathematics and Physics, which is not what a reader looks for in a novel.

It has a perfectly circular plot. V2 missile launched by Germany blows up a London-based theatre at the beginning, but as we reach the ending, this incident is yet to happen, making a circular loop.

8. The Sound And The Fury

The Sound And The Fury is a Domestic fiction written by William Faulkner in 1929. This book is divided into four sections: the first three being narrated by the three Compson sons while the third one being a third-person narrative.

The story of the book revolves around the Compson household where the Compson daughter had been disowned from, and her three brothers recall her in different ways at different times.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is merely 326 pages long but still managed to give a hard time to the people who attempt to read it. It is short, but it definitely is not the most accessible book to go through.

The book is mainly found hard to read as it is divided into four parts that overlap each other, and there is a constant back-and-forth jump in time throughout the book.

The first part of this book is particularly the hardest part of the book. It is narrated by the first Campson brother, who is intellectually disabled, and his sense of time is distorted, which means he cannot differentiate between past and present.

9. The Magic Mountain

The Magic Mountain is a coming-of-age novel by Thomas Mann. It was initially written in German in 1924 under the title ‘Der Zauberberg,’ and its English-translated version was published in 1927.

It is a story of a young German engineer who visits his cousin in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Davos, Switz, where he finds out that he is suffering from the disease, so he stays there for seven years until the outbreak of world war-I.

What makes this book hard to read:

The Magic Mountain is over 700 pages long and is a tedious one despite having an average length. 

Though this book is fiction, it uses raw language, which doesn’t appeal to the reader, and the person reading gets tired or bored easily, not wanting to read another page. 

Thomas Mann is known for his dense work as a writer, so he did nothing new with this book. This book is just the author’s way of writing. 

10. Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is a dystopian fiction written by Ayn Rand in 1957. It is a fascinating novel showing how the rules and regulations are serving exactly the opposite of what they’re meant for, in the dystopian USA.

The book’s storyline revolves around a businesswoman from the USA who owns a vast railroad in the United States. The book picks up some social topics like socialism, feminism, and how the people who want to bring a change in society are faced with obstacles.

What makes this book hard to read:

Atlas Shrugged is a full-fledged 1,168 pages long novel that automatically reduces the readers’ enthusiasm in half as there is surety if they’ll be able to finish the entire book or not.

It is not specified in the book as to if the book is set in the past or the future, so this timeline uncertainty may be one of the major reasons people find it hard to read.

Also, this book talks about the problems of socialism, which the author personally faced when she was young, so many readers don’t find it relatable as they have no context.

11. Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is a science fiction novel written by Kazuo Ishiguro in 2005. This book is the author’s one of the best works so far and has been liked by readers worldwide.

The book revolves around the concept of human cloning and claims that clones can develop feelings, too. It also talks about people not letting go of their past and states the dangers that might erupt when humans are allowed to meddle with science and nature to larger extents without check.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is very short and has not more than 288 pages, which is shorter than an average fiction novel’s length, yet this book manages to confuse the readers in some ways.

As this book is about the concept of human cloning, a lot of words were made by the author himself without a proper explanation of what those meant with reference to the book.

This novel is narrated by a clone herself, who was raised far from the outside world, so we have no context of the kind of society outside the narrator’s confined world.

12. The Phenomenology Of The Spirit

The Phenomenology Of The Spirit is a novel written by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hagel in 1807 in the German language. Originally titled Phänomenologie des Geistes, its English translation was out in 1910.

This book is a philosophical one which means it does not follow a particular storyline. This novel serves as a medium for the author to put forward his theory of divinity still being created pointing that it is a matter of future and not the past.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is of an average length of 640 pages, but since it is a person’s philosophy, this average length also seems a bit too much for readers.

The author has expressed his deep thoughts about the subject, which are somewhat contradictory to what we have been knowing for years, so we might find it a bit hard to comprehend.

The Phenomenology Of The Spirit explains the author’s concepts in a very deep manner, and some things might get a bit too tricky to be able to keep track of. 

13. The Society Of The Spectacle

The Society Of The Spectacle, titled initially La société du spectacle, is a philosophical novel written by Guy Debord in 1967 in the French Language.

This novel broadly traces the development of a society where the directly-lived social life has been replaced and reduced to a mere representation.

What makes this book hard to read:

This book is barely 154 pages long, which might seem less to a reader, but this short-lengthed book is notoriously difficult.

The writing style of this book is condensed, and to completely understand this book, one needs to be deeply familiar with the Marxist concepts of communism, ideology, socialism, and more.

The author has written his ideas in the form of short theses, which explains the packing of so much conceptual content, making this seemingly short book so hard to read.


There are many books that are apparently hard to read, but that doesn’t mean that the book is not worth giving a chance to. The most difficult and hard-to-understand texts hold the deepest and most useful meaning and lessons that one might live by.

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