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That experience was daily life in Auschwitz as a kapo, a non-Jewish inmate who works, schemes and exploits to survive amid daily slaughter.

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In "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" , Borowski's narrator Tadek describes a day working on the ramp, unloading transports of Jews and directing them on to trucks that take them to the nearby gas chambers. The work is hard — barely is one transport emptied before another arrives — but the job is a choice one: while money and other valuables are Reich property, food and clothing can be claimed by those working on the ramp. These are key items for survival. This state of affairs makes Tadek and his fellow prisoners complicit in the camp's murderous purpose, a fact the stories repeatedly acknowledge.

It is true, others may be dying, but one is somehow still alive, one has enough food, enough strength to work. People are dehumanised: Jews flow between train carriage and gas chamber "like water from an open tap"; "Around us sit the Greeks, their jaws working greedily like huge human insects"; "From afar the women were faceless and ageless.

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Nothing more than white blotches …". Yet Tadek is repeatedly confronted with the humanity of these "insects", these "blotches". Having recognised the humanity of the victims he remains powerless, and possibly even unwilling, to prevent their deaths. Indeed, he continues to help operate the mechanism that murders them. Certain errors are common to readings of Borowski; one, committed even by such attentive readers as Neal Ascherson and Tony Judt, is to describe his stories as memoirs.

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His stripped back style, although not as extreme as that of Hemingway , whom he read avidly, is crafted just as sedulously. His metaphors reflect the reality of the camp, as with "the empty pavement that glistened like a wet leather strap", and equal care is applied to structure. Amid details of backbreaking labour, random violence and arbitrary executions, it can go almost unnoticed that Tadek faces death on three separate occasions, each threat arising suddenly and requiring a different tactic to evade it. This lethal picaresque ends with him giving food to a Jew who is going to the gas chamber later that day.

The unexpected act of charity is complex — it even seems a perversion of some kind, so distorted is the environment in which it occurs — but Borowski withholds the commentary a memoirist would supply. Another error concerns morality. Al Alvarez describes the atmosphere of Borowski's stories as "a kind of moral silence, like the pause which follows a scream". It's a memorable description, but misrepresentative.

Borowski's despair itself is moral. An American professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch became famous after giving an upbeat lecture titled "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" after learning he had pancreatic cancer and had three to six months of good health left. After the success of his lecture, he co-authored the book " The Last Lecture " on the same theme of enjoying every moment in your life. One of the best rough guides to science, and written so that it could be accessible to the general public, Bryson describes everything from the size and history of the universe to the rise of human kind in " A Short History of Nearly Everything.

He also spends time talking about the eccentric archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians who have contributed to the world's greatest discoveries. Filled with a rich understanding of the psychological experiences of his fellow inmates, Frankl ruminates on the meaning of life, and how every society has decent and indecent human beings. Written by a Vietnam veteran as an allegory of the Vietnam war, " The Forever War " follows reluctant soldier William Mandella as he leaves earth to battle the mysterious alien race, the Taurans.

But because of time dilating during his spaceship travels, he ages 10 years while years pass by on earth. Mandella then returns to a completely different planet that he can no longer recognize. Sagan somehow manages to explain 15 billion years of cosmic history while touching on philosophy, religion, and our society.

This book is written so even those without a strong science background can understand it, and manages to convey the profound unity of the cosmos. A short novella, " Bartleby The Scrivener " is an absurdist tale of a man named Bartleby who works at a New York law firm. Bartleby is a great worker, until one day he is asked to proofread something and simply says, "I would prefer not to.

That becomes his stock, passive response as he slowly ceases all activity much to the chagrin of the flabbergasted narrator. A Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel, " Maus " tells the story of a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and his son, a cartoonist who is trying to come to terms with his father's story. Illustrated with cats and mice to represent the Nazis and Jewish people respectively , Maus is both about the bleak and horrifying truth of life under Hitler, as well as the son's relationship with his aging father.

This graphic war story follows Robert Jordan, a young and idealistic American demolitions expert, fighting in the Spanish Civil War with the antifascist guerrilla forces. This mind-bending Japanese novel blends two interrelated plots between year-old Kafka, who is on a mission to find his mother and sister, and the older Nakata, a mentally-challenged man who has the ability to speak with cats. The two characters are on a collision course throughout " Kafka on the Shore ," which is a metaphysical journey filled with magical realism.

Originally published in French as " Le Petit Prince ," this novella tells the story of pilot who crashes his plane in the Sahara desert and is greeted by a young boy who claims to be from a different planet. As the pilot repairs his plane, he learns the life of "the little prince" who yearns to return to his home planet. Though told as a children's story, "The Little Prince" is one of the most poignant and profound books in French literature. Set in a post-apocalyptic nuclear winter, a nameless man and his young son wander through the cold, dark, and bleak world where everyone has turned into their basest selves.

McCarthy writes in a minimalist style that suits the terrain as the man and boy struggle to find food and stay away from the roaming cannibalistic gangs who enslave the weak.

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But maybe, just maybe, there is something worth living for. This book , which is full of magical realism, depicts the village of Macondo and its residents. The novel follows each generation's struggle with morality, right and wrong, and the bleak issues caused by sibling rivalry. Steinbeck considers " East of Eden " his greatest novel. The interpersonal skills he recommends may seem obvious — like smiling and remembering people's names — but plenty of fans recommend this classic how-to guide as a fundamental book about human decency.

A master at understanding human nature, Dostoyevsky weaves a world set against 19th century St. Petersberg as the murder takes a toll on Raskolnikov's conscience. Russia in the s sets the background for this tale of patricide and family rivalry. Part murder mystery, part courtroom thriller, and part social commentary, " The Brother's Karamazov " follows the lives of three brothers and their father. Winner of the Noble Prize for literature, " The Stranger " begins with Meursault learning of his mother's death.

His lack of an emotional response sets the tone for the rest of the novel as events lead to Meursault murdering a man.

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Divided in two parts, the story follows Meursault's life both before and after the murder, and leads the reader through his trial and impending execution. Herbert is able to create complete histories, politics, religions, and ecological systems of this feudal interstellar society.

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Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides transforms into a mysterious man known as Muad'Dib as he sets out to avenge the murder of his father, and leads a revolution that earns him the emperor's throne. Unable to have jobs or money, they are either forced to be chaste, childless "Wives," housekeeping "Marthas," or reproductive "Handmaids" who turn their offspring over to the Wives.

The tale is told by Offred, a handmaid who can still recall the past and explains how the misogynistic society came to be.