Choosing a favourite book is a real dilemma. How do you compare the merits of Anthony Beevor’s military histories, against some of those early Asimov science fiction tales, or the well-crafted crime novels of PD James?

So I’m cheating. Slightly. I’ve chosen a book which not only enthralled me as a boy, but which actually helped me to overcome my early struggles with reading.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson was completely different to the other dull and worthy texts at school. This was high adventure and it was written both for and from the perspective of boys, in this case Jim Hawkins. Stevenson’s ability to both paint vivid pictures and keep the action flowing drew me not just into the world of pirates and buried treasure, but into the joy of reading itself.

Written in the early eighteen eighties, Treasure Island has a wonderful array of characters, good, bad and ambiguous, including Black Dog, Blind Pew, and of course Long John Silver himself. Each location feels real, from the West Country cliffs and coves; to the bustling port, to life on the Hispaniola and then on the island itself.

Stevenson also knows how to create atmosphere. I always remember Jim’s fear as Blind Pew returns to the Admiral Benbow:

“I had heard in the silent, frosty air, a sound that brought my heart into my mouth – the tap-tapping of the blind man’s stick upon the frozen road. It drew nearer and nearer, while we sat holding our breath.”

Stevenson doesn’t pull his punches. In our current age, the book feels matter of fact in its treatment of death. The early death of Jim’s father is dealt with in a few lines, betraying the author’s desire to focus on the central story. However, the book is set in the eighteenth century and may simply reflect the reality for those in poorer communities. Life and death were never far apart.

As a story of a right of passage for Jim, the book has a strong moral sense at its heart. Jim shows himself to be heroic in action, but modest in character. Greed is shown to be all-consuming and destructive. Violence begets violence. Unlike some modern texts it makes these points, but rarely labours them.

On the other hand, Long John Silver is hugely likeable as a personality, despite his subsequent mutiny, lies and cruelty. He was the first literary villain I encountered who had that ambiguity.

Many of Stevenson’s conventions – one-legged pirates, hidden treasure, or maps with “x” marking the spot have shaped almost every other pirate tale since, in print and on the screen. Yet on re-reading the book it still works.

For me Treasure Island was the original boy’s own story and whilst occasionally I wince at the ripe language, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable read.  

Mark Prisk is the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hertford and Stortford, where he has been the MP since 2001. He is a former minister.