The 47 Best Fiction Books of All Time

If you’re looking for a good novel or story to read, here’s my list of the 47 best fiction books of all time—in no particular order.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce – Banned for obscenity in the United States, a stream of consciousness classic that follows one Irish man’s every thought for an entire day.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Often called the best novel ever written. Dozens of characters, stretching from Muscovite peasants all the way to Napoleon himself. The modern epic.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – A hundred years ahead of its time, Tolstoy’s investigation of the silent, stifling life of women is an all-time great.
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – A classic of 19th century realism. A cautionary tale about romanticism.
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Often considered Hemingway’s greatest work. A short novella about a Cuban fisherman. Hemingway won his Nobel Prize for this.
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner – A novel told from the perspective of different members of the same family, including the mentally handicapped main character. Stretches all boundaries and brilliantly written.
  • East from Eden by John Steinbeck – A refashioning of the biblical Cain and Abel story based on a family that settles in California. Steinbeck’s masterpiece.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – The scandalous love story of a man and a 12-year-old girl. As beautifully written as it is disturbing.
  • Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger – As if high school angst was chopped up, splattered onto pages and glued to binding.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – One of the “Great American Novels.” Timeless story of class divisions, love and the inevitability of loneliness.
  • 1984 by George Orwell – Orwell’s dystopian tale of a totalitarian government enabled by futuristic technology.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – A tale about an escaped slave who would go to any length to guarantee her and her children’s freedom. Winner of a Nobel Prize.
  • 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Another Nobel Prize winner. No other book is even remotely like it. Descriptions don’t do it justice.
  • The Iliad by Homer – The classic Greek epic and possibly the oldest story of western civilization.
  • The Odyssey by Homer – See above.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – A character study of a man driven to murder for no rational reason and the aftermath. Russian novelists tend to be psychological and this may be the most psychological of all the Russian classics.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – A grand and beautiful portrait of a frayed family–three brothers struggling to understand and accept each other.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – Considered the first novel ever written. Cervantes’ classic story tells of a man who imagines himself a night, heroically defending the land.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – One of the most universally loved novels in the English language, it’s still revered today.
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – The best-selling English language novel of all time and a historical fiction about an English doctor who finds himself caught up in the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – The coming of age of a young woman, this is considered the first book to ever follow a single person’s psychological and spiritual growth throughout their lives from the first person.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – The timeless classic about love, romance, money, class, and family. Still as relevant as ever.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – A shockingly dark and twisted book critical of the stifling morals of 19th century England. Published posthumously, the book came under heavy attack at the time, but is considered prescient now.
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust – The longest novel ever written, clocking in at an astounding 4,200 pages. You really will search for your lost time if you make it through this whole thing.
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Another candidate for the “Great American Novel,” Huck Finn is about an homeless boy who befriends an escaped slave. An odd yet powerful friendship emerges.
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – A novel that challenged and broke all traditional forms and expectations for what a novel should be. Part philosophical musings, part emotional meanderings, part story, the book defined a style of its own.
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – An investigation into the absurd. A man wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant beetle. His family is… not supportive.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus – A novel that follows a nihilistic main character through situations, both extreme and mundane. Throughout, his lack of emotional response challenges our sense of what is actually meaningful and what is not. Camus won a Nobel Prize for this book.
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – A dizzying display of brilliance from the first-time novelist. This book would cement Rushdie as one of the top authors of his generation.
  • Candide by Voltaire – A satirical classic of a wealthy young man, brought up to be naive and optimistic about the world, is repeatedly confronted with harsh truth after harsh truth.
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – The great African novel about the experiences of Africans during the colonial years.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare – To be or not to be… that is one of many questions.
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare – Spoiler: everybody dies.
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Before Hugh Jackman danced around singing it, Hugo’s classic was a brooding investigation into the nature of law, society, love and family.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas – A modern adventure epic written on the scale of one of the ancient Greek or Roman poems. Not only is it readable but it’s impossible to put down at times.
  • Oedipus the King by Sophocles – The most famous Greek tragedy. Even today, reading it is unforgettable.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Huxley’s take on a dystopian future where populations are not controlled by fear, but rather, controlled by pleasure.
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Considered the ultimate anti-war novel, this book is based on Vonnegut’s own experiences in World War II. Hilarious and heartwarming.
  • The Master and Margarita by Mihkail Bulgakov – Considered both the best Russian novel of the 20th century and the best piece of Soviet-era criticism and satire, it took 20 years for this book to be published uncensored. And even then, it was after the author had died.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – The consummate criticism of middle American suburban life in the 21st century. One of my favorite books ever written. National Book Award winner.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – A tale of a young black woman’s empowerment in 1920s United States. A huge influence on both the later civil rights movements.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Considered the first true science fiction story ever told. Shelley was a mere 18 years old when she wrote it. It continues to be a classic.
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo – A breakout novel in the 80s and one of the first great pieces of fiction to criticize consumer culture and modern entertainment.
  • Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A feminist dystopia where women are mere vessels for childbirth and everything is controlled by a bizarre religion. Now a famous Hulu series.
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Published a month before she committed suicide, The Bell Jar broke open the public discussion of mental health, depression and suicide and cemented Plath as one of the centuries greatest talents.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Perhaps the darkest and yet most powerful book about parenthood. A father fights to keep his boy alive in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – As long as it is brilliant and funny. Most people can’t finish it as it seems, well, infinite. Considered the hallmark novel of Generation X, Wallace’s critique of technology and our obsession with entertainment only grows more relevant each year.

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