TIME Magazine All Time 100 Novels

This is one of the 211 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

    "The Adventures of Augie March" is a novel set in Chicago during the Great Depression. The story follows the life of Augie March, a poor but spirited boy growing up in a broken home, as he navigates his way through life. The narrative explores his various jobs, relationships, and adventures, as he constantly seeks his identity and place in the world. His journey is marked by a series of encounters with different people and experiences, each shaping him in unique ways.

  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

    "All the King's Men" is a political drama that revolves around the rise and fall of a Southern governor, loosely based on Louisiana's Huey Long. The story is narrated by a journalist who becomes the governor's right-hand man, offering an inside perspective on the political machinations, corruption, and personal tragedies that accompany the governor's climb to power. The novel explores themes of power, corruption, and the moral consequences of political ambition.

  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth

    This novel tells the story of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish-American businessman and former high school athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, a budding writer who idolizes the Levovs. The novel portrays the impact of this turmoil on Levov and his family, particularly his rebellious daughter who becomes involved in revolutionary political activities.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

    "Animal Farm" is a satirical fable set on a farm where the animals revolt, overthrow their human farmer, and take over the running of the farm for themselves. The story is an allegory of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, and the tale is told by the animals that inhabit the farm, primarily pigs who become the ruling class. Despite their initial attempts at creating an equal society, corruption and power ultimately lead to a regime as oppressive as the one they overthrew.

  • Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

    This novel explores the self-destruction of the main character, a successful and respected car dealer, over a three-day span during the Christmas season in 1930. After a series of impulsive and reckless actions, including alienating his friends and family, having an affair, and getting involved with organized crime, the protagonist spirals out of control, leading to his tragic demise. The book offers a critique of the vapid and hypocritical aspects of high society in a small Pennsylvania town during the Great Depression.

  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

    The book is a coming-of-age story about a sixth-grade girl who is growing up without a religious affiliation, due to her parents' interfaith marriage. The protagonist is in search of a single religion while also confronting typical pre-teen issues such as buying her first bra, having her first period, coping with crushes and the changes that come with growing up. The book explores themes of friendship, religion, love, and self-identity.

  • The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

    "The Assistant" is a story about a struggling Jewish grocer in Brooklyn and his family, who are trying to make ends meet. Their lives dramatically change when a young Italian-American drifter comes to work as their assistant after he was involved in a robbery at their store. The narrative explores themes of guilt, redemption, and the power of good deeds, as the assistant tries to make amends for his past actions, slowly transforming his life and the lives of those around him.

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

    Atonement is a powerful novel that explores the consequences of a young girl's false accusation. The narrative follows the lives of three characters, the accuser, her older sister, and the sister's lover, who is wrongly accused. This false accusation irrevocably alters their lives, leading to the accused's imprisonment and eventual enlistment in World War II, while the sisters grapple with guilt, estrangement, and their own personal growth. The novel is a profound exploration of guilt, forgiveness, and the destructive power of misinterpretation.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

    This novel tells the story of a former African-American slave woman who, after escaping to Ohio, is haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter. The protagonist is forced to confront her repressed memories and the horrific realities of her past, including the desperate act she committed to protect her children from a life of slavery. The narrative is a poignant exploration of the physical, emotional, and psychological scars inflicted by the institution of slavery, and the struggle for identity and self-acceptance in its aftermath.

  • The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

    "The Berlin Stories" is a collection of two novels that present a semi-autobiographical account of the author's time in 1930s Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party. It vividly portrays the city's underground scene, capturing the lives of a variety of characters from different social classes and backgrounds. The narrative provides a stark and poignant exploration of the human condition against the backdrop of political upheaval and societal change, offering a unique perspective on a critical period in history.

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

    In this classic detective novel, a private investigator is hired by a wealthy family to resolve a blackmail issue involving the younger daughter. As he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of deceit, murder, and organized crime. The detective's investigation is further complicated by his growing attraction to the older daughter, adding a layer of personal involvement to an already complex case. The novel is renowned for its gritty depiction of 1930s Los Angeles and its sharp, witty dialogue.

  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

    The novel is a complex narrative that weaves together the story of two sisters in early 20th century Canada, one of whom publishes a scandalous novel that leads to her suicide. The surviving sister, now an elderly woman, reflects on their lives, revealing family secrets, heartbreak, and the truth behind the scandalous novel. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from the controversial book, a science fiction story within a story, adding layers of intrigue and mystery.

  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

    Set in the mid-19th century, this novel follows a violent teenager known as "the Kid" as he joins a group of Indian-hunters led by the enigmatic and brutal Judge Holden. The narrative is a gruesome depiction of the lawless American West, filled with philosophical musings, vivid descriptions of the harsh landscape, and brutal, relentless violence. The story explores themes of human nature, morality, and the inherent chaos and brutality of life.

  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

    The novel is a nostalgic story about the narrator's involvement with the Flyte family, British aristocrats living in a grand mansion called Brideshead. The story explores themes of faith, love, and the decline of the British aristocracy, primarily through the narrator's relationships with the family's Catholic faith and his complicated friendship with the family's son and his love for the daughter. The novel is set in the backdrop of the time period between the two World Wars.

  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

    "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" is a novel that explores the nature of love and the meaning of life, set in 18th century Peru. The narrative revolves around a tragic incident where five people die when a rope bridge collapses. A Franciscan monk, who witnesses the accident, embarks on a quest to find out why these particular people had to die, hoping to prove that it was divine intervention. The book delves into the lives of the victims, revealing their personal stories, their hopes, dreams, and disappointments, as the monk attempts to decipher the cosmic significance of this tragedy.

  • Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

    This novel tells the story of a young Jewish boy, David Schearl, who immigrates to New York City with his mother in the early 20th century. The narrative explores David's struggles to understand his harsh father, his experiences with anti-Semitism and poverty in the Lower East Side, and his journey of self-discovery through his vivid imagination. The boy's fears and dreams are depicted through a stream-of-consciousness narrative technique, providing a powerful exploration of the immigrant experience and the harsh realities of the American dream.

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

    The book is a satirical critique of military bureaucracy and the illogical nature of war, set during World War II. The story follows a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier stationed in Italy, who is trying to maintain his sanity while fulfilling his service requirements so that he can go home. The novel explores the absurdity of war and military life through the experiences of the protagonist, who discovers that a bureaucratic rule, the "Catch-22", makes it impossible for him to escape his dangerous situation. The more he tries to avoid his military assignments, the deeper he gets sucked into the irrational world of military rule.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

    This novel follows the life of a violent young man named Alex, who is part of a youth subculture in a dystopian future England. Alex and his gang engage in a nightmarish spree of rape, assault, and robbery, until he is arrested and subjected to a psychological experiment by the government to "cure" him of his violent tendencies. The novel explores themes of free will, morality, and the nature of evil, while using a unique slang language invented by the author.

  • The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

    "The Confessions of Nat Turner" is a fictionalized account of a historical event, the 1831 Virginia slave uprising led by Nat Turner. The book is presented as a first-person narrative from Turner's perspective, exploring his life as a slave, his religious visions, and the violent rebellion he led against white slaveholders. The novel delves into the complexities of slavery, morality, and rebellion, while also examining the psychological trauma inflicted by the institution of slavery.

  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

    The novel revolves around the lives of the Lambert family, an old-fashioned midwestern couple and their three adult children. The parents, Alfred and Enid, are dealing with Alfred's Parkinson's disease and their own marital problems, while their children are each facing their own personal and professional crises. The narrative explores the themes of family dynamics, societal expectations, and the struggles of modern life. The story climaxes with the family's last Christmas together at their childhood home.

  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

    The novel follows the journey of a woman who stumbles upon a centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies when she is appointed the executor of her ex-lover's will. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she begins to question her own sanity and the reality of the conspiracy itself. The story explores themes of communication, interpretation, and the struggle to find meaning in a chaotic world.

  • A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

    "A Dance to the Music of Time" is a twelve-volume cycle that follows the life of the protagonist, a man from the upper-middle class in England, from his school days to his old age. The series provides a detailed and satirical depiction of British society and its changes over several decades, from the 1920s to the 1970s. The narrative is filled with a rich cast of characters from different social classes and backgrounds, whose lives intersect in various ways over time.

  • The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

    "The Day of the Locust" is a novel set in 1930s Hollywood, portraying the dark side of the American dream through the lives of its desperate characters. The protagonist, a young artist from the East Coast, finds himself disillusioned by the superficiality and decay of Hollywood society, which is filled with failed actors, charlatans, and lost souls. The narrative culminates in a violent riot, symbolizing the destructive power of frustrated dreams and the harsh reality of the American dream.

  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

    This novel follows the life of a Catholic bishop and a vicar as they attempt to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory. The story highlights their struggles and triumphs over the course of 40 years, dealing with the harsh landscape, cultural differences, and the challenges of faith. It also explores the history and culture of the Southwest, including the influence of Mexican and Native American traditions.

  • A Death in the Family by James Agee

    The novel centers around the tragic death of a young father in a car accident, exploring its profound impact on his family. The narrative delves into the grieving process of his wife, children, and extended family in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1915. The story explores themes of love, loss, and the struggle to find meaning in the face of tragic circumstances. It is a poignant examination of the human condition and the inevitable experience of loss.

  • The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

    "The Death of the Heart" is a novel set in the interwar period, focusing on a sixteen-year-old orphan girl who moves in with her wealthy half-brother and his wife in London. As she navigates the complexities of her new social environment, she develops a crush on a friend of the family, leading to a series of misunderstandings and betrayals. The novel explores themes of innocence, love, betrayal, and the harsh realities of adulthood.

  • Deliverance by James Dickey

    Four friends from Atlanta embark on a canoe trip in the remote wilderness of Georgia, expecting a fun, adventurous weekend. However, their journey quickly turns into a nightmare when they are brutally attacked by a pair of backwoods locals. The friends are forced to kill their attackers in self-defense, leading to a harrowing escape down the river and through the woods, pursued by vengeful locals. The experience forever changes their lives, leaving them with deep physical and psychological scars.

  • Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

    In this novel, a disillusioned war correspondent, a morally compromised professor, and a woman caught between them become embroiled in a dangerous plot involving heroin smuggling from Vietnam to California. As they navigate the treacherous landscape of addiction, violence, and betrayal, the characters are forced to confront the devastating consequences of their choices. The book explores the dark underbelly of the American dream and the brutal realities of war.

  • Falconer by John Cheever

    The novel follows the story of a man named Ezekiel Farragut, a university professor and drug addict who is serving time in Falconer State Prison for the murder of his brother. Through his experiences and interactions with other inmates, Farragut grapples with guilt, addiction, and the human condition, ultimately leading to his escape and a chance at redemption. The narrative explores themes of freedom, identity, and the complexities of familial relationships.

  • The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

    Set in the Victorian era, the story revolves around a complex love triangle involving a gentleman engaged to a well-bred woman and his infatuation with a mysterious woman known as the French Lieutenant's Woman. This woman, shrouded in scandal and mystery, challenges the protagonist's conventional views of society and morality. The novel, known for its metafictional style, explores themes of freedom, responsibility, and the oppressive social norms of the time.

  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

    The novel centers around a woman named Anna Wulf, a writer who keeps four notebooks, each representing a different aspect of her life: her experiences in Africa, her current life in London, a novel she is writing, and her personal experiences. As Anna's mental state deteriorates, she attempts to unify her fragmented self in a fifth notebook, the golden notebook. The novel explores themes of mental breakdown, communism, the changing role of women, and the fear of nuclear war.

  • Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

    This novel explores the role of the Christian Church in the lives of African-Americans, both as a source of repression and moral hypocrisy and as a source of inspiration and community. It also, more broadly, examines the role of the Pentecostal Church in the African American experience. The narrative focuses on a fourteen-year-old boy's struggle to discover his identity amidst a family filled with secrets and a life marked by a religious community's strict moral code.

  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, this novel follows the life of a young Southern belle, who is known for her beauty and charm. Her life takes a turn when she is forced to make drastic changes to survive the war and its aftermath. The story revolves around her struggle to maintain her family's plantation and her complicated love life, especially her unrequited love for a married man, and her tumultuous relationship with a roguish blockade runner.

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    The book follows the Joad family, Oklahoma farmers displaced from their land during the Great Depression. The family, alongside thousands of other "Okies," travel to California in search of work and a better life. Throughout their journey, they face numerous hardships and injustices, yet maintain their humanity through unity and shared sacrifice. The narrative explores themes of man's inhumanity to man, the dignity of wrath, and the power of family and friendship, offering a stark and moving portrayal of the harsh realities of American migrant laborers during the 1930s.

  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

    Set during the end of World War II, the novel follows Tyrone Slothrop, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, as he tries to uncover the truth behind a mysterious device, the "Schwarzgerät", that the Germans are using in their V-2 rockets. The narrative is complex and multi-layered, filled with a vast array of characters and subplots, all connected by various themes such as paranoia, technology, and the destructive nature of war. The book is known for its encyclopedic nature and its challenging, postmodernist style.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

  • A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

    Set in the 1930s, this novel explores the disintegration of the marriage of an upper-class English couple, Tony and Brenda Last. Brenda embarks on an affair with a social climber, John Beaver, leading to the demise of her marriage. After their son's tragic death, Brenda demands a divorce and a large portion of Tony's estate. Tony, heartbroken, embarks on an ill-fated expedition to the Brazilian jungle. The novel critically examines the moral decay of British aristocracy and society.

  • The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

    The novel explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the U.S. South. Its protagonist is a deaf-mute who becomes the confidant for various troubled souls including a black physician, a bitter labor activist, a lonely young girl, and a struggling café owner. Each pours their heart out to him, but he remains unable to respond, reflecting the deep human need for connection and understanding.

  • The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

    The novel follows the story of a British colonial police officer stationed in Sierra Leone during World War II. He is an honest and diligent man but finds himself in a moral crisis when he is torn between his duty and his love for another woman. He is caught in a spiral of deceit, corruption, and betrayal that leads to his tragic end. The narrative delves into themes of guilt, faith, betrayal, and moral paradoxes.

  • Herzog by Saul Bellow

    The novel centers around Moses Herzog, a middle-aged, intelligent yet distressed man who is going through a mid-life crisis. After his second marriage fails, he falls into a state of emotional turmoil and begins writing letters to friends, family, and even famous figures, expressing his philosophical thoughts and personal feelings. His journey of self-discovery and understanding forms the crux of the story. It's a profound exploration of a man's struggle with the complexities of life and his quest for meaning.

  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

    The novel explores the life of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who are raised by a series of relatives in a small, secluded town in Idaho after their mother's suicide. The girls' lives are profoundly affected by the eccentric and transient lifestyle of their aunt Sylvie, who becomes their guardian. The narrative delves deeply into themes of family, identity, womanhood, and the impermanence of life, ultimately leading to a divide between the sisters as they choose different paths in life.

  • A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

    The novel narrates the life of Mr. Biswas, a man of Indian descent living in Trinidad, who struggles against poverty and adversity to achieve personal independence and to build a home for himself and his family. Born into a poor family and married into an oppressive one, he constantly strives for autonomy and identity against the backdrop of post-colonial Trinidad. His dream of owning his own house becomes a symbol of his desire for self-determination and respect in a society that often denies him both.

  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves

    This historical novel is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of the Roman Emperor Claudius, who was considered an unlikely ruler due to his physical ailments and perceived lack of intelligence. The story covers the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula before Claudius unexpectedly becomes emperor. The narrative provides a critical look at the corruption, violence, and political machinations of the Roman Empire, offering a unique perspective on history.

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

    This novel is a complex, multi-layered narrative that explores themes of addiction, recovery, and the human condition in a near-future society. The story is set in a tennis academy and a halfway house for recovering addicts, and it intertwines the lives of its numerous characters, including a gifted but troubled teenage tennis prodigy, his filmmaker father, and a group of Quebecois separatists. The book is known for its length, intricate plot, and extensive use of footnotes.

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

    The novel is a poignant exploration of a young African-American man's journey through life, where he grapples with issues of race, identity, and individuality in mid-20th-century America. The protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the story, considers himself socially invisible due to his race. The narrative follows his experiences from the South to the North, from being a student to a worker, and his involvement in the Brotherhood, a political organization. The book is a profound critique of societal norms and racial prejudice, highlighting the protagonist's struggle to assert his identity in a world that refuses to see him.

  • Light in August by William Faulkner

    Set in the American South during the 1930s, this novel explores complex social and personal issues through the intertwining stories of its characters. The narrative primarily follows a man of ambiguous racial identity on a quest to find his father, a pregnant woman searching for the father of her unborn child, and a disgraced minister attempting to navigate his own moral compass. The book delves into themes of identity, race, and the human struggle for understanding and redemption, all set against the backdrop of the deep-rooted prejudices and social norms of the time.

  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

    Four siblings are evacuated from London during World War II and sent to live with an old professor in the countryside. In his house, they discover a magical wardrobe that serves as a portal to the land of Narnia, a world filled with mythical creatures and ruled by an evil White Witch. The children are soon caught up in a struggle to free Narnia from the witch's eternal winter, aided by the majestic lion Aslan. The story combines elements of fantasy, adventure, and Christian allegory.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

    A group of British boys are stranded on an uninhabited island after their plane crashes during wartime. Initially, they attempt to establish order, creating rules and electing a leader. However, as time passes, their civility erodes, and they descend into savagery and chaos. The struggle for power intensifies, leading to violence and death. The novel explores themes of innocence, the inherent evil in mankind, and the thin veneer of civilization.

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

    This epic high-fantasy novel centers around a modest hobbit who is entrusted with the task of destroying a powerful ring that could enable the dark lord to conquer the world. Accompanied by a diverse group of companions, the hobbit embarks on a perilous journey across Middle-earth, battling evil forces and facing numerous challenges. The narrative, rich in mythology and complex themes of good versus evil, friendship, and heroism, has had a profound influence on the fantasy genre.

  • Loving by Henry Green

    "Loving" is a novel set in an Irish castle during World War II, focusing on the lives of the servants who work there. The narrative provides a detailed and intimate exploration of the relationships, gossip, and everyday routines of the domestic staff, while the war remains a distant threat. The book is known for its unique use of language and dialogue, as well as its exploration of class dynamics.

  • Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

    "Lucky Jim" is a comic novel that follows the life of Jim Dixon, a young and disillusioned lecturer at a provincial British university. Struggling with his job and his pretentious boss, Dixon navigates through a series of humorous and often absurd situations, including a disastrous public lecture and a chaotic weekend at his boss's house. The novel satirizes the snobbishness and hypocrisy of the academic world, and explores themes of class, ambition, and the struggle to find personal authenticity in a conformist society.

  • The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

    This novel explores the complex dynamics of the Pollit family, focusing on the relationship between the egotistical patriarch Sam and his idealistic daughter Louie. Set in Washington D.C. during the 1930s, the story provides a stark portrayal of a dysfunctional family, where Sam's delusional optimism and insensitivity clash with Louie's growing disillusionment and rebellion. The narrative delves into themes of family conflict, emotional abuse, and the struggle for individual identity within the confines of family expectations.

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

    The novel tells the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact moment when India gained its independence. As a result, he shares a mystical connection with other children born at the same time, all of whom possess unique, magical abilities. As Saleem grows up, his life mirrors the political and cultural changes happening in his country, from the partition of India and Pakistan, to the Bangladesh War of Independence. The story is a blend of historical fiction and magical realism, exploring themes of identity, fate, and the power of storytelling.

  • Money by Martin Amis

    "Money" is a darkly humorous novel that follows the life of John Self, a hedonistic, self-destructive director of commercials, as he navigates the excesses and depravities of 1980s New York and London. His life is filled with overindulgence in food, alcohol, drugs, and women, leading to a downward spiral of self-destruction. The novel is a satire on the excesses of capitalism and the obsession with wealth and materialism, and it also explores themes of identity, self-loathing, and the destructive power of addiction.

  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

    The protagonist, a young stockbroker in New Orleans, is alienated, detached, and finds more reality in movies and books than in his everyday life. He searches for meaning in life, often through his relationships with his aunt and his cousin, while also dealing with existential dread and the impending reality of turning 30. This exploration of alienation and search for identity in the modern world won the National Book Award for Fiction.

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    The novel chronicles a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman in post-World War I England, as she prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. Throughout the day, she encounters various characters from her past, including a former suitor and a shell-shocked war veteran. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and in and out of different characters' minds, exploring themes of mental illness, existentialism, and the nature of time.

  • Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

    A controversial novel that explores the dark depths of drug addiction and societal decay, following the protagonist, a junkie, as he navigates through a series of surreal and grotesque scenarios. The narrative is nonlinear and disjointed, reflecting the protagonist's fragmented consciousness and the chaotic nature of addiction. The book is known for its graphic depictions of sex, violence, and drug use, and it challenges traditional notions of morality and narrative structure.

  • Native Son by Richard Wright

    This novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in Chicago's South Side during the 1930s. Bigger's life takes a tragic turn when he accidentally kills a young white woman. The incident leads to his arrest and trial, revealing the deep-seated racial prejudices and injustices prevalent in American society at the time. The narrative explores themes of poverty, systemic racism, fear, and the effects of oppression.

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson

    In this groundbreaking cyberpunk novel, a washed-up computer hacker is hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack. As he navigates a dystopian future filled with artificial intelligence, corporate espionage, and virtual reality, he must confront his own past and the dark realities of the digital world. The narrative explores themes of technology, identity, and consciousness, pushing the boundaries of science fiction literature.

  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a haunting tale of three friends, who grow up together at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they mature, they discover a dark secret about their school and the purpose of their existence, which is to become organ donors for the rest of society. The story is a profound exploration of what it means to be human, the morality of scientific innovation, and the heartbreaking reality of love and loss.

  • Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel presents a society under the total control of a totalitarian regime, led by the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, a low-ranking member of 'the Party', begins to question the regime and falls in love with a woman, an act of rebellion in a world where independent thought, dissent, and love are prohibited. The novel explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and the manipulation of truth.

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac

    This novel follows the story of a young man and his friend as they embark on a series of cross-country road trips across America during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The protagonist, driven by a desire for freedom and a quest for identity, encounters a series of eccentric characters and experiences the highs and lows of the Beat Generation. The narrative is a testament to the restlessness of youth and the allure of adventure, underscored by themes of jazz, poetry, and drug use.

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

    Set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon, the novel is narrated by a half-Native American patient known as Chief Bromden, who pretends to be deaf and mute. The story follows the arrival of a new patient, a boisterous, rebellious man who challenges the oppressive and dehumanizing system of the hospital, particularly the tyrannical Nurse Ratched. The book explores themes of individuality, rebellion, and the misuse of power, ultimately leading to a tragic conclusion.

  • The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski

    "The Painted Bird" is a dark and harrowing novel set in Eastern Europe during World War II. The story follows a young, unnamed boy of unknown ethnicity who is sent by his parents to live in a remote village for safety. However, he is instead subjected to brutal violence, abuse, and superstition by the superstitious peasants. The book explores themes of survival, human cruelty, and the loss of innocence in the face of war and hatred.

  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel is a unique blend of fiction, commentary, and poetry, presented as a 999-line poem written by a fictional poet, followed by an extensive commentary and foreword by his neighbor and academic colleague. The novel blurs the line between reality and fiction, as the commentator's notes reveal an alternative narrative, one of exile, intrigue, and murder. The book is a playful exploration of authorship, deception, and the nature of art.

  • A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

    The novel takes place in British-ruled India, where the cultural divide between the British and the Indians is explored. The story focuses on the experiences of an Indian Muslim, Dr. Aziz, and his interactions with an English woman, Miss Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore. After an expedition to the Marabar Caves, Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of assault, leading to a trial that deepens the racial tensions and prejudices between the colonizers and the colonized. The novel is a critique of British imperialism and a study of the cultural and racial misunderstandings and ill-will between the British and the Indian people.

  • Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

    The novel centers around a woman named Maria Wyeth, a former model and actress, who is drifting through life in the 1960s Hollywood scene. As she struggles with a failing marriage, a difficult relationship with her daughter, and a career that's spiraling downwards, she grapples with existential despair. Told in a series of fragmented narratives, the story reveals Maria's mental breakdown, her self-destructive behavior, and her desperate attempts to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.

  • Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

    The novel is a first-person narrative, a monologue by a young Jewish man, Alexander Portnoy, who is speaking to his psychoanalyst. He shares his struggles with his identity as a Jewish man in America, his sexual fantasies and frustrations, his complex relationship with his overbearing mother, and his experiences of guilt and shame. The book uses humor and frank language to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and the Jewish experience in America.

  • Possession by A. S. Byatt

    "Possession" is a novel that interweaves two storylines, one set in contemporary times and the other in the Victorian era. The contemporary plot follows two academics who uncover a secret love affair between two 19th-century poets, while the Victorian storyline presents the clandestine romance itself. As the modern scholars delve deeper into the past, they find themselves falling in love as well, mirroring the historical romance they are researching. The book explores themes of love, passion, and the power of the written word.

  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

    The novel is set during the Mexican Revolution, focusing on a whisky priest who is on the run from the authorities who have outlawed Catholicism. The priest, who is flawed and sinful, travels across the country to evade capture, minister to the faithful, and find a way to repent for his sins. Despite his moral failings, the priest's compassion and commitment to his faith make him a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of oppression. The book explores themes of faith, redemption, and the human struggle with sin.

  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

    The novel is set in 1930s Edinburgh and follows the story of six girls under the tutelage of an unconventional teacher, Miss Jean Brodie. Miss Brodie, in her prime, takes it upon herself to educate the girls about life, love, politics, and art, often disregarding the traditional curriculum. The narrative explores the influence of Miss Brodie on the girls, the consequences of her nonconformist teachings, and the ultimate betrayal that leads to her downfall.

  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike

    The novel follows the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball star, who is dissatisfied with his current life. He impulsively leaves his wife and son and embarks on a journey in the hopes of finding a more meaningful existence. His decisions, however, lead to a series of tragic events that impact the lives of those around him. This mid-20th-century novel explores themes of freedom, responsibility, and the tragic consequences of impulsive decisions.

  • Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

    Set in the early 20th century, this novel intertwines the lives of fictional characters with real historical figures, creating a vivid portrayal of America's past. The narrative follows the lives of an upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York, an African-American musician from Harlem, and a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, while also featuring historical figures like Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. The novel explores themes of wealth, race, and class, against a backdrop of significant historical events, such as the onset of World War I and the rise of the labor movement.

  • The Recognitions by William Gaddis

    The novel is a complex and lengthy examination of authenticity and forgery. It tells the story of a young man who becomes a master forger of Old Masters paintings, while exploring themes of identity, religion, and art. As the plot unfolds, the protagonist grapples with his own authenticity in a world obsessed with appearances and material success. The narrative is interspersed with philosophical and religious discussions, making it a challenging yet thought-provoking read.

  • Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

    In this hard-boiled detective novel, a private investigator is hired by a newspaper publisher in a corrupt western town to uncover the truth behind the murder of a local worker. As he delves deeper into the investigation, he finds himself embroiled in a chaotic war between rival gangs, corrupt police, and greedy industrialists. The detective uses his cunning and manipulation to turn these factions against each other, leading to a bloody and violent resolution.

  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

    This novel revolves around Frank and April Wheeler, a young couple living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s. Struggling with the banality of their lives, they plan to move to France where they believe they will be able to live more fulfilling and enlightened lives. However, their plans are derailed by a surprise pregnancy and the pressures of societal expectations, leading to a tragic end. The book explores themes of conformity, the search for self-fulfillment, and the disillusionment of the American Dream.

  • The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

    "The Sheltering Sky" is a novel about an American couple, Port and Kit Moresby, who travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner. The journey, initially an attempt to cure their marital woes, quickly descends into a harrowing journey of self-discovery and exploration of the human condition. As they move further into the desert, the harsh environment and their isolation from the outside world push them to their psychological limits, leading to devastating consequences.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    The novel follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran who has become "unstuck in time," experiencing his life events out of order. This includes his experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allies' firebombing, his post-war life as a successful optometrist, his abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, and his eventual death. The book is a critique of war and a demonstration of the destructive nature of time, with a nonlinear narrative that reflects the chaos and unpredictability of life.

  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

    In a future America where the federal government has largely collapsed and been replaced by corporate entities, a computer hacker and pizza delivery driver becomes embroiled in a plot involving a dangerous new drug and a computer virus called "Snow Crash". He is joined by a teenage skateboard courier and a host of other characters in a high-stakes race to uncover the truth behind the virus and its origins in ancient Sumerian culture. The narrative explores themes of linguistics, philosophy, computer science, religion, and cryptography.

  • The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

    "The Sot-Weed Factor" is a satirical, picaresque novel set in the late 17th century, revolving around an innocent poet from London who is tricked into becoming a tobacco sot-weed factor in Maryland. The protagonist's misadventures, filled with mistaken identities, pirates, Native Americans, and a wide array of eccentric characters, mirror the challenges and absurdities of America's early colonial period. The narrative, rich in historical detail and parody, explores themes of identity, truth, and the nature of reality.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

  • The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

    This novel explores the life of a suburban New Jersey man who makes his living as a sportswriter. After experiencing the death of his son and subsequent divorce, he attempts to maintain a positive outlook on life and keep his personal despair at bay. The book delves into his relationships, encounters, and introspections during a transformative Easter weekend, providing a deep analysis of his character and his struggle to find meaning and purpose in the face of tragedy.

  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré

    This novel is a fascinating tale of espionage during the Cold War, centered around a British intelligence officer who is seemingly ready to end his spy career. However, he is given one last mission before his retirement: to bring down the head of East German Intelligence. As he navigates the dangerous world of spies and double agents, he is forced to confront his own past and the sacrifices he has made for his country. The story is a complex exploration of morality, loyalty, and the personal cost of political conflict.

  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

    The novel is a poignant tale set in the 1920s post-World War I era, focusing on a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris who travel to Pamplona, Spain for the annual Running of the Bulls. The story explores themes of disillusionment, identity, and the Lost Generation, with the protagonist, a war veteran, grappling with impotence caused by a war injury. The narrative is steeped in the disillusionment and existential crisis experienced by many in the aftermath of the war, and the reckless hedonism of the era is portrayed through the characters' aimless wanderings and excessive drinking.

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

    This novel follows the life of Janie Crawford, a young African-American woman, in the early 20th century. She embarks on a journey through three marriages and self-discovery while challenging the societal norms of her time. The narrative explores her struggle for personal freedom, fulfillment, and identity against the backdrop of racism and gender expectations, ultimately emphasizing the importance of independence and personal growth.

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

    This novel explores the life of Okonkwo, a respected warrior in the Umuofia clan of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria during the late 1800s. Okonkwo's world is disrupted by the arrival of European missionaries and the subsequent clash of cultures. The story examines the effects of colonialism on African societies, the clash between tradition and change, and the struggle between individual and society. Despite his efforts to resist the changes, Okonkwo's life, like his society, falls apart.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Set in the racially charged South during the Depression, the novel follows a young girl and her older brother as they navigate their small town's societal norms and prejudices. Their father, a lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, forcing the children to confront the harsh realities of racism and injustice. The story explores themes of morality, innocence, and the loss of innocence through the eyes of the young protagonists.

  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

    This novel is a pioneering work of modernist literature that explores the Ramsay family's experiences at their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The narrative is divided into three sections, focusing on a day in the family's life, a description of the house during their absence, and their return after ten years. The book is known for its stream of consciousness narrative technique and its exploration of topics such as the passage of time, the nature of art, and the female experience.

  • Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

    The book is a semi-autobiographical novel set in 1930s Paris and describes the protagonist's life as a struggling writer. The narrative is filled with vivid descriptions of the city, sexual encounters, and philosophical musings, all penned in a stream-of-consciousness style. The protagonist's experiences living in poverty, his relationships with other expatriates, and his pursuit of artistic freedom are central to the story. Despite the explicit content, the novel is noted for its candid exploration of the human condition and the author's quest for personal and creative authenticity.

  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick

    Set in a futuristic world, the novel follows Joe Chip, a technician at a psychic agency, who becomes trapped in a reality-altering phenomenon after a mission on the Moon goes wrong. As his reality begins to unravel, Chip and his colleagues find themselves in a bizarre world where time seems to be moving backward and a mysterious product called "Ubik" appears to be the only thing that can save them. The book explores themes of reality, entropy, and human perception in a surreal and often humorous manner.

  • Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

    "Under the Net" is a novel featuring a struggling writer living in London who is forced to reevaluate his life after being evicted from his flat. He embarks on a series of misadventures, meeting a variety of eccentric characters and getting involved in a dog-napping scheme. Throughout his journey, he contemplates philosophical ideas about truth, art, and personal freedom, ultimately leading to his self-discovery and transformation.

  • Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

    Set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead in 1938, the novel follows the last day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a British consul with a severe alcohol addiction. Through his interactions with his estranged wife and half-brother, the book explores themes of despair, betrayal, and the destructive power of addiction, against the backdrop of political and social unrest. The impending eruption of the nearby volcano serves as a metaphor for Firmin's deteriorating mental state and the looming world war.

  • Watchmen by Alan Moore

    Set in an alternate history where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1980s, the story follows a group of retired superheroes who are brought out of retirement after the murder of one of their own. As they investigate, they uncover a plot that could change the course of history and the balance of world power. The book explores complex themes such as the morality of power, the definition of heroism, and the value of human life.

  • White Noise by Don DeLillo

    The novel is a postmodern exploration of death and consumerism in the United States. It follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler Studies at a small liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, are afraid of death and are obsessed with finding a cure for their fear. Their lives are disrupted by an airborne toxic event, which forces them to confront their mortality and the toxic effects of modern life.

  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    This novel follows the lives of two friends, a working-class Englishman and a Bangladeshi Muslim, living in London. The story explores the complex relationships between people of different races, cultures, and generations in modern Britain, with themes of identity, immigration, and the cultural and social changes that have shaped the country. The narrative is enriched by the characters' personal histories and the historical events that have shaped their lives.

  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

    This novel is a postcolonial prequel to "Jane Eyre," exploring the life of Mr. Rochester's mad wife, Bertha. Set in Jamaica during the 1830s, it follows the story of Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole heiress, from her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage and move to England. Caught in a society that both rejects and exoticizes her, Antoinette is ultimately driven into madness by her oppressive husband and the haunting legacy of colonialism.

  • An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

    This classic novel explores the dark side of the American Dream through the story of a young man who, despite his humble beginnings, aspires to climb the social ladder. He becomes involved with two women, one wealthy and one from a working-class background. His ambition and desire for status lead him to commit a crime that ultimately results in his downfall. The novel is a stark examination of the destructive power of unchecked ambition and the moral compromises people are willing to make in pursuit of wealth and status.

  • At Swim Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

    This novel is a complex, metafictional work that weaves together three separate narratives. The first is about a lazy, hard-drinking college student living with his uncle, the second is about a devilish Pooka and a loquacious old man, and the third is about a fictional character named Finn who seeks revenge on his author for creating him poorly. The narratives eventually intersect in a unique and humorous way, challenging traditional ideas of story structure and character autonomy.

About this list

TIME Magazine, 100 Books

Time critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo pick the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

Added about 10 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 24%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • Voters: 2 people voted
  • Voters: are mostly from a single country/location
  • List: only covers 100 years

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at contact@thegreatestbooks.org.