The 40 Best Novels of the 2010s

This is one of the 305 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

    This novel follows the journey of Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, who escapes and embarks on a journey towards freedom via the Underground Railroad. The book presents a literal version of the historical Underground Railroad, portraying it as a physical network of tunnels and tracks beneath the Southern soil. As Cora travels from state to state, she encounters different worlds and harsh realities, each one illuminating the various forms of oppression Black people faced in America. The narrative is a brutal exploration of America's history of slavery and racism, and a testament to the unyielding spirit of those who fought against it.

    The 1058th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Circe by Madeline Miller

    The novel is a reimagining of the life of Circe, a minor goddess and witch from Homer's Odyssey. Born into the house of Helios, god of the sun, Circe is scorned by her family and turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover her powers of witchcraft. After transforming her mortal lover into a sea monster, she is banished to a deserted island by Zeus. Over the centuries, she hones her magical abilities, encounters famous mythological beings, and struggles with her immortality, loneliness, and desire for love and freedom.

    The 4021st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

    This epic novel traces the lineage of two half-sisters from 18th century Ghana to present day America. One sister is sold into slavery and shipped to America, while the other is married off to a British slaver and remains in Africa. The book follows their descendants through the generations, exploring the lasting impact of slavery and colonialism on Black lives. The narrative showcases the struggles, resilience, and triumphs of each generation, providing a deep and personal view into the historical events and societal changes that shaped their lives.

    The 2173rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

    "Fates and Furies" is a novel split into two parts, providing two perspectives on a single marriage. The first half of the book, "Fates," is told from the point of view of the husband, Lotto, a charismatic but failed actor turned successful playwright, who views his marriage as happy and his wife as supportive. The second half, "Furies," is told from the perspective of his wife, Mathilde, revealing her hidden past and the sacrifices and manipulations she has performed to maintain their life together. The novel explores themes of love, secrets, and the different narratives created within a relationship.

    The 5418th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

    The novel is set in a graveyard over the course of a single night and is narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices. The story is centered around the death of President Lincoln's 11-year-old son Willie, who resides in the Bardo, a transitional state between life and rebirth in Tibetan tradition. As Willie interacts with the other spirits stuck in this realm, his father visits the crypt to mourn, causing a struggle among the ghosts over the boy's soul. The narrative explores themes of grief, the impermanence of life, and the unresolved issues that keep us from moving on.

    The 1585th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

    "Swamplandia!" is a darkly humorous and poignant story about a family of alligator wrestlers living in the Florida Everglades. The family's way of life is threatened when their mother dies, their tourist attraction business starts to fail, and a rival theme park opens nearby. The novel follows the three children as they struggle to keep their family together and their world intact, embarking on perilous journeys through the swamp and into the underworld.

    The 3029th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

    A woman searches for her kidnapped daughter in a world ravaged by a catastrophic climate change event known as the Fifth Season. Simultaneously, the narrative follows a young girl with destructive powers and a man struggling to control his own similar abilities. The story explores themes of oppression, survival, and the destructive power of nature, all set in a dystopian world where the earth is constantly in flux, and society is strictly divided and controlled.

    The 1261st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Leavers by Lisa Ko

    The Leavers revolves around the story of a young boy, Deming Guo, whose mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, mysteriously disappears one day, leaving him alone in the Bronx. He is later adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors who rename him Daniel Wilkinson to help him fit into his new life in upstate New York. The story explores his struggle with identity, the concept of home, and the harsh realities of immigration and cultural displacement.

    The 10123rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

    "Station Eleven" is a post-apocalyptic novel that revolves around the lives of several characters before and after a devastating flu pandemic wipes out most of the world's population. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, exploring the interconnectedness of the characters' lives through their shared memories and experiences. The story also follows a traveling Shakespearean theatre company as they navigate the dangers of a collapsed civilization, emphasizing the importance of art and human connection in times of crisis.

    The 2376th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

    The novel explores the journey of a 13-year-old boy, his drug-addicted mother, and his baby sister as they travel through Mississippi to pick up their white father from the state penitentiary. The story is steeped in the harsh realities of poverty, racism, and struggle, and is further complicated by the presence of a ghost from the family's past. It's a haunting tale about the legacy of trauma and the power of family ties.

    The 1749th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

    In a world ravaged by ferocious storms and embroiled in war, three main characters navigate their own paths. Kaladin, a skilled soldier turned slave, struggles to protect his fellow slaves while grappling with his own inner demons. Shallan, a brilliant and ambitious scholar, is on a dangerous quest to steal a powerful artifact to save her family from ruin. Dalinar, a high-ranking military leader, is plagued by visions of ancient times and a mysterious warning. As their lives intertwine, they must confront their own truths and fight for survival in a world on the brink of destruction.

    The 2631st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

    The novel centers around a disfigured man who creates an intricate mail-in role playing game set in a post-apocalyptic world, as a way to escape his own reality. His life takes a tragic turn when two teenage players take the game too seriously, resulting in real-life consequences. The narrative unfolds in reverse, gradually revealing the protagonist's backstory and the circumstances that led to his disfigurement.

    The 9922nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

    The book revolves around the Richardson family and the mysterious mother-daughter duo who move into their rental home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The lives of the seemingly perfect suburban Richardson family become intertwined with the lives of Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist, and her daughter Pearl. As the children of both families form relationships, secrets are uncovered, leading to a dramatic climax. The novel explores themes of motherhood, identity, and the moral complexities of following rules versus following one's instincts.

    The 4372nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    This novel follows the life of a young slave, Hiram Walker, who possesses a mysterious power related to memory and water, which he discovers after almost drowning. His journey from the plantations of Virginia to the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement in the North is filled with loss, love, and a desperate desire for freedom. The narrative explores themes of slavery, racial injustice, and the power of memory and storytelling, all underpinned by the protagonist's supernatural abilities.

    The 8186th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

    The book follows the life of a young boy who survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum, which kills his mother. In the confusion following the explosion, he steals a priceless Dutch painting, The Goldfinch, which becomes his secret treasure and eventually draws him into the criminal underworld. The narrative explores themes of loss, survival, and the power of art to shape human destiny.

    The 1355th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

    The novel tells the story of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are unknowingly bound to each other in a lifelong competition set up by their mentors. The stage for their contest is an enchanting, nocturnal circus that travels around the world, known as Le Cirque des Rêves. As the competition progresses, the pair fall in love, which leads to dangerous consequences and threatens the existence of the circus.

    The 3242nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Family Life by Akhil Sharma

    Family Life is a poignant, semi-autobiographical novel that follows the experiences of an Indian family that immigrates to America in the late 1970s. Their dream of a better life is shattered when the older son suffers a terrible accident that leaves him brain-damaged. The story is narrated by the younger son, who struggles with the pressures of his parents' expectations, the trauma of his brother's condition, and the cultural dislocation of being an immigrant in America. The novel explores themes of family, love, loss, and the immigrant experience.

    The 2753rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

    This novel follows the lives of two biracial girls who dream of becoming professional dancers. Although they both have talent, only one of them has the ambition to pursue it. As their lives diverge, one girl becomes a personal assistant to a pop star while the other lives a life of relative obscurity. The narrative explores themes of race, class, friendship, and identity, weaving a story that spans decades and continents.

    The 5360th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

    In this fantasy novel, the protagonist continues his quest to uncover the truth about the mythical beings that killed his family. He also seeks to unravel the mystery behind the powerful yet elusive figure named the Chandrian. The story unfolds as he continues his education at a renowned magic school, takes a leave to serve a powerful noble, and trains with an elite group of warriors. His journey is filled with love, danger, and a deepening understanding of his own magical abilities. The novel ends with many questions still unanswered, setting the stage for the final book in the trilogy.

    The 9690th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

    "Life After Life" follows the story of Ursula Todd who is born and dies repeatedly in February 1910. Each time Ursula dies, her life restarts, with each successive life bringing different circumstances and decisions. The novel explores themes of fate, free will, and the infinite possibilities of existence. Through Ursula's many lives, the narrative provides different perspectives on significant historical events, including both World Wars.

    The 1684th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen

    "The Destroyers" is a suspenseful novel set on the idyllic Greek island of Patmos. The story revolves around two childhood friends, one a wealthy inheritor of a construction empire and the other a struggling playboy, who reunite under mysterious circumstances. As the narrative unfolds, it delves into themes of wealth, friendship, betrayal, and identity, all against a backdrop of escalating danger and suspense. The protagonist finds himself embroiled in a web of deception and murder, as the seemingly paradise island reveals its darker underbelly.

    The 10234th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

    In "Boy, Snow, Bird," a young woman named Boy Novak escapes her abusive father in New York City to settle in a small town in Massachusetts, where she marries a widower and becomes stepmother to his daughter, Snow. After giving birth to her own daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, it is revealed that her husband and stepdaughter are light-skinned African Americans passing as white. The book explores themes of identity, beauty, and the damaging effects of racism as Boy grapples with her feelings towards Snow and Bird, and the societal implications of their different skin tones.

    The 9679th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

    This novel explores the passionate, tumultuous relationship between an 18-year-old Irish drama student and a successful actor twenty years her senior in 1990s London. Their intense connection is complicated by the actor's dark past, filled with addiction and abuse, which threatens to destroy the fragile love they share. As they navigate their relationship, they must confront their own insecurities, fears, and desires, ultimately leading to a profound transformation for both.

    The 8990th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

    "Red at the Bone" is a multi-generational novel that explores the lasting impact of past decisions on the present and future. The story begins at a 16-year-old girl's coming-of-age ceremony in Brooklyn and then delves into the past, revealing the complex histories of her parents and grandparents. The narrative is a powerful exploration of identity, ambition, love, and the ways in which history and personal circumstances can shape a family's life.

    The 10355th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

    "The Sympathizer" is a gripping spy novel set during the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who is a communist double agent. After the Fall of Saigon, he moves to America with other South Vietnamese refugees and struggles to reconcile his dual loyalties as he continues to spy on his fellow countrymen in exile. The novel explores themes of identity, war, and politics, while providing a unique perspective on the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

    The 1315th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

    "Eileen" is a psychological thriller about a troubled young woman working in a boys' prison in the 1960s. Eileen Dunlop is a disturbed 24-year-old woman who is stuck in a dead-end job at a boys' prison in New England. She suffers from low self-esteem and is trapped in a toxic relationship with her alcoholic father. Her life takes a turn when a new counselor, Rebecca, joins the prison staff. Eileen becomes infatuated with Rebecca, leading her into a world of crime and violence that ultimately forces her to leave her hometown.

    The 10073rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

    The book is a fantasy novel set in a world inspired by China's 20th century history. The protagonist, a war orphan, defies societal expectations by acing the empire-wide examination and earning a place at the prestigious military academy. However, her triumph is short-lived as she becomes embroiled in a violent conflict, which forces her to delve into the depths of her own magical abilities, inspired by shamanism. The story intertwines the brutal realities of war, mythology, and the exploration of power in a deeply divided society.

    The 6495th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The novel follows a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education. While there, she experiences racism and begins blogging about her experiences as an African woman in America. Meanwhile, her high school sweetheart faces his own struggles in England and Nigeria. The story is a powerful exploration of race, immigration, and the complex nature of identity, love, and belonging.

    The 867th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

    The Incendiaries is a novel about a young woman who becomes involved with a cult tied to North Korea and the subsequent unraveling of her relationship with her boyfriend as he tries to understand what's happening. The narrative alternates between the perspectives of the two main characters, exploring themes of faith, love, and loss, and the destructive power of extremist beliefs. The novel is set in a prestigious university and offers a nuanced exploration of the complexities of belief and the human capacity for self-deception.

    The 10310th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

    "Bowlaway" is a multi-generational saga that revolves around a bowling alley in a small New England town. The story begins with the mysterious arrival of a woman who establishes the bowling alley, and her subsequent death sets off a chain of events that impacts the town and its residents for decades to come. The narrative explores themes of love, loss, and the complex dynamics of family relationships, all against the backdrop of the bowling alley that serves as a communal hub for the town.

    The 10366th Greatest Book of All Time
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

    An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a science fiction novel that follows a young woman who becomes an overnight celebrity after discovering mysterious, alien-like sculptures appearing all over the world. As she becomes entangled in the global mystery and intrigue, she must also navigate the perils and pitfalls of sudden fame and the polarizing effect it has on her relationships and identity. The novel explores themes of social media influence, fame, and humanity's response to the unknown.

    The 10315th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

    "The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley" is a gripping novel that explores the life of a rugged, hardened criminal named Samuel Hawley, who attempts to protect his daughter Loo from his violent past. The narrative alternates between the present, where Hawley and Loo are trying to settle down in Massachusetts, and the past, where the circumstances surrounding Hawley's twelve bullet wounds (each representing a "life") are revealed. Through their journey, the book delves into themes of love, sacrifice, and survival.

    The 7163rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

    The novel explores a complicated relationship between an American teacher living in Bulgaria and a young male prostitute named Mitko. The narrative delves into themes of desire, shame, and the legacy of the past, as the protagonist grapples with his own identity and sexuality. As the relationship between the two men evolves, the protagonist is forced to confront his past, his feelings of isolation, and the societal norms that shape his existence.

    The 7057th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

    This novel is a coming-of-age narrative set in a post-apocalyptic Africa. It follows the journey of a young woman born from a violent act, who is prophesied to bring an end to a brutal regime. As she grows, she discovers her magical abilities and must learn to control them in order to fulfill her destiny. The narrative explores themes of race, gender, and power, while incorporating elements of African mythology and culture.

    The 4868th Greatest Book of All Time
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

    This novel tells the harrowing story of a Haitian-American woman who is kidnapped for ransom while visiting her parents in Haiti. Despite her father's wealth, he refuses to pay the ransom, leading to her prolonged captivity and abuse. The narrative explores the protagonist's struggle to survive and recover, as well as the complex dynamics of privilege, poverty, and power.

    The 10028th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Martian by Andy Weir

    A gripping tale of survival and resilience, this book follows the story of an astronaut left stranded on Mars by his crew who believed him dead after a fierce storm. With limited supplies, he must utilize his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to survive and signal to Earth that he is alive. The narrative is a thrilling testament to human willpower and the relentless fight for survival against all odds.

    The 2113th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

    "Exit West" is a novel that follows the journey of two young lovers, Nadia and Saeed, who are forced to leave their war-torn city through mysterious doors that transport them to different locations around the globe. The couple navigate their relationship while grappling with displacement, loss, and the challenges of adjusting to new cultures. The novel explores themes of migration, identity, love, and the concept of home.

    The 4733rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

    The protagonist, a middle-aged man, returns to his childhood home for a funeral and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road where he encounters a pond that was once an ocean in his childhood memories. He recalls a series of strange and terrifying events that occurred when he was seven, involving the mystical Hempstock women who live on the farm and their battle against malevolent supernatural entities that threatened his existence. The book explores themes of memory, magic, and the darkness that lies beneath the surface of everyday life.

    The 5867th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

    "Sudden Death" is a historical fiction novel that revolves around a fictional tennis match between the Italian painter, Caravaggio, and the Spanish poet, Francisco de Quevedo. The narrative jumps through time and space, touching on the conquest of the Americas, the political machinations of the Vatican, and the personal lives and rivalries of historical figures. The book uses this surreal and humorous setup to explore themes of art, power, and the chaotic, violent nature of the world.

    The 9975th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

    "Flight Behavior" is a thought-provoking novel that explores the effects of climate change on a small town in Appalachia. The story centers around a young woman who stumbles upon a forest filled with a massive population of monarch butterflies, which have migrated there due to changing weather patterns. This unusual event brings a flurry of scientists, reporters, and religious leaders to the town, causing upheaval in the community and forcing the protagonist to reevaluate her understanding of the world.

    The 4885th Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

Paste Magazine, 40 Books

Novels have inherent power. From building new worlds to reanimating history, they have the ability to enthrall and challenge us. But their most powerful trait is that they offer an escape while still encouraging readers to think critically, weaving entertainment and reflection into one experience.
As the decade comes to a close, we want to celebrate the novels that impacted us during the last 10 years. This list includes 40 novels published in English between 2010 and September 2019, and we’ve limited it to one book per author. The Paste staff tends to read fantasy and literary fiction, so you’ll notice the majority of the titles below fit those labels. And this list is obviously subjective; it’s by no means representative of the only “good” novels published during the last 10 years. This is simply a collection of the books we wept over, laughed with and were inspired by during a tumultuous decade.

We loved these books, and we believe you will, too.

Added over 4 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 36%. 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:

  • List: only covers 10 years
  • Voters: specific voter details are lacking
  • List: only covers 1 specific language

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at [email protected].