100 Novels That Shaped Our World

This is one of the 313 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • 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 47th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

    "Days Without End" is a historical fiction novel that follows the life of an Irish immigrant who enlists in the U.S. Army in the 1850s. The protagonist's experiences include fighting in the Indian Wars and the Civil War, as well as falling in love with a fellow soldier. The novel explores themes of identity, love, and survival in a brutal and unforgiving era of American history.

    The 4458th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

    "Fugitive Pieces" is a novel that explores the life of a Holocaust survivor who is rescued as a young boy by a Greek geologist. The boy grows up to become a poet and translator, haunted by his traumatic past and the loss of his family. The story also includes the perspective of a young professor who is obsessed with the poet's work, digging into the poet's past to understand his own life. The novel delves into themes of memory, loss, and the power of language.

    The 1849th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The novel is set in Nigeria during the Biafran War, exploring the impact of the conflict on the lives of its characters. The story is told from the perspective of three characters: a young houseboy, a radical university professor, and the professor's wealthy lover. The narrative delves into themes of love, race, and war, offering a vivid depiction of the horrors of conflict and the resilience of the human spirit.

    The 806th 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 2135th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy

    "Small Island" is a historical novel that explores the intertwined histories of Jamaica and the UK, as well as the themes of race, empire, and migration. The story is set in 1948 and is told from four different perspectives: two Jamaican immigrants, Hortense and Gilbert, who move to England after World War II, and an English couple, Queenie and Bernard. The narrative explores the racial tension, discrimination, and culture shock that the immigrants face in their new home, while also delving into the complexities of war, identity, and the British Empire.

    The 1402nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    The novel follows the story of a young woman who wins a guest editorship at a magazine in New York City and, after a series of personal and professional disappointments, suffers a mental breakdown and returns to her family, where she continues to struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. The protagonist's experiences in psychiatric institutions and her attempts to reclaim her life are depicted with brutal honesty, making it a poignant exploration of mental illness and the societal pressures faced by women in the mid-20th century.

    The 83rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

    This novel is a poignant tale of fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, who navigate through their childhood in Kerala, India, amidst a backdrop of political unrest and societal norms. The story, set in 1969, explores the complexities of their family's history and the tragic events that shape their lives. Their mother's transgression of caste and societal norms by having an affair with an untouchable leads to disastrous consequences, revealing the oppressive nature of the caste system and the destructive power of forbidden love. The novel also delves into themes of postcolonial identity, gender roles, and the lingering effects of trauma.

    The 310th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 50th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 247th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

    The book is a humorous and honest portrayal of a single woman's life in London. The protagonist, a 30-something year old woman, struggles with her weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption, all while trying to navigate her love life and career. The story is told through her personal diary entries, which include her daily calorie counts, number of cigarettes smoked, and other personal anecdotes. It's a modern take on romantic relationships and self-improvement, with a healthy dose of comedy.

    The 859th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Forever... by Judy Blume

    This novel follows the story of Katherine, a high school senior, as she navigates her first serious romantic relationship with a boy named Michael. The two fall in love and, after dealing with the complexities of intimacy and the pressures of their peers, they decide to take their relationship to the next level by becoming sexually active. The book explores the emotional and physical aspects of their relationship, the consequences of their decisions, and the reality that first love doesn't always last forever.

    The 1606th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

    The novel explores themes of identity, sexuality, and societal norms in mid-20th century Paris. The protagonist, an American man, grapples with his homosexual identity while engaged to a woman. His life takes a turn when he becomes involved with an Italian bartender, leading to a tumultuous relationship filled with passion, guilt, and self-loathing. The story is a poignant examination of the human struggle for acceptance and the destructive consequences of denying one's true self.

    The 236th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Set in early 19th-century England, this classic novel revolves around the lives of the Bennet family, particularly the five unmarried daughters. The narrative explores themes of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage within the society of the landed gentry. It follows the romantic entanglements of Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest daughter, who is intelligent, lively, and quick-witted, and her tumultuous relationship with the proud, wealthy, and seemingly aloof Mr. Darcy. Their story unfolds as they navigate societal expectations, personal misunderstandings, and their own pride and prejudice.

    The 9th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Riders by Jilly Cooper

    "Riders" is a racy novel set in the competitive world of show jumping. The story revolves around a handsome, ambitious protagonist who is determined to reach the top of the sport, even if it means bending the rules. His life becomes complicated when he falls in love with a beautiful woman who is also a talented rider. The novel is filled with passion, rivalry, and the glamorous, high-stakes world of international show jumping.

    The 3704th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 44th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Far Pavilions by Mary Margaret Kaye

    The novel is a sweeping epic about a British man, brought up as a Hindu during the British Raj. As an adult, he serves in the British army and falls in love with an Indian princess. The novel explores themes of identity, loyalty, and love against the backdrop of the political and social upheaval of late 19th century India. The man and the princess must navigate their complex feelings for each other, their conflicting loyalties to their countries, and the harsh realities of their time.

    The 832nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

    This novel intertwines two parallel narratives, one set in the 13th century and one in the modern day. The contemporary story follows a discontented American housewife who, while working as a reader for a literary agency, comes across a novel about the 13th-century poet Rumi and his spiritual mentor, Shams of Tabriz. As she delves into their story, she uncovers Shams' forty rules of love and begins to question her own life and relationships. The historical narrative, on the other hand, explores the transformative friendship between Rumi and Shams, and how their bond revolutionized Rumi's poetry and outlook on life.

    The 4151st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

    "The Passion" is a historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars and told from the perspectives of two unique characters: a French soldier who serves in Napoleon’s army and a Venetian woman with webbed feet who works as a casino worker. The narrative explores themes of love, passion, identity, and fate as the two characters' lives intertwine in unexpected ways. The book is renowned for its magical realism and lyrical prose, offering a poetic exploration of human desire and the nature of love.

    The 1028th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

    Set in England during World War II, the novel follows a middle-aged woman living in a boarding house, who spends her time navigating the petty squabbles and politics of her fellow residents. Her life takes a turn when she becomes entangled in a love triangle with a charming but manipulative American lieutenant and a young German woman. The book explores themes of loneliness, manipulation, and the struggle for personal freedom in a time of national crisis.

    The 1175th Greatest Book of All Time
  • City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

    Set in the year 2053, the book is a dystopian tale about the city of Bohane, a place filled with vice, violence, and tribal warfare. The city is controlled by a gangster named Logan Hartnett, who is challenged by his estranged wife Macu and her lover, a rival gang leader. The narrative is filled with colorful characters, rich language, and a unique blend of futuristic and archaic elements, creating a vivid, darkly comic vision of a future Ireland.

    The 5599th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Eye Of The Needle by Ken Follett

    Set during World War II, the novel revolves around a ruthless German spy known as 'The Needle' due to his preference for a stiletto as his killing tool. His mission is to uncover the Allies' invasion plans and relay them to Hitler, potentially changing the course of the war. However, his plans are threatened when he becomes stranded on an isolated island with a young, lonely woman and her disabled husband, leading to a tense game of cat and mouse.

    The 1464th Greatest Book of All Time
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

    Set in the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the novel follows the story of an American dynamiter, who is assigned the task of blowing up a bridge during a crucial attack on the city of Segovia. Alongside the war narrative, the story also explores his relationships with various characters, including his love affair with a young Spanish woman. The narrative beautifully encapsulates themes of love, war, death, and the transient nature of life.

    The 73rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

    "His Dark Materials" is a fantasy trilogy that follows the journey of a young girl named Lyra Belacqua and her daemon, Pantalaimon, across parallel universes. Throughout their adventures, they encounter a variety of mythical creatures, confront religious and political systems, and grapple with complex themes such as free will, original sin, and the nature of consciousness. The series also delves into the mysteries of Dust, a strange particle integral to the multiverse's function.

    The 417th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

    Set in 12th-century England, the novel follows the story of Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a young Saxon knight, returning from the Crusades. He is disowned by his father for his allegiance to the Norman king Richard the Lionheart. The narrative encompasses themes of chivalry, rivalry, and the struggle between Saxons and Normans, while also highlighting the tension between Jews and Christians. The tale is known for its action-filled tournaments, sieges, and the character of Rebecca, a virtuous and strong Jewish woman.

    The 225th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Mr Standfast by John Buchan

    "Mr Standfast" is a thrilling espionage novel set during World War I. The protagonist is a British intelligence officer who is tasked with tracking down a German spy. The mission takes him on a dangerous journey across war-torn Europe, where he encounters a variety of characters and faces numerous challenges. Along the way, he uncovers a plot that could change the course of the war. The novel is a blend of suspense, action, and romance, with a strong emphasis on patriotism and duty.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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 89th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel revolves around a teenager named Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a post-apocalyptic nation where the government, in order to maintain control, forces each of its twelve districts to send a boy and girl to participate in a televised annual event. This event, known as the Hunger Games, is a fight to the death. When Katniss's younger sister is selected to participate, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The book follows her struggle for survival in the cruel game, against the backdrop of a brewing rebellion against the oppressive regime.

    The 1026th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

    Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the novel follows the story of Jack Aubrey, a brash and ambitious lieutenant in the Royal Navy who becomes the captain of the sloop Sophie. Alongside his friend Stephen Maturin, a ship's surgeon, naturalist, and intelligence agent, Aubrey navigates the complex world of naval warfare and politics. The narrative showcases their adventures and challenges on the high seas, including intense ship battles, storms, and the complexities of life on board a warship.

    The 609th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 18th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

    This epic fantasy novel is set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, where 'summers span decades and winters can last a lifetime'. The story follows three main plot lines: the Stark family's struggle to control the North; the exiled Targaryen siblings' attempt to regain the throne; and the Night's Watch's fight against the supernatural beings beyond the Wall. As these stories intertwine, a game of power, politics, and survival unfolds, where you either win or you die.

    The 636th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Astonishing the Gods by Ben Okri

    "Astonishing the Gods" is a mystical exploration of the intersection of the visible and invisible worlds. The protagonist is an invisible man who embarks on a spiritual journey, seeking knowledge and truth. Along his journey, he encounters various gods and mythical beings, each imparting wisdom and insights. The narrative is a blend of poetry, philosophy, and storytelling that challenges the reader's perception of reality, encouraging them to question the nature of existence and the power of imagination.

    The 4463rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Dune by Frank Herbert

    Set in a distant future, the novel follows Paul Atreides, whose family assumes control of the desert planet Arrakis. As the only producer of a highly valuable resource, jurisdiction over Arrakis is contested among competing noble families. After Paul and his family are betrayed, the story explores themes of politics, religion, and man’s relationship to nature, as Paul leads a rebellion to restore his family's reign.

    The 115th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    This classic novel tells the story of a young scientist who creates a grotesque but sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The scientist, horrified by his creation, abandons it, leading the creature to seek revenge. The novel explores themes of ambition, responsibility, guilt, and the potential consequences of playing God.

    The 31st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

    The novel is a series of reflections written by an elderly dying pastor in 1956 in Gilead, Iowa, as a letter to his young son. The protagonist, John Ames, shares his family history, personal thoughts, and the struggles of his life, including the tension with his namesake and godson who returns to their small town. The book explores themes of faith, regret, and the beauty of existence, providing a profound meditation on life and death.

    The 518th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

    This seven-part series follows the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the fantastical realm of Narnia. The children are magically transported to Narnia from our world, where they aid the noble lion Aslan in his struggles against evil forces in order to restore peace and justice. The series explores themes of good versus evil, the nature of faith, and the power of sacrifice, all set against a richly imagined magical world full of diverse creatures and landscapes.

    The 256th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

    This book introduces readers to a flat, disc-shaped world balanced on the back of four elephants who stand on a giant turtle. The story follows an inept and cowardly wizard named Rincewind who is tasked with guiding a naive tourist through this chaotic and fantastical world filled with dragons, trolls, and magic. The narrative is a satirical take on fantasy genre clichés, with humorous and witty commentary throughout.

    The 648th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

    This fantasy novel follows the story of a young boy named Ged who lives in a world of islands called Earthsea. Ged discovers he has a natural talent for magic and is sent to a school for wizards on the island of Roke. As he grows and learns, his arrogance leads him to unleash a shadow creature that he must then spend years trying to defeat. The book explores themes of balance, power, and the danger of hubris, as Ged learns to control his abilities and accept responsibility for his actions.

    The 199th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Sandman by Neil Gaiman

    "Sandman" is a dark and fantastical series that follows the character Dream, also known as Morpheus, one of the seven Endless who personify certain universal concepts that transcend beyond gods. The narrative explores Dream's realm and responsibilities, his interactions with humans, gods, and his own family, as well as the consequences when he is captured and subsequently escapes after 70 years. The series is renowned for its blending of myth, history, and contemporary issues, creating a richly nuanced universe that delves into the nature of storytelling itself.

    The 1114th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    In a post-apocalyptic world, a father and his young son journey through a desolate landscape, struggling to survive. They face numerous threats including starvation, extreme weather, and dangerous encounters with other survivors. The father, who is terminally ill, is driven by his love and concern for his son, and is determined to protect him at all costs. The story is a haunting exploration of the depths of human resilience, the power of love, and the instinct to survive against all odds.

    The 377th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    This novel explores the lives of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, who are brought together by war and fate. Mariam, an illegitimate child, suffers from the stigma surrounding her birth and the abuse she faces from her bitter mother. When she is married off to Rasheed, her life becomes a nightmare. Later, she becomes a co-wife to Laila, a beautiful and educated girl who also ends up as Rasheed's wife due to a series of tragic events. Despite their initial rivalry, the two women form a bond and become sources of support for each other in the face of their husband's brutalities and the war-torn world of Kabul.

    The 2011th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel explores a society where human beings are genetically bred and pharmaceutically conditioned to serve in a ruling order. The society is divided into five castes, each with its specific roles. The narrative follows a savage who rejects the norms of this new world order and struggles to navigate the clash between the values of his upbringing and the reality of this technologically advanced, emotionless society. His resistance prompts a deep examination of the nature of freedom, individuality, and happiness.

    The 39th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

    "Home Fire" is a contemporary reimagining of Sophocles' Antigone set against the backdrop of modern-day London and Syria. The novel explores the lives of five characters caught in a complex web of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. The story revolves around two British-Pakistani families, each struggling with their own dilemmas related to identity, radicalism, and loyalty. One family is headed by a powerful politician who disowns his jihadist son, while the other consists of three orphaned siblings whose lives are turned upside down when their brother is accused of joining ISIS. The novel explores the consequences of their actions, questioning the extent to which one can go for love and loyalty.

    The 4693rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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 53rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

    "Noughts and Crosses" is a thought-provoking novel set in a dystopian society where racial segregation is reversed. It follows the lives of two main characters: a girl from the ruling class (Crosses) and a boy from the underclass (Noughts). Despite their different backgrounds, they form a deep bond that eventually turns into a romantic relationship, challenging the societal norms and prejudices. The novel explores themes of love, racism, and power, offering a poignant commentary on the repercussions of societal divisions.

    The 1082nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Strumpet City by James Plunkett

    "Strumpet City" is a historical novel set in Dublin, Ireland, during the 1913 Dublin Lockout. The narrative follows a diverse group of characters from different social classes as they navigate the struggles and hardships of life during this tumultuous time. The book vividly depicts the poverty, exploitation, and political unrest of the era, offering a rich and detailed portrait of Dublin and its people in the early 20th century.

    The 1932nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    Set in the early 20th century, the novel is an epistolary tale of a young African-American woman named Celie, living in the South. She faces constant abuse and hardship, first from her father and then from her husband. The story unfolds through her letters written to God and her sister Nettie, revealing her emotional journey from oppression to self-discovery and independence, aided by her relationships with strong women around her. The narrative explores themes of racism, sexism, domestic violence, and the power of sisterhood and love.

    The 72nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 12th Greatest Book of All Time
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

    "V for Vendetta" is a dystopian graphic novel set in a future totalitarian England. The story follows a mysterious, anarchistic vigilante known only as "V" who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and seeks to overthrow the oppressive government. The novel explores themes of freedom, oppression, and the power of ideas, as well as the moral complexities of vengeance and violence. It also delves into the personal journey of a young woman named Evey, who becomes V's unlikely ally.

    The 1689th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Unless by Carol Shields

    The novel is a narrative about a middle-aged, successful writer who is grappling with the sudden and inexplicable decision of her eldest daughter to drop out of college and live on the streets. The daughter communicates only one word, "Goodness", which she writes on a cardboard sign. The story explores the protagonist's struggle to understand her daughter's choice, while also delving into themes of feminism, the nature of goodness, and the power of words.

    The 2069th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 207th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

    Set during the Great Depression, the novel explores the lives of a community of people living in a sardine canning district on the coast of California. The narrative revolves around a group of unemployed yet resourceful men who are trying to throw a party for their friend, a marine biologist. The book is a series of vignettes, giving a detailed and humorous insight into the lives of the people in this district, their struggles, their joys, and their simple pleasures.

    The 559th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Disgrace by J M Coetzee

    "Disgrace" is a novel that explores the life of a middle-aged professor in South Africa who is dismissed from his position after having an affair with a student. After losing his job, he moves to the countryside to live with his daughter, where they experience a violent attack that significantly alters their lives. The story delves into themes of post-apartheid South Africa, racial tension, sexual exploitation, and the struggle for personal redemption.

    The 342nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

    In this classic novel, a complex web of characters is spun around a central plot involving a mysterious inheritance. The narrative explores various themes such as love, greed, social class, and human nature, set against the backdrop of Victorian London. The story unfolds through the lives of numerous characters including a dust contractor, his charming daughter, a lawyer, a teacher, and a couple of greedy, scheming relatives, all of whom are connected by the mysterious fortune left by a deceased man to his estranged son, who is presumed drowned.

    The 344th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Poor Cow by Nell Dunn

    "Poor Cow" is a novel that follows the life of Joy, a young woman living in London who struggles with poverty and the challenges of being a single mother. The narrative explores the harsh realities of working-class life in the 1960s, highlighting Joy's relationships with men, her dreams of a better life, her resilience in the face of adversity, and her love for her son. The novel offers a gritty, realistic portrayal of the struggles faced by women in a society marked by gender inequality and class disparities.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe

    The novel provides a gritty, realistic portrayal of working-class life in post-war British society, as seen through the eyes of a rebellious young factory worker in Nottingham. The protagonist, a hard-drinking, womanizing anti-hero, navigates life's challenges and societal expectations, while seeking personal freedom and meaning beyond the mundanity of his labor-intensive job. His weekend binges and love affairs contrast starkly with the stifling conformity of his weekday routines, reflecting the broader social and cultural tensions of the time.

    The 590th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore

    The novel revolves around the life of Judith Hearne, a lonely middle-aged spinster living in 1950s Belfast who struggles with her declining social status and her increasing reliance on alcohol. As she desperately seeks companionship and purpose in life, she becomes infatuated with her boarding house's landlady's brother, only to face rejection and further isolation. The book explores themes of loneliness, faith, disillusionment, and the harsh realities of ageing.

    The 924th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 166th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a poignant tale of an English butler, Stevens, who reflects on his life and career during a road trip through the English countryside. As he delves into his past, he reveals his unquestioning loyalty to his former employer, Lord Darlington, and his unexpressed love for the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The narrative explores themes of dignity, duty, and regret, as Stevens comes to terms with his unquestioning devotion to his employer and the missed opportunities in his personal life.

    The 263rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 125th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery

    The novel follows the life of Emily Starr, an imaginative young girl who is sent to live with her strict Aunt Elizabeth and kind Aunt Laura at New Moon Farm after her father's death. Despite the challenges she faces in her new home, Emily's creative spirit and love for writing help her navigate her new life. As she grows older, she forms deep friendships and experiences various adventures, all while cultivating her passion for writing and dreaming of one day becoming a published author.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Golden Child by Claire Adam

    Set in rural Trinidad, the book tells the story of a family with twin boys, Peter and Paul. Peter is academically gifted, while Paul is considered to be slower due to a complication at birth. When Paul goes missing, their father is faced with a terrible choice that highlights the stark contrasts between his sons. The novel explores themes of family, sacrifice, and the lengths a parent will go to protect their child.

    The 8784th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

    Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the novel follows the life of Snowman, who believes he may be the last human on earth, as he struggles to survive in a new, harsh environment. He is surrounded by genetically modified creatures, and his only companions are the Crakers, human-like beings created by his brilliant but disturbed friend Crake. Through Snowman's memories, the story of how the world came to be this way is revealed, involving a love triangle with the mysterious Oryx and the catastrophic consequences of Crake's scientific experiments.

    The 1585th Greatest Book of All Time
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

    The novel revolves around a young boy in Illinois who befriends a new classmate, Cletus, whose father has been murdered. The protagonist becomes obsessed with the murder, imagining the events leading up to the tragedy from the perspectives of the involved parties. The novel explores themes of memory, guilt, and the impact of trauma on childhood friendships.

    The 436th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

    Set in the fictional town of Malgudi in South India, the book follows the story of a ten-year-old boy named Swami and his adventures with his friends. The narrative encapsulates the trials and tribulations of school life, family relationships, and friendships in a traditional Indian context. The book is a charming exploration of a child's life in a small town, filled with humor and poignant moments.

    The 1379th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien

    "The Country Girls" is a coming-of-age novel about two young Irish women, Kate and Baba, who grow up in the restrictive and repressed atmosphere of rural Ireland in the 1950s. The narrative follows their journey from a convent school to the bright lights of Dublin, where they seek love and adventure. The novel explores themes of female friendship, sexual awakening, and the struggle for personal freedom against the backdrop of a conservative society.

    The 745th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J. K Rowling

    The story follows a young boy, Harry Potter, who learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents' mysterious deaths, the dark wizard who wants to kill him, and the magical stone that holds immense power.

    The 185th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

    The book is a coming-of-age story focusing on a group of teenage boys living in a poor neighborhood. They are constantly at odds with the affluent kids from the other side of town, leading to violent gang fights. The story, narrated by a 14-year-old boy, explores themes such as class conflict, friendship, and the loss of innocence. It also delves into the struggles of the protagonist as he grapples with his identity, societal expectations, and the harsh realities of life.

    The 629th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

    The book is a humorous and touching glimpse into the life and mind of a British adolescent boy, navigating the challenges of teenage life. Written in diary format, the protagonist grapples with everything from acne, unrequited love, school bullies, family issues, and his aspirations of becoming an intellectual. His misinterpretations of the adult world around him, coupled with his overly serious and introspective nature, provide plenty of comedy and make for an endearing and relatable coming-of-age story.

    The 782nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

    A high school girl moves to a small town in Washington where she falls in love with a mysterious classmate who is revealed to be a vampire. This revelation puts her in danger as other vampires pose a threat to her life. The book explores their complicated relationship, as well as the difficulties they face due to his supernatural nature.

    The 2475th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

    Set in 1950s India, this epic novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, focusing primarily on the young woman Lata and her mother's quest to find her a suitable husband. The narrative explores the political, social, and personal upheavals in a newly independent India, struggling with its own identity amidst the backdrop of a society grappling with religious tensions, land reforms, and the shaping of a modern democratic state. Lata's journey is an exploration of love, ambition, and the weight of familial duty.

    The 547th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

    "Ballet Shoes" is a charming tale of three adopted sisters, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, living in 1930s London. Raised by their guardian Sylvia and her nurse Nana, the girls attend a performing arts academy where each discovers her unique talent. Pauline shows a knack for acting, Petrova has a passion for cars and machinery, while Posy is a natural ballet dancer. The story follows their struggles and triumphs as they strive to make their dreams come true, all while navigating the challenges of growing up.

    The 1036th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

    "Cloudstreet" is a sweeping family saga set in post-World War II Australia, following two families, the Pickles and the Lambs, who come to live together in a large, ramshackle house on Cloud Street over two decades. The story explores their struggles, triumphs, and the ways they are haunted and blessed by a mysterious spiritual presence. The novel is a celebration of endurance, unity, and the many forms of love, set against the backdrop of a changing Australia.

    The 1703rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

    When a young, sophisticated woman is suddenly orphaned and left penniless, she decides to live with her eccentric relatives on their rundown farm. Using her urban sensibilities and wit, she sets about bringing order to the chaos and improving the lives of her relatives. Through her efforts, she manages to transform the gloomy, grim farm into a place of happiness and productivity. This novel is a hilarious parody of romantic, pastoral novels and is filled with eccentric characters and absurd situations.

    The 211th Greatest Book of All Time
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    "I Capture the Castle" is a coming-of-age novel that tells the story of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her eccentric family living in a dilapidated English castle during the 1930s. Cassandra's father is a reclusive writer suffering from writer's block and her stepmother is a bohemian artist. The family's life changes dramatically when two American brothers inherit the estate. The novel, written in diary format, explores themes of love, poverty, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

    The 343rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Set in the fictitious English town of Middlemarch during the early 19th century, the novel explores the complex web of relationships in a close-knit society. It follows the lives of several characters, primarily Dorothea Brooke, a young woman of idealistic fervor, and Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious young doctor, who both grapple with societal expectations, personal desires, and moral dilemmas. Their stories intertwine with a rich tapestry of other townsfolk, reflecting themes of love, marriage, ambition, and reform, making a profound commentary on the human condition.

    The 21st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

    "Tales of the City" is a collection of interconnected stories set in 1970s San Francisco, focusing on the lives and experiences of a diverse group of residents living in the same apartment complex. The narrative explores various themes such as love, friendship, sexuality, and identity, providing a vivid snapshot of life in this iconic city during a transformative period of social change. The book is known for its candid portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters and issues, a groundbreaking approach at the time of its publication.

    The 658th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

    The novel follows the story of a depressed and overweight man who moves with his two daughters to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada, after his unfaithful wife dies in a car accident. There, he begins to rebuild his life, working as a reporter for the local newspaper, The Shipping News, and learning about the harsh realities of the fishing industry. As he delves into his family's history, he begins to find a sense of belonging and a new love. The story explores themes of family, identity, and the power of place.

    The 477th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

    "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" is a novel about a mysterious woman who moves into the dilapidated Wildfell Hall with her young son. As the story unfolds, it is revealed that she is running from an abusive, alcoholic husband and has taken on a new identity to protect her child. The narrative explores themes of gender roles, morality, and the societal constraints of the Victorian age, as well as the consequences of alcoholism and debauchery.

    The 639th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl

    This children's dark fantasy novel tells the story of a young British boy and his Norwegian grandmother as they battle against England's child-hating witches. After losing his parents, the boy lives with his grandmother who educates him about the evil witches that appear ordinary but have a deep hatred for children. The boy accidentally stumbles upon the witches' convention and gets turned into a mouse, but with his grandmother's help, he manages to foil their plan to turn all the children into mice.

    The 1127th Greatest Book of All Time
  • American Tabloid by James Ellroy

    "American Tabloid" is a gritty crime novel that delves into the underbelly of American society during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The narrative follows three rogue law enforcement officers involved in various illicit activities, including drug trafficking, union corruption, and political conspiracies. The story intertwines with real historical events leading up to the JFK assassination, suggesting a sinister link between organized crime, the CIA, and the highest levels of government.

    The 1840th Greatest Book of All Time
  • American War by Omar El Akkad

    Set in the late 21st century during the second American Civil War, this novel follows the life of Sarat Chestnut, a young girl from Louisiana. As the South refuses to give up fossil fuels, the country plunges into a violent and chaotic war, leading Sarat and her family to live in a refugee camp. Sarat's experiences of loss and hardship fuel her transformation into a hardened instrument of war. The novel explores themes of revenge, the impact of war on individuals, and the cyclical nature of violence.

    The 8163rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Ice-Candy-Man by Bapsi Sidhwa

    Set during the tumultuous time of the partition of India in 1947, "Ice-Candy-Man" tells the story of a young girl named Lenny who is growing up in Lahore. Through her innocent perspective, the book explores the religious and political tensions of the time, focusing on the impact of these events on the lives of ordinary people, particularly women. The narrative also explores the dynamics of power and manipulation through the character of Ice-Candy-Man, a charming street vendor who becomes a ruthless mob leader.

    The 2073rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

    A young woman marries a wealthy widower and moves into his large English country house. She quickly realizes that the memory of her husband's first wife, Rebecca, haunts every corner of the estate. The housekeeper's obsessive devotion to Rebecca and the mysterious circumstances of her death continue to overshadow the second wife's attempts to make a happy life with her husband. As secrets about Rebecca's life and death are revealed, the new wife must grapple with her own identity and place within the household.

    The 55th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Regeneration by Pat Barker

    "Regeneration" is a historical and anti-war novel set in a mental hospital during World War I. The narrative focuses on the experiences and interactions of a psychiatrist and his patients, most of whom are soldiers suffering from severe shell shock. The novel explores themes of masculinity, identity, and the psychological effects of war, while also critiquing the societal pressures and expectations that led many men to enlist and subsequently suffer from mental trauma.

    The 505th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James

    Set in a dystopian future where mankind has become infertile, the novel centers on a history professor who becomes involved with a group of revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the oppressive government. As the world descends into chaos due to the impending extinction of the human race, a miraculous pregnancy offers a glimmer of hope. The professor must protect the pregnant woman and navigate the dangerous political landscape, while grappling with the implications of a world without children.

    The 903rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

    This classic mystery novel follows a detective and his partner as they investigate a supernatural hound that has been haunting the Baskerville family for generations, supposedly causing the death of the recent family head. As the pair navigate the eerie moors surrounding the Baskerville estate, they unravel a plot of deception and murder, all while trying to protect the new heir from the same grisly fate. The story is a thrilling blend of mystery, suspense, and horror.

    The 121st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

    The novel is a monologue by a young Pakistani man, Changez, who tells his life story to an American stranger in a café in Lahore. Changez recounts his journey from a scholarship student at Princeton to a high-flying job in a prestigious New York valuation firm and his subsequent disillusionment with the American Dream post 9/11. The story explores themes of identity, love, and the shifting global power dynamics, as Changez grapples with his feelings towards America, his native Pakistan, and his love interest, Erica. The narrative ends ambiguously, leaving the reader to interpret the true nature of Changez and his American listener's relationship.

    The 5081st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

    The Talented Mr. Ripley is a psychological thriller that follows the story of Tom Ripley, a young man struggling to make ends meet in New York City. When a wealthy shipbuilder mistakes Tom for a close friend of his son, Dickie Greenleaf, he offers him an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy to persuade his wayward son to return home. Instead, Tom becomes obsessed with the luxurious lifestyle of Dickie and his girlfriend, Marge, and goes to extreme lengths to make it his own, including identity theft and murder.

    The 151st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene

    Set during the French colonial war in Vietnam, this novel follows a British journalist and a young American idealist who become friends and find themselves in a love triangle with a Vietnamese woman. As the war escalates, the journalist becomes disillusioned with the American's naïve political views and the destructive impact of foreign intervention. The story is a critique of American involvement in Vietnam, exploring themes of love, friendship, and moral ambiguity.

    The 530th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

    The novel is a comedic satire set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, centered around Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy, eccentric, highly educated, and socially inept man who still lives with his mother. Ignatius spends his time writing a lengthy philosophical work while working various jobs and avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. The story follows his misadventures and interactions with a colorful cast of characters in the city, including his long-suffering mother, a flamboyant nightclub owner, a beleaguered factory worker, and a frustrated hot dog vendor.

    The 227th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

    "Bartleby the Scrivener" is a story set in Wall Street, revolving around a law firm clerk named Bartleby who, after initially proving himself a diligent employee, begins to refuse his boss's orders with the phrase "I would prefer not to." Despite being fired and even imprisoned, Bartleby continues his passive resistance until his eventual death. The narrative explores themes of isolation, the mechanization of the workplace, and the inexplicable nature of human behavior.

    The 549th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Habibi by Craig Thompson

    "Habibi" is a graphic novel that tells the story of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves who escape to the desert, where they rely on each other for survival. The story is a complex interweaving of themes including love, religion, exploitation, and the clash of cultures, told through a blend of Islamic folklore, the Qur'an, and contemporary issues. The novel explores the strength of human resilience and the deep bonds that can form even in the face of unimaginable hardship.

    The 6890th Greatest Book of All Time
  • How to be both by Ali Smith

    This novel is a dual narrative that explores the interconnected stories of a 15th-century Italian Renaissance artist named Francesco del Cossa and a modern-day teenager named George. The book is divided into two parts, one set in the past and one in the present, and the order in which they are read can change the reader's interpretation of the story. The novel delves into themes of art, gender, sexuality, and the fluidity of identity, while also examining the ways in which we perceive and understand the world around us.

    The 2550th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

    The novel follows the life of a young nobleman in Elizabethan England who inexplicably transforms into a woman at the age of 30 and lives on for three centuries without aging. Throughout the centuries, the protagonist experiences various historical events, engages in relationships with both men and women, and explores the complexities of gender identity and sexuality. The book is an exploration of the fluidity of gender and time, as well as a critique of societal norms and expectations.

    The 142nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

    "Nights at the Circus" is a fantastical tale set in the late 19th century, centering around a trapeze artist who claims to be a swan princess with wings. A journalist is intrigued by her story and joins the circus to uncover the truth. As the troupe travels from London to Siberia, the journalist becomes increasingly enchanted by the strange world of circus performers and his relationship with the trapeze artist deepens. The book explores themes of love, freedom, and the blurred lines between reality and illusion.

    The 495th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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.

    The 4th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Psmith, Journalist by P. G. Wodehouse

    In this humorous novel, the protagonist, Psmith, takes over a friend's newspaper while he is away. Psmith transforms the paper from a mundane health advice column into a platform for social justice, exposing the corrupt practices of landlords and politicians in New York City. The novel follows his adventures and misadventures in journalism, complete with thrilling chases, gangsters, and witty banter.

    The 2607th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

    This novel follows the life of Moraes Zogoiby, the last in line of a once powerful and influential Indian family. Told from his perspective, Moraes recounts his family's history, starting with his grandparents and moving through to his own life. The narrative is filled with tales of love, betrayal, political unrest, and the supernatural. The protagonist's life is marked by a strange curse that causes him to age twice as fast as a normal human, adding a layer of urgency and tragedy to his story. The book explores themes of cultural identity, family legacy, and the passage of time.

    The 2044th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

    This book is a biomythography, blending history, biography, and myth, of a young, black, lesbian woman growing up in 1950s Harlem. The narrative explores her early life, including her relationship with her immigrant parents, her sexual awakening, and her struggle to define her identity in a time of intense racial and homophobic prejudice. The protagonist's journey is marked by a series of women who shape her consciousness and her understanding of herself, leading her towards activism and writing.

    The 1236th Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

BBC, 100 Books

Stories have the power to change us. We asked a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to choose 100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives, and this is the result. These English language novels, written over the last 300 years, range from children’s classics to popular page turners. Organised into themes, they reflect the ways books help shape and influence our thinking.

This list was originally published in 2019 and was added to this site over 4 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 84%. 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: criteria is not just "best/favorite"
  • List: only covers 1 specific language

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