Best Books of the Decade(2010-2020)

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

  • Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

    "Anything is Possible" is a collection of interconnected stories exploring the lives and struggles of various residents in a small town in Illinois. The stories delve into the characters' pasts, revealing their secrets, regrets, and the complexities of their relationships. The book explores themes of poverty, trauma, and the human capacity for change, demonstrating that despite hardships and heartbreak, anything is possible.

    The 10774th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

    In this poignant sequel, readers revisit the complex and compelling world of a prickly yet deeply human protagonist, now grappling with the changes of older age. Through a series of interlinked stories set in a small town in Maine, the narrative delves into themes of love, loss, and the intricacies of human relationships. As the protagonist confronts her own mortality and the evolving lives of those around her, the novel paints a rich and nuanced portrait of a community where personal histories are as rocky and enduring as the coastal landscape, offering a profound exploration of the resilience required to embrace life's second chapters.

    The 11034th Greatest Book of All Time
  • 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
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

    Set in the 1960s, this book follows the story of two African-American boys, Elwood and Turner, who are sent to a brutal reform school, the Nickel Academy, in Florida. The narrative explores their struggle to maintain their humanity in the face of physical and emotional abuse, systemic racism, and injustice. The book is a searing indictment of the horrific realities of racism and the long-lasting effects of trauma and dehumanization, based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children.

    The 10523rd 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
  • Salvage the Bones: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

    Set in a poor rural community in Mississippi, this novel follows the story of a pregnant teenage girl named Esch and her three brothers as they navigate their lives in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Their mother is dead and their father is a neglectful alcoholic, leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. The book explores themes of poverty, racism, and survival, showcasing the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

    The 1382nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

    The book centers around an agoraphobic architect named Bernadette Fox, who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica. Her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, compiles email correspondence, official documents, and secret correspondence in an effort to trace her mother's whereabouts. Through this unconventional narrative, the novel explores themes of motherhood, identity, and the pressures of genius, all while offering a satirical take on the tech industry and upper-middle-class America. The story unfolds with a blend of humor and heart, ultimately revealing the complex relationship between Bernadette and her daughter, as well as Bernadette's own troubled past.

    The 9024th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

    The novel follows the story of a woman recently released from prison who takes a job as a nanny for her childhood friend. Her life takes a tumultuous turn when she becomes romantically involved with her friend's husband and subsequently flees to Paris with their child. Throughout the story, the protagonist's flawed yet compelling character is explored as she grapples with her desires, the consequences of her impulsive actions, and her search for redemption and meaning in a life marred by poor decisions and a challenging past. Her journey is one of self-discovery, recklessness, and the complex nature of human relationships.

    The 10900th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder

    The book is a humorous and poignant examination of middle-aged masculinity, ritual, and nostalgia, centered around a group of men who annually reenact one of the most infamous plays in American football history, the 1985 Joe Theismann leg injury. Over the course of a weekend, these men gather to perform the ritual and in the process, delve into their personal lives, revealing their insecurities, failures, and struggles. Through the meticulous reenactment and the interactions among the characters, the novel explores themes of aging, friendship, and the longing for significance in the face of inevitable decline.

    The 11007th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor

    The novel follows the transformative journey of a young, talented water polo player who suffers a life-altering injury that leaves him blind in one eye, dashing his Olympic dreams. In search of meaning and identity, he embarks on an odyssey that takes him from California to Iceland, where he immerses himself in the art world, adopting a new persona and grappling with the complex interplay between creativity, ambition, and the quest for authenticity. As his father, a classics professor, sets out to find him, the story delves into themes of paternal love, personal discovery, and the pursuit of greatness, all set against a backdrop of mythological references and the high stakes of the international art scene.

    The 10953rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Wittgenstein Jr. by Lars Iyer

    The novel follows a group of Cambridge philosophy students under the guidance of their enigmatic and often perplexing lecturer, whom they nickname Wittgenstein Jr due to his philosophical intensity and resemblance to the famous philosopher. Throughout the academic year, the students grapple with their own intellectual and existential crises while being drawn into their lecturer's personal quest to forge a philosophical path that both honors and challenges the legacy of his namesake. The narrative weaves together themes of youth, academia, and the struggle for meaning in a style that is both humorous and deeply reflective.

    The 10398th 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 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
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers

    The Overstory is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of the natural world. The novel tells the intertwined tales of nine different people who are drawn into the last standing few acres of virgin forest in North America. From a young artist who inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut, to a hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocuted by a streetlight, each character's story adds another layer of depth to the narrative. Their lives slowly merge with each other and the fate of the trees, showing the interconnectedness of life, human and otherwise.

    The 3193rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Good Lord Bird: A Novel by James McBride

    The novel is a fictional account of the life of notorious abolitionist John Brown, told from the perspective of a young, freed slave named Henry Shackleford. Disguised as a girl for his own safety, Henry becomes a member of Brown's motley family of abolitionist soldiers, and finds himself in the historic 1859 raid on the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry. The book blends historical facts with imaginative storytelling, providing a humorous yet poignant exploration of race, religion, and identity in America.

    The 6880th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty

    This satirical novel follows the story of an African-American man living in a small, agrarian town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. After his father's death, he attempts to reinstate slavery and segregation in his town as a means of creating a sense of identity for himself and his community. The novel explores themes of racial identity and equality in America, challenging societal norms and expectations through its provocative narrative.

    The 1184th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

    "Fever Dream" is a gripping and unsettling narrative that unfolds as a conversation between a woman named Amanda, who is lying in a rural hospital bed, and a young boy named David, who urgently prompts her to recount the events leading up to her illness. Through their dialogue, a sense of dread builds as Amanda recalls the strange occurrences and the sense of impending doom she felt while vacationing in the countryside. Central to the story is the theme of maternal love and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child, as well as the mysterious connection between Amanda's daughter and David. The novel's fragmented and hallucinatory style creates a disorienting experience, reflecting the title's suggestion of a dream-like state where reality blurs with nightmare, leaving the reader to piece together the haunting puzzle.

    The 10953rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Model Home by Eric Puchner

    The novel explores the unraveling of an American family's pursuit of the dream in the 1980s as they move to a desert suburb in California where their hopes and aspirations begin to crumble. The narrative delves into the complexities of familial relationships and individual struggles, as the family members confront their own personal disappointments, financial distress, and emotional breakdowns. Their journey is marked by a tragic accident that further exacerbates their turmoil, leading each character to cope in different ways, revealing the fragile nature of their bonds and the illusions of their once-idealized life.

    The 10900th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Pacific by Tom Drury

    "Pacific" is a novel that weaves together the lives of various characters as they navigate personal challenges and search for meaning in their interconnected stories. The central figure is a young man who moves from the Midwest to California, where he encounters a cast of colorful individuals, including a washed-up movie star, a reclusive billionaire, and a host of other quirky personalities. As their paths cross and their tales intertwine, the narrative delves into themes of identity, the impact of the past on the present, and the elusive nature of the American Dream against the backdrop of the vast and varied Pacific landscape. Through sharp dialogue and insightful observations, the book paints a portrait of contemporary life and the complexities of human relationships.

    The 10944th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The End Of Vandalism by Tom Drury

    The book revolves around the life of a former high school football star turned local sheriff in the quiet Midwestern town of Grouse County. His routine existence is shaken when he stumbles upon an act of vandalism at a local school and meets an enigmatic woman who is new to town. As he navigates a series of peculiar events and relationships, including his dealings with the woman and his ex-wife, the sheriff finds himself embroiled in a deeper mystery that challenges his understanding of the community he's sworn to protect. The novel weaves together themes of love, loss, and the complexities of human connection against the backdrop of small-town America.

    The 10749th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Hunts In Dreams by Tom Drury

    In "Hunts In Dreams," the narrative follows the life of a Midwestern family over the course of a single weekend. The story delves into the complexities and quiet struggles of familial relationships, as each member of the family confronts their individual desires, fears, and disappointments. Set against the backdrop of rural America, the novel paints a poignant portrait of the family's dynamic, exploring themes of love, purpose, and the search for meaning amidst the ordinariness of everyday life. With a blend of humor and melancholy, the book captures the essence of human connection and the bittersweet nature of existence.

    The 10801st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Oreo by Fran Ross

    This novel is a satirical and bold exploration of identity, following the journey of a young biracial girl as she navigates the complexities of her heritage. Born to a Jewish father and an African American mother, the protagonist embarks on a quest to find her estranged father, using her wit, her unique cultural background, and a secret guidebook passed down from her grandmother. Along the way, she encounters a variety of eccentric characters and experiences that challenge societal norms and stereotypes, all while showcasing the protagonist's sharp humor and intelligence. The book is a comedic and poignant commentary on race, ethnicity, and the search for self in a world obsessed with labels.

    The 1836th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

    In this darkly whimsical novel, the mundane life of a lonely housewife is upended when she befriends a humanoid sea creature that has escaped from a research facility. As their unlikely romance blossoms, the protagonist must navigate the complexities of love, betrayal, and the yearning for connection amidst the backdrop of suburban ennui. This surrealist tale blends elements of fantasy with poignant social commentary, challenging the boundaries between reality and imagination while exploring the depths of human emotion and the consequences of societal norms.

    The 8611th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

    The novel revolves around the interconnected lives of an eclectic cast of characters, all linked by a lackluster children's musical based on a beloved fictional character, Mister Monkey. Through a series of vignettes, the narrative explores the personal dramas, comedic mishaps, and poignant reflections of the play's actors, the audience members, and even the author of the book on which the play is based. The story delves into themes of art, reality, the impact of small actions, and the human search for meaning, all the while painting a satirical yet sympathetic portrait of the theater world and the varied individuals who find their lives touched by this seemingly trivial production.

    The 11007th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

    The novel is a complex exploration of the intense relationships between teenagers at a competitive performing arts high school in the 1980s. The narrative initially follows the passionate and tumultuous romance between two students, Sarah and David, under the watchful eye of their charismatic drama teacher, Mr. Kingsley. As the story delves into themes of consent, power dynamics, and the manipulation of memory, the reader's understanding of the truth is challenged when the perspective shifts halfway through the book, revealing layers of metafiction and questioning the reliability of narrative and the nature of trust itself.

    The 10122nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

    "The Fates Will Find Their Way" is a haunting narrative that revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl and the impact it has on a close-knit community. Told through the collective voice of the boys who knew her, the story unfolds in a series of speculative scenarios about her fate, interwoven with the boys' own transitions from adolescence to adulthood. As they grapple with the uncertainties of their own futures, the girl's absence becomes a canvas onto which they project their fears, desires, and the inexorable passage of time, painting a poignant picture of the ways in which a single event can reverberate through many lives.

    The 10913th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

    The book is a poignant and humorous collection of interconnected stories that revolve around the staff of an English-language international newspaper based in Rome. It delves into the personal and professional lives of the reporters, editors, and executives who are struggling to keep the paper—and their own lives—afloat amidst the changing landscape of journalism. Each chapter focuses on a different character, painting a vivid portrait of the quirky and flawed individuals behind the headlines, while subtly weaving in themes of love, ambition, and the relentless march of technological change. The narrative captures the bittersweet reality of the imperfections that define us all, set against the backdrop of the declining newspaper industry.

    The 10707th 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
  • Open City by Teju Cole

    The novel follows a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist in New York City who embarks on solitary walks after a breakup. Through his meandering strolls, he encounters a diverse array of characters and reflects on his life, identity, and the complex layers of history embedded in the urban landscape. The protagonist's introspective journey intertwines his personal history with musings on culture, art, and the immigrant experience, revealing the multifaceted nature of his own consciousness and the city itself. As he delves into the depths of his memories and observations, the narrative becomes a poignant exploration of the intersections between the personal and the universal, the past and the present.

    The 8062nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Skippy Dies by Pauli Murray

    The book you're referring to, "Skippy Dies," was not written by Pauli Murray, but by another author. However, I can provide a general summary of the book's content. The novel is a tragicomic exploration of adolescence set in an Irish boarding school, where the life and untimely death of Daniel 'Skippy' Juster serve as the central events. Through the intertwining stories of Skippy and his classmates, the narrative delves into themes of love, friendship, and the struggles of growing up, all while touching upon the complexities of modern life and the peculiar microcosm of boarding school existence. The story is both humorous and heartbreaking, offering a poignant look at the pains and joys of teenage life.

    The 10707th 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
  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain

    The novel follows Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old soldier, who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. During the tour, they're honored at a Dallas Cowboys game, which exposes the commercialization and shallow appreciation of their sacrifices. Amidst the celebration, Billy grapples with his understanding of heroism, patriotism, family, and the stark contrast between the realities of war and America's perceptions.

    The 2386th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

    The novel weaves together multiple storylines spanning across different eras, from the 1960s Italian coastline to modern-day Hollywood. It centers around an almost-love affair between a young Italian innkeeper and an American actress who is believed to be dying. The narrative explores the complex interplay between life and art, love and dreams, as it moves through time and space, connecting a diverse cast of characters whose paths intersect in unexpected ways. The story delves into themes of missed opportunities, the impact of the past on the present, and the enduring allure of fame and ambition, all set against the backdrop of a changing cultural landscape.

    The 10925th Greatest Book of All Time
  • May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes

    "May We Be Forgiven" is a darkly comedic and deeply introspective novel that follows the life of Harry Silver, a middle-aged Nixon scholar whose life unravels after a tragic event. As Harry navigates through a series of unexpected and bizarre situations, he grapples with themes of family, identity, and redemption. With sharp wit and poignant observations, the book explores the complexities of human relationships and the possibility of finding forgiveness and second chances in a world filled with chaos and uncertainty.

    The 8289th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

    The novel follows a 28-year-old woman on a poignant journey of self-discovery and a quest for truth after the death of her father. Upon uncovering a shattering family secret, she travels to the stark, wintry landscape of Lapland, near the Arctic Circle, in search of her real father. Her odyssey leads her into the heart of the Sami culture, where she confronts her past and the complexities of identity amidst the ethereal backdrop of the Northern Lights, seeking both closure and a new beginning.

    The 10873rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

    This thrilling novel revolves around the sudden disappearance of a woman on her fifth wedding anniversary. As the investigation unfolds, all evidence points to her husband as the prime suspect. However, the story takes a twist as the wife's diary entries reveal a darker side to their seemingly perfect marriage. The narrative alternates between the husband's present-day perspective and the wife's diary entries, leaving readers in suspense about what truly happened. The book explores themes of deceit, media influence, and the complexities of marriage.

    The 795th Greatest Book of All Time
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

    Set during the turmoil of World War II, the novel follows the intersecting lives of a blind French girl and a German boy. The girl, living in occupied France, seeks solace in the world of books and the imagination, while the boy, a member of Hitler Youth, is a radio operator for the German forces. Their paths cross in the walled city of Saint-Malo, with the narrative exploring themes of survival, morality, and the human spirit.

    The 1997th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Funny Man by John Warner

    The book follows the story of a stand-up comedian whose career skyrockets after he starts wearing a prop on his hand during his acts, which becomes his signature trademark. However, as he ascends to stardom, his personal life begins to unravel. The narrative delves into the dark side of fame, the pressures of public life, and the struggle to maintain identity amidst the chaos of the entertainment industry. The protagonist's journey is a tragicomic exploration of the high cost of success and the often-blurred line between a persona and the person behind it.

    The 10913th Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

Chicago Tribune, 38 Books

John Warner of the Chicago Tribune lists his favorite books of the 2010s.

Added 3 months ago.

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