The Greatest "Contemporary, Social & Cultural Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 313 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Contemporary

Contemporary books are a genre that focuses on stories set in the present day, often exploring current social, cultural, and political issues. These books are typically written in a modern style and often feature relatable characters dealing with real-life situations. Contemporary books can cover a wide range of topics, from romance and family drama to coming-of-age stories and thrillers. The genre is constantly evolving to reflect the changing world we live in, making it a popular choice for readers who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and issues.

Social & Cultural Fiction

Social & Cultural Fiction is a literary category that encompasses novels and stories that delve into the complexities of society and culture, exploring themes such as class, race, gender, and identity within specific social contexts. These narratives often provide a lens through which readers can examine the intricacies of human relationships and the impact of cultural norms and societal structures on individuals and communities. By offering a fictional yet reflective portrayal of real-world social dynamics, this genre invites readers to gain a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences that shape our world. Authors in this category frequently use their characters and settings to comment on contemporary issues, challenge prevailing ideologies, and provoke thought about the possibility of social change, making Social & Cultural Fiction a powerful tool for empathy and a mirror for the ever-evolving human condition.

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  1. 1. 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
  2. 2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

    The book follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, one a skilled escape artist and the other a talented artist, before, during, and after World War II. They create a popular comic book superhero, which brings them fame and fortune. However, their success is complicated by personal struggles, including the escape artist's attempts to rescue his family from Nazi-occupied Prague and the artist's struggle with his sexuality. The narrative explores themes of escapism, identity, and the golden age of comic books.

    The 279th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

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

    The 309th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. 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
  5. 5. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

    The book is a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The story is semi-autobiographical, based on the author's experiences in the war. The narrative explores the physical and emotional burdens the soldiers carry during the war, as well as the lingering effects of war on veterans. It delves into themes of bravery, truth, and the fluidity of fact and fiction.

    The 321st Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

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

    The 345th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

    This novel follows the life of a successful Wall Street bond trader who, after a wrong turn in the Bronx, finds his life spiraling out of control. After a hit-and-run accident in a predominantly black neighborhood, he becomes the target of a political witch hunt, exacerbating racial tensions in the city. As the protagonist's world unravels, the story provides a satirical commentary on 1980s New York City, exploring themes of racism, classism, politics, and greed.

    The 379th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. Money by Martin Amis

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

    The 440th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

    This novel tells the story of Oscar de Leon, an overweight Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey who is obsessed with science fiction, fantasy novels, and falling in love, but is perpetually unlucky in his romantic endeavors. The narrative not only explores Oscar's life but also delves into the lives of his family members, each affected by the curse that has plagued their family for generations. The book is a blend of magical realism and historical fiction, providing a detailed account of the brutal Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic and its impact on the country's people and diaspora.

    The 459th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

    The book follows the life of Calliope Stephanides, a Greek-American hermaphrodite, who narrates her epic story starting from her grandparents' incestuous relationship in a small village in Asia Minor to her own self-discovery in 20th century America. The novel delves into themes of identity, gender, and the American dream, while also providing a detailed history of Detroit through the eyes of three generations of an immigrant family.

    The 471st Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. Underworld by Don DeLillo

    "Underworld" is a sweeping narrative that spans from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century, exploring the interconnectedness of events and the impact of the Cold War on American society. The story revolves around a diverse group of characters, including a waste management executive, a graffiti artist, a nun, and a baseball collector, among others. These characters' lives intertwine in unexpected ways, illustrating the complex web of relationships and influences that shape our world. The novel is renowned for its vivid portrayal of historical events and its profound examination of themes such as memory, technology, and waste.

    The 552nd Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    "A Visit from the Goon Squad" is an interconnected collection of stories about a group of characters whose lives intersect in the music industry. The narrative spans several decades, tracing the characters' journey from their youth to middle age. It explores themes of time, change, and the impact of technology on human relationships and the music industry. The novel is known for its experimental structure, including a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation.

    The 575th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

    "Love Medicine" is a novel that explores the lives of several generations of a Native American family living on a reservation in North Dakota. The narrative is presented through a series of interconnected stories, each told from the perspective of different family members, and spans over 60 years, from 1934 to 1999. The book explores themes of love, family, identity, and the struggle between tradition and modernity. It provides a deep and poignant look into the complexities of Native American life and culture, and the challenges faced by the community.

    The 593rd Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

    The novel is a final look into the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high-school basketball star, now in his mid-fifties, overweight and grappling with several health issues. Despite his success in business, his personal life is in shambles, with his wife addicted to alcohol and his son to drugs. Harry, struggling with his mortality, is trying to understand his past and make sense of his future, while dealing with the changing American society and the consequences of his own choices.

    The 681st Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

    The book is a collection of interconnected vignettes that detail the experiences of a Latina girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. It explores her struggles with her identity, her desire for a better life, and her experiences with poverty and gender roles. The protagonist's observations and experiences weave a vivid picture of life in a Latinx community, and her dreams of a better future give the narrative a sense of hope and resilience.

    The 789th Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. 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 834th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

    "Where I'm Calling From" is a collection of 37 short stories that delve into the lives of everyday people dealing with addiction, relationships, and hardship. The stories often depict characters in moments of crisis or reflection, grappling with their personal demons or past mistakes. The author's minimalist style and focus on ordinary life brings a sense of realism and relatability to these narratives, making them a poignant exploration of human struggle and resilience.

    The 916th Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. The Human Stain by Philip Roth

    The Human Stain is a novel that explores the life of Coleman Silk, a classics professor in a small New England town who is forced to retire after accusations of racism. The story delves into Silk's personal history, revealing that he is a light-skinned African American who has been passing as a Jewish man for most of his adult life. His affair with a much younger, illiterate janitor further scandalizes the community. The novel examines themes of identity, race, and the destructive power of public shaming.

    The 919th Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

    "Nervous Conditions" is a semi-autobiographical novel set in colonial Rhodesia in the 1960s. The story follows a young girl from a poor family who gets the opportunity to receive an education after her brother's death. Despite the struggles she faces - including culture shock, racism, and the inherent sexism in both her native and adopted cultures - she perseveres and manages to succeed. The novel explores themes of race, colonialism, and gender through the lens of a young African woman's coming-of-age story.

    The 959th Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

    Set in the 1980s during the era of Margaret Thatcher's conservative government in Britain, this novel follows the life of a young gay man named Nick Guest. Coming from a middle-class background, he moves into the home of his wealthy friend's family and becomes infatuated with the opulence and power of the upper class. As he navigates his way through this new world, he also explores his sexuality, all while dealing with the societal and political implications of the AIDS crisis.

    The 978th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

    This novel tells the story of two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor neighborhood in Naples, Italy in the 1950s. Their intense, complicated friendship is marked by competition, mutual respect, and deep affection. As they navigate the challenges of adolescence, including family drama, academic struggles, and romantic entanglements, their bond is tested and transformed. The narrative explores themes of female friendship, social class, education, and the struggle for personal autonomy in a patriarchal society.

    The 1014th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

    "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" is a novel about the life of the Tull family, which is marked by abandonment and discord, but also love and resilience. The story is told from the perspective of each family member, providing a unique viewpoint on the family's dynamics and history. The matriarch, Pearl, struggles to raise her three children, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, after their father abandons them. Each child deals with the abandonment and their dysfunctional family in different ways, shaping their adult lives. The novel explores themes of family, love, abandonment, and the idea of home.

    The 1029th Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

    The novel centers around the coming-of-age story of the protagonist, Annie John, in Antigua. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she grapples with her complex relationship with her mother, her self-identity, and the colonial influence of the British on her island home. As she matures, her once close bond with her mother becomes strained, and she struggles with feelings of separation and independence. The narrative explores themes of colonialism, gender, and the complexities of mother-daughter relationships.

    The 1037th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. Oranges are not the only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

    This novel follows the coming-of-age story of a young girl adopted by a religious fanatic, who believes her daughter is destined to become a missionary. As the protagonist grows up, she begins to question her mother's strict religious beliefs and discovers her own sexuality. The book explores themes of identity, love, and religion, as the protagonist grapples with her place in the world and her evolving understanding of herself.

    The 1067th Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!

Download

If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

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