The Greatest "Contemporary" 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 305 '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.

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  1. 1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

    Set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history, the novel explores the philosophical concept of Nietzsche's eternal return through the intertwined lives of four characters: a womanizing surgeon, his intellectual wife, his naïve mistress, and her stoic lover. The narrative delves into their personal struggles with lightness and heaviness, freedom and fate, love and betrayal, and the complexities of human relationships, all while offering a profound meditation on the nature of existence and the paradoxes of life.

    The 114th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

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

    The 215th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. 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 216th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. 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 224th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. 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 227th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. 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 246th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. 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 248th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. 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 249th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. 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 256th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. 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 259th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

    A man's search for his wife's missing cat evolves into a surreal journey through Tokyo's underbelly, where he encounters a bizarre collection of characters with strange stories and peculiar obsessions. As he delves deeper, he finds himself entangled in a web of dreamlike scenarios, historical digressions, and metaphysical investigations. His reality becomes increasingly intertwined with the dream world as he grapples with themes of fate, identity, and the dark side of the human psyche.

    The 277th Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

    The book is a tale of two childhood friends, one of whom believes he is God's instrument. The story is set in a New England town during the 1950s and 1960s and follows the lives of the two boys, one small and with a strange voice, who has visions of his own death and believes he is an instrument of God, and the other, the narrator, who struggles with faith. The novel explores themes of faith, fate, and the power of friendship against a backdrop of historical and political events, including the Vietnam War.

    The 280th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. The Lover by Marguerite Duras

    "The Lover" is a poignant exploration of forbidden love, power dynamics, and colonialism. Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the story of a tumultuous and passionate affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. The narrative delves into the complexities of their relationship, the societal norms they defy, and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. The protagonist's struggle with her family's poverty and her mother's mental instability further complicates the story, making it a compelling exploration of love, desire, and societal constraints.

    The 299th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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

    The 303rd Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. White Noise by Don DeLillo

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

    The 305th Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. 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 323rd Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. 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 346th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. 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 393rd Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. 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 421st Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. 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 449th Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

    "The Savage Detectives" is a novel that follows the lives of two Latin American poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, who are founders of a literary movement called "visceral realism." The book is divided into three parts and is narrated by multiple characters, providing different perspectives on the protagonists. The narrative spans over 20 years, following the poets' journey from Mexico City to Europe, Israel, and Africa, as they search for a mysterious poetess and navigate through the world of literature, sex, drugs, and the complexities of life.

    The 454th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

    The novel follows the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who was brought to England on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia during World War II. As an adult, Jacques embarks on a journey to uncover his past, including his original identity, his parent's fate, and his own lost history. The narrative is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and the lasting impact of the Holocaust.

    The 469th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. 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 478th Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

    The novel is a sprawling, ambitious work that spans continents and time periods, centering around an elusive, reclusive German author. It intertwines five different narratives: a group of European academics searching for the author, a professor in Mexico dealing with his own personal crises, a New York reporter sent to cover a boxing match in Mexico, an African-American journalist in Detroit, and the horrifying and unsolved murders of hundreds of women in a Mexican border town. The narratives are linked by themes of violence, mystery, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

    The 490th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. 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 509th Greatest Book of All Time

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