The Greatest "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 280 '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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  1. 101. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

    "Oscar and Lucinda" is a novel that tells the story of two unconventional individuals, Oscar and Lucinda, who meet on a ship going to Australia in the mid-19th century. Oscar, a young English clergyman, and Lucinda, a teenage Australian heiress, bond over their shared love of gambling. Their mutual obsession leads to a high-stakes wager that will have lasting consequences for both of them. The novel explores themes of love, faith, and obsession against the backdrop of Victorian-era England and Australia.

  2. 102. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

    "The Known World" is a historical novel set in antebellum Virginia, exploring the complex relationships between slaves, free blacks, and whites. The story revolves around a black man who becomes a slave owner, his wife, and their slaves. It provides a unique perspective on the moral complexities and personal consequences of slavery, while also examining the intricate social hierarchy of the time. The narrative is filled with richly drawn characters, each with their own stories and struggles, offering a vivid portrayal of a little-known aspect of American history.

  3. 103. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty

    This collection of short stories provides an insightful look into the human condition through the lens of Southern American life. The narratives, rich in detail and character development, explore a wide range of themes such as love, loss, race, poverty, and the complexities of human relationships. The stories are deeply rooted in the setting of the Southern United States, bringing to life the unique culture, customs, and dialect of the region. The author's masterful storytelling and evocative prose make each story a vivid and memorable exploration of human nature.

  4. 104. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

    "The Reader" is a poignant narrative centered around a young German boy's complex relationship with an older woman, who later turns out to be a former Auschwitz guard. Their relationship begins with her teaching him to read, but takes a drastic turn when she disappears, only to reemerge on trial for war crimes. The novel explores themes of guilt, shame, and redemption, as the boy, now a law student, grapples with his feelings for a woman he once loved, but whose past actions he cannot reconcile with.

  5. 105. Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

    This novel is a romantic, magical realism tale set in turn-of-the-century Mexico. It chronicles the life of Tita, the youngest daughter in a traditional Mexican family, who is forbidden to marry due to a family custom that mandates the youngest daughter must care for her mother until death. Tita falls in love with Pedro, who in turn marries her elder sister to stay close to her. The story is uniquely structured around the twelve months of the year, each beginning with a traditional Mexican recipe. The protagonist's emotions become infused with her cooking, leading to strange effects on those who consume her culinary creations.

  6. 106. Amongst Women by John McGahern

    "Amongst Women" is a novel that tells the story of Michael Moran, a bitter, aging Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran, and his relationships with his wife and five children. The narrative explores themes of family, power, love, and the struggle between freedom and control. Moran's domineering personality and the effects of his past experiences in the IRA have a profound impact on his family, shaping their lives and relationships in complex and often destructive ways.

  7. 107. 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.

  8. 108. If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi

    This novel follows a band of Jewish partisans behind German lines during World War II. They are a diverse group from different countries and social backgrounds, all brought together by the common goal of sabotaging the Nazi war effort and surviving the Holocaust. The narrative explores their various experiences, the challenges they face, their acts of resistance, and their hopes for a future free from oppression. The title reflects the urgent necessity of their mission and their determination to fight back against their persecutors.

  9. 109. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

    This novel follows three intellectual friends who work at a small publishing house. As a joke, they start inventing a conspiracy theory about a secret society that has been manipulating world events for centuries. However, as they delve deeper into their own fabrication, they begin to lose sight of what's real and what's not. Their lives take a dangerous turn when actual secret societies believe they hold the key to a universal secret and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

  10. 110. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

    This novel tells the story of a young girl named Ayla who, after an earthquake kills her family, is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals known as the Clan. Ayla struggles to fit in with the Clan due to her physical differences and advanced cognitive abilities. Despite these challenges, she learns their customs and ways of life, and even becomes the apprentice of the Clan's medicine woman. The story explores themes of survival, acceptance, and the clash between cultures and species.

  11. 111. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

    This novel is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, set on a 1000-acre farm in Iowa. The story revolves around three daughters whose father decides to divide his land among them. The eldest two daughters are compliant with their father's decision, but the youngest daughter objects, leading to familial discord. The novel delves into themes of power, jealousy, and the dark secrets that can tear a family apart.

  12. 112. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

    This novel follows a 15-year-old boy with autism as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor's dog. Along the way, he uncovers other secrets about his family and must navigate the world using his unique perspective and abilities. The book offers an insightful look into the mind of a character with autism, highlighting his struggles and triumphs in a compelling and empathetic way.

  13. 113. 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.

  14. 114. 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.

  15. 115. Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

    "Earthly Powers" is a sprawling, complex novel that explores the intertwined lives of a homosexual British writer and an Italian-American Cardinal over the course of the 20th century. The narrative delves into themes of faith, homosexuality, and the nature of evil, while also providing a critique of modern society. It's a vivid tapestry of historical events, including two World Wars and Vatican II, providing a backdrop for the personal and spiritual struggles of its protagonists.

  16. 116. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

    This novel is a powerful story set against the backdrop of tumultuous events in Afghanistan, from the fall of the monarchy through the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban regime. It follows the life of a wealthy boy and his best friend, a servant's son, their shared love for kite flying, and a terrible incident that tears their lives apart. The narrative explores themes of guilt, betrayal and redemption as the protagonist, now an adult living in America, is called back to his war-torn homeland to right the wrongs of his past.

  17. 117. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

    "The New York Trilogy" is a collection of three detective stories that explore the nature of identity and the search for meaning. The stories are set in New York City and feature various characters, including a detective, a writer, and a professor, who are all engaged in their own personal quests. These quests often involve elements of mystery, existentialism, and introspection, and the stories are interconnected in various ways, creating a complex and thought-provoking narrative.

  18. 118. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

    The novel is a haunting and tragic tale of the five Lisbon sisters who live in suburban America in the 1970s. Their strict, overbearing parents keep them isolated from the world, leading to a sense of mystery and intrigue about the girls in their community. This fascination turns into morbid curiosity when one of the sisters commits suicide, and the remaining sisters become even more sheltered. The story is narrated by a group of neighborhood boys who are obsessed with the girls, and their suicides, trying to piece together the reasons behind their tragic ends.

  19. 119. The Famished Road by Ben Okri

    The novel centers around the life of an abiku, a spirit child, who resides in the bustling city of Lagos. Despite numerous attempts to return to the spiritual world, the boy is tethered to the physical realm through the love of his mother. As he navigates through the political unrest and poverty of post-colonial Nigeria, he experiences a series of surreal and mystical encounters, all while wrestling with the pull of the spirit world. The narrative is a blend of reality and the supernatural, providing a unique perspective on the struggles and complexities of human life.

  20. 120. 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.

  21. 121. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

    The novel centers around a retired doctor's obsession with the life and works of Gustave Flaubert, a 19th-century French writer. The doctor's fascination leads him on a quest to find a stuffed parrot that once belonged to the writer. The novel is a blend of biography, literary criticism, and personal memoir, and it explores themes such as the nature of art and the difficulties of interpreting the past.

  22. 122. 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.

  23. 123. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K Rowling

    In the final installment of this popular series, the protagonist and his friends decide to leave their school to complete the mission left to them by their late headmaster - to destroy the remaining pieces of the antagonist's soul, hidden in various objects. As they journey through the wizarding world, they uncover the truth about the antagonist's past and the legend of the Deathly Hallows. Amidst the escalating war, they are captured and narrowly escape, leading to the ultimate battle at their school where many lives are lost. The protagonist learns he must sacrifice himself to truly defeat the antagonist, but is given a second chance at life and finally triumphs, ending the war. The story concludes with a glimpse into the peaceful future they have all earned.

  24. 124. The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

    "The Elementary Particles" is a provocative novel that explores the lives of two half-brothers, one a molecular biologist and the other a disenchanted teacher, against the backdrop of late 20th-century France. The narrative delves into their personal struggles and emotional turmoil, resulting from their dysfunctional upbringing by a self-absorbed, hedonistic mother. Throughout the novel, the author uses their stories to critique contemporary society, touching on themes such as sexual liberation, consumerism, and the decline of traditional values. The book also delves into the implications of scientific advancements, particularly in the field of molecular biology.

  25. 125. 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.

Reading Statistics

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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.

Download