The Greatest American "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. 1. 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.

  2. 2. 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.

  3. 3. 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.

  4. 4. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

    Set in the mid-19th century, this novel follows a violent teenager known as "the Kid" as he joins a group of Indian-hunters led by the enigmatic and brutal Judge Holden. The narrative is a gruesome depiction of the lawless American West, filled with philosophical musings, vivid descriptions of the harsh landscape, and brutal, relentless violence. The story explores themes of human nature, morality, and the inherent chaos and brutality of life.

  5. 5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

    A group of six classics students at a small, elite Vermont college, led by a charismatic professor, become entranced by the study of Greek culture and decide to recreate a Dionysian ritual, which ends in a tragic accident. The group, bound by their shared secret, begins to unravel as paranoia and guilt take hold. The novel explores themes of beauty and terror, the allure of the esoteric, and the destructive consequences of obsession.

  6. 6. 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.

  7. 7. 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.

  8. 8. 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.

  9. 9. 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.

  10. 10. Neuromancer by William Gibson

    In this groundbreaking cyberpunk novel, a washed-up computer hacker is hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack. As he navigates a dystopian future filled with artificial intelligence, corporate espionage, and virtual reality, he must confront his own past and the dark realities of the digital world. The narrative explores themes of technology, identity, and consciousness, pushing the boundaries of science fiction literature.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. 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.

  13. 13. 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.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. 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.

  16. 16. 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.

  17. 17. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

    This novel explores the complex relationships between four Chinese-American mothers and their American-born daughters. The narrative switches between the perspectives of the eight women, revealing their pasts, their struggles with cultural identity, and the misunderstandings that have grown between the generations. The mothers, who all experienced hardship in their native China, want their daughters to have better lives and thus push them to excel in America. The daughters, in turn, struggle to reconcile their American surroundings with their Chinese heritage.

  18. 18. 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.

  19. 19. Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

    The book follows the life of a former high school basketball star, who is now in his mid-forties and has inherited a Toyota dealership from his father-in-law. He is living a comfortable life with his wife and son in Brewer, Pennsylvania during the late 1970s. The story unfolds as he navigates through his midlife crisis, dealing with his rebellious son, his longing for his old mistress, and his own insecurities and dissatisfaction. The narrative provides a deep dive into the protagonist's thoughts and feelings, offering a detailed examination of middle-class American life during this era.

  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.

  21. 21. 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.

  22. 22. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

    The novel is a disturbing and graphic exploration of the mind of a wealthy, young and handsome Wall Street investment banker who is also a psychopathic serial killer. He leads a double life, appearing to be a charming and sophisticated businessman by day, while indulging in horrific acts of violence and murder by night. The narrative provides a satirical critique of 1980s American consumer culture, vanity, and excess, while also delving into the dark underbelly of human nature.

  23. 23. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    The Poisonwood Bible is a novel that follows the experiences of a missionary family in the Belgian Congo during the 1960s. The story is told from the perspective of the wife and four daughters of the Baptist minister who drags his family into the politically volatile Congo on a mission to save souls. The novel explores themes of cultural arrogance, religious zeal, and the clash of Western and African values, as well as the personal growth and self-discovery of the women in the family as they grapple with the harsh realities of their new life and the fallout from their father's single-minded vision.

  24. 24. 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.

  25. 25. 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.

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.

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