The Greatest "Tragedy" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 268 '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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Tragedy

Tragedy is a genre of literature that explores the darker aspects of human nature and the human experience. It typically involves a protagonist who is faced with a series of challenges and obstacles that ultimately lead to their downfall or demise. Tragic stories often deal with themes of loss, grief, and the struggle to find meaning in a world that can be cruel and unforgiving. Despite their often bleak subject matter, tragic stories can be deeply moving and thought-provoking, offering readers a powerful glimpse into the complexities of the human condition.

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  1. 1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

  2. 2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

    This classic novel is a tale of love, revenge and social class set in the Yorkshire moors. It revolves around the intense, complex relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan adopted by Catherine's father. Despite their deep affection for each other, Catherine marries Edgar Linton, a wealthy neighbor, leading Heathcliff to seek revenge on the two families. The story unfolds over two generations, reflecting the consequences of their choices and the destructive power of obsessive love.

  3. 3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in 19th-century Russia, this novel revolves around the life of Anna Karenina, a high-society woman who, dissatisfied with her loveless marriage, embarks on a passionate affair with a charming officer named Count Vronsky. This scandalous affair leads to her social downfall, while parallel to this, the novel also explores the rural life and struggles of Levin, a landowner who seeks the meaning of life and true happiness. The book explores themes such as love, marriage, fidelity, societal norms, and the human quest for happiness.

  4. 4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    The book follows the Joad family, Oklahoma farmers displaced from their land during the Great Depression. The family, alongside thousands of other "Okies," travel to California in search of work and a better life. Throughout their journey, they face numerous hardships and injustices, yet maintain their humanity through unity and shared sacrifice. The narrative explores themes of man's inhumanity to man, the dignity of wrath, and the power of family and friendship, offering a stark and moving portrayal of the harsh realities of American migrant laborers during the 1930s.

  5. 5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    Madame Bovary is a tragic novel about a young woman, Emma Bovary, who is married to a dull, but kind-hearted doctor. Dissatisfied with her life, she embarks on a series of extramarital affairs and indulges in a luxurious lifestyle in an attempt to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Her desire for passion and excitement leads her down a path of financial ruin and despair, ultimately resulting in a tragic end.

  6. 6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    This classic novel explores the complex, passionate, and troubled relationship between four brothers and their father in 19th century Russia. The narrative delves into the themes of faith, doubt, morality, and redemption, as each brother grapples with personal dilemmas and family conflicts. The story culminates in a dramatic trial following a murder, which serves as a microcosm of the moral and philosophical struggles faced by each character, and by extension, humanity itself.

  7. 7. The Stranger by Albert Camus

    The narrative follows a man who, after the death of his mother, falls into a routine of indifference and emotional detachment, leading him to commit an act of violence on a sun-drenched beach. His subsequent trial becomes less about the act itself and more about his inability to conform to societal norms and expectations, ultimately exploring themes of existentialism, absurdism, and the human condition.

  8. 8. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

    This novel explores the life of Okonkwo, a respected warrior in the Umuofia clan of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria during the late 1800s. Okonkwo's world is disrupted by the arrival of European missionaries and the subsequent clash of cultures. The story examines the effects of colonialism on African societies, the clash between tradition and change, and the struggle between individual and society. Despite his efforts to resist the changes, Okonkwo's life, like his society, falls apart.

  9. 9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, this novel tells the story of a woman who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. She is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her dress as a sign of her adultery while her lover, a revered local minister, remains unnamed and unpunished. Throughout the book, themes of sin, legalism, and guilt are explored.

  10. 10. Oedipus the King by Sophocles

    "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play that revolves around the life of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who is prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. Despite his attempts to avoid this fate, Oedipus unknowingly fulfills the prophecy. When he discovers the truth about his actions, he blinds himself in despair. The play explores themes of fate, free will, and the quest for truth, highlighting the tragic consequences of human hubris and ignorance.

  11. 11. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

    This is a tragic tale of a young woman named Tess who comes from a poor family in rural England. Tess is sent to work for a wealthy family, where she is seduced by a man who abandons her after she becomes pregnant. The baby dies, and Tess is ostracized by her community. She falls in love with a kind man, but when she confesses her past, he rejects her. Desperate and heartbroken, Tess murders her former seducer and is eventually captured and executed. The novel explores themes of fate, injustice, and the oppressive sexual morals of its time.

  12. 12. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    This classic play revolves around the young Prince of Denmark who is thrown into a state of emotional turmoil after his father's sudden death and his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle. The prince is visited by the ghost of his father who reveals that he was murdered by the uncle, prompting the prince to seek revenge. The narrative explores themes of madness, revenge, and moral corruption as the prince navigates the complex political and emotional landscape of the Danish court.

  13. 13. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    The book is a tragic play in two parts that tells the story of a scholarly man named Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. In exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles after death. The narrative explores themes of ambition, despair, love, and redemption, ultimately leading to Faust's salvation.

  14. 14. First Folio by William Shakespeare

    This collection is a compilation of 36 plays by a renowned English playwright, published seven years after his death. It includes comedies, histories, and tragedies, some of which had never been published before. Notable works in the compilation include "Macbeth," "Julius Caesar," "Twelfth Night," "The Tempest," and "As You Like It." The collection is considered one of the most influential books ever published in the English language, as it preserved many of the playwright's works that might have otherwise been lost.

  15. 15. Rabbit, Run by John Updike

    The novel follows the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball star, who is dissatisfied with his current life. He impulsively leaves his wife and son and embarks on a journey in the hopes of finding a more meaningful existence. His decisions, however, lead to a series of tragic events that impact the lives of those around him. This mid-20th-century novel explores themes of freedom, responsibility, and the tragic consequences of impulsive decisions.

  16. 16. Antigone by Sophocles

    This ancient Greek tragedy follows the story of Antigone, a young woman who defies the king's edict in order to bury her brother according to their religious customs. The king, her uncle, sentences her to death for her disobedience, leading to a series of tragic events including his own son's suicide. The play explores themes of loyalty, honor, obedience, and the conflict between the laws of the state and the laws of the gods.

  17. 17. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

    The novel is a reimagining of the Faust legend set in the context of the first half of the 20th century and the turmoil of Germany in that period. It tells the story of a composer who makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited creative genius. The protagonist's life and work reflect the cultural and political journey of Germany leading up to World War II, providing a deep exploration of the individual's role in a society undergoing dramatic change. The novel is also a profound meditation on the nature of time, the art and the artist, and the destructiveness of human ambition.

  18. 18. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

    This classic novel explores the dark side of the American Dream through the story of a young man who, despite his humble beginnings, aspires to climb the social ladder. He becomes involved with two women, one wealthy and one from a working-class background. His ambition and desire for status lead him to commit a crime that ultimately results in his downfall. The novel is a stark examination of the destructive power of unchecked ambition and the moral compromises people are willing to make in pursuit of wealth and status.

  19. 19. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

    Set in the backdrop of New York's high society during the turn of the 20th century, the novel follows the life of Lily Bart, a beautiful but impoverished woman of social standing. As she navigates the pressures and expectations of her social circle, Lily grapples with the need to secure a wealthy husband to maintain her lifestyle. However, her romantic inclinations and her desire for personal freedom come into conflict with societal norms, leading to her tragic downfall.

  20. 20. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

    This novel tells the story of Jude Fawley, a working-class young man who dreams of becoming a scholar. The traditional class structure in 19th-century England prevents him from realizing his dream and his only solace is his love for his cousin, Sue Bridehead. Their scandalous relationship and the tragic events that follow form the heart of the narrative, which explores themes of love, class, religion, and morality.

  21. 21. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

    The book is a tragic tale of two displaced ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. The two main characters, an intelligent but uneducated man and his mentally disabled companion, dream of owning their own piece of land. However, their dreams are thwarted by circumstances beyond their control, leading to a heart-wrenching conclusion. The book explores themes of friendship, dreams, loneliness, and the harsh realities of the American Dream.

  22. 22. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

    The Mayor of Casterbridge is a tragic novel set in the fictional town of Casterbridge, based on Dorchester in the English county of Dorset. The story follows the life of Michael Henchard, a skilled hay-trusser who, in a fit of drunken anger, sells his wife and daughter at a fair. When he sobers up, he is filled with regret and swears off alcohol for 21 years. He works hard and eventually becomes a successful businessman and the mayor of Casterbridge. However, his past returns to haunt him when his wife and daughter come back into his life, leading to a series of events that result in his downfall.

  23. 23. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    This classic play follows the tragic tale of Macbeth, a Scottish general whose ambition is sparked by a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne. However, guilt and paranoia plague him, leading to a reign of terror and further bloodshed. His desperate attempts to cling onto power lead to his downfall, illustrating the destructive power of unchecked ambition.

  24. 24. Atonement by Ian McEwan

    Atonement is a powerful novel that explores the consequences of a young girl's false accusation. The narrative follows the lives of three characters, the accuser, her older sister, and the sister's lover, who is wrongly accused. This false accusation irrevocably alters their lives, leading to the accused's imprisonment and eventual enlistment in World War II, while the sisters grapple with guilt, estrangement, and their own personal growth. The novel is a profound exploration of guilt, forgiveness, and the destructive power of misinterpretation.

  25. 25. Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

    "Oedipus at Colonus" is a tragic play that follows the final days of Oedipus, the former king of Thebes. Oedipus, now blind and exiled, arrives at the town of Colonus where he is initially rejected due to the curse that follows him. However, after revealing a prophecy that his burial place will bring prosperity to the city that hosts it, he is allowed to stay. The play explores themes of fate, guilt, and redemption, ending with Oedipus's peaceful death and ascension to a semi-divine status.

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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