12 Jan 2012

The ultimate 100 best English-language novels list

Over the past few years, I have being referring to a number of ‘100 Best Novels’ lists to fill the gaps in my knowledge about literature and discover new authors and novels. The five main lists I have been using are Modern Library’s 100 best novels of the 20th century (English-language), TIME magazine’s all-TIME 100 Novels (1923-2005, English-language), The Observer’s 100 greatest novels of all time, the BBC’s Big Read top 100 novels, and Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century.

I have attempted to compile a definitive list based predominantly on the five lists in addition to a few novels that I thought deserved to be on the list. Because some of the lists are only for English language novels, I thought it’s fair for my list to also have only English-language novels. I am working on another list for international novels.

While The Observer and The BBC lists have some non-English novels, they are skewed towards English-language novels and specifically British novels. By contrast, TIME and Modern Library’s lists do not favour American novels. Le Monde’s list is excellent, but it is not restricted to novels. It’s the only list however on which you will come across Georges Perec’s masterpiece Life A User's Manual.

There are four novels that feature on all five lists, they are: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are also eight novels that appear on four of the five lists, such as Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and a further nine that appear on three of the five lists, such as Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Lastly, there are fifty-six novels that appear on two of the five lists.

Without further ado, here is the list below. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions.

A Bend in the River   
V. S. Naipaul

A Clockwork Orange 
Anthony Burgess

A Dance to the Music of Time
Anthony Powell

A Farewell To Arms
Ernest Hemingway

A Handful of Dust
Evelyn Waugh

A House for Mr. Biswas
V.S. Naipaul

A Passage to India
E.M. Forster

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland   
Lewis Carroll

All the King's Men     
Robert Penn Warren

American Pastoral      
Philip Roth

An American Tragedy           
Theodore Dreiser

Animal Farm  
George Orwell

Appointment in Samarra        
John O’Hara

As I Lay Dying          
William Faulkner

Ian McEwan

Blood Meridian          
Cormac McCarthy

Brave New World      
Aldous Huxley

Brideshead Revisited 
Evelyn Waugh

Carter Beats the Devil
Glen David Gold

Joseph Heller

David Copperfield     
Charles Dickens

Death Comes for the Archbishop      
Willa Cather

James Dickey

Jane Austen

Mary Shelley

Go Tell it on the Mountain    
James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind 
Margaret Mitchell

Gulliver's Travels       
Jonathan Swift

Marilynne Robinson

I, Claudius     
Robert Graves

Infinite Jest    
David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man 
Ralph Ellison

Rudyard Kipling

Little Women 
Louisa M. Alcott

Vladimir Nabokov

Lord Jim         
Joseph Conrad

Lord of the Flies        
William Golding

Henry Green

Lucky Jim      
Kingsley Amis

Midnight's Children   
Salman Rushdie

Herman Melville

Martin Amis

Naked Lunch 
William S. Burroughs

Native Son     
Richard Wright

William Gibson

Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell

Joseph Conrad

On the Road  
Jack Kerouac

Pale Fire         
Vladimir Nabokov

Portnoy's Complaint  
Philip Roth

A.S. Byatt
Rabbit (Series)           
John Updike

E.L. Doctorow

Revolutionary Road   
Richard Yates

Robinson Crusoe        
Daniel Defoe

Slaughterhouse Five   
Kurt Vonnegut

Sophie’S Choice        
William Styron

Tess Of The D'Urbervilles     
Thomas Hardy

The Adventures of Augie March       
Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain

The BFG        
Roald Dahl

The Big Sleep 
Raymond Chandler

The Bridge of San Luis Rey  
Thornton Wilder

The Call Of The Wild
Jack London

The Catcher in the Rye          
J.D. Salinger

The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon

The Day of the Locust           
Nathanael West

The Death of the Heart          
Elizabeth Bowen

The Fountainhead      
Ayn Rand

The Godfather           
Mario Puzo

The Golden Notebook           
Doris Lessing

The Good Soldier      
Ford Madox Ford

The Grapes of Wrath 
John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby       
F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter           
Carson Mccullers

The Heart of the Matter         
Graham Greene

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe        
CS Lewis

The Lord of the Rings           
J. R. R. Tolkien

The Magnificent Ambersons  
Booth Tarkington

The Magus     
John Fowles

The Moviegoer           
Walker Percy

The Naked And The Dead    
Norman Mailer

The New York Trilogy           
Paul Auster

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie          
Muriel Spark

The Rainbow  
D.H. Lawrence

The Sheltering Sky     
Paul Bowles

The Sound and the Fury        
William Faulkner

The White Tiger         
Aravind Adiga

The Wind in the Willows       
Kenneth Grahame

The Woman in White 
Wilkie Collins

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy       
John Le Carre

To Kill a Mockingbird           
Harper Lee

Tristram Shandy         
Laurence Sterne

Tropic of Cancer        
Henry Miller

John Dos Passos

James Joyce

Under the Net
Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano    
Malcolm Lowry

Wide Sargasso Sea     
Jean Rhys

Wuthering Heights     
Emily Bronte


  1. Many books on here I haven't read, but all the good ones I have read are here. Is the list arranged in a specific order?

    1. No, just alphabetic order. I think it would be going too far to rank them.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Excellent list. I'd add some "contemporary" can't-miss ones:

    - Kane & Abel: Jeffrey Archer
    - IT: Stephen King
    - Gai-Jin/Shogun/and the rest of this incredible series by James Clavell
    - Roots: Alex Hailey

    That's for the fiction list. Hit me up when you write a non-fiction one :).

    That's with regards to the fiction genre of course :).

  4. A non-fiction one would be a good idea.

  5. Great selection, but I would add:

    The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Mama Black Widow by Iceberg Slim
    Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (Or American Psycho, which is the same, but with more violence)
    The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
    Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

    Clearly, I'm a big fan of stuff written in the 1900s.

    1. 1900s are great! I had to draw the line somewhere with Evelyn Waugh, there are already two books on the list.

  6. It's quite a task to attempt to compile a list of the ultimate 100 novels. Obviously, it will be next to impossible to find someone who would agree with every single entry that appears on the list, and I am no exception.

    My two cent worth of comment is as follows:

    1- I think no ultimate list would be "ultimate" without the inclusion of a work by Franz Kafka. And for me it's hard to single out one of his in particular. But if I must, I would nominate The Castle (Das Schloß).

    2- As far as Ernest Hemingway's work goes, I personally find "A Farewell to Arms" to be his most "pop-ish" piece of work, and one with least literary value. I prefer The Sun Also Rises any day.

    3- Joseph Conrad's Nostromo is, as all his work, a brilliant piece of writing. But is it really better than the Heart of Darkness?

    4- As a great fan of James Joyce, I declare that Ulysses is the most over rated piece of writing to ever adorn paper (I am yet to find someone who really, truely, understands it, and not wasting any more time on that). A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man wins - no compteition, IMHO.

    Finally, Some writers who might deserve to be on the list:
    Michael Ondaatje
    Gunter Grass
    Albert Camus
    Milan Kundera

  7. I am finding hard to accept that Pride and Prejudice isn't on the list. Also not one work of Robert Louis Stevenson or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

    Nevertheless, many great books are listed.I like that you pulled from each of those lists

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  11. I think you could enhance your master list slightly by giving the number of sub-lists (5, 4, 3, 2, 1 or 0) each title appears on adjacent to each title in your listing. I would find that useful, anyway.

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