100 Best Novels - how many have you read?


The Novel 100 is one man's ranking of the 100 greatest novels ever written. I'm a sucker for a list. I love to mark progress by checking stuff off. Given my poor memory, lists are the only way I can remember to do anything.  I liked this list so much, I went out and bought the book.  The author, Daniel S. Burt, gives each book 3-6 pages of description.  He starts with a quick overview of why he (and others) think it is an Important Novel, talks a little about the author, then gives a quick synopsis of the action. He has a fairly strict definition of a novel

What makes a listing of the greatest novels even more problematic is the lack of any consensus about which works rightfully constitute the genre... the novel is such a hybrid and adaptive genre, assimilating other prose and verse forms... A standard definition of the novel--an extended prose narrative--is so broad that it fails to limit the field usefully... I have been influenced in this regard, like many, by literary critic Ian Watt's groundbreaking 1957 study, The Rise of the Novel, which contends that the novel as a distinctive genre emerged in 18th-century England through the shifting of the emphasis of previous prose romances and their generalized and idealized characters, settings, and situations to a particularity of individual experience. In other words, the novel replaced the romance's interest in the general and the ideal with a concern for the particular. The here and now substituted for the romance's interest in the long ago and far away. As 18th-century novelist Clara Reece observed, "The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the times in which it was written. The Romance, in lofty and elevated language, describes what has never happened nor is likely to." Novelists began to represent the actual world accurately, governed by the laws of probability.

...It would be far too reductive and misleading, however, to define the novel only by its realism or accurate representation of ordinary life... It would be far more accurate to say that the novel as a distinct genre attempts a synthesis between romance and realism, between a poetic, imaginative alternative to actuality and a more authentic representation. For purposes of my listing, I have narrowed the field by categorizing as novels works that engage in that synthesis. Some narrative works judged too far in the direction of fantasy--Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland--have been excluded. I have also made judgment calls on the question of the required length of a novel and have ruled out of contention such important fictional works as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis as falling short of the amplitude expected when confronting a novel.

I was surprised and a little disappointed in how many of these books I had never even heard of before. I was not surprised, however, at how few of them I have actually read.  Of those that I have, nearly all of them have been incredible. Reading an amazing wordsmith really spoils you. I think my familiarity with some of the best writers of all time is what turns me off from most of the potboilers on the best seller list today.  So be warned - your beach reading may get a lot heavier once you start this list!

Much like an earlier meme, I'm going to bold the books I'v read and italicize the books I've never heard of.  And I'd like to invite everyone to post the list to their blog, using a similar mark up scheme. To make it even easier, I've made a text file that you can download, open in your favorite text editor, select all, copy and then paste into your blog editor.  Then highlight the line for a book you've read and mark it bold and, if you want, italicize those you don't know.  Click here: TheNovel100.txt. Also, tag your post with the tag "thenovel100", so we can see what you've got!

Rank Title                      Year            Author
1    Don Quixote                1605, 1630      Miguel de Cervantes
2    War and Peace              1869            Leo Tolstoy
3    Ulysses                    1922            James Joyce
4    In Search of Lost Time     1913-27         Marcel Proust
5    The Brothers Karamazov     1880            Feodor Dostoevsky
6    Moby-Dick                  1851            Herman Melville
7    Madame Bovary              1857            Gustave Flaubert
8    Middlemarch                1871-72         George Eliot
9    The Magic Mountain         1924            Thomas Mann
10   The Tale of Genji          11th Century    Murasaki Shikibu
11   Emma                       1816            Jane Austen
12   Bleak House                1852-53         Charles Dickens
13   Anna Karenina              1877            Leo Tolstoy
14   Adventures of Huckleberry  1884            Mark Twain
15   Tom Jones                  1749            Henry Fielding
16   Great Expectations         1860-61         Charles Dickens
17   Absalom, Absalom!          1936            William Faulkner
18   The Ambassadors            1903            Henry James
19   100 Years of Solitude      1967            Gabriel Garcia Marquez
20   The Great Gatsby           1925            F. Scott Fitzgerald
21   To The Lighthouse          1927            Virginia Woolf
22   Crime and Punishment       1866            Feodor Dostoevsky
23   The Sound and the Fury     1929            William Faulkner
24   Vanity Fair                1847-48         William Makepeace Thackeray
25   Invisible Man              1952            Ralph Ellison
26   Finnegans Wake             1939            James Joyce
27   The Man Without Qualities  1930-43         Robert Musil
28   Gravity's Rainbow          1973            Thomas Pynchon
29   The Portrait of a Lady     1881            Henry James
30   Women in Love              1920            D. H. Lawrence
31   The Red and the Black      1830            Stendhal
32   Tristram Shandy            1760-67         Laurence Sterne
33   Dead Souls                 1842            Nikolai Gogol
34   Tess of the D'Urbervilles  1891            Thomas Hardy
35   Buddenbrooks               1901            Thomas Mann
36   Le Pere Goriot             1835            Honore de Balzac
37   A Portrait of the Artist   1916            James Joyce
     As a Young Man
38   Wuthering Heights          1847            Emily Bronte
39   The Tin Drum               1959            Gunter Grass
40   Molloy; Malone Dies;       1951-53         Samuel Beckett
     The Unnamable

41   Pride and Prejudice        1813            Jane Austen
42   The Scarlet Letter         1850            Nathaniel Hawthorne
43   Fathers and Sons           1862            Ivan Turgenev
44   Nostromo                   1904            Joseph Conrad
45   Beloved                    1987            Toni Morrison
46   An American Tragedy        1925            Theodore Dreiser
47   Lolita                     1955            Vladimir Nabokov
48   The Golden Notebook        1962            Doris Lessing
49   Clarissa                   1747-48         Samuel Richardson
50   Dream of the Red Chamber   1791            Cao Xueqin
51   The Trial                  1925            Franz Kafka
52   Jane Eyre                  1847            Charlotte Bronte
53   The Red Badge of Courage   1895            Stephen Crane
54   The Grapes of Wrath        1939            John Steinbeck
55   Petersburg                 1916/1922       Andrey Bely
56   Things Fall Apart          1958            Chinue Achebe
57   The Princess of Cleves     1678            Madame de Lafayette
58   The Stranger               1942            Albert Camus
59   My Antonia                 1918            Willa Cather
60   The Counterfeiters         1926            Andre Gide
61   The Age of Innocence       1920            Edith Wharton
62   The Good Soldier           1915            Ford Madox Ford
63   The Awakening              1899            Kate Chopin
64   A Passage to India         1924            E. M. Forster
65   Herzog                     1964            Saul Bellow
66   Germinal                   1855            Emile Zola
67   Call It Sleep              1934            Henry Roth
68   U.S.A. Trilogy             1930-38         John Dos Passos
69   Hunger                     1890            Knut Hamsun
70   Berlin Alexanderplatz      1929            Alfred Doblin

71   Cities of Salt             1984-89         'Abd al-Rahman Munif
72   The Death of Artemio Cruz  1962            Carlos Fuentes
73   A Farewell to Arms         1929            Ernest Hemingway
74   Brideshead Revisited       1945            Evelyn Waugh
75   The Last Chronicle of      1866-67         Anthony Trollope

76   The Pickwick Papers        1836-67         Charles Dickens
77   Robinson Crusoe            1719            Daniel Defoe
78   The Sorrows of Young       1774            Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
79   Candide                    1759            Voltaire
80   Native Son                 1940            Richard Wright
81   Under the Volcano          1947            Malcolm Lowry
82   Oblomov                    1859            Ivan Goncharov
83   Their Eyes Were Watching   1937            Zora Neale Hurston
84   Waverley                   1814            Sir Walter Scott
85   Snow Country               1937, 1948      Kawabata Yasunari

86   Nineteen Eighty-Four       1949            George Orwell
87   The Betrothed              1827, 1840      Alessandro Manzoni
88   The Last of the Mohicans   1826            James Fenimore Cooper
89   Uncle Tom's Cabin          1852            Harriet Beecher Stowe
90   Les Miserables             1862            Victor Hugo
91   On the Road                1957            Jack Kerouac
92   Frankenstein               1818            Mary Shelley
93   The Leopard                1958            Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
94   The Catcher in the Rye     1951            J.D. Salinger
95   The Woman in White         1860            Wilkie Collins
96   The Good Soldier Svejk     1921-23         Jaroslav Hasek
97   Dracula                    1897            Bram Stoker
98   The Three Musketeers       1844            Alexandre Dumas
99   The Hound of Baskervilles  1902            Arthur Conan Doyle
100  Gone with the Wind         1936            Margaret Mitchell

Some personal comments on the list:

  • I've read 19 of them - a pretty poor showing.
  • Of the 19 I've read, the only one I didn't find truly wonderful was Jane Eyre. The writing was good, the story not so interesting to me. I also found Frankenstein a hard go of it too.
  • I'm not familiar at all with 26 of them. I graded myself pretty stringently here, as I know the authors in many cases, just not the specific book.  Reading the chapters on each, though, make me want to begin them all Right Now!

So, how about you?


[this is good] I'm going to do this later today....looking forward to seeing how I measure up.  Although not counting Heart of Darkness, Alice in Wonderland, or Gulliver's Travels as novels?  Preposterous.  100 Years of Solitude is as much a fantasy as Gulliver's Travels.  I guess if you call your genre "magical realism" it qualifies as a novel but "satire" doesn't?

P.S. It's My Antonia, not My Antonio - the plot would be QUITE different if Antonia was a boy!

Thanks for the correction - copy 'n' paste can be a dangerous thing! I updated the text version too.

I added a tag to it, so we can find them. Tag your posting with "thenovel100" for easy searching.

[c’est top] Waiiiiittt a minute --Where is "Heart of Darkness" By Conrad?"Sun Also Rises?" By Hemingway?"Power and the Glory" By Graham Greene?"Confessions of an Heiress" By P. Hilton??for shame!i racked up 15! Thank you liberal public school education!

Like any good list, it is bound to generate controversy! But he did say (see end of quote) that he didn't count Heart of Darkness because it was too short; more of a novella, I guess.  And personally, I prefer Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls.  But yeah, the missing P. Hilton book seems to be the most egregious mistake :-)

Good list.  I think I've read about 25, which is pathetic, and most of them probably in school many years ago.  I did recently read Things Fall Apart which was wonderful.  These lists always make me feel guilty.  I definitely need to work on mixing some of these books into my usual fare of detective fiction and current stuff.

BTW, in the back of the book is a list of "Honorable Mentions" - another 100 books.  And in that one is "The Sun Also Rises", as well as a Greene novel, but not "Power", rather it is "The Heart of the Matter".I'll try and type this one up one day as well.

Hmmmm "Heart of the Matter" is pretty awesome ( "the Comedians" by Greene is my all time fav)

You haven't heard of "Dead Souls"?!?!?  Wow ... that's a great book, top 10 in my opinion.  "A Man Without Qualities" is amazing too.  Overall, I think this is a great list, not only do I agree with the top 9, I basically agree with the order (I'd swap War and Peace and Madame Bovary, but that's a small quibble.)

In my opinion, the best books not listed are (in no particular order) Jacques the Fatalist (Diderot), The Sleepwalkers (Broch), White Noise (DeLillo), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Kundera) and Pale Fire (Nabokov.)

The write up of Dead Souls certainly makes it sound great. Ditto (esp) Man Without Qualities.  It's time I stop reading about and writing about these classics, and start reading some of them!As for your other books, Diderot, Kundera & Broch didn't make the Honorable Mention list. DeLillo did, but for Underworld, while Pale Fire is on the list.

I've only read 24 of the books myself but I have probably 75 of them in my library and will get around to them eventually.  The way I see it, I've done most of the heavy lifting already having read Proust (who should count for 6 books!), Joyce, Pynchon and Musil.   I'm a huge fan of DeLillo and have read all of his novels, but I have a really hard time seeing how "Underworld" is ranked his best.  Sometimes books are acclaimed for ambition and length instead of execution and there are about 200 pages in the middle of "Underworld" that rank as some of the dullest fiction ever written. Two books worth taking a look at for creating any long-term reading lists are Harold Bloom's The Western Canon and Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel (his new book The Curtain isn't bad either, but the older book is best.)  Bloom has a peerless rear view mirror while Kundera is one of the few writers who seems to understand where the novel is heading.  

Oh great, more books on books I  gotta read:-) I already have The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman and John Majors, which is a really great list of Great Books.

RE: "The Good Soldier Svejk"

Make sure you get the new English translation of The Good Soldier Svejk available at http://zenny.com.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on May 2, 2007 7:11 AM.

Movie Review: The Two Towers was the previous entry in this blog.

Vox Hunt: Small Screen Crush is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.