113 Great 20th Century Novels

Columns: RANK and point values (PTS) explained below; READ year is most recent reading (red color indicates read since August 2011 retirement, “+” indicates at least one earlier reading). See also 46 Great 20th Century Crime Novels and 45 Great 20th Century SciFi/Fantasy Novels.

RANK PTS READ TITLE AUTHOR
1 32,11 2011 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
2 29,10 2013+ The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
2 29,10 2013+ The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
2 29,10 2013+ Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
5 28,11 <1987 The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
6 26,9 2014 On the Road Jack Kerouac
7 25,8 2014 A Passage to India E.M. Forster
8 24,9 Ulysses James Joyce
8 24,9 2013 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
10 23,7 2014 To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
11 21,7 2014 Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
12 20,7 2013 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
13 20,6 <1987 The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
14 19,8 2013+ To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
14 19,8 2015 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
16 19,7 2012+ Brave New World Aldous Huxley
17 19,6 2012+ The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
18 18,8 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
19 18,7 In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust
19 18,7 2014 Beloved Toni Morrison
21 18,6 2016+ Lord of the Flies William Golding
22 17,6 2015 Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
23 17,5 U.S.A. (trilogy) John Dos Passos
23 17,5 2015 Native Son Richard Wright
25 16,5 The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing
26 16,4 2016 Under the Volcano Malcolm Lowry
26 16,4 2015 The Day of the Locust Nathanael West
26 16,4 2013+ Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
29 15,6 2009+ The Trial Franz Kafka
29 15,6 2013+ The Stranger Albert Camus
29 15,6 2003+ The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien
29 15,6 2017 Atonement Ian McEwan
33 15,5 2016 Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
33 15,5 <1987+ Animal Farm George Orwell
35 15,4 2013 Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
35 15,4 2016 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
37 14,5 2013 Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf
38 14,4 2005 The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
38 14,4 2017 The Moviegoer Walker Percy
38 14,4 2015 The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
38 14,4 2015 An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
38 14,4 2016 All the King’s Men Robert Penn Warren
38 14,4 2012 A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
44 13,5 The Magic Mountain Thomas Mann
44 13,5 The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton
44 13,5 Sons and Lovers D.H. Lawrence
44 13,5 2011+ One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey
48 13,4 Scoop Evelyn Waugh
48 13,4 2013 Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
50 13,3 Light in August William Faulkner
50 13,3 2013 Deliverance James Dickey
50 13,3 Appointment in Samarra John O’Hara
53 12,4 Nostromo Joseph Conrad
53 12,4 Herzog Saul Bellow
53 12,4 2012 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
53 12,4 2015 American Pastoral Philip Roth
57 12,3 Under the Net Iris Murdoch
57 12,3 2017 Go Tell It on the Mountain James Baldwin
57 12,3 A Dance to the Music of Time Anthony Powell
60 11,5 <1987 Charlotte’s Web E.B. White
61 11,4 2015 The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
62 11,3 The Bridge of San Luis Rey Thornton Wilder
62 11,3 The Adventures of Augie March Saul Bellow
62 11,3 2015 Sophie’s Choice William Styron
62 11,3 2015+ Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut
62 11,3 2015 Ragtime E.L. Doctorow
62 11,3 Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
62 11,3 I, Claudius Robert Graves
69 10,4 2004+ Ironweed William Kennedy
69 10,4 2015 Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
71 10,3 2009 Rabbit, Run John Updike
71 10,3 2015 A Bend in the River V.S. Naipaul
73 10,2 Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
73 10,2 2016 The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
73 10,2 2013 The Heart of the Matter Graham Greene
73 10,2 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
73 10,2 The Death of the Heart Elizabeth Bowen
73 10,2 Loving Henry Green
73 10,2 2017 Death Comes for the Archbishop Willa Cather
73 10,2 2014 A House for Mr Biswas V.S. Naipaul
73 10,2 2012 A Handful of Dust Evelyn Waugh
82 9,3 The Man Without Qualities Robert Musil
82 9,3 <1987 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
82 9,3 <1987 Kim Rudyard Kipling
82 9,3 Journey to the End of the Night Louis-Ferdinand Celine
82 9,3 Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon
82 9,3 <1987 As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
82 9,3 2001 Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner
82 9,3 2006 A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway
90 8,4 Possession A.S. Byatt
91 8,3 2013 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John le Carre
92 8,2 Women in Love D.H. Lawrence
92 8,2 Winesburg, Ohio Sherwood Anderson
92 8,2 2015 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold John le Carre
92 8,2 The Sportswriter Richard Ford
92 8,2 The Rainbow D.H. Lawrence
92 8,2 2012+ The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett
92 8,2 2017 Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
92 8,2 The Ginger Man J.P. Donleavy
92 8,2 2001 Tender is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald
92 8,2 2014 Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
92 8,2 2017 Money Martin Amis
92 8,2 Lord Jim Joseph Conrad
92 8,2 2015 Howard’s End E.M. Forster
92 8,2 Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
92 8,2 Finnegans Wake James Joyce
92 8,2 Call it Sleep Henry Roth
92 8,2 2011 Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy
109 7,4 1997 The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco
109 7,4 1995 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
111 7,3 Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
111 7,3 For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway
113 7,2 2011 The House of Mirth Edith Wharton

 

There are 90 different authors on the list. Six authors are represented by three books apiece: Conrad, Faulkner, Hemingway, Joyce, Lawrence and Waugh. Eleven authors placed two books on the list: Bellow, Fitzgerald, Forster, le Carre, Morrison, Naipaul, Nobokov, Orwell, Roth, Wharton and Woolf.

My intention was to consider only books published in the 20th century (1901-2000). Several of the 20th century lists I consulted include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which was published in 1899. I decided to allow it. Most of Conrad’s English output fits within the timeframe; it would seem odd to exclude his best-known work. On the other hand, I disallowed Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles—completed in 1902—because Holmes is a 19th-century character. I’m not sure it would have made this list, but it certainly would have made the Crime Novels list.

The list is ordered by the “points” I assigned based on a decidedly non-scientific parsing of fifteen lists scraped from the Internet. I assigned a number of points to each list based on my own feeling about its value. This point value was added to the total of each book appearing on a list. The number following the comma for each entry represents the number of lists the book made. This was used as a tiebreaker. Here are the source lists showing point values in parentheses:

Note that the use of some of these source lists tilt the playing field in favor of books written later in the century. Time magazine’s list, in particular (given its relative weight), places books published prior to 1923 at a significant disadvantage. I am rather pleased with this bias, however, as I would prefer to highlight books written later rather than earlier. It is also worth mentioning that though I do not restrict my list to novels written in English, some of the source lists do. Consequently my list consists almost exclusively of books published originally in English (after a quick scan through the list, I can identify only Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Kafka’s The Trial and Camus’s The Stranger as exceptions–there are probably others).

See also