The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors (Download Them for Free)

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Earlier this month, we highlighted The 10 Greatest Films of All Time According to 846 Film Critics. Featuring films by Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles and Fellini, this master list came together in 2012 when Sight & Sound (the cinema journal of the British Film Institute) asked contemporary critics and directors to name their 12 favorite movies. Nearly 900 cinephiles responded, and, from those submissions, a meta list of 10 was culled.

So how about something similar for books, you ask? For that, we can look back to 2007, when J. Peder Zane, the book editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, asked 125 top writers to name their favorite books — writers like Norman Mailer, Annie Proulx, Stephen King, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Michael Chabon. The lists were all compiled in an edited collection, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, and then prefaced by one uber list, “The Top Top Ten.”

Zane explained the methodology behind the uber list as follows: “The participants could pick any work, by any writer, by any time period…. After awarding ten points to each first-place pick, nine to second-place picks, and so on, the results were tabulated to create the Top Top Ten List – the very best of the best.”

The short list appears below, along with links to electronic versions of the works. There’s one notable exception, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. We couldn’t provide that text, but we do have something special — an audio recording of Nabokov reading a chapter from his controversial 1955 novel.

The texts listed below are permanently housed in our collection of Free eBooks, along with many other classics. In many cases, you’ll find audio versions of the same works in our ever-growing collection of Free Audio Books. If you have questions about how to load files onto your Kindle, please see this related instructional video.

Got an issue with any of the selections? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

1. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

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2. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

3. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

4. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

6. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

8. In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust

9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov

10. Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Note: Great literature courses can be found in our collection of 825 Free Online Courses.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald Creates a List of 22 Essential Books, 1936



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Comments (102)
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  1. fishnloaves says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 5:51 am

    Why is Gatsby on this list? Why is there nothing by Faulkner?

  2. MB says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 8:48 am

    No Dostoyevsky?!? Are you KIDDING me?! He’s the inventor of the modern novel!!!

  3. finnyfall says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 8:54 am

    So many of those are boring. Where’s Ulysses?!

  4. Manuel Camblor says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 8:59 am

    No “Moby-Dick”? Really? And two by Tolstoy on the list is a bit much, I think. Also, no “Don Quijote de la Mancha”? Seriously? And I echo the sentiment of MB. The absence of Dostoyevsky is mind-boggling. Also, “The 10 Greatest Books” list your authors compiled invoves eight novels, one collection of short fiction, and one play. So, there is nothing else to great literature? No non-fiction? No poetry? Hmmmm… Oh, and while we’re bringing up complaints and grievances, the compilers of this list were a bit short on comedy (“Huckleberry Finn” and “Lolita” provide some comedy, but in a sideways sort of fashion).nnnSeriously, guys, a very strange list.

  5. Mehmet Arat says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:17 am

    Lists always come with questions and discussions. Who are the “125 Top Authors”? How were they selected? Was a comparison made with a list determined by an alternative “125 Top Authors”?nBut anyway, I believe lists are useful as guides helping readers to notice important works.

  6. Bonnie says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:18 am

    Recently reread Lolita; it doesn’t belong on this list. Wanders widely off base at the end and simply isn’t one of Nabokov’s best. Gatsby’s great but in the top ten? The whole list rates an eh? It’s as if the names were pulled out of a hat.

  7. StepTb says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:18 am

    No Odyssey, no Don Quijote, no Kafka, no Dostoyevsky… not a very solid list.

  8. peter says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:28 am

    i guess i’ll be the one to say it? 9 out of 10 by white males and the 10th by a white women writing under the name of a white male? weird/not weird

  9. wellread says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:30 am

    Hmm, no books were ever written in the eastern hemisphere? Either that or this list maker has never read any of them.

  10. u0392u03b1u03c3u03b9u03bbu03b9u03bau03ae u039cu03bfu03c5u03c3u03c4u03b1u03c6u03adu03c1u03b7 says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:36 am

    no Franz Kafka???no Dostoyevsky???? no James Joyce????no Albert Camus???NO Fernando Pessoa????

  11. IR Vijayan says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:43 am

    Rubbish! 10 greatest books ,without a single title outside Europe-and America

  12. N says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 9:47 am

    There are a ton of russian authors. Eastern hemisphere.

  13. Ricardo Bechelli Barreto says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:10 am

    C’mon. Two Tolstoy books and no Dostoyevsky? Chekhov, Flaubert, Nabokov are excellent writers but they are petty bourgeois compared to authors such as Dostoyevsky, Homer, Balzac, Machado de Assis, Borges, Faulkner, Mishima, Goethe, Joyce…

  14. Ricardo Bechelli Barreto says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:10 am

    C’mon. Two Tolstoy books and no Dostoyevsky? Chekhov, Flaubert, Nabokov are excellent writers but they are petty bourgeois compared to authors such as Dostoyevsky, Homer, Balzac, Machado de Assis, Borges, Faulkner, Mishima, Goethe, Joyce…

  15. Primetime50 says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:14 am

    All big, expansive reads. Shouldn’t Pride & Prejudice be on this list?

  16. Primetime50 says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:14 am

    All big, expansive reads. Shouldn’t Pride & Prejudice be on this list?

  17. Bitte says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:17 am

    Only men, but I suppose only men were asked

  18. Bitte says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:17 am

    Only men, but I suppose only men were asked

  19. Bitte says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:21 am

    And I can see that not only men were asked, but still, only men at the top ten list.

  20. peter says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:57 am

    george eliot is a woman, but yeah

  21. Mark Sullivan says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 11:31 am

    I’m not a big fan, but what about The Bible…? Hamlet isn’t a book, is it? And, at the risk of seeming unduly lowbrow, Dickens deserves a mention.

  22. Zita Helou says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 11:59 am

    The bible can make it easily to the nntop ten most ridiculous books .

  23. Louis Goldworm says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 12:47 pm

    Agreed ! “Top Ten” In relations to what ? “greatest” Because why ? i.e best read, most sold, best story, I am opposed to list, and number’s to prove a point…

  24. rupertmundy says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 1:08 pm

    Hamlet is a play.

  25. Mark Sullivan says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 1:11 pm

    Is ridiculousness a disqualifier? I mean, have you read Proust?

  26. Mark Sullivan says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 1:14 pm

    What female work would you nominate?

  27. KS says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 1:48 pm

    Clearly their most favorite favorites but leaving the question of top ten best wide open…

  28. Adam says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 1:57 pm

    I agree, no Dostoevsky? Then no Faulkner? Almost each book by Dostoevsky is a real masterpiece: Demons, Idiot, Brothers Karamasov!…

  29. badbit says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 2:06 pm

    No Don Quijote? The greatest novel ever written?

  30. David V. Johnson says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 3:03 pm

    Don Quixote is #1 on many lists, including mine. And Hamlet isn’t a “book.”

  31. David V. Johnson says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 3:07 pm

    Also…what about Plato’s Republic? Why restrict “books” to fiction? And if you’re going to add a play, Sophocles Oedipus … hello?

  32. maxhawthorne says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 3:13 pm

    sad there are ZERO women. The heritage of world culture leaves a feminist wanting…

  33. maxhawthorne says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 3:30 pm

    Also, I find these lists petty, if slightly useful for adding classics I’ve missed to my to-read list. How can you compare great works of art and attempt to rank them like a sports team? it’s asinine.

  34. maxhawthorne says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 3:43 pm

    to the lighthousenle pianiste nto kill a mocking birdnmrs dalloway nbelovednI know why the caged bird singsnthe awakening nnnThose are just off the top of my head and all are better than Gatsby!nnnAlso, to be fair, let’s not forget about the tremendous oppression of female anythings prior to this century, and for that matter, in the present.

  35. xhaloidol says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 3:44 pm

    George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Anne Evans.

  36. Pigeon Lady says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 4:01 pm

    The comments have more of interest than the top ten list. There are some good reads posted.

  37. enzofloc says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 5:32 pm

    It seems Kafka and Dostoevsky are too dark and complex for this bunch. Maybe we should select the top ten critics first.

  38. enzofloc says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 5:44 pm

    “The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.”nnnnNot necessarily the “greatest” books.

  39. mpjr says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 6:16 pm

    A list that excludes King Lear, Don Quixote, The Divine Comedy, and The Brothers Karamazov is a list begging to be mocked. nLolita? Really? nFeh.

  40. Mason Kelsey says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 7:18 pm

    Like any list, it is only a list and can be ignored quite easily.

  41. Tamaresque says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 7:57 pm

    You people who are bitching about what’s been left off, it’s not the website’s fault. Did you read what the criteria is? “…asked 125 top writers to name their favorite books…” nBlame the writers!nPersonally I don’t agree with a couple of selections, Madame Bovary heads my list. I found it difficult to read because the main character is just so unlikable. Same with Lolita, I hated the lecherous main character and the way he excuses his actions.

  42. poser, the says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 8:17 pm

    I’M ANGRY AT THIS ARBITRARY LIST OF PERSONAL BIAS TOO!!!! RAHHHH!!!!!! RABBLE RABBLE!

  43. TByers says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 8:47 pm

    Well, they’re all good books, but of course one could argue endlessly about what is and isn;t here. I’d pick Moby Dick and Absalom, Absalom myself. But my greater concern is that there’s a radical flaw in this. The authors were asked what are their FAVORITE books, and this was translated into what are the GREATEST books. These are probably overlapping lists, but I seriously doubt that for most serious readers they are identical.

  44. David Allen says . . . | September 25, 2013 / 10:27 pm

    How is everyone missing the point that this isn’t a list of the ten greatest books? Read the article, not just the (misleading) title. This is a list of ten books that were most frequently nominated as favourites by 125 top writers. I’m not sure who everyone is arguing with in their outraged comments.

  45. Marcelo Estrada says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 12:31 am

    no Joyce, Beckett, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Marquez, Borges?!!!

  46. mariam says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 12:40 am

    I’m confused too

  47. Patricia says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 2:19 am

    This person obviously has a softness for realism/naturalism or tragic pointless deaths (sometimes all combined) nnHamlet, Gatsby and Middlemarch are amongst my favourites, for the rest… not really.

  48. dailyllama says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 3:07 am

    Stunned. Where is Crime & Punishment ? Ulysses and/or Dubliners ? And what is Gatsby doing in there ?

  49. curtains4u says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 3:21 am

    shite…. read that.

  50. Cardinal Charles Ng says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 4:18 am

    It shows that even great writers do not read widely enough.

  51. Cronopio says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 6:22 am

    No Cortu00e1zar, Borges ….. really funny

  52. Imelda Murphy says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 6:53 am

    No James Joyce?

  53. Mehmet Arat says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 8:46 am

    I think when readers are conscious enough, the lists can be more helpful and meaningful. A list can be like the central meeting place in a city.

  54. Maggie Dodson says . . . | September 26, 2013 / 5:59 pm

    Only ONE woman writing under a male pseudonym! And what is the balance of male/female amongst the ’125 Top Authors’ Who decreed these 125 ‘Top’ authors? Who are they?

  55. countrydoc1 says . . . | September 27, 2013 / 2:31 pm

    Best comment on the board. :)

  56. countrydoc1 says . . . | September 27, 2013 / 2:31 pm

    Best comment on the board. :)

  57. oktayne says . . . | September 27, 2013 / 9:21 pm

    What bugs me is that there is nothing on this list written after the mid-fifties! Are you seriously telling us that nothing good has been written in the last 50+ years?

  58. oktayne says . . . | September 27, 2013 / 9:31 pm

    And not even his best work, imho.nI would easily put Lear or Rick 3 ahead of it.

  59. AJJ says . . . | September 28, 2013 / 12:58 pm

    Are you a time traveller?

  60. AJJ says . . . | September 28, 2013 / 12:58 pm

    Are you a time traveller?

  61. oktayne says . . . | September 29, 2013 / 3:55 am

    No, but I play one on TV. lol

  62. Igor says . . . | September 29, 2013 / 8:13 am

    Bulgakov? I would pick “Master and Margarita”, “White Guard”, “Beg” and bump Tolstoy, Chekhov and Nabokov off the top 10 list.nnnBrodsky? Even though he is mostly known for poetry, his prose is great.

  63. Anna Hovey says . . . | September 30, 2013 / 7:59 am

    What does it have to do with being white or any other color????? The masterpiece must be evaluated by it’s depth and beauty, not by the race of the writer. However, this list is highly subjective.

  64. peter says . . . | October 1, 2013 / 12:41 am

    can i just ask: why does it bother you that i mentioned the race of the writers but not that i mentioned their gender?

  65. SocraticGadfly says . . . | October 4, 2013 / 6:46 pm

    Wow. Right. No Dostoyevsky? Although relatively “light,” I would have put one of Hesse’s works there somewhere, too. Gatsby? No way. And, if you’re going to include one of Shakespeare’s plays, why not other theater? Lysistrata? Yes, also on Camus.

  66. zevgoldman says . . . | October 5, 2013 / 7:46 am

    I think this list should have been presented as works of fiction. How was Hamlet listed as a book when it is a stage play?

  67. Ramasamy Balakrishnan says . . . | October 6, 2013 / 2:40 am

    wonderful list …most of them are tragedies!

  68. Bruce Alan Wilson says . . . | October 6, 2013 / 1:36 pm

    Agreed. And both Anna Karinina and Madame Bovary are about women who committed adultery and couldn’t live with the consequences–one by taking arsenic and the other by throwing herself under a train. One or the other might be on the list, but not both.

  69. Bruce Alan Wilson says . . . | October 6, 2013 / 1:36 pm

    Agreed. And both Anna Karinina and Madame Bovary are about women who committed adultery and couldn’t live with the consequences–one by taking arsenic and the other by throwing herself under a train. One or the other might be on the list, but not both.

  70. Bruce Alan Wilson says . . . | October 6, 2013 / 1:38 pm

    You wanted something that wasn’t boring, and then you ask for ULYSSES?

  71. Bruce Alan Wilson says . . . | October 6, 2013 / 1:38 pm

    You wanted something that wasn’t boring, and then you ask for ULYSSES?

  72. disqus_KxAHnCo4Tu says . . . | October 6, 2013 / 8:05 pm

    This list is by the Gay and Lesbian leage. It is the forerunner to the decadent state of affairs we have today where trash like “Gerry Springer” and ” Real Housewives of …” are more widely viewed than the classics as aired on Masterpiece Theater. It s no wonder that the society is about to disintegrate with critics who view the above list as worthwhile. 80% of the above belongs in the shredder. I am glad I am an old man and my time will end soon…

  73. Dana Whaley says . . . | October 7, 2013 / 11:04 am

    Moby Dick? Never. Bartleby the Scrivener should be here, but not Moby Dick–one of the most boring books I ever read.

  74. Dana Whaley says . . . | October 7, 2013 / 11:09 am

    Go Down Moses, Light in August, the Snopes Trilogy by Faulkner. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Sophie’s Choice by William Stryon. The Color Purple. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Never read anything by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Edgar Allen Poe. Only read short stories by Heminway–a master of them. And always, always read Huckleberry Finn–it is the first excellent American novel and always on point.

  75. androphiles says . . . | October 9, 2013 / 11:25 am

    Where in the world did you come up with a nonsensical idea like that? What is “the Gay and Lesbian leage”? Google it. There’s no such thing.

  76. androphiles says . . . | October 9, 2013 / 11:26 am

    People who read.

  77. Rhet says . . . | October 10, 2013 / 9:36 pm

    WTF THIS LAST DOESN’T HAVE “SEE SPOT RUN”. IT BELONGS UP THERE IN THE TOP THREE RIGHT BEHIND “SEE SPOT POOP”.

  78. Rhet says . . . | October 10, 2013 / 9:37 pm

    HERP DERP DUR DE DOO

  79. racistjew says . . . | October 11, 2013 / 10:42 am

    STFU Peter. Always someone wanting to bring up race. Get over it.

  80. CSZ says . . . | October 16, 2013 / 1:12 am

    So arbitrary. No Harper Lee? No Art Of War? Margaret Mitchell?The Brontes? Austen? Come on….WHO are these “writers” anyway?

  81. Ingrid says . . . | November 14, 2013 / 7:31 am

    Well, all I can say is:nThe russian writers are the best!nAccept that.n

  82. Ingrid says . . . | November 14, 2013 / 7:47 am

    I would choose Dostoievski as well.nNow thats a good ranking:nhttp://g1.globo.com/platb/files/2286/2013/04/Vencedores.jpg

  83. foreignerph says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 5:23 am

    Russians books are as good as their Tupolevs and their driving skills.

  84. foreignerph says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 5:26 am

    It all started with the railways when the cows stopped giving milk. Civilization is going down the drains since Socrates and Nero.

  85. foreignerph says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 5:27 am

    He is just an old and grumpy closet queen that thinks it is too late now to come out of the closet.

  86. foreignerph says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 5:30 am

    I particularly liked part of the comment in lower case.

  87. foreignerph says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 5:31 am

    The comments are always my favorite reads ;-)

  88. foreignerph says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 5:35 am

    I didn’t read any of them. Writers about other writers? That sounds like the madame of a brothel commenting on the performance of the employees of the brothel nextdoor. :-p

  89. Ames361 says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 7:42 am

    Nice incomplete list. Dante, Jean Gionno, Henry Miller, Alice Walker, Tom Wolfe, Don Delillo, Margaret Atwood,Goldsmith,Dickens,Porter,Roth,Wharton.

  90. derekwashington says . . . | November 15, 2013 / 1:12 pm

    Nothing by Jackie Collins? I’d much rather read her than some of this drudgery.

  91. Tolga Otabatmaz says . . . | November 23, 2013 / 8:06 am

    Where is Dostoyevski?? “Crime and Punishment”ndeserves to be in this list.

  92. Dani-madrid says . . . | December 16, 2013 / 7:16 am

    Unreliable. The lack of Don Quijote is a joke I guess…

  93. Suki says . . . | January 5, 2014 / 6:06 am

    Are you kidding me!!!! Where is the hunger games or divergent

  94. Catcher says . . . | January 21, 2014 / 8:28 pm

    Catcher in the Rye

  95. Zo Newell says . . . | January 24, 2014 / 12:33 pm

    Totally Eurocentric list of 10 greatest books by Western European male writers (except for George Elliott, who was only pretending to be a man) – chosen by whom?

  96. Peter B. Gillis says . . . | January 24, 2014 / 3:00 pm

    If you can put up ‘The Short Stories of Chekhov,’ you can put up ‘The Plays of Shakespeare.’

  97. Meg says . . . | January 24, 2014 / 9:49 pm

    So, 125 (male?) authors relish suffering women stories.

  98. Jimmy Drozdenko zerdian. says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 7:51 am

    Nabakov Lolita seems like a father daughter trickle down Oedipus reversed love affair. Psycholithistory vs Scicolitfuture

  99. abba says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 8:17 am

    What about Game of Thrones? Or Lord of the Rings? Silmarillion? The Godfather, 100 years of loneliness, the Little prince? The list goes on, come on

  100. BOW says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 8:46 am

    Opinions are like…, everybody has one. At least no one is suggesting they burn all those not on the “list”.

  101. Txea says . . . | January 26, 2014 / 6:20 pm

    Why not Joseph Heller’s Catch-22?
    Honestly, the obsession with Russian novelists is hard to understand. And, Madame Bovary? Please.

  102. Dan Colman says . . . | March 3, 2014 / 5:32 pm

    Hi there,

    Just curious, does anyone know what Facebook page just mentioned our post?

    Thanks,
    Dan (editor)

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