First of all, any writing purporting to list the greatest books ever written is hugely subjective. Literature and works of art in general are difficult to rank. This is due to the diverse world of imagination that exists to writers. How does one begin to compare and rank the works of some of the greatest minds that ever existed into 10 greatest books ever written. This is almost an exercise in futility.
However, this daunting task has not stopped people from trying. There are lots of lists and opinions on some of the greatest literary works of all time. I’m going to be compiling these lists to form a list of 10 greatest books ever written. These are opinions of critics and book lovers, and while it’s not a definitive list, it’s definitely worth the discussion. Here is the list of 10 books that regularly appear on lots of lists of the greatest books ever written.
First published in 1878 and widely regarded as Leo Tolstoy’s greatest work. The book tells a story of love, pain and perseverance in an imperial Russian society. Ultimately, it’s a tragic book and its theme has endured after all these years. Look no further than the opening sentence of the book for evidence: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
This 1925 novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is often regarded as the greatest book by an American author. It tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a rich, eccentric and mysterious man of unknown origins. The book is set in the 1920s America, an era of moral decadence, greed, avarice and social stratification. It depicts the quest for money, power and love as the goal to achieve the American dream.
Written by French novelist Marcel Proust and published in 1923. It’s a seven part novel that is also translated as Remembrance of Things Past. The novel is seen as an autobiography in some quarters as it tells the story of Marcel Proust’s own life. The book sees Proust going back in time and reflecting on his childhood and building up the memories into his adult years. Proust reflects on the loss of time and the lack of meaning in everything, including the pursuit of love and happiness. It’s one of the longest books ever written and continues to astonish readers in its scale and level of imagination.
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is another work of epic proportions in scale and imagination. Published in 1869, it’s regarded as Tolstoy’s greatest work along with Anna Karenina. The literary world is split between both books as to which is greater, but that is a debate that will never be won. War and Peace is a book about Napoleon and the French army’s invasion of Russia which was ruled by Tsar Alexander at the time. The Russian aristocratic society and their way of life is detailed in this book. The book is a well researched work by Tolstoy, and one which he doesn’t regard as a novel.
Madame Bovary was published in 1856 by French author Gustave Flaubert as his debut novel. The book tells the story of a woman disillusioned by her life in France, after marrying a much older man to escape her rural life. Consequently, she engages in extramarital affairs and squandered her husband’s wealth on frivolous things. The story is told in realistic and often vulgar terms for that era and this led to the French authorities charging Flaubert for obscenity. The author was tried briefly for promoting indecency and was acquitted in a short trial. This led to the book’s increasing interest and popularity.
Lolita was written by Vladimir Nabokov and published in France in 1955. The book is about a mentally unstable man who moves to America after experiencing a failed marriage and the loss of his first love in his teenage years. He then falls in love with his landlady’s twelve year old daughter Lolita and becomes infatuated with her in crazy obsession and delusion. The story takes a lot of twists and turns and shows the frailty of human nature.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, otherwise known as Hamlet, is William Shakespeare’s most popular work and arguably his greatest story. It is a tragic story that was written between 1599 and 1602. Prince Hamlet of Denmark is obsessed with revenge after his father, the King, is murdered by his uncle Claudius. Claudius was then crowned as king and proceeds to marry Hamlet’s mother.
Written by American author Mark Twain, and published in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is widely considered the greatest American literary work. Set along the Mississippi River in the Southern part of the United States of America, the story is about a young boy and a runaway slave in a society of institutionalized racism. The book created lots of controversy due to its use of coarse and vulgar language, and its perceived racial undertones.
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, otherwise known as Middlemarch, is a book written by George Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans) and published in 1871. Commonly accused of being too depressing and morbid, the book touches on lots of subjects including marriage, politics, idealism, religion, human behavior and social reform.
This book was written by the Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and published in 1967. The story is set in a town called Macondo in Colombia and the Buendia family that found it. Seven generations of the Buendia family live through the town until its eventual destruction. Gabriel Marquez tells the story as an expression of reality often mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary. This style of writing, known as magic realism aims to portray ordinary events in a mysterious and extraordinary form while extraordinary and supernatural events are presented as mundane and ordinary.