The 40 Most Influential Fiction Books of All Time

Influence is a tricky thing to measure. Certainly, the number of copies sold is a major factor in demonstrating the popularity of any book. Additionally, the number of times a work is cited is an important measure. This list was prepared using research tools developed by AcademicInfluence.com. Using a ranking engine that crawls a library of digital sources available through the English Wikipedia corpus as well as Wikidata, the powerful algorithm identifies millions of references to authors and books, analyzes their context, and ranks documents in order of importance. Though the tools at AcademicInfluence.com use machine learning, we also rely on human quality control. For more information visit https://academicinfluence.com/methodology.

For our purposes, we chose not to include religious texts which occupied 43 of the top 100. We will rank religious works in a separate list. We also factored out some anomalies and to get to a nice even number like the “Top 40” we decided to separate fiction and nonfiction.

While no list will ever satisfy everyone, the debate is part of the fun. We found some unexpected and interesting entries on the list. What do you think? Do any entries miss the mark?  Which titles got snubbed that you’d like to see? Tell us in the comments.

No. 40 – Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

 

Finnegans Wake is a book by Irish writer James Joyce. It has been called “a work of fiction which combines a body of fables … with the work of analysis and deconstruction”. It is significant for its experimental style and reputation as one of the most difficult works in the Western canon. Written in Paris over a period of seventeen years and published in 1939, Finnegans Wake was Joyce’s final work. The entire book is written in a largely idiosyncratic language, which blends standard English lexical items and neologistic multilingual puns and portmanteau words to unique effect. Many critics believe the technique was Joyce’s attempt to recreate the experience of sleep and dreams. Owing to the work’s linguistic experiments, stream of consciousness writing style, literary allusions, free dream associations, and abandonment of narrative conventions, Finnegans Wake remains largely unread by the general public.

Joyce began working on Finnegans Wake shortly after the 1922 publication of Ulysses. Initial reaction to Finnegans Wake, both in its serialized and final published form, was largely negative, ranging from bafflement at its radical reworking of the English language to open hostility towards its lack of respect for the conventions of the genre.

The work has since come to assume a preeminent place in English literature. Anthony Burgess has lauded Finnegans Wake as “a great comic vision, one of the few books of the world that can make us laugh aloud on nearly every page.” The prominent literary academic Harold Bloom has called it Joyce’s masterpiece, and, in The Western Canon (1994), wrote that “if aesthetic merit were ever again to center the canon, [Finnegans Wake] would be as close as our chaos could come to the heights of Shakespeare and Dante”.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #2 Literature, #15 Overall

No. 39 – Candide by Voltaire

 

Candide, ou l’Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. The novella has been widely translated, with English versions titled Candide: or, All for the Best (1759); Candide: or, The Optimist (1762); and Candide: Optimism (1947). It begins with a young man, Candide, who is living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism by his mentor, Professor Pangloss. The work describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide’s slow and painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world. Voltaire concludes Candide with, if not rejecting Leibnizian optimism outright, advocating a deeply practical precept, “we must cultivate our garden”, in lieu of the Leibnizian mantra of Pangloss, “all is for the best” in the “best of all possible worlds”.

Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned to the public because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition, and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté. However, with its sharp wit and insightful portrayal of the human condition, the novel has since inspired many later authors and artists to mimic and adapt it. Today, Candide is recognized as Voltaire’s magnum opus and is often listed as part of the Western canon. It is among the most frequently taught works of French literature. The British poet and literary critic Martin Seymour-Smith listed Candide as one of the 100 most influential books ever written.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #5 History, #28 Literature, #30 Overall

No. 38 – The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

 

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells, first serialized in 1897 by Pearson’s Magazine in the UK and by Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. The novel’s first appearance in hardcover was in 1898 from publisher William Heinemann of London. Written between 1895 and 1897, it is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. The novel is the first-person narrative of both an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and of his younger brother in London as southern England is invaded by Martians. The novel is one of the most commented-on works in the science fiction canon.

The plot has been related to invasion literature of the time. The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears, and prejudices. Wells said that the plot arose from a discussion with his brother Frank about the catastrophic effect of the British on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians? At the time of publication, it was classified as a scientific romance, like Wells’s earlier novel The Time Machine.

The War of the Worlds has been both popular (having never been out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a number of television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. It was most memorably dramatized in a 1938 radio program that allegedly caused public panic among listeners who did not know the Martian invasion was fiction. The novel has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, helped develop both the liquid-fueled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing 71 years later.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #13 History, #25 Literature, #22 Overall

No. 37 – Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

 

Treasure Island is an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of “buccaneers and buried gold.” Its influence is enormous on popular perceptions of pirates, including such elements as treasure maps marked with an “X”, schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen bearing parrots on their shoulders.

As one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels, Treasure Island was originally considered a coming-of-age story and is noted for its atmosphere, characters, and action. It was originally serialized in the children’s magazine Young Folks from 1881 through 1882 under the title Treasure Island or the Mutiny of the Hispaniola, credited to the pseudonym “Captain George North”. It was first published as a book on 14 November 1883, by Cassell & Co. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #29 Literature, #116 Overall

No. 36 – Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

 

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 stage play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. It is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Source: Wikipedia

Bright Notes is a comprehensive study guide offering in-depth explanation, essay, and test prep for selected works by Arthur Miller. Titles in this study guide include All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A Memory Of Two Mondays, A View From The Bridge, After The Fall, and Incident at Vichy. As an influential, yet controversial, figure of American theatre, Miller expertly combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner ambitions. Moreover, Miller offered his audiences great entertainment mixed with thought-provoking social criticism.

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Ranked #69 US Literature, #305 World Literature

No. 35 – Dune by Frank Herbert

 

 

Dune is a 1965 science fiction novel by American author Frank Herbert, originally published as two separate serials in Analog magazine. It tied with Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal for the Hugo Award in 1966, and it won the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. It is the first installment of the Dune saga, and in 2003 was cited as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel.

Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis. While the planet is an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland, it is the only source of melange, or “the spice,” a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. Melange is also necessary for space navigation. As melange can only be produced on Arrakis, control of the planet is thus a coveted and dangerous undertaking. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the factions of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its spice.

A new film adaptation directed by Denis Villeneuve is scheduled to be released on December 18, 2020.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #185 US Literature, #907 World Literature

No. 34 – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

 

 

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, first published in 1953. Often regarded as one of his best works, the novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. The book’s tagline explains the title: “Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns…” The lead character, Guy Montag, is a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his role of censoring literature and destroying knowledge, eventually quitting his job and committing himself to the preservation of literary and cultural writings.

The novel has been the subject of interpretations focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas for change. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury said that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time (during the McCarthy era) about the threat of book burning in the United States. In later years, he described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.

In 1954, Fahrenheit 451 won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal. It later won the Prometheus “Hall of Fame” Award in 1984 and a “Retro” Hugo Award, one of a limited number of Best Novel Retro Hugos ever given, in 2004. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #42 US Literature, #179 World Literature

No. 33 – The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

 

The Three Musketeers is a historical adventure novel written in 1844 by French author Alexandre Dumas. It is in the swashbuckler genre, which has heroic, chivalrous swordsmen who fight for justice.

Set between 1625 and 1628, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d’Artagnan (a character based on Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan) after he leaves home to travel to Paris, hoping to join the Musketeers of the Guard. Although d’Artagnan is not able to join this elite corps immediately, he is befriended by three of the most formidable musketeers of the age–Athos, Porthos and Aramis, “the three inseparables” – and becomes involved in affairs of state and at court.

The Three Musketeers is primarily a historical and adventure novel. However, Dumas frequently portrays various injustices, abuses, and absurdities of the Ancien Régime, giving the novel an additional political significance at the time of its publication, a time when the debate in France between republicans and monarchists was still fierce. The story was first serialized from March to July 1844, during the July Monarchy, four years before the French Revolution of 1848 violently established the Second Republic.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #147 Literature

No. 32 – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is a dystopian novel by English author Aldous Huxley, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State, whose citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story’s protagonist. Huxley followed this book with a reassessment in essay form, Brave New World Revisited (1958), and with his final novel, Island (1962), the utopian counterpart. The novel is often compared to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World at number 5 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2003, Robert McCrum, writing for The Observer, included Brave New World chronologically at number 53 in “the top 100 greatest novels of all time”, and the novel was listed at number 87 on The Big Read survey by the BBC. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #95 Literature, #102 Overall

No. 31 – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

Crime and Punishment is a novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was first published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments during 1866. It was later published in a single volume. It is the second of Dostoevsky’s full-length novels following his return from ten years of exile in Siberia. Crime and Punishment is considered the first great novel of his “mature” period of writing. The novel is often cited as one of the supreme achievements in literature.

Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg who formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money. Before the killing, Raskolnikov believes that with the money he could liberate himself from poverty and go on to perform great deeds. However, once it is done he finds himself racked with confusion, paranoia, and disgust for what he has done. His justifications disintegrate completely as he struggles with guilt and horror and confronts the real-world consequences of his deed.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #57 Literature, #158 Overall

No. 30 – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

 

 

Gulliver’s Travels is a 1726 prose satire by the Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift, satirising both human nature and the “travellers’ tales” literary subgenre. It is Swift’s best known full-length work, and a classic of English literature. Swift claimed that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels “to vex the world rather than divert it”.

The book was an immediate success. The English dramatist John Gay remarked, “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery.” In 2015, Robert McCrum released his selection list of 100 best novels of all time in which Gulliver’s Travels is listed as “a satirical masterpiece.”  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #38 Literature, #118 Overall

No. 29 – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

 

Jane Eyre is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë, published under the pen name “Currer Bell,” on 16 October 1847, by Smith, Elder & Co. of London. The first American edition was published the following year by Harper & Brothers of New York. Jane Eyre is a Bildungsroman which follows the experiences of its eponymous heroine, including her growth to adulthood and her love for Mr. Rochester, the brooding master of Thornfield Hall.

The novel revolutionized prose fiction by being the first to focus on its protagonist’s moral and spiritual development through an intimate first-person narrative, where actions and events are colored by a psychological intensity. Charlotte Brontë has been called the “first historian of the private consciousness,” and the literary ancestor of writers like Proust and Joyce.

The book contains elements of social criticism with a strong sense of Christian morality at its core, and it is considered by many to be ahead of its time because of Jane’s individualistic character and how the novel approaches the topics of class, sexuality, religion, and feminism. It, along with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is one of the most famous romance novels of all time. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #75 Literature, #326 Overall

No. 28 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

 

 

Wuthering Heights is a novel by Emily Brontë published in 1847 under her pseudonym “Ellis Bell.” Brontë’s only finished novel, it was written between October 1845 and June 1846. Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey were accepted by publisher Thomas Newby before the success of her sister Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre. After Emily’s death, Charlotte edited a posthumous second edition in 1850.

Although Wuthering Heights is now a classic of English literature, contemporaneous reviews were deeply polarised; it was controversial because of its unusually stark depiction of mental and physical cruelty, and it challenged Victorian ideas about religion, morality, class, and a woman’s place in society.

The novel has inspired many adaptations, including film, radio, and television dramatizations; a musical; a ballet; operas; and a hit song.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #156 Literature

No. 27 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

 

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a fantasy novel written by British author J. K. Rowling and the seventh and final novel of the Harry Potter series. It was released on 21 July 2007 in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury Publishing, in the United States by Scholastic, and in Canada by Raincoast Books. The novel chronicles the events directly following Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005) and the final confrontation between the wizards Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort.

Deathly Hallows shattered sales records upon release, surpassing marks set by previous titles of the Harry Potter series. It holds the Guinness World Record for most novels sold within 24 hours of release, with 8.3 million sold in the US and 2.65 million in the UK. Generally well received by critics, the book won the 2008 Colorado Blue Spruce Book Award, and the American Library Association named it the “Best Book for Young Adults.” A film adaptation of the novel was released in two parts: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 1 in November 2010 and Part 2 in July 2011.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #110 Literature

No. 26 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. Instantly successful, widely read in high schools and middle schools in the United States, it has become a classic of modern American literature, winning the Pulitzer Prize. The plot and characters are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family, her neighbors and an event that occurred near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1936, when she was ten.

Despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality, the novel is renowned for its warmth and humor. Atticus Finch, the narrator’s father, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. The historian Joseph Crespino explains, “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its main character, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.” As a Southern Gothic and Bildungsroman novel, the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the Deep South. In 2006, British librarians ranked the book ahead of the Bible as one “every adult should read before they die.”  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #76 US Literature

No. 25 – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

 

Oliver Twist is Charles Dickens’s second novel and was published as a serial from 1837 to 1839 and released as a three-volume book in 1838 before the serialization ended. The story centers on orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse and sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Oliver travels to London, where he meets the “Artful Dodger,” a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin.

Oliver Twist is notable for its unromantic portrayal of criminals and their sordid lives, as well as for exposing the cruel treatment of the many orphans in London in the mid-19th century.

In this early example of the social novel, Dickens satirizes the hypocrisies of his time, including child labor, the recruitment of children as criminals, and the presence of street children.

Oliver Twist has been the subject of numerous adaptations for various media, including a highly successful musical play, Oliver!, and the multiple Academy Award-winning 1968 motion picture. Disney also put its spin on the novel with the animated film called Oliver & Company in 1988.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #3 Literature, #12 Overall

No. 24 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

 

 

Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel of manners written by Jane Austen in 1813. The novel follows the character development of Elizabeth Bennet, the dynamic protagonist of the book who learns about the repercussions of hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between superficial goodness and actual goodness. Its humour lies in its honest depiction of manners, education, marriage, and money during the Regency era in Great Britain.

Pride and Prejudice has consistently appeared near the top of lists of “most-loved books” among literary scholars and the reading public. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, with over 20 million copies sold, and has inspired many derivatives in modern literature. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #12 Literature, #69 Overall

No. 23 – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

 

War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published serially, then published in its entirety in 1869. It is regarded as one of Tolstoy’s finest literary achievements and remains a classic of world literature.

The novel chronicles the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families. Portions of an earlier version, titled The Year 1805 were serialized in The Russian Messenger from 1865 to 1867, then published in its entirety in 1869.

Tolstoy said War and Peace is “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle.” Large sections, especially the later chapters, are philosophical discussions rather than narrative. Tolstoy also said that the best Russian literature does not conform to standards and hence hesitated to call War and Peace a novel. Instead, he regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #15 Literature, #15 Education, #55 Overall

No. 22 – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

 


Robinson Crusoe
is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. The first edition credited the work’s protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents.

Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is presented as an autobiography of the title character (whose birth name is Robinson Kreutznaer)—a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical desert island near the coasts of Venezuela and Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers, before ultimately being rescued. The story has been thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on a Pacific island called “Más a Tierra,” now part of Chile, which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

Despite its simple narrative style, Robinson Crusoe was well received in the literary world and is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. It is generally seen as a contender for the first English novel. Before the end of 1719, the book had already run through four editions, and it has gone on to become one of the most widely published books in history, spawning so many imitations, not only in literature but also in film, television and radio, that its name is used to define a genre, the Robinsonade. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #35 Literature, #112 Overall

No. 21 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald that follows a cast of characters living in the fictional towns of West Egg and East Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. Many literary critics consider The Great Gatsby to be one of the greatest novels ever written.

The story of the book primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession to reunite with his ex-lover, the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Roaring Twenties that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream.

First published by Scribner’s in April 1925, The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews and sold poorly. In its first year, the book sold only 20,000 copies. Fitzgerald died in 1940, believing himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. However, the novel experienced a revival during World War II and became a part of American high school curricula and numerous stage and film adaptations in the following decades. Today, The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary classic and a contender for the title of the “Great American Novel.”  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #24 US Literature, #118 World Literature

No. 20 – The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

 

The Metamorphosis is a novella written by Franz Kafka which was first published in 1915. One of Kafka’s best-known works, The Metamorphosis tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect (German ungeheures Ungeziefer, literally “monstrous vermin”), subsequently struggling to adjust to this new condition. The novella has been widely discussed among literary critics, with differing interpretations being offered. Source: Wikipedia

The Bright Notes Study Guide offers in-depth explanation, essay, and test prep for selected works by Franz Kafka, a pioneer of modernist movement. Titles in this study guide include The Trial, Amerika, The Castle, In the Penal Colony, A Country Doctor, The Metamorphosis, The Judgement, and The Great Wall of China. As an author of the twentieth-century, Kafka’s work combined themes of supernatural nature and realism. Moreover, the word Kafkaesque was created to represent the bizarre themes found in Kafka’s works. This Bright Notes Study Guide explores the context and history of Franz Kafka’s classic work, helping students to thoroughly explore the reasons they have stood the literary test of time.

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Ranked #23 Literature, #110 Overall

No. 19 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the U.S. and is said to have “helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War.”

Stowe, a Connecticut-born teacher at the Hartford Female Seminary and an active abolitionist, featured the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave around whom the stories of other characters revolve. The sentimental novel depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible. It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States; one million copies in Great Britain. In 1855, three years after it was published, it was called “the most popular novel of our day.” Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #20 US Literature, #105 World Literature

No. 18 – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 

Great Expectations is the thirteenth novel by Charles Dickens and his penultimate completed novel, which depicts the education of an orphan nicknamed Pip (the book is a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story). It is Dickens’s second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person. The novel was first published as a serial in Dickens’s weekly periodical All the Year Round, from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. In October 1861, Chapman and Hall published the novel in three volumes.

Upon its release, the novel received near universal acclaim. Although Dickens’s contemporary Thomas Carlyle referred to it disparagingly as that “Pip nonsense,” he nevertheless reacted to each fresh installment with “roars of laughter.” Later, George Bernard Shaw praised the novel, as “All of one piece and consistently truthful.” During the serial publication, Dickens was pleased with public response to Great Expectations and its sales.

In the 21st century, the novel retains good ratings among literary critics[13] and in 2003 it was ranked 17th on the BBC’s The Big Read poll.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #3 Literature, #12 Overall

No. 17 – Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

 

Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett in which two characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), engage in a variety of discussions and encounters while awaiting Godot, who never arrives. Waiting for Godot is Beckett’s translation of his own original French-language play, En attendant Godot, and is subtitled (in English only) “a tragicomedy in two acts”. The original French text was composed between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949. The premiere, directed by Roger Blin, was on 5 January 1953 at the Théâtre de Babylone [fr], Paris. The English-language version premiered in London in 1955. In a poll conducted by the British Royal National Theatre in 1998/99, it was voted the “most significant English language play of the 20th century.” Source: Wikipedia

Bright Notes Study Guide offers in-depth explanation, essay, and test prep for selected works by Samuel Beckett, Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1969. Titles in this study guide include All That Fall, Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Waiting for Godot. As an unconventional but modernist author of the war-ravaged twentieth-century, Beckett focused on essential elements of the human condition in dark, humorous ways. Moreover, Beckett was often associated with the “Theatre of the Absurd,” where his work displayed conventional plot and structure and utilized laughter as a prominent tool against despair.

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Ranked #11 Literature, #76 Overall

No. 16 – One Thousand and One Nights

 

 

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English-language edition (c. 1706–1721), which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.

The work was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central and South Asia, and North Africa. Some tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Indian, Greek, Jewish and Turkish folklore and literature.

Some of the stories commonly associated with the Arabian Nights—particularly “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”—were not part of the collection in its original Arabic versions but were added to the collection by Antoine Galland after he heard them from the Maronite Christian storyteller Hanna Diab on Diab’s visit to Paris. Other stories, such as “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” had an independent existence before being added to the collection.  Source: Wikipedia

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No. 15 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American children’s novel written by author L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow, originally published by the George M. Hill Company in May 1900. It has since seen several reprints, most often under the title The Wizard of Oz, which is the title of the popular 1902 Broadway musical adaptation as well as the iconic 1939 live-action film.

The story chronicles the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy in the magical Land of Oz, after she and her pet dog Toto are swept away from their Kansas home by a cyclone. The book is one of the best-known stories in American literature and has been widely translated. The Library of Congress has declared it “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.” Its groundbreaking success and the success of the Broadway musical adapted from the novel led Baum to write thirteen additional Oz books that serve as official sequels to the first story.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #31 US Literature, #135 World Literature

No. 14 – Paradise Lost by John Milton

 

Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton (1608–1674). The first version, published in 1667, consists of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the manner of Virgil’s Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout. It is considered to be Milton’s major work, and it helped solidify his reputation as one of the greatest English poets of his time. The poem concerns the biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s purpose, as stated in Book I, is to “justify the ways of God to men.”  Source: Wikipedia

Bright Notes Study Guide offers in-depth explanation, essay, and test prep for selected works by John Milton, who decided at a young age that God had called him to be a poet. Titles in this study guide include Paradise Lost, The Sonnets, and Minor Poems: On The Morning of Christ’s Nativity, L’Allegro, and Il Penseroso. As a body of work of the seventeenth-century, Milton’s writing made use of popular Renaissance conventions in his day, such as the style of poetry called an epic.

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Ranked #6 Literature, #37 Overall

No. 13 – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

The Hobbit is a children’s fantasy novel by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children’s literature.

The Hobbit is set within Tolkien’s fictional universe and follows the quest of home-loving Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, to win a share of the treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory.

Personal growth and forms of heroism are central themes of the story, along with motifs of warfare. These themes have led critics to view Tolkien’s own experiences during World War I as instrumental in shaping the story. The author’s scholarly knowledge of Germanic philology and interest in mythology and fairy tales are often noted as influences.

The work has never been out of print. Its ongoing legacy encompasses many adaptations for stage, screen, radio, board games, and video games. Several of these adaptations have received critical recognition on their own merits. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #13 Literature, #79 Overall

No. 12 – Ulysses by James Joyce

 

Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialized in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s 40th birthday. It is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement.” According to Declan Kiberd, “Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking”.

Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel.

Since its publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from an obscenity trial in the United States in 1921 to protracted textual “Joyce Wars.” The novel’s stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—replete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterization and broad humor, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #2 Literature, #15 Overall

No. 11 – The Divine Comedy by Dante

 

The Divine Comedy is a long Italian narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered to be the pre-eminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. It helped establish the Tuscan language, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The narrative takes as its literal subject the state of souls after death and presents an image of divine justice meted out as due punishment or reward, and describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven, while allegorically the poem represents the soul’s journey towards God, beginning with the recognition and rejection of sin (Inferno), followed by the penitent Christian life (Purgatorio), which is then followed by the soul’s ascent to God (Paradiso).

The Divine Comedy was not always as well-regarded as it is today. Although recognized as a masterpiece in the centuries immediately following its publication, the work was largely ignored during the Enlightenment.  The Comedy was “rediscovered” in the English-speaking world by William Blake–who illustrated several passages of the epic–and the Romantic writers of the 19th century. Later authors such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett, C. S. Lewis and James Joyce have drawn on it for inspiration. In T. S. Eliot’s estimation, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.” For Jorge Luis Borges The Divine Comedy was “the best book literature has achieved.”  Source: Wikipedia

 

 

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Ranked #16 Literature, #51 Overall

No. 10 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 

A Christmas Carol is a novella by Charles Dickens first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. A Christmas Carol recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols, and newer customs such as Christmas trees. He was influenced by the experiences of his own youth and by the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold.

Published on 19 December, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released. Most critics reviewed the novella favorably. In 1849 Dickens began public readings of the story which proved so successful he undertook 127 further performances until 1870, the year of his death. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages; the story has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera, and other media.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #3 Literature, #12 Overall

No. 9 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll (the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson). It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

One of the best-known and most popular works of English-language fiction, its narrative, structure, characters and imagery have been enormously influential in popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre. The work has never been out of print, and it has been translated into at least 97 languages. Its ongoing legacy encompasses many adaptations for stage, screen, radio, art, theme parks, board games, and video games.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #50 Literature, #156 Overall

No. 8 – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

 

Moby Dick is an 1851 novel by American writer Herman Melville. The book is the sailor Ishmael’s narrative of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that on the ship’s previous voyage bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee. A contribution to the literature of the American Renaissance, Moby Dick was published to mixed reviews, was a commercial failure, and was out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891. Its reputation as a “Great American Novel” was established only in the 20th century, after the centennial of its author’s birth. William Faulkner said he wished he had written the book himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written.” Its opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael”, is among world literature’s most famous.

About 3,200 copies of the book were sold during the author’s life. Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #8 US Literature, #42 World Literature

No. 7 – Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell

 

Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by English novelist George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime. Thematically, Nineteen Eighty-Four centers on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of all persons and behaviors within society. Orwell, himself a democratic socialist, modeled the authoritarian government in the novel after Stalinist Russia. More broadly, the novel examines the role of truth and facts within politics and the ways in which they are manipulated.

The story takes place in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism, and propaganda. Great Britain, known as Airstrip One, has become a province of a totalitarian superstate named Oceania that is ruled by the Party who employ the Thought Police to persecute individuality and independent thinking. Big Brother, the leader of the Party, enjoys an intense cult of personality despite the fact that he may not even exist. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a diligent and skillful rank-and-file worker and Party member who secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion. He enters a forbidden relationship with a colleague, Julia.

Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a classic literary example of political and dystopian fiction. It also popularized the term “Orwellian” as an adjective, with many terms used in the novel entering common usage, including Big Brother (secret surveillance and government over-reach), doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5 (propaganda), prole, and memory hole (manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state). Time included it on its 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It was placed on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, reaching No. 13 on the editors’ list and No. 6 on the readers’ list. In 2003, the novel was listed at No. 8 on The Big Read survey by the BBC.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #26 Literature, #14 Communications,  #65 Overall

No. 6 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

 

Frankenstein is an 1818 novel written by English author Mary Shelley (1797–1851) that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when she was 20. Her name first appeared in the second edition published in Paris in 1821.

Shelley traveled through Europe in 1815 along the river Rhine in Germany stopping in Gernsheim, 17 kilometres (11 mi) away from Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before, an alchemist engaged in experiments. She then journeyed to the region of Geneva, Switzerland, where much of the story takes place. The topics of galvanism and occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions, particularly her lover and future husband Percy B. Shelley. Mary, Percy and Lord Byron had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for days, Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made, inspiring the novel.

Though Frankenstein is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement, Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story. It has had a considerable influence in literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films, and plays.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #55 Literature, #140 Overall

No. 5 – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

 

Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. A founding work of Western literature, it is often labeled “the first modern novel” and many authors consider it to be the best literary work ever written.

The plot revolves around the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his mind and decides to become a knight-errant (caballero andante) to revive chivalry and serve his nation, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical monologues on knighthood, already considered old-fashioned at the time.

The book had a major influence on the literary community, as evidenced by direct references in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844), Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer cited Don Quixote as one of the four greatest novels ever written.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #34 Literature, #149 Overall

No. 4 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

 

Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. It introduced the character of Count Dracula and established many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy. The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of people led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, gothic fiction, and invasion literature. The novel has spawned numerous theatrical, film, and television interpretations.

Dracula was not an immediate bestseller when it was first published, although reviewers were unstinting in their praise. The contemporary Daily Mail ranked Stoker’s powers above those of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

According to literary historians Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal in the Norton Critical Edition, the novel has become more significant for modern readers than it was for Victorian readers, most of whom enjoyed it just as a good adventure story. It reached its broad and iconic status only later in the 20th century when the movie versions appeared. A. Asbjørn Jøn has also noted that Dracula has had a significant impact on the image of the vampire in popular culture, folklore, and legend.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #72 Literature

No. 3 – The James Bond series by Ian Fleming

The James Bond series focuses on a fictional British Secret Service agent created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short-story collections. Since Fleming’s death in 1964, eight other authors have written authorized Bond novels or novelizations: Kingsley Amis, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz. The latest novel is Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz, published in May 2018. Additionally, Charlie Higson wrote a series on a young James Bond, and Kate Westbrook wrote three novels based on the diaries of a recurring series character, Moneypenny.

The character—also known by the code number 007—has also been adapted for television, radio, comic strip, video games and film. The films are the longest continually running film series of all time.

The James Bond character and related media have triggered a number of criticisms and reactions across the political spectrum, and are still highly debated in popular culture studies. Some observers accuse the Bond novels and films of misogyny and sexism. Geographers have considered the role of exotic locations in the movies in the dynamics of the Cold War, with power struggles among blocs playing out in the peripheral areas. Other critics claim that the Bond films reflect imperial nostalgia.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #167 Literature

No. 2 – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy book by the English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien, set in Middle-earth, the world at some distant time in the past. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 children’s book The Hobbit but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling books ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.

The title names the story’s main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From homely beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land reminiscent of the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth, following the quest mainly through the eyes of the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin.

Although generally known to readers as a trilogy, the work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set along with The Silmarillion, but this idea was dismissed by his publisher. For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. The three volumes were titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

Tolkien’s work, after an initially mixed reception by the literary establishment, has been the subject of extensive analysis of its themes and origins. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted many times and translated into at least 56 languages. The enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien’s works, and the publication of many books about Tolkien and his works. It has inspired numerous derivative works including artwork, music, films and television, video games, board games, and subsequent literature. Award-winning adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and film. It has been named Britain’s best novel of all time in the BBC’s The Big Read.

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Ranked #13 Literature, #79 Overall

No. 1 – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

 

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare early in his career about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays. Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal young lovers.

Romeo and Juliet belongs to a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to antiquity. The plot is based on an Italian tale translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from both but expanded the plot by developing a number of supporting characters, particularly Mercutio and Paris. Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, the play was first published in a quarto version in 1597.

Romeo and Juliet has been adapted numerous times for stage, film, musical, and opera venues.  Source: Wikipedia

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Ranked #1 Literature, #7 Overall

WHAT? Are you kidding me? James Bond at #3 and To Kill a Mockingbird at #26? The Hobbit AND The Lord of the Rings but no Mark Twain? Two Brontes but no Virginia Woolf? Shelley, Stoker, Kafka but no Edgar Alan Poe? Finnegan’s Wake but no Hemmingway or Joseph Conrad? There are some other glaring omissions and some head-scratching choices. It’s certainly not a perfect ranking, but it’s a lot of fun to debate. What do you think? What titles did we miss? What titles would you rank in the top five?

1 Comment
  • Lester Hirsh
    Posted at 04:50h, 13 November Reply

    You consistently ignore other great books by other great authors like The sun also rises or a farewell to arms by Hemingway or the sound of the fury and as I lay dying by Faulkner or the influence of John Steinbeck’s The grapes of wrath or of mice and men. You’re obviously very narrow in your opinions and some of the books on the list I wouldn’t have considered at all. So you need to broaden your perspective and Outlook or get someone else to help you decide on this listing which is very limited in its focus though those books most of them are very great books à it’s a discredited literature and readers everywhere

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