There’s something magical about curling up with a good book. A compelling story can transport you to a different place and time. If you’re looking to get lost in a great story, you have nearly limitless options. Only a few novels reach the status of “all-time classic,” though.
Today, we’re counting down our picks for the ten best fiction books of all time. These ten novels range from science fiction and fantasy tales to realistic dramas. No matter your tastes, you’ll probably find something to love in this list.
10. The Gunslinger
The Gunslinger is the first book in a seven-part series called The Dark Tower. The series, penned by horror master Stephen King, centers on the epic quest of a gunslinger named Roland Deschain. The gunslinger chases a mysterious man in black across the desert as the two seek out the mythical Dark Tower.
Roland is equal parts Arthurian knight and cowboy drifter, wandering across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. He even wields six-shooters forged from the melted-down metal of Excalibur! As the narrative unfolds, Roland’s fantasy world overlaps with the real world in strange and unpredictable ways.
King is a master of atmospheric storytelling. That mastery is on full display in The Gunslinger. The author injects tension into every scene as Roland wanders through abandoned outposts and dusty old towns. As the narrative builds, the gunslinger encounters a boy from our world named Jake. The pair’s adventure is likely to leave a lasting impression on readers.
William Gibson’s 1984 masterpiece Neuromancer presents a shivering vision of the world as it might be in the near future. The narrative follows a disgraced former hacker named Henry Case. He is roped back into the high-stakes world of netrunning (hacking with virtual reality assistance) by an augmented assassin, Molly Millions.
Molly and Case form a loose partnership to help a mysterious ex-intelligence officer named Armitage who offers them substantial rewards for their expertise. The book explores dark themes, including addiction and human reliance on technology.
Critics consider Neuromancer an early masterwork of the cyberpunk genre. It’s a beloved novel among fans of science fiction and crime noir. It’s also one of the best books ever written. Gibson’s feverish vision of near-future Earth is more relevant today than it was when the book was published 40 years ago.
8. I, Robot
Isaac Asimov’s contributions to the field of science fiction can’t be overstated. One of his most well-known works, I, Robot, establishes the “Three Laws of Robotics,” which limit what artificial life forms can do. The novel is a collection of short stories linked by a framing device in which Dr. Susan Calvin tells a reporter anecdotes about robots.
The book’s Three Laws of Robotics were a major influence on both science fiction and real-world artificial intelligence research. AI researchers point to I, Robot as one of the first works of fiction to meditate on the problem of ethics in creating artificial life.
Most modern readers will recognize the book’s title thanks to the 2004 Will Smith film that loosely adapts some of the novel’s short stories. The film differs wildly from Asimov’s worldview, though. Asimov’s characters often battle societal anti-robot prejudices, but I, Robot never presents the machines themselves as menacing.
Frankenstein is a classic horror tale and one of the earliest examples of science fiction. The book’s narrative follows Dr. Victor Frankenstein, an obsessed researcher who seeks to master life using scientific advancement. He uses a secret technique to impart life to non-living matter, creating a horrifying, but intelligent, creature. The eerie tale bears little resemblance to its cinematic reinterpretations, though: in the book, the creature is not a composite of corpses, but instead a science experiment given life by Frankenstein’s unusual methods.
The story of the book’s creation is almost as compelling as Frankenstein’s creation of a shambling flesh golem. Author Mary Shelley was only 18 when she wrote the unsettling novel. In the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy, traveled with Mary’s stepsister Claire to Geneva to visit Lord Byron. While there, Byron suggested that the four of them should have a contest to see who could write the best ghost story. Shelley won the contest handily by turning in one of the best horror novels of all time.
Catch-22 is a satirical novel published in 1961. Author Joseph Heller began work on the book in 1953 but took eight years to complete it due to its complicated structure. The story is set during the Second World War and follows Captain John Yossarian, an Air Force bombardier who questions the absurdity of war and life itself.
Yossarian wants to stop flying combat missions for fear of his life. If he could prove to his superiors that he is insane, Yossarian could be granted medical leave and discharged. By telling his superior officers that he’s worried about dying, however, he confirms that he’s sane. His very desire to avoid flying back into the uncertain skies seals his fate. This protocol, called the Catch-22, is a classic example of an unwinnable paradox.
Heller revels in paradoxical statements and circular logic. The book is an exercise in absurdity, with each character justifying their actions in roundabout, self-referential ways. Fans of head-scratching prose and brain teasers will love Catch-22 even as it asks hard questions about the nature of life and reality.
5. The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is one of the most-read works of American fiction. The novel was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925 and presents a disillusioned take on the era. In the book, World War I veteran Nick Carraway travels to New York to seek work as a bond salesman. There, he meets Jay Gatsby, an unusual millionaire who hosts elaborate parties that he refuses to participate in.
The novel offers a deep meditation on the excesses of modern American life and the ways people use their social status to mask their internal struggles. Fitzgerald employs romantic imagery to describe the decadent façade of city living.
The book was considered a financial failure at the time of its publication. When Fitzgerald passed away in 1940, he believed his works were largely forgotten. Today, The Great Gatsby is considered one of the most influential American novels in history.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s exceptional debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published in 1960. It was highly divisive at the time of its release, as the book dealt with issues of race and morality. The novel’s protagonist, Scout, offers a youthful and unbiased viewpoint for the events in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama.
To Kill a Mockingbird covers weighty subject material, including sexual assault and racism, yet retains a sense of levity and humor that set it apart from grimmer books. Its place in the curriculum of American public schools often draws challenges from parent groups. Despite these challenges, the book remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the finest novels ever written.
3. The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye is a novel primarily concerned with authenticity. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a depressed 17-year-old who wants to connect with other people on a deeper level but is constantly disappointed by their superficiality. In Holden’s eyes, the worst thing someone can be is “phony”.
The Catcher in the Rye is told from Holden’s first-person point of view and flows through his moment-to-moment thoughts. The stream-of-consciousness prose helps readers identify with Holden’s angsty, disaffected worldview. As such, the novel is a symbol of teenage rebellion.
Author JD Salinger wrote the serial installments that would go on to become The Catcher in the Rye between 1945 and 1946. The book was published in full in 1951 and received acclaim shortly after its release. Contemporary and modern critics consider the novel a masterpiece.
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell paints a grim picture of the future in his chilling novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The book follows protagonist Winston Smith, a low-level member of The Party. This dictatorship is ruled by Big Brother, an enigmatic figure who commands an unquestionable cult of personality.
The book uses a roundabout and claustrophobic style of prose to present a world under constant government surveillance. The Party controls basic human interactions like romance and friendship, and even outlaws relationships that aren’t for procreation.
The book’s terrifying vision of the future is a warning to all of us. Readers who want to take a deep dive into the psychology of authoritarian governments should check out Nineteen Eighty-Four.
1. The Lord of the Rings
Modern readers often mistakenly assume The Lord of the RIngs is a trilogy, as it was published in three volumes. However, author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote it as one monumental work of fiction before his editors convinced him to break it into smaller pieces.
Few works of fiction have spawned as many imitators as The Lord of the Rings. If you go into any bookstore, you’ll find entire sections dedicated to fantasy novels that emulate Tolkien’s style of fiction. It’s impossible to overstate how important the novel is for the modern fantasy genre. Without The Lord of the Rings, there would likely be no Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, or Game of Thrones.
You probably already know the plot thanks to Peter Jackson’s blockbuster movie adaptations: Frodo and his friends set out on a quest to destroy a dangerous artifact called The One Ring, which belongs to the evil wizard Sauron. The book is enduringly popular, with entire fan societies dedicated to discussing Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle-earth. In 2003, readers voted The Lord of the Rings the best English novel in the BBC’s Big Read survey.