The Greatest Literature of All Time, Type and Place

Years of research have culminated in Editor Eric's current list of the world's 999 greatest literary works from 2100 BCE to the twenty-first century CE. Select the "Greatest Literature" on this or any page.

Also, check the lists of the greatest novels, novellas, short stories, poems and plays—plus the top science fiction, fantasy, and crime or mystery works.

NEW! Introducing a new shorter and ranked list: The Top 99 Works of Literature. For all those people who have asked for the greatest of the greatest.        

On all lists, you can click links to Eric's more than 500 commentaries on authors, books, translations and adaptations of great literature.

Latest commentaries on great books and authors

Our Town first editionTheatre that metas

On the early covers of Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town, the illustration shows a small community perched on the side of a lofty hill or mountain, giving a kind of aspirational feeling to the artwork. What isn't made clear though is that the bare hill above the community is where the graveyard is located—the cemetery that in the last part of the play is depicted as the.... Our Town

All for Love 1678 publicationThe dark passions of early America

Everyone knows the general story of The Scarlet Letter as referenced in the title. A young, married woman in an early American colony, Hester Prynne, becomes pregnant from an affair with a man whose name she refuses to name and is forced to wear the letter "A"—for adultery—the rest of her life. Described like this, the novel seems to be an early feminist tale.... The Scarlet Letter

All for Love 1678 publicationImproving on Shakespeare

John Dryden's tragedy, All for Love, is basically a retooling of William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. You won't find Shakespeare's work on the list of greatest-ever plays, as it's not one of the Bard's very best. It's more in the middle of the pack, partly due to its wide-flung characters and its complicated subplots of battles, intrigues and counter-intrigues.... All for Love

Catch-22 first editionWar as you've never seen it before

Whenever he was told he's never written anything else as good as Catch-22, Joseph Heller was tempted to reply, "Who has?" A bit of hyperbole. There are plenty of modern novels as good as, or better than, Catch-22. But really nothing quite like it. In 1961 when it was published, Catch-22 was unprecedented for its theme, its style, its brand of humour.... Catch-22

Isaac AsimovBest of the bad old golden greats

Isaac Asimov may be the worst great writer I can think of. His prose is workmanlike at best, his characters are emotional ciphers, his dialogue is functional, his plots are more like giant puzzles than any credible unfolding of events involving real people, and style-wise he blithely breaks every rule of Fine Writing. He doesn't care. And know what? Neither do I.... Isaac Asimov

The Castle of Otranto title pageThe horrible influence

Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto is one of those "classic" works that is better known for its impact in its time that for its subsequent readability. It's more influential than admired. In fact, any reader today is likely to find it laughable. And it's not supposed to be a comedy. Its supernatural and bloody story is meant to be delectably horrifying.... The Castle of Otranto

The Day of the Locust first editionAnother end of days

The Day of the Locust was so underrated in 1939 when it came out and in the years immediately following author Nathanael West's death in 1940. So when critics eventually rediscovered the man's work's they over-compensated for their earlier neglect by praising it to the skies. In some quarters The Day of the Locust has been lauded it as one of the most.... The Day of the Locust

Dune first editionRising and sinking in the sand

Dune's timing was perfect. Launched in the mid-sixties around the beginning of the modern environmental movement, Frank Herbert's ecology-conscious science fiction novel and its many sequels and adaptations have ridden the public zeitgeist well into the twenty-first century. It also helps that the mystically tinged works have coincided with.... Dune

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion first editionLove story emerges from satire

Northanger Abbey is the satire on previous popular literature Jane Austen had to write before she could get down to creating her own classics. It often happens that in a first novel an author is driven to imitate and have fun with the work of one or more predecessors who have been big influences during the formative years. A sort of ritual.... Northanger Abbey

The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Eeries Stories first editionThe sun setting on empire

An unfair charge against Rudyard Kipling's story, "The Man Who Would Be King", is it's not very credible. Full of British Empire arrogance that can imagine a couple of white, soldierly ne'er-do-wells could manage incredible feats of perseverance to venture from northern India over frigid, mountainous terrain into foreboding, supposedly uncivilized.... The Man Who Would Be King

Richard B. WrightThe mild-unmannered author

Richard B. Wright is a Canadian writer of ordinariness. Not that his novels are banal or he's a dull writer—they aren't and he isn't. But he takes as his subjects the lives of ordinary people—middle or lower-class folks trying to do the right thing while seeking some measure of comfort. Their travails are related in an unpretentious, unadorned style.... Richard B. Wright

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court first editionMark Twain's dark ages

If your first exposure to Mark Twain's time travel tale was the Disney or other screen adaptations, you may be shocked by your reading of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Shocked by how rough it is. Not just satirical in the genial way Twain is usual thought of but downright angry, bitter and often vicious. And this isn't even.... A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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Genres and extras

Crime and mystery book coverCrime and mystery book coverThe greatest crime works of all time

Editor Eric's list of the 222 greatest works of crime, mystery and detective fiction. Evidence from two hundred years of writing has been sifted and countless witnesses (readers, writers and critics) have been questioned to solve the mystery: what are the greatest stories and novels ever published in this still very popular genre?

Science fiction book coverScience fiction book coverThe greatest SF works of all time

Editor Eric's list of the 222 greatest works of speculative and science fiction—the greatest SF stories and novels published on this planet at least. The earliest, believe it or not, was first printed in 1638 and involved a flight to the moon. The latest of the greatest take us well into the twenty-first century.

Fantasy book coverFantasy book coverThe greatest fantasy literature of all time

Editor Eric's list of the 111 greatest works of fantasy, featuring the greatest stories and novels published in this burgeoning genre. The oldest works go back to ancient times and it's had a persistent following through the centuries. But it's really taken off in recent decades.

Movie sceneMovie sceneMovies (and TV series) for great book lovers

Faithful adaptations or completely different art form? A guide to more than 200 films, film series and television productions based on the greatest works of literature reviewed on these pages. From the serious to the silly, from the authentic to the awful.

Movie sceneMovie sceneThe Greatest Canadian Literature

The best novels, drama and poetry from writers in the Great White North, plus commentaries on selected books and Canadian authors. Canadian literature started obscurely in the early nineteenth century, but since the mid-twentieth century it's ranked among the best—and most acclaimed—in the world.

Toronto Reads

Eric's reviews of Toronto-related books, as published in Streeter and Town Crier community publications. Selected reviews:

The Smallest Objective cover Difficult People graphic No Time to Bury Them graphic The Girl in a Coma graphic Take Us to Your Chief graphic The Mousehouse Years graphic The Hungry Ghosts graphic Writing Gordon Lightfoot graphic

The Smallest ObjectiveDifficult PeopleNo Time to Bury ThemThe Girl in a ComaTake Us to Your ChiefThe Mousehouse YearsThe Hungry GhostsWriting Gordon Lightfoot

Features of note

How works were selected

Wondering what makes this list of great literature the most accurate and most comprehensive? What makes these books the best? Read Editor Eric's account of how the Greatest Literature of All Time list was researched, created, revised and re-created repeatedly over more than twenty years.

What counts as SF?

The story of science fiction and the long, continuing struggle to define it. How Eric settled on the criterion used for his greatest SF list.

Finding the best translations

Much of what you read in English was not written in English. Does it matter? (Short answer: Yes.) What makes the best translation?

Much ado about Shakespeare

Shakespeare's eyes

He's the greatest of course—at least most people think so. So Eric has a lot of off-beat material about the Bard on this site:

William Shakespeare: What was he really about?

The controversy: Was it Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare's plays?

The histories: What he wrote—and what really happened

What they've said: Not all writers have thought Shakespeare's the best

And, after all that, the plays are the thing:

HamletHenry IV, Part 1Julius CaesarKing LearMacbethOthelloThe Merchant of VeniceRomeo and JulietThe Tempest