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What are the world's greatest literary works?

A quarter century of research has culminated in the latest iteration of The Greatest Literature of All Time, comprising 999 works from ancient times to today—from all countries, cultures and genres.

We have also crafted comprehensive lists of the greatest novels, novellas, stories, poems and plays—plus the top works in the genres of historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy fiction, and crime and mystery.

Those who have asked for a more concise guide get their wish with the recently added ranked listing, The Top 99 Works of Literature. For those seeking a wider selection to help explore great literature in greater depth, an extensive selection has also been compiled: The Really Long List of Great Literature offers 2,222 entries—more than double our flagship Greatest list.

New additions! Recently we've been busy creating and updating "greatest" lists for specific countries and regions. Covered so far are Africa, Australia, BritainCanada, China, Eastern Europe, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Itay, Japan, Latin America, Norden, Russia, South Asia, Spain and United States.

Editor Eric

What makes these lists so authoritative? See "Creating the Greatest Literature of All Time" about the painstaking process of handcrafting our lists from among the world's most revered literary titles.

Plus, click the links to the more than 600 critiques and other information on authors, books and adaptations of the world's greatest literature.

And keep reading.

Recent critiques of great books and authors

War and Peace first editionFrom Russia with love and death

After spending a good part of a summer living in and out of War and Peace, I was astounded to read that in his latter years Leo Tolstoy disdained it. The novel, whose title has become shorthand for monumentally great literature, was elitist, the author is supposed to have said. It presented a romantic entertainment for the aristocracy.... War and Peace

Collection including The Rocking-Horse Winner, 1932Rockin' the coming of age story

D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner" is one of those stories frequently found in school anthologies and taught to English literature students. Or at least it used to be. For educators, part of the story's classroom appeal may be that it features a child in a quasi-supernatural tale—unlike Lawrence's mainstream novels notorious for.... The Rocking-Horse Winner

Journey to the Centre of the Earth first US editionDisbelief happily suspended

The great thing about Jules Verne's stories of fantastic voyages is that they don't come across as fantastic. At least while we're reading, we believe we could—if we dared—fly across the world in a balloon, fire a rocket at the moon, travel under the seas...or plumb the depths of volcanoes toward the centre of the earth. Some of these trips we know.... A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Sense and Sensibility 1899 editionFull-blown birth of the Austen novel

In the dichotomy suggested in the title, Jane Austen in her first published work comes down conclusively on the side of sense over sensibility. It's supposed to be a study of two marriageable sisters with the eldest, Elinor, presenting her case for calm common sense in relationships, while the other, Marianne, flaunts her flamboyantly romantic nature.... Sense and Sensibility

Castle Rackrent 1895 editionTales from the big Anglo-Irish house

It's to the credit of Castle Rackrent that it's usually taken to be a novel. By its meagre word count, the text constitutes a novella and—shorn of its introduction, footnotes and glossary—it is barely that. It verges on being a long story. But Maria Edgeworth's work reads like an old-style historical novel, perhaps the first such work.  It's often cited as the prime example of.... Castle Rackrent

New Testament title page, 1611What's so great about the world's best seller?

It's sometimes called "the greatest story ever told". But is it really? Is the New Testament—or more precisely the gospel story within the New Testament—even one of our best stories? Of course, when they make that "greatest" claim, Christians are usually judging their founding story for its religious messages. And why not? Taking the scriptures at face value.... The New Testament

Morley Callaghan photoThe quiet questioner

Late in life Morley Callaghan was apparently concerned people would remember him for one minor achievement: the little Canadian had knocked down the macho Ernest Hemingway in a boxing match refereed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Callaghan preferred to be known for his novels. His lasting legacy however is his short stories. Along with the fact he knocked.... Morley Callaghan

Alias Grace coverDid she or didn't she—and does it matter?

Alias Grace may be Margaret Atwood's best novel. It may not be her most popular (guessing that's The Handmaid's Tale). Nor her most complex or elaborate (probably The Blind Assassin). Nor her most impressive in sheer literary terms (several to choose from). Nor even her most socially significant (ditto). But the 1996 work has got some of all these qualities.... Alias Grace

Ender's Game coverThe endgame that spawned an endless series

When I first finished Ender's Game, before starting the second book in the series, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Oh, I enjoyed Ender's Game all right. It was a real scifi page-turner. But I did not feel good about my enjoyment. Most of the novel concerns the training of a child, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, to become leader of an expedition against.... Ender's Game

Old Testament coverThe jealous, vengeful, violent and occasionally loving word of God

What wrecks the Bible as literature is too much God. On the surface this may sound like an ignorant comment, prompting the response, "Well, what did you expect? It's a religious text and isn't religion all about gods?" But if we are indeed looking at The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament as a purported literary classic—the font from which all Western literature.... The Hebrew Bible / The Old Testament

Old Testament coverThe man who survived the deep

The story of Jonah surviving in the belly of a whale—or a big fish, to be exact—is one of those tales that everyone in the Judeo-Christian or Islamic world has heard, whether or not they are religious. It's one of those stories that come to mind when people refer to great old stories of the Old Testament.... But the tale of "Jonah and the Whale" is different.... The Book of Jonah

Tom Wolfe photoThe new novelism and the ever-passing now

"Deep down he's really shallow" might have been invented for Tom Wolfe's detractors to throw at him. His work is crammed with references to surface appearances, clothing styles, cultural bric-a-brac and even commercial brand names. The minutiae of modern life not only fill his descriptive paragraphs but dominate the inner lives of his characters. Deep down, people are.... Tom Wolfe

1931 collectionMurder ahead of time

In 1949 "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" was selected by critics as the best mystery story of all time and thirty-five years later The Mystery Writers of America voted Thomas Burke's effort one of the top four mystery and suspense tales for its Mystery Hall of Fame. The story continues to appear in anthologies as one of the classics of the field. This may perplex.... The Hands of Mr. Ottermole

1931 collectionEntry-level Faulkner

Critics find in William Faulkner's story, "A Rose for Emily", an allegory about the American South living in the past, decades after the Civil War, still holding on to the dreams of a supposed former glory, morbidly embracing its decadence. Something like that. And there is some of this in the story. There's some of it in nearly everything Faulkner wrote.... A Rose for Emily
 

Full menu of recent critiques >>

 

NEW! Editor Eric's novel discovery

Life and death on the road at the height of the so-called counterculture—"the music, the politics, the bad drugs, the godawful health food...the hope, the hype, the paranoia and trying to get laid". The indelible, searching characters. What they found—what they didn't. It's the story of My First Five-Year Plan.

The tapes have never been found but the rediscovered transcript eventually reached this editor's hands.

You can be among the first to read the resulting novel here without charge. An e-book format, available through online services, is in the works.

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.
 

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 recreated repeatedly over more than twenty years.

What's so great about these books?

Readers and critics can have widely diverging ideas about what makes a certain book good and another one not-so. How can we find agreement on which works are the greatest? What does "greatest" even mean? Can popular genre books be compared with literary masterpieces? How is a Greatest Literature of All Time list even possible?

Science fiction? Scifi? Speculative fiction? SF?

Whatever you call it— what is it? The story of the continuing struggle to define it. How Editor Eric settled on the criterion used for his greatest science fiction 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 offbeat material about the Bard to offer:

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 still the thing:

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