100 Best Novels of All Time ( a Musea selection)


A totally biased, 1 person, accounting of the best novels I have read.

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I love books
I love the feel of books in my hands
I love trilling the pages under my thumb.
I love books
I love the print and the paper underneath
I love the covers and the illustrations inside

I love books
I love all the sizes and bindings
the title page, contents, and end papers
I love books!

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European Classics

1. Don Quixote > Cervantes, 1605 (pt.1) 1615 (pt.2) (Sp.) Don quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza are ’tilting at windmills’ on his delusional (?) quest for long lost knighthood. Sprawling comic novel has some inserted stories that can be skipped without hurting the big picture.

2. The Princess De Cleves Madame de Lafayette (with help from the maxim master, La Rochefoucauld), 1678 (Fr.) A woman caught in a triangle in this historical romance – what an ending! Acclaimed the first great short novel in France.

3. Les Liaisons Dangereuses Laclos, 1782 (Fr.) “I resolved to write a book which would create some stir in the world and continue to do so after I had gone from it.” This novel, later banned, tells through letters, how a couple of ruthless aristocrats scheme to seduce and destroy a young girl for revenge. Diabolical!

4. A Journal of the Plague Years Daniel Defoe, 1722 (Brit.) He’s better known for that castaway Crusoe, but don’t miss this very very realistic ‘you-can-smell-the-stench-of-the-plague-of-1665’, based on fact, fiction.

5. Rameau’s Nephew Denis Diderot (the Fr. Encyclopedist), too hot to published until 1805 by Goethe! This is a short satirical fictional interview of the nere-do-well nephew of famed composer Rameau. What a wit! What a scamp!

6. The Provost John Galt, 1822 (Brit.) Short, little known novel of hilarious small town politics, set in 18th century Scotland.

7. The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker Tobias Smollett, 1771 (Brit.) Comic novel in letters is an all time favorite. Squire Bramble and company head for the healing waters of Bath.

8. A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy Laurence Sterne, 1766 (Brit.) More fun and a lot more readable than the bizarre “Tristam Shandy”, this tells of a once in a lifetime road trip by Rev. Yorick.

9. Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift, 1726 (Brit.) The best part is Gulliver as a giant among the Lilliputians. But this being a book lovers list – also read his short piece ‘The Battle of the Books’ where the ancient classics fight the moderns in the library.

10. Hyperion Friedrich Holderlin, 1797,1799 (Ger.) Before insanity over came him, he wrote this – all is full pain or full joy – poetic novel of pure emotion. An incredible experience in reading!

11. La Comedie Humaine Honore De Balzac (Fr.) A serires of novels that attempted to capture all French life from the fall of Napoleon to 1848! Prolific, passionate, well plotted and written novels – and note the impact that money plays in almost all his works. Read any or all.

12. Crime and Punishment Fedor Dostoevski, 1866 (Rus.) The title is the plot in this my favorite of one of the world’s great novelists. Besides his usual incredible skills – psychological insight, tension, philosophy, scope, passion, well drawn characters – this is a page turner. But don’t stop at just one. He’s got a great body of work to choose from.

13. The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas, 1844 (Fr.) Pure adrenalin pumping adventure – except when he’s stuck in prison . Set in the Napoleonic era. 14. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert, 1857 (Fr.) The inventor of the ‘mote juste’, the exactly correct word, has a gem of a downfall novel, as smalltown Emma falls apart. And if this doesn’t touch every fiber in your heart – his short tale masterpiece “a Simple Heart” about Felicite the servant girl, surely will.

15. The Nabob Alphonse Daudet, 1877 (Fr.) The story of the rise and fall of the Nabob (Duc de Morny?) in his 6 months in Paris, has the same lighthearted touch as Dickens. Look for Sarah Bernhardt in a cameo appearance.

16. Mademoiselle De Maupin Theophile Gautier (the ‘art for art’s sake’ writer) 1835 (Fr.) Perhaps the most romantic of all novels, a young girl disguises as a man and still wins her love. Ah l’amour!

17. Oblomov Ivan Goncharov, 1859 (Rus.) In the first 100 pages the lead character gets out of bed! Oblomov is lazy but the novel is busy with a vast panorama of story, characters, romance, and insight that matches his contemporaries; Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Turgenev, in every way. A personal favorite.

18. The Hunchback of Notre Dame Victor Hugo, 1831 (Fr.) Paris, 15th century, and what romantic spirits are here – Esmeralda, the gypsy dancing girl, and her admirer the deaf hunchback bell ringer of the catherdral, Quasimodo!

19. Against Nature Joris Karl Huysmans, 1884 (Fr.) Gem of detailed decadence! And what a house he lived in.

20. Eugene Onegin Alexandre Pushkin, 1833 (Rus.) This novel in verse that began the golden age of Russian lit., tells of the loves and intrigues of the wealthy Onegin when he moves to his country estate. Best poetry novel.

21. The Golovlyov Family Shchedrin, 1872-76 (Rus.) Powerful gloom ridden story of the decline and end of a mother, 3 sons, and 2 grandchildren. Realistic, dramatic, riveting. Another unknown Russian novel of great scope and power.

22,23,24. The Ressurection Leo Tolstoy, 1899-1900 (Rus.) Yes of course, read War and Peace (#22) with it’s incredible bigness, then the 2 couple tragedy of Anna Karenina (#23) – the ‘greatest novel’ followed by the ‘most powerful novel’. Then read Ressurection (#24), a prince wants to redeem his sin of leading an innocent girl into prostitution and prison. The author yearned for art “which would awaken higher and better feelings” He does that with incredible skills at all levels of novel (and short story) writing.

25. First Love Ivan Turgenev, 1860 (Rus.) A Russian novelist with a French accent. All his novels are favorites but I really got swept up into the intensity and passion of this story of a boy’s first love – and what a finale!

26. Germinal Emile Zola (leader of ‘naturalism’ – an often harsh and very realistic form of writing.) 1885 (Fr.) Extremely detailed story of poor French miners on strike. A vivid and depressing realistic story that is not for the faint of heart – or the claustrophobic!

27. The Good Soldier Schweik Jaroslav Hasek, 1923 (Czech) simple-minded (?) soldier follows the book in this war-is-insane-hell satire.

28 Platero and I Juan Ramon Jimenez, 1917 (Sp.) episodic children’s book for all ages; about a poet, his small donkey Platero, and their adventures together. A real charmer of a novel.

29 Amerika (or The Trial, or The Castle) Franz Kafka, 1927 (Czech) Agitated, anxious, neurotic characters in a detailed listless nighmare world. No one wirtes like Kafka (Kafkaesque). In this one Karl comes to Amerika. Read one if you want but read them all I order you!

30 Two About Prisons: Darkness at Noon Arthur Koestler, 1941 (Hun.) A loyal party official is jailed in a purge. Why him? What went wrong?

The Plague Albert Camus, 1948 (Fr.) Bubonic plague in Oran forces the good and evil in people to surface.

31. The Magic Mountain Thomas Mann, 1924 (Ger.) One of the 3 greatest 20th century novels. Hans goes to a Switzerland sanatorium/resort to visit his cousin. He likes it there, develops a mild case of the disease and stays for 7 years until he comes down the mountain. The novel is slow and difficult to read, but rich in ideas and multi meanings. A major work.

32. Oh the Horror!
Frankenstein Mary Shelley (wife of the poet), 1818 (Brit.) Electrically charged monster attacks!

Dracula Bram Stoker, (Brit.) A bite to drink?

The Phantom of the Opera Gaston Leroux, 1911 (Fr.) Dark doings under the Opera house.

33. Remembrance of Things Past Marcel Proust, 1913-28 (Fr.) 7 novel series. 2nd of the 3 greatest novels of the century. A bit of cake dipped in tea recalls an episode – and the reader is off for 7 volumes of intense, intricate, emotional, detailed, delicate, mannered, sometimes mean, and what seems like unlimited memories of things and times past. A one-of-a-kind achievement.

34. All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque, 1929 (Ger.) The best of the WWI novels.

35. We Eugene Zamiatin, 1924 (Rus.) In a future state, there are no ‘I’s’ only ‘we’ – only ‘he workers’ or ‘she workers’- with every action monitored. ‘We’ was the inspiration for ‘1984’ but exceeds it in many ways – highly poetic, other worldly, sci-fi-ish, and way too little appreciated masterpiece.

36. Effi Briest Theodore Fontane, 1895 (Ger.) No evil characters here, just fated, flawed, and enduring ones like Effi in this subtle, brilliantly insightful novel. A favorite.

Stricly British
37. Northanger Abbey Jane Austen, 1803 Story of Catherine in 2 parts. First part is a delight of social fun, 2nd part sad. “I write about love and money, what else is there to write about?”

38,39 The Brontes (both 1847)
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte. What is Mr. Rochester’s secret? A gothic Favorite.

Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte. Two generational love story with Cathy and Heathcliff.

40. Cranford Mrs Gaskell, 1853. A charming book of the ‘ladies’ goings on, in the little hamlet of Cranford.

41 Alice In Wonderland/ Through The Looking Glass Lewis Carroll, 1865,1872. Classic logical nonsense of Alice down the rabbit hole, and Alice through the mirror.

42. Lorna Doone R.D. Blackmore, 1869. Two lovers fighting for a girl who’s somehow tied to a robbers clan. Note his great knowledge of nature.

43. The Moonstone Wilkie Collins, 1868. The first English detective novel. The Moonstone has a curse!

44. End of the Tether Joseph Conrad, 1902. Polish born, but writes in English. My favorite of his many novels, tells of Captain Whalley, a proud sea captain’s last voyage and final tragedy.

45. Two by Dickens:
Great Expectations 1861. Pip gets a fortune, but from who?

A Christmas Carol 1843. Skinflint Scrooge finds redemption in one miraculous Christmas Eve.

46. Silas Marner George Eliot (female), 1861. Silas, a linen weaver and miser, finds true wealth in a stray child, Eppie. A perfect little novel, and her best.

47. The Mayor of Castorbridge Thomas Hardy, 1886. A page turner of a Mayor with a secret. It races to its end.

48. Esther Waters George Moore, 1894. An English servant girl has a child out of wedlock – a shocker for its time.

49. A chapter if you can of Finnegans Wake 1939 James Joyce. And that is punishment enough for any reader – just think of the proof reader!!! Neophytes may want to first read the comprehensible The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,(1916) or some of his short stories, and then work yourself up to the ‘what the…?” Ulysses (1922) the banned stream-of-consciousnous novel, the 3rd – greatest novel of the 20th century.

50. 1984 George Orwell, 1949. Big Brother controls all! Also note his innovative essay on ‘newspeak’.

51. Right Ho Jeeves 1934 (or any of his comic novels) P. G. Wodehouse. How can anyone dislike Berties hapless misadventures or Jeeves the Butler’s ability to rescue him from them. The story is always the same, misunderstandings, mixups, and close calls written in an oh so British lingo. Righ ho fun!

All American
52. The Last Of The Mohicans James Fenimore Cooper, 1826. Frontier history or fiction? Whatever it was it was one of the most popular novels in the world in its time – and deservedly so.

53. A Modern Instance, A Hazard of New Fortunes, or The Rise of Silas Lapham William Dean Howells, 1882,1890,1885. I don’t like his characters. They’re priggish, provincial, puritanical, narrow minded, snobbish, and judgemental. But the novels about mostly nouveau riche Americans, are first rate.

54. The Europeans, What Maisie Knew Henry James, 1878, 1897. Two short personal favorites from this novelist of well crafted, highly refined, psychological novels. They are often based on some type of European, American culture clash that leads to some type of character awakening. A prolific novelist that took the form to new heights.

55. Moby Dick Herman Melville, 1851. We all know the best candidate for “Great American Novel’ – Moby Dick, the whale hunting, morality tale. But don’t pass up Bartleby The Scrivener tale of the anal law clerk that ‘prefers not to’. A mesmerizing tale of an implosion, a one of a kind story.

56. The Wheat Epic . Frank Norris. Only 2 of the 3 planned novels in this trilogy were finished before his death, but what we have is a massively broad portrait of a tough America fighting a civil war of rights versus profits. All extremely intense! The Octopus 1901. Railroad pushes enveryone, wheat farmers etc., around. The Pit 1903. The wheat market in Chicago. Also be sure to read his classic tragedy of early American realism, McTeague 1899 – and what a karmic ending!

57. The Adventures of Huckeberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson Mark Twain, 1885,1894. The first is the river road trip of boy and runaway slave. The 2nd a detective story involving 2 boys, 1 black, 1 white, switched at birth.

58. The Jungle.  Upton Sinclair, 1906. Chicago stockyards’ workers as indentured servants. Note the sausage making scene. It brought on sanitary reforms in the meat industry.

59. Ethan Frome Edith Wharton, 1911. Set in New England a tale of a farmer, wife, servant girl, triangle and a sled ride to hell. (For a similar 3 character piece see the Sartre play No Exit)

60. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925. Jazz age millionaire throws parties to lure lost love Daisy. Well plotted and poetic tragedy. Also read the unfinished Hollywood based love story, The Last Tycoon.

61. The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway, 1952. Fisherman catches the big fish. Then battles the sharks to keep it. A tale of sheer determination told in his clipped straightforward prose.

62. In Cold Blood Truman Capote 1966. A true story that reads like a novel – should we include it. Why not? Tells the story of the death and robbery of a Kansas farm family – and for what? Chilling!

63. Catch 22 Joseph Heller, 1961. Zany characters run the war, with a tragic ‘cold’ ending. Also note the ‘catch’ phrase.

64. Dumb and Smarter duo:
A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole, 1980. It took a suicide by the author, and a devoted mother to get this published. A story of New Orleans eccentric, Ignatius J. Reilly, a comic masterpiece.

Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes, 1966. Experimental drug gives bell curve mentality to Charlie Gordon, retard.

If you don’t know the classic Chinese novels (that only the best Russian novels approach in scope) then you haven’t read the worlds great novels!

65. The Tale of Genji Lady Murasaki, 1000 A.D (?) (Japanese) Perhaps the first novel in the world, one of the greatest novelists, arguably the greatest female novelist, greatest Japanese novel – superlative superlative! An epic, poetic, and somewhat gloomy tale about the loves of Prince Genji, written by a lady from the Emperor’s Court.

66,67,68,69. 4 Novels of the Ming Dynasty 1368-1644.
Monkey, (Pilgrimage to the Western Region) Wu Ch’engen,C. 1580? A party searching for Buddhist Scrolls encounters all kinds of monsters, demons, and spirits, and Monkey comes to the rescue. Nothing like this comic fantasy novel in the west. 100 chapters.

The Story of the Water Margins , (Outlaws of the Marsh) Shi-Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong, 1500? Massive episodic story of 100+ bandits who join together to fight tyrants. Based on fact. Versions range from 70-124 chapters.

The Romance of the 3 Kingdoms Lo Kuan – Chung, late 14th century. The Wei, Shu, and Wu kingdoms (184-280A.D.) strugle for supremacy. The battle scenes show the strategies of all sides. Exhilirating tale. 120 chapters.

Ching Ping Mei Hsiao-hsiao-sheng, 1609. Another ‘greatest ever’ novel from China that tells the story of Hsi Men and his 6 wives – that seldom get along. Rich in detail, vast in scope, and huge.

70, 71. Two Novels of the Ming Dynasty:
The Scholars Wu Ching Tzu, 1750? An unofficial history of officialdom – satire on the literatti of the time.

Dream of the Red Chamber Tsao Hsueh-Chin, 1760’s. 80 Chapters. The greatest Chinese novel makes it a candidate for greatest novel of all. Tells of the decline and fall of 2 households of the same family. A cast of 100’s of characters and at the center of it all, the love story of a boy and his cousin.

The Children’s Hour
Children are readers too. And any lit. list that doesn’t note the favorite novels of children, discriminates against half the readers of the world – unthinkable!

72. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum, (Amer.). 14 novel series. Baum wrote about 60 books for kids. The 14 Oz books were reader favorites – and what a magical enchanting place Oz is (the name from a file cabinet marked, O-Z). My favorite series of all.

73. Pinocchio Carlo Collodi, 1892 (Ital.) More scary than you might think – still a great story of a nose growing puppet that turns into a boy.

74. The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1910 (Amer.). Mary and a beautiful hidden garden help heal Colin – an inspirational classic. One of her many great children’s stories and another one of my favorite books.

75. Winnie The Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner A.A. Milne, 1926,1928 (Brit.). The forest is alive with characters Winnie-the-Pooh (the honey loving bear), Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga & Little Roo, Tigger, and the little boy, Christopher Robin, who lives in another part of the woods. For young of all ages.

76. The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Graham, 1908 (Brit.) Fantasy of the all too bold, Toad and his friends Mole, Water Rat, and Badger. Also note his 2 collections of essays of childhood, The Golden Age 1895, and Dream Days 1898.

77. The Rose and Ring or The History of Prince Giglio and Prince Bulbo – A fireside pantomime for great and small children. W.M. Thackeray, 1855 (Brit.) The “Vanity Fair” author is at his best here. A fairy tale with vivid, realistic charcters – pure entertainment .

78. Boys Adventure:
Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883 (Brit.) Pirates and lost treasure! Call of the Wild Jack London, 1903 (Amer.). Alaskan dog as main character. Two Years Before The Mast R.H. Dana Jr., 1840 (Amer.). Young boy goes to sea. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates Mary Mapes Dodge, 1865 (Amer.) Dutch boy and skating championship.

Wild Animals I Have Known Ernest Thompson Seton, 1898 (Amer.) The mother and baby fox story is one of the most heart breaking tragedies in print.

79. Girls Adventure.
Note almost all of these are extraordinary series of books whose literary merit is equal to any ‘adult’ books, and grouping them together does not minimize their importance.
Little Women Louisa May Alcott, 1868.
What Katy Did,  Susan Woolsey, 1872.
Heidi,  Johanna Spyri 1880 (Swiss) .
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,  Kate Douglas Wiggin, 1903.
Anne of Green Gables,  L.M. Montgomery, 1908 (Can) .
Daddy Long Legs, Jean Webster, 1912.
Pollyanna,  Eleanor H. Porter, 1913.
Pippi Longstocking,  Astrid Lindgren, 1950 (Swe.)

80,81,82. 3 Fantasy Worlds: .
Peter Pan J. M. Barrie, 1911 (Brit.) All about the plucky kid from Never Never Land, that refused to grow up.

The Story of Doctor Doolittle Hugh Lofting,1920 (Brit.) (series). The Doctor’s ability to talk to animals leads to all kinds of droll possibilities.

The Borrowers May Norton, 1952 (series) (Brit) Wee families that must avoid being seen by the giant humans.

83. Twenty Thousasnd Leagues Under The Sea Jules Verne, 1869 (Fr.) captain Nemo and crew of the Nautilus try to rule the world from under the sea. Also see all his others including Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864

84. 2 Lost World novels by sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
The Lost World 1912. Time frozen plateau in the middle of the jungle

The Maracot Deep Atlantis thrives at the bottom of the sea. Both great fantasy adventures by the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

85. Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs. Read not only the Ape Man series but also note his Mars, Venus, Pallucidar (Earth’s Core), and Caprona(lost lands in the jungle) series by the most popular novelist of his day.

86. 4 Strangers in a Strange Land:
Dune Frank Herbert, 1966. Desert, giant worms, and SPICE!

Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov. Psycho-hstorians and the mutant Mule

Ringworld Larry Niven. Two humans and two aliens voyage to a hoola hoop world.

Rendezvous With Rama Arthur C. Clarke. A world just passing through.

Farenheit 451 Ray Bradbury, 1953. The temperature at which books burn!

87. Pulp Fiction: 2 favorites in the genre:

For adults:

Doc Savage series. Superhero with brains to match his brawn and a great crew of misfit helpers.

For kids:

Horatio Alger Jr. books for boys – Tattered Tom, Ragged Dick, Luck and Pluck, series and more. Honest moral kids with pluck, overcome obstacles and often rich meanies that stand in their way.

Well this is a fix. I’m done with favorites and still no 100. Let’s add short stories:

Short Shorts:

88. Edgar Allen Poe (Amer.) Detective and horror stories in a top lofty language by a pioneer in almost everything he did in his short life. Read all.

89. Guy De Maupassant (Fr.) Intense, well crafed, bittersweet stories of French life with ironic twists. 300 written in a decade before his insanity. Debatably the best at this art form. Read all.

90. O Henry (Amer.) Not only are there surprise endings, but often a spiritual revelation comes with it. A personal favorite. Read all.

91. Saki (Brit.) Tricks and shocks for the English rich set – satirical, humorous, and occassionaly with a touch of horror. Read all.

92. The Sketch Book Washington Irving, 1820 (Amer.) There’s Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow , with Ichabod Crane, plus for book lovers, The Mutability of Literature where a tome speaks, and The Art of Bookmaking where portraits of authors come out of their frames to get revenge on playgiarists!

93. Franz Kafka (Czech) A universe of ill at ease fantasy and horror. Read all.

94. Anton Chekhov (Rus.) The other contender for best of this literary form, writes subtle, understated masterpiece after masterpiece on every aspect of Russian life. Read all.

95. Heinrich Von Kleist (Ger.) He wrote 8 short story masterpieces ( plus a lot else) before his untimely death. It’s hard to describe the impact of reading these realistic horror stories with their incredible, intensity, drama, and suspense. Read all.

96. Nikolai Gogol (Rus.) Read his short novel Dead Souls 1842, about making profits on deceased serfs, then read his short stories such as The Overcoat. Great sense of humor and compassion in all his works. Another of the leading lights of the Russian golden age.

97. Arabian Nights Present form by 1450, mostly from the 10th century. 264 tales of resourcefulness in the face of danger. Please read the unexpurged versions NOT the ones sanitized for kids. Then you’ll see some of the best story telling for adults of all time, with Shaharazad, Ali Baba, Alladin (and lamp), Simbad the Sailor, and more.

98. Crime, and Capture: Detective short story sleuths is a genre filled with many more classic crimesolvers than just Sherlock Holmes:

Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Brit.)

Dr. Thorndyke R. Austin Freeman (Brit.)

The Thinking Machine Jacque Futrelle (Amer.)

Uncle Abner Melville Davisson Post (Amer.)

Still not enough for 100. Well then , I think I’ll add my novel:
99. Portraits Tom Hendricks, 1990 (Amer.) Artists form a co-op, and the secret lover of one inspires the group to higher heights. A short novel for art lovers.

Need one more? That’s an open space for the future. Perhaps you’re writing it now!

100. ___________________________

* * * * *

The pages of a book
flick under my thumb,
The back and forth fan
a cool puff of wind.

© Tom Hendricks 2001

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