What are the world's greatest works?
Years of research have culminated in our current list of the 999 greatest works of literature—from ancient times to today, from all countries and cultures. We've also created comprehensive lists of the greatest novels, novellas, stories, poems and plays—also of all time. Not to mention the top historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy fiction, and crime and mystery writing available.
Added for those who have asked for a more concise guide to the greatest of the greatest is a ranked listing of the Top 99 Works of Literature. At the other extreme, we have also compiled our most extensive selection yet: The Really Long List of Great Literature—about double the length of our flagship Greatest list.
New! By popular demand, we're creating "greatest" lists for the literature of specific countries and regions. So far we've covered the most acclaimed literature of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Latin America, Russia, South Asia and the United States.
How were the titles chosen for our lists? Read here about the long process of creating what has become the most authoritative summary of the greatest literature ever.
Plus, on all lists and pages, click links to our more than 600 critiques and other information on authors, books, translations and adaptations of great literature.
And keep reading.
The 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
The 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 really... Tom Wolfe
Murder Ahead of Its 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
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
Lookin' out our front door
The Big Front Yard
is a story Mark Twain might have produced if he were writing in the science fiction era. It's a far-fetched tale in a smalltown setting, featuring a fast-talking entrepreneur who faces the bizarre situation he's been thrown into with slyly cynical humour. In Clifford D. Simak's short novella, Hiram Taine finds his property being turned into an interplanetary.... The Big Front Yard
As fate would have it
For a modern reader or playgoer, the ancient drama of Oedipus Rex
can be startlingly accessible. There is little of the struggle through the language that one experiences with even more recent plays, such as Shakespeare's. At least part of that ease may be due to the work of translators, aiming to make ancient Greek dramatics more appealing to today's readers.... Oedipus Rex
The hero without qualities
is Charles Dickens still trying to work out how to sustain a novel. It's usually classified as his third novel, coming hard on the heels of the sketchy Pickwick Papers and the diversely stitched together Oliver Twist.
As in Oliver Twist
, the narrative of Nicholas Nickleby presents a panoply of tragic, satiric, suspenseful and melodramatic elements. But.... Nicholas Nickleby
The miserable truth
is one of the few books in translation English speakers know by its original title, in part because they are familiar with the name (or its ghastly abbreviation Les Miz
) from its popular film and stage productions. But that familiarity doesn't mean they know the book itself well, for those adaptations cover only a small fraction.... Les Misérables
A legendary story
Critics may not have known what to make of it when it came out in 1954, but what has been made of I Am Legend
since then has been several fields of popular fiction, multiple movie adaptations, lots of knockoffs, and works inspired in all media. It's probably safe to say many more people are familiar with parts of Richard Matheson's story through its impact on writing.... I Am Legend
Theatre 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 immediately 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
The 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
Improving 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 Cleopatra drama 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.... All for Love
War 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
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
The 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?
The 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.
The 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.
Movies (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.
The 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
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:
• Hamlet • Henry IV, Part 1 • Julius Caesar • King Lear • Macbeth • Othello • The Merchant of Venice • Romeo and Juliet • The Tempest
Eric's reviews of Toronto-related books, as published in Streeter and Town Crier community publications. Selected reviews: