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What are the world's greatest literary works?

The latest update of The Greatest Literature of All Time comprises 999 works from ancient to recent times—from all countries, cultures and genres.

We have also crafted comprehensive lists of the world's greatest novels, stories, poems, plays and other literary forms, plus the top works in the most popular genres of fiction.

Those who have asked for a more concise guide to great literature get their wish with the recently added Top 99 Works of Literature. At the other end of the reading spectrum, seeking a wider selection to explore literature in greater depth, we have also compiled The Really Long List of Great Literature with more than 2,222 titles.

Recently we've also been busy making "greatest" lists for specific countries and regions—eighteen so far and more on the way.

Editor Eric

A quarter century of research has gone into creating and updating our Greatest Literature lists. What makes them 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 works.

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

Storm Island {Eye of the Needle) first editionWhat might have happened

A superior espionage novel can engage your sympathy with opposing characters. Although at the fantasy end of the thriller spectrum one can dreamily identify with a super-heroic agent, like James Bond, while cheering for the demise of a villainous mastermind out to destroy the world, the more sophisticated thriller portrays relatable figures on both sides.... Eye of the Needle

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

 

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