Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”
But with so little time to read so many books, how do we avoid reading bad books and find the great few books to read that “should be chewed and digested thoroughly?”
In the early 2000s, John Peder Zane—an American journalist—set out to answer this question.
Over a period of several years, Zane asked 125 famous authors to provide “a list, ranked, in order, of what you consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time—novels, story collections, plays, or poems.” A few also picked some non-fiction works.
The illustrious group of famous authors who cast their votes included Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, Peter Carey, Kate Atkinson, Tom Wolfe, Carl Hiaasen, Norman Mailer, Annie Proulx, and more
Afterward, each book was assigned points based on their ranking, and an overall ranked list was created and published in Zane’s book, Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.
Whether you’re looking for great books to add to your reading list or share with others, you’ll enjoy this list of top ten books of all time, as voted by famous authors.
(Note: At the end, you’ll find the 10 greatest authors of all time. And btw Number one isn’t William Shakespeare).
10. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Synopsis: “The novel is set in the synopsis: “The novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during 1829–1832, and follows several distinct, intersecting stories with a large cast of characters. Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education.” fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during 1829–1832, and follows several distinct, intersecting stories with a large cast of characters. Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education.”
09. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Checkhov
Synopsis: “Stories by the famous Russian author, Anton Chekhov. Chekhov lived during the last years of the Czars, and most of his stories are approximate of that time period. The book gives an excellent view of Russian life in czarist Russia, as well as entertaining plots and style.”
08. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Synopsis: “In Search of Lost Time follows the narrator’s recollections of childhood and experiences into adulthood during late 19th century to early 20th century aristocratic France, while reflecting on the loss of time and lack of meaning to the world.”
07. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fizgerald
Synopsis: “The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession with the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan.”
06. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Synopsis: “Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular, and most puzzling, play. It follows the form of a “revenge tragedy,” in which the hero, Hamlet, seeks vengeance against his father’s murderer, his uncle Claudius, now the king of Denmark.”
05. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Synopsis: “A nineteenth-century boy from a Mississippi River town recounts his adventures as he travels down the river with a runaway slave, encountering a family involved in a feud, two scoundrels pretending to be royalty, and Tom Sawyer’s aunt who mistakes him for Tom.”
04. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Synopsis: “Awe and exhilaration–along with heartbreak and mordant wit–abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love-love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.”
03. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Synopsis: “The novel chronicles the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families.”
02. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
Synopsis: “When Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women’s magazines. But Charles is a dull country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns.”
01. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Synopsis: “Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society.”