"Our Readable Century", The Best Books of the 20th Century

This is one of the 200 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

    This book is a real-life account of a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis during World War II, written in diary format. The girl and her family are forced to live in a secret annex in Amsterdam for two years, during which she writes about her experiences, fears, dreams, and the onset of adolescence. The diary provides a poignant and deeply personal insight into the horrors of the Holocaust, making it a powerful testament to the human spirit.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Set in the racially charged South during the Depression, the novel follows a young girl and her older brother as they navigate their small town's societal norms and prejudices. Their father, a lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, forcing the children to confront the harsh realities of racism and injustice. The story explores themes of morality, innocence, and the loss of innocence through the eyes of the young protagonists.

  • Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

    A young girl named Fern saves a runt piglet from being slaughtered and names him Wilbur. When Wilbur grows too large, he is sent to live in her uncle's barn, where he befriends a clever spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur's life is in danger again, Charlotte weaves messages into her web to convince the farmer that Wilbur is too special to kill. The book explores themes of friendship, sacrifice, and the cycle of life.

  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel is a unique blend of fiction, commentary, and poetry, presented as a 999-line poem written by a fictional poet, followed by an extensive commentary and foreword by his neighbor and academic colleague. The novel blurs the line between reality and fiction, as the commentator's notes reveal an alternative narrative, one of exile, intrigue, and murder. The book is a playful exploration of authorship, deception, and the nature of art.

  • An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

    This classic novel explores the dark side of the American Dream through the story of a young man who, despite his humble beginnings, aspires to climb the social ladder. He becomes involved with two women, one wealthy and one from a working-class background. His ambition and desire for status lead him to commit a crime that ultimately results in his downfall. The novel is a stark examination of the destructive power of unchecked ambition and the moral compromises people are willing to make in pursuit of wealth and status.

  • Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel presents a society under the total control of a totalitarian regime, led by the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, a low-ranking member of 'the Party', begins to question the regime and falls in love with a woman, an act of rebellion in a world where independent thought, dissent, and love are prohibited. The novel explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and the manipulation of truth.

  • Crash: A Novel by J. G. Ballard

    The novel revolves around a man who becomes sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes, a fetish that spirals further out of control when he meets a like-minded woman. It explores the disturbing intersection of technology, sexuality, and violence, pushing the boundaries of social norms and challenging the reader's perception of reality.

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    This classic detective novel follows a private investigator who is hired by a mysterious woman to track down her missing sister. The case quickly becomes complicated when the investigator is caught up in a dangerous hunt for a priceless artifact, the Maltese Falcon. As he navigates a world of treachery, deceit, and murder, he must use his wit and courage to outsmart his enemies and solve the mystery.

  • U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos

    The U.S.A. Trilogy is a series of three novels that chronicle the lives of various characters in the first half of the 20th century in the United States. The narrative intertwines the stories of twelve characters as they navigate the societal changes and upheavals of the era, including World War I, the Great Depression, and the rise of Hollywood. The author uses a unique narrative technique that combines traditional prose, newspaper-style headlines, biographies, and stream-of-consciousness writing to paint a vivid picture of American life during this period.

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

    "The Good Soldier" is a tragic tale of two seemingly perfect couples: an American couple and an English couple, who meet at a German spa and share a nine-year friendship. However, underneath the surface, their relationships are far from ideal, filled with infidelity, lies, and deceit. The story is narrated by the American husband, who is the last to realize the intricate web of affairs and betrayals amongst the group. The novel explores themes of love, passion, and the destruction that can result from suppressed emotions and societal pressures.

  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, this novel follows the life of a young Southern belle, who is known for her beauty and charm. Her life takes a turn when she is forced to make drastic changes to survive the war and its aftermath. The story revolves around her struggle to maintain her family's plantation and her complicated love life, especially her unrequited love for a married man, and her tumultuous relationship with a roguish blockade runner.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

  • Dune by Frank Herbert

    Set in a distant future, the novel follows Paul Atreides, whose family assumes control of the desert planet Arrakis. As the only producer of a highly valuable resource, jurisdiction over Arrakis is contested among competing noble families. After Paul and his family are betrayed, the story explores themes of politics, religion, and man’s relationship to nature, as Paul leads a rebellion to restore his family's reign.

  • The Long Goodbye: A Novel by Raymond Chandler

    This novel follows the story of a hard-boiled detective in Los Angeles who becomes embroiled in a complex case when he befriends a drunk named Terry Lennox. After Lennox's wife is found dead, Lennox disappears to Mexico and the detective is left to unravel the mystery. The detective then takes on another case of a missing husband, which becomes intertwined with the Lennox case, leading to a web of deceit, corruption, and murder. The detective's pursuit of the truth leads him through a gritty and corrupt world, testing his resolve and morality.

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

    This classic mystery novel follows a detective and his partner as they investigate a supernatural hound that has been haunting the Baskerville family for generations, supposedly causing the death of the recent family head. As the pair navigate the eerie moors surrounding the Baskerville estate, they unravel a plot of deception and murder, all while trying to protect the new heir from the same grisly fate. The story is a thrilling blend of mystery, suspense, and horror.

About this list

January Magazine, 17 Books

Literary publication January Magazine polled writers for their favorite works of 2oth century fiction. These were the most mentioned books.

Added about 9 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 67%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • voters are mostly from 1 location or country
  • Limited to 100 or less years
  • seems location biased but is not specified

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at contact@thegreatestbooks.org.