This list is an aggregate of lists from Random House (1998), The Guardian newspaper (2003) and Time Magazine (2005). Hopefully it represents a fair blend of US, UK and publishers’ perspectives.
Why nine? Simply because these nine are the only ones that make all three lists.
Without further messing about, I present the nine best books ever written in the English language, in alphabetical order, by author:
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby (1925)
- Forster, EM: A Passage to India (1924)
- Golding, William: Lord of the Flies (1954)
- Heller, Joseph: Catch-22 (1961)
- Kerouac, Jack: On the Road (1957)
- Nabokov, Vladimir: Lolita (1955)
- Orwell, George: 1984 (1949)
- Salinger, J.D.: Catcher in the Rye (1951)
- Spark, Murial: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
I’ve only read seven of these. The ones I’ve missed are A Passage to India and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I shall be catching up as soon as I’ve got through Midnight’s Children, which only made two lists (Time and Random House).
There are plenty of debates and arguments to be had over this list, but the indisputable truth is that these are nine pretty good books.
Here instead are my one-sentence reviews of the seven I have read:
Gatsby: Vacuous morality in the roaring twenties.
Flies: Politics = Let’s pick on piggy.
Catch-22: O what a hilarious war!
Road: Wild unripping hail of road-storm America.
Lolita: The aesthetic mind of the forbidden erotic.
1984: Big brother is still watching us.
Catcher: We were all teenagers once.
Now get reading.
2018 UPDATE: I still haven’t read A Passage to India or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – presumably because I never finished Midnight’s Children.