Modern Library 100 Best Novels

Modern Library's 100 Best Novels is a list of the best English-language novels published in the 20th century,[lower-alpha 1] as selected by Modern Library from among 400 novels published by Random House, which owns Modern Library.[1] The purpose of the list was to "to bring the Modern Library to public attention" and stimulate sales of its books.[2]

Editors' list

In early 1998, the Modern Library polled its editorial board to find the best 100 novels. The board consisted of Daniel J. Boorstin, A. S. Byatt, Christopher Cerf, Shelby Foote, Vartan Gregorian, Edmund Morris, John Richardson, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., William Styron and Gore Vidal. All but Gregorian were published by Random House or an affiliate.[2]

Ulysses by James Joyce topped the list, followed by F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The most recent novel in the list is William Kennedy's Ironweed, published in 1983; the oldest is The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler, which was written between 1873 and 1884, but not published until 1902. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, serialized in 1899, is the only novel published in the 19th century; it was later republished in book form during 1902. Conrad has four novels on the list, the most of any author. William Faulkner, E. M. Forster, Henry James, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Evelyn Waugh each have three novels. There are ten other authors with two novels.

Some criticize its focus on North America and Europe.[3] In addition, some contend it was a "sales gimmick", since the titles in the list were sold by Modern Library.[4] Others note that both Modern Library and Random House USA, the parent company, are US companies. Critics have argued that this is responsible for a very American view of the greatest novels. British, Canadian and Australian academics, and even Random House UK, have differing lists of "greatest novels". The list has also been criticized[3][5] for its emphasis of early 20th century works – 69 of the books were first published before 1951.

The following table shows the top ten novels from the editors' list:[6]

# Year Title Author
1 1922 Ulysses James Joyce
2 1925 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
3 1916 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
4 1955 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
5 1932 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
6 1929 The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
7 1961 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
8 1940 Darkness at Noon Arthur Koestler
9 1913 Sons and Lovers D. H. Lawrence
10 1939 The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck

Readers' list

A Reader's List 100 Best Novels was published separately by Modern Library in 1999. In an unscientific poll, over 200,000 self-selected voters indicated four of the ten best novels were written by Ayn Rand, including the two novels that topped the list.[7] Pulp science fiction writer and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had three novels in the top ten. The Reader's Poll has been cited by Harry Binswanger, a longtime associate of Rand and promoter of her work, as representative of "the clash between the intellectual establishment and the non-intellectual American people."[8] Journalists such as Kyrie O'Connor and Jesse Walker have attributed the differences at the top of the list to ballot-stuffing[7] or especially devoted followings,[9] rather than accurate expressions of broad public opinion.

A separate Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century was created the same year.

The top ten books in the Readers' List:

# Year Title Author
1 1957 Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
2 1943 The Fountainhead Ayn Rand
3 1982 Battlefield Earth L. Ron Hubbard
4 1954–55 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
5 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
6 1949 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
7 1938 Anthem Ayn Rand
8 1936 We the Living Ayn Rand
9 1985 Mission Earth L. Ron Hubbard
10 1940 Fear L. Ron Hubbard

See also


  1. Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon was originally written in German, but since the original German text was lost, and German versions, published under the title Sonnenfinsternis (literally "solar eclipse") are back-translations from English, it is reasonable to consider the English version the canonical text.


  1. Jessica Woodbury, "Back Away From that 100 Best Novels List". Book Riot, August 23, 2017.
  2. Paul Lewis, "'Ulysses' at Top As Panel Picks 100 Best Novels", The New York Times, July 20, 1998.
  3. Jamie Allen, "The Top 100? 100 best novels list draws heavy dose of criticism". CNN, May 6, 1999
  4. "Sound and Fury Over Top Novel List N.Y. publisher's selections signify little, critics say", SFGate, Steve Rubenstein, Tuesday, July 21, 1998
  5. "Class Ranks Top 100 Novels of 20th Century". By Alan Wirzbicki, July 24, 1998
  6. 100 Best Novels, Modern Library
  7. Kyrie O'Connor (February 1, 2011). "Top 100 Novels: Let the Fighting Begin". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  8. Harry Binswanger (August 27, 1998). "A Tale of Two Novels". Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  9. Jesse Walker (May 17, 2007). "What Internet Polls Are Good For". Reason Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
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