List of books considered the worst

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The books listed below have been cited by a variety of notable critics in varying media sources as being among the worst books ever written.

List[edit]

19th century[edit]

  • What Is to Be Done? (Nikolai Chernyshevsky, 1863): written in prison in four months by a literary critic and radical, What Is To Be Done? advocates the creation of small socialist cooperatives based on the Russian peasant commune, but oriented toward industrial production. The author promoted the idea that the intellectual's duty was to educate and lead the laboring masses in Russia along a path to socialism that bypassed capitalism. The book inspired many Bolsheviks, including Vladimir Lenin, who wrote a pamphlet with the same title in 1901. However, Mark Schrad observed in Vodka Politics that "there is no real plotline or tension, and the environment and characters are stagnant. It has been called the worst novel ever written. Chernyshevsky himself even admitted that his novel contains neither talent nor art, but only 'truth.'"[1] Adam Weiner observed on Politico that "The czar’s censor had given the novel a pass, reasoning that the dreadful writing style would damage the revolutionary cause."[2][3]
  • The Social War (Simon Mohler Landis, 1872): a commercially unsuccessful utopian science fiction novel.[4] Jess Nevins described it in io9 as "reprehensible trash, the most objectionable utopia of the 19th century, and the worst science fiction novel of that period".[5]
  • Irene Iddesleigh (Amanda McKittrick Ros, 1897): published by the author's husband as an anniversary present, Irene Iddesleigh is often described as the worst novel ever written, with purple prose that is circumlocutory to the point of incomprehensibility.[6][7] It was "popularised" by Barry Pain who called it "a thing that happens once in a million years." Mark Twain called it "one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time," while the Inklings competed to see who could read one of Ros's works for the longest without laughter (cf. The Eye of Argon below).[8] In his book Epic Fail, Mark O'Connell wrote "Ros’ prose amounts to a sort of accidental surrealism. There is an intention toward metaphor—a lunge in the general direction of the literary—but an obvious misunderstanding of how such things work (and often, for that matter, how syntax works)."[9]

20th century[edit]

  • The Lair of the White Worm (Bram Stoker, 1911): a horror novel revolving around a remote area of England haunted by a gigantic worm. The novel was badly received by historians of the horror genre. H. P. Lovecraft, in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, stated that Stoker "utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile."[10] Les Daniels criticised the "clumsy style" of the novel, and expressed disappointment that the author of the acclaimed Dracula could also write what Daniels regarded as a poor novel.[11] The horror critic R.S. Hadji placed The Lair of the White Worm at number twelve in his list of the worst horror novels ever written.[12] Brian Stableford said it was "one of the most spectacularly incoherent novels ever to reach print".[13]
  • Mein Kampf (Adolf Hitler, 1925): Autobiography and political treatise written in Landsberg Prison by Adolf Hitler, then the leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Hitler posits a Jewish conspiracy to gain world leadership, speaks of the evils of communism, Marxism, parliamentary democracy, and of the need of the German people to seize Lebensraum ("living space") from the Slavic peoples to the east. When Hitler gained control of Germany in the 1930s, the ideology expounded in Mein Kampf would lead to the Second World War, the Holocaust, and tens of millions of deaths. Mein Kampf has been described by many writers as the "most evil book in history,"[14][15][16][17] and its publication has been illegal or restricted in many countries since the defeat of Nazism in 1945.[18] However, contrary to popular belief, it was never illegal in Germany.[19] Apart from its politics, the book itself has been criticised for its writing style; Hitler's fellow fascist dictator Benito Mussolini called it "a boring tome that I have never been able to read" and called Hitler's views "little more than commonplace clichés."[20] Sally McGrane of The New Yorker wrote "Hitler’s seven-hundred-page screed [...] is so unreadable that, despite its ubiquity during the Third Reich [...] it is unlikely that most Germans actually cracked the book open. It is full of bombastic, hard-to-follow clauses, historical minutiae, and tangled ideological threads, and both neo-Nazis and serious historians tend to avoid it."[21]
  • Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann, 1966): Novel about three women who become friends in the post-war Broadway and Hollywood, and become dependent on pills. Gloria Steinem panned the book in The New York Herald Tribune [22] as did the reviewer in The New York Times.[23] Time magazine called it the "Dirty Book of the Month", and said, "It might more accurately be described as a highly effective sedative, a living doll."[24] Eileen Battersby of The Irish Times called it "one of the worst books ever written" and "the first book written for people who didn't read books."[25] Despite the negative reviews of said novel, it was successful enough to be eventually adapted for the big screen one year later.[26]
  • Naked Came the Stranger (various authors, 1969): a collaborate effort by twenty-four journalists under the leadership of Mike McGrady as a criticism of contemporary American writing; McGrady believed that any book could succeed commercially if enough sex was thrown in, and to that end constructed a deliberately incoherent, badly written, sexually explicit novel. It indeed became a bestseller, and sales went up even more once the hoax was revealed.[27][28][29]
  • The Eye of Argon (Jim Theis, 1970): a heroic fantasy novella notorious for purple prose and genre cliché; attempting to read The Eye of Argon out loud without laughing became a popular party game among fantasy readers.[30][31]

1990s[edit]

  • Worlds of Power: Metal Gear (Alexander Frost, 1990): a novelisation of the 1987 video game Metal Gear, it was described as possibly the worst book ever written by Den of Geek's Luke McKinney: "This must have been a secret plot by Nintendo of America to destroy any interest in reading which may have lurked within loyal players. And this book is so bad it might cause your brain to forget how to read in self-defense."[32]
  • Dazzle (Judith Krantz, 1990): a romance novel set in Southern California in the 1980s, in which celebrity photographer Jazz Kilcullen negotiates life and love while contending with her half-sisters who aim to sell off her father's Orange County ranch.[33] John Sutherland described Dazzle as the "vulgarest" novel he had ever read, and listed it among the 20 worst bestsellers of the 20th century.[34] Michael Dirda of the Washington Post called it "unremittingly, heart-sinkingly dull. […] merely a string of romance narrative cliches tied loosely together by sex scenes every 50 or 60 pages."[35] He later described it as the worst novel he had ever read: "Even the sex in the book was boilerplate, a totally meretricious work."[36] Publishers Weekly said "Never a disciple of realism, Krantz's interweaving of plots here is too contrived and her relationships, both familial and amatory, too oblique. Her purple prose takes on ever deeper hues, and her customary parade of hyperbolic description is in constant evidence."[37]
  • Borderliners (Peter Høeg, 1993): a novel about three children who attend a private school in Copenhagen in the 1970s, and then realise that they are part of an experiment. The Irish Times critic Eileen Battersby called it "arguably one of the worst books ever written […] a heavy-handed, monotone polemic […] the author rehearses every gripe he has ever had about the Danish education system in a novel so unsubtle and woodenly executed as to leave the reader searching for splinters."[38]
  • The Jam: Our Story (Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton, 1994): music biography by two members of the mod revival band The Jam. Brian Boyd of The Irish Times called it "The worst book ever written", noting how obviously the two were bitter at being overshadowed by Paul Weller: "the text is littered with disguised snide remarks about their frontman, the two obviously didn't want to ruin their chances of another big payday if a Jam reunion is still on the cards, so they don't go for a full-on assault […] You finish the book not only realising why Weller hasn't spoken to either of them since their last gig together but also perplexed at how such an obviously clever man managed to tolerate the two of them for so long."[39]
  • Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days (Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, 1995): post-apocalyptic Evangelical Christian fiction describing the events of the End Times from a premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Depicts the travails of several survivors who are "left behind" after the Rapture removes all Godly, righteous people from earth.[40] Despite its commercial success, Left Behind received terrible reviews from mainstream critics. In the London Review of Books, John Sutherland wrote "Criticism lacks terms adequate to describe the narrative feebleness of these novels."[41] Fred Clark of Patheos wrote a lengthy analysis of Left Behind and its sequels, calling them "The World's Worst Books" and discussing the Evangelical subculture from which they derive.[42][43] In The Escapist, Phil Owen criticised the protagonists for their lack of concern for anyone but other Christians.[44] In The Verge, Adi Robertson observed that "With its unpleasant characters, glacial pace, and bizarre preoccupation with phone calls and travel plans, Left Behind may be one of the dullest books [...] to ever hit the bestseller lists."[45]

21st century[edit]

2000s[edit]

2010s[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  10. ^ H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature. Reprinted in Stephen Jones & Dave Carson (eds.) The World's Greatest Horror Stories. New York : Barnes & Noble Books, 2004. ISBN 9780760754665 (p.45)
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