Modern Library 100 Best Novels

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Modern Library's 100 Best Novels is a 1998 list of the best English-language novels published during the 20th century,[a] 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 "bring the Modern Library to public attention" and stimulate sales of its books.[2] A separate Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century was created the same year.

Editors' list[edit]

During early 1998, the Modern Library polled its editorial board to find their opinions of the best 100 novels. The board of review 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 during 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 emphasis of 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[who?] 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 opinion of the greatest novels. British, Canadian and Australian academics, and even Random House UK, have differing lists of "greatest novels"[citation needed]. 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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon was originally written in German, but since the original German text was lost at the time this list was published, and German versions, published with the title Sonnenfinsternis (literally "solar eclipse") were back-translations from English, it was reasonable to consider the English version the canonical contemporary text. The German manuscript was found in 2015, published in German in 2018, and published in English translation in 2019.


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