TOP 20 BOOKS OF ALL TIME (11-20)

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Humans are natural storytellers. Ever since we painted using our hands back in caveman days, we have had an irresistible urge to tell stories as a way of expressing ourselves and our embodied creativity. In the spirit of sharing stories, I’m listing my 20 favourite novels. Before we begin, this is my personal opinion so don’t crucify me if your favourite stories didn’t make the list. Now with this out of the way, let the countdown begin!



20. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - Harper Lee

Credit: Amazon


Harper Lee’s only published novel before her death, To Kill a Mockingbird follows the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small town in the 1930’s Deep South and how the fallout of the trial affects the town. It is told from the perspective of Jean-Louise Finch, the young daughter of the lawyer defending the accused man.

Why it’s on the list


Every character in the novel is well realised and nuanced with even the most racist members of the town having their own agendas and reasons fuelling their actions. The message behind the novel and the journey of the main characters is unfortunately still relevant to today’s society. Harper Lee makes you feel the emotion in every character which leads to some moving scenes in the novel's latter half.


Why it’s not in the Top 10


The novel's pace is slower and more reflective, ensuring you have the time to consider the messages and themes of the novel sink in. This initially soured my opinion on the novel while reading it the first time. I began to appreciate the slower pace but only after looking back on the novel years later. I enjoyed this novel but for the other novels on this list I didn’t have to read the novel twice just to enjoy it.



19. RUSSIAN ROULETTE - Anthony Horowitz


Credit: Amazon


The first spin-off of Anthony Horowitz’s much-lauded Alex Rider series, Russian Roulette is the origin story for assassin Yassen Gregorovich. It follows Yassen on his journey from small-town farmer from the Russian heartland to Venice, Italy and everywhere in between as he transforms into the formidable character that fans of the Alex Rider series love.

Why it’s on the list


As with every one of the Alex Rider novels, Anthony Horowitz’s plot, description and characters are exceptionally crafted with each and every plot beat and twist hitting every emotional high and low almost perfectly. The story builds Yassen’s backstory, informing readers on the motivations behind his actions in the series in a way that I feel builds on the appeal of the series to readers.

Why it’s not in the Top 10

I’m not a massive fan of Yassen as a character in the series and even though I thoroughly enjoyed the novel the fact I don’t like the character lessened my overall enjoyment of the story. I find him to be an interesting side character that helps support Alex himself but I don’t see him as a main character.



18. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury


Credit: Amazon


This 1953 dystopian novel by legendary American writer Ray Bradbury presents a future where novels are outlawed and firemen are now tasked with setting fire to any novels they find. The story follows fireman Guy Montag’s disillusionment with his task of censoring literature and commits himself to preserving the current literature and cultural writings of his society.

Why it’s on the list


This is widely considered Bradbury’s best work of his career and I have to agree. The themes and message behind the story are still relevant in the present day and age. This is one of the only novels I studied in high school that I still own on my shelf. I adore the world Bradbury has crafted and the characters are exceptionally well written. The ending rounds off the novel well, leaving readers uncertain about the future and hungry for more.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


The first third of this novel is set at a slow pace due to the worldbuilding and character development Bradbury employs. Even though I love this story the slower pace at the start really drags the novel down as I find the most interesting part of the novel is the last two thirds and the first third is the hardest part of the novel to get through.



17. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD - John le Carré


Credit: Amazon


A classic spy thriller set during the heightened tensions of late 1950’s and early 1960’s Cold War when WW III seemed inevitable. Le Carré’s novel depicts British agent Alec Leamas being sent over the Iron Curtain into East Germany as a defector to spread disinformation about a powerful Soviet general. The story examines the espionage tactics employed by Western forces during the Cold War and criticises how these tactics were morally inconsistent with Western democracy and values they espoused during this time.

Why it’s on the list


John le Carré conveys the tension and fear of the fifties and sixties extremely well. Every page conveys the fear the entire world felt as the Cold War dragged on. Every character is motivated by the fear of mutually assured destruction and every page is dripping with this fear. This entire novel is an excellent time capsule and spy thriller that doesn’t present the typical “us vs. them” dynamic that most media about the Cold War present.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


While the tension and the fear of the time period is exceptional and really drew me in, with my knowledge of history and how the Cold War ended, the story does feel a bit trivial as no matter what happened to Leamas I knew how this conflict would end and that took out some of the emotional weight of the story for me.


16. REVENGER - Alastair Reynolds


Credit: Amazon


Part Star Trek, part Firefly, this sci-fi romp from Alastair Reynolds follows Arafura Ness, a skilled bone reader on her journey and search for meaning in the cosmos. Her skills for reading the bones lands her a place as an apprentice on the legendary ship Monetta’s Mourn, joining the crew as they scour the galaxy for their next big pay day. While in deep space, the fearsome pirate Bosa Sennen attacks, leaving Arafura stranded on a dying spaceship with little hopes of survival…

Why it’s on the list


I enjoy sci-fi and the novel is sci-fi down to every last little detail. Every part of this story, from the ships to the varied alien species and planets are full of brimming culture and detail that reminds me of old eighties sci-fi films. The character of Arafura is well realised and believable in her journey from fledgling bone reader to absolute badass.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


With Arafura being such a strong character, it’s a real disappointment to me that the other characters are pretty cut and dry in comparison. Everyone else in the novels is one dimensional for the most part and even if they are more developed, they don’t get anything interesting to do other than play the role that a similar character in sci-fi novels would normally play.



15. JASPER JONES - Craig Silvey


Credit: Amazon


The third and final novel on this list of novels that I had to study in high school, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones is an ode to small town Australia that touches on themes of race, acceptance and prejudice in the 1960’s during America’s engagement in the Vietnam War. It follows the coming of age story of Charlie Bucktin as he questions the world around him and begins to see how his small town is far from the idealised version he once believed it to be.

Why it’s on the list


The mystery that forms the main plotline is gripping and exciting. Charlie’s progression through the novel is engaging and I was engrossed the entire time through the novel. The reveal of the mystery at the end of the novel was exciting and so unexpected that I wouldn’t have been able to guess. This is one of my favourite mystery novels of all time.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


The problem with the novel for me is not a fault of the novel itself but more a problem inherent to the genre. The fact that I now know the answer to the mystery the novel is telling demystifies the story for me and makes me personally less likely to re-read the story.


14. THE BOURNE IDENTITY - Robert Ludlum


Credit: Amazon


The inspiration for the 2002 Matt Damon film of the same name, this 1980’s spy thriller follows retrograde amnesiac Jason Bourne as he searches for answers as to why several shadowy groups, professional assassins and the CIA wants him dead. This dangerous puzzle twists and turns, taking readers around the world from a high-end Swiss bank in Zurich to the streets of Paris.

Why it’s on the list


The novel sets an intense pace and thrilling mystery from page one and just doesn’t drop the pace until the final page. The character of Jason Bourne is a sympathetic character with a definitive badass edge to him. The action is inventive and helps build the mystery behind Bourne and his life before the amnesia. This is my favourite novel of Ludlum’s and easily the best of his Bourne trilogy.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


The middle portion of the novel has a huge part of it filled with expositional dumps about financial systems implemented throughout Europe. This ends up being important to the story and everything but it piledrives the pace into a concrete barrier. This is easily my least favourite part of the novel and thankfully after this part the pace picks back up.


13. THE HARD WAY - Lee Child


Credit: Amazon


The tenth novel in the Jack Reacher series, The Hard Way follows ex-military cop Jack Reacher as he is hired by the director of a private military corporation to rescue his kidnapped wife and child. After enlisting the help of an ex FBI private investigator, Reacher believes that not everything is as it seems. Reacher uncovers clues that lead him to a vicious firefight on a rural farm in the UK.

Why it’s on the list


Lee Child has been writing this series for a long time and he has clearly mastered the process of writing compelling thrillers. The character of Jack Reacher is perfectly crafted for these types of stories. Child is skilled enough that when he plants red herrings and misdirect the audience, he can still keep control of the story in such a way that it naturally leads you back to the actual story without the herrings feeling tacked on for no reason.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


The characters in this novel don’t really feel entirely realistic, the villain especially feels exaggerated as a way to justify Reacher’s actions at the end of the novel. This exaggeration is personified most in Reacher himself. The way he comes out on top in every fight makes it hard for me to feel that there is any real danger to Reacher and this makes it hard to get a sense of the stakes. This makes the ending of the novel feel predictable in the overall conclusion but the great journey Child takes readers on makes up for the lackluster ending.

12. Scorpia Rising - Anthony Horowitz


Credit: Amazon


The ninth novel in the Alex Rider series and my personal favourite, Scorpia Rising focuses on the titular criminal organisation rebuilding after the events of a previous novel in the series. The organisation decides that in order to survive, Alex Rider must die. Beginning with a sniper targeting Alex in his mathematics class and concluding with a shootout in the Cairo desert, Scorpia aim to break Alex by destroying his life and those closest to him.

Why it’s on the list


This is my favourite out of the entire Alex Rider series. Horowitz’s character work in this series is exceptional and the way the characters progress and change over the course of the series is awesome. Every action taken by these characters feels in line with their actions and motivations in previous novels. The stakes in the story are clear and the twists are unpredictable yet realistic and enjoyable.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


This would be an exceptional end to the Alex Rider series but with the release of Never Say Die as a continuation of Alex’s story, I feel the great ending to the series that this novel provided is now tarnished by the sequel and lowers my enjoyment of this novel and the series overall.


The list so far has been filled with exceptional novels. The work each of these authors put into these novels is incredible and all of the above are absolute must-reads for anyone that enjoys this medium. Now we have to see which novel was unlucky enough to just fall outside the top 10. And it’s a classic…

11. CONTEST - Matthew Reilly


Credit: Amazon


Just missing out on the top 10 is Matthew Reilly’s self-published novel, Contest. Reilly has built his career on writing high octane, pulse-pounding action thrill rides and it’s clear that Reilly was on the top of his game from the very start. The story follows radiologist Stephen Swain as he competes in an ancient life-and-death competition against the most fearsome warriors in the galaxy in the New York State Library. The rules are simple: seven enter and only one can leave. Swain can run, hide or fight but the only way he survives is to win.

Why it’s on the list


Reilly has constructed the perfect situation for an intense action thriller. One man alone against overwhelming odds in a situation that is completely foreign to him. What’s much more impressive is that Reilly has built on the foundation of the story and turned it up to eleven with his trademark intense action and stakes that keep rising to a fever pitch. The pace never dips and that makes for an edge of the seat thriller that’s impossible to put down.

Why it’s not in the Top 10


Contest is an exceptional first work by Reilly and I absolutely love this work and have read it multiple times. However, Reilly has stated in interviews that he likes to build and improve on each story and I feel like Reilly has improved each and every novel meaning this one just slips outside the Top 10 for me.


Well, that was certainly a wild ride! Some really great novels that unfortunately couldn’t break into the top 10. If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for giving this a read. The business end of this countdown (1-10) will be uploaded next week.


Make sure to comment what some of your favourite novels are below and which ones above you also enjoy.


You can also find Rohan on Facebook and Twitter.

87 views1 comment