Top 10 Greatest Philosophical Novels Of All Time

"You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogma or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt."

#09 - THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES [1942] Robert Musil
THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES [1942] Robert Musil Image

"His appearance gives no clue to what his profession might be, and yet he doesn't look like a man without a profession either. Consider what he's like: He always knows what to do. He knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. He can put his mind to any question at any time. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded, fearless, tenacious, dashing, circumspect—why quibble, suppose we grant him all those qualities—yet he has none of them! They have made him what he is, they have set his course for him, and yet they don't belong to him. When he is angry, something in him laughs. When he is sad, he is up to something. When something moves him, he turns against it. He'll always see a good side to every bad action. What he thinks of anything will always depend on some possible context—nothing is, to him, what it is: everything is subject to change, in flux, part of a whole, of an infinite number of wholes presumably adding up to a super-whole that, however, he knows nothing about. So every answer he gives is only a partial answer, every feeling an opinion, and he never cares what something is, only 'how' it is—some extraneous seasoning that somehow goes along with it, that's what interests him."

#08 - ATLAS SHRUGGED [1957] Ayn Rand
ATLAS SHRUGGED [1957] Ayn Rand Image


"For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it."

#07 - THE FALL [1956] Albert Camus
THE FALL [1956] Albert Camus Image

"I shall tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day."

#06 - NAUSEA [1938] Jean-Paul Sartre
NAUSEA [1938] Jean-Paul Sartre Image

"I know. I know that I shall never again meet anything or anybody who will inspire me with passion. You know, it's quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice: if you think about it you don't do it. I know I'll never jump again."

#05 - STEPPENWOLF [1927] Hermann Hesse
STEPPENWOLF [1927] Hermann Hesse Image

"Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke."

#04 - MOBY-DICK [1851] Herman Melville
MOBY-DICK [1851] Herman Melville Image

"Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

#03 - REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST (In Search of Lost Time) [1931] Marcel Proust
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST (In Search of Lost Time) [1931] Marcel Proust Image

"When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

#02 - WAR AND PEACE [1869] Leo Tolstoy
WAR AND PEACE [1869] Leo Tolstoy Image

"In historical events great men—so called—are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the least possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity."

#01 - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV [1880] Fyodor Dostoevsky
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV [1880] Fyodor Dostoevsky Image

"Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept . . . only I most respectfully return him the ticket."

User Comments - Add a Comment
N. Hamilton - 2008-11-18 00:25:50

If you dig Moby Dick, read Jed McKenna. Dude blows the lid off of some Moby Dick. I've never read a more concise spiritual personality who demystifies enlightenment and has a good time in the process.

Kevin - 2008-11-21 20:14:35

What about "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"? I think that might replace a number of these--especially number 10.

anon - 2008-11-21 22:56:26

you forgot the stranger.

t5 - 2008-11-23 00:08:12

i actually enjoyed The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand quite a bit more than Atlas Shrugged. I just can't see the "capitalistic" world as so beautiful and without any flaws as she puts out in this book.

Pippoead Game - 2008-12-06 05:45:08

The Glass B

LordKinbote - 2008-12-13 13:20:48

I would also include: Don Quixote by Cervantes, 1984 by Orwell, Foundation Trilogy by Asimov, The Dharma Bums by Kerouac, Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, Journey to the End of the Night by Celine, and Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky

frank beaumont - 2008-12-24 03:39:34


crapand2 - 2008-12-31 19:07:33

vonnegut---cats cradle....all you need to know to survive in this world

Praecisio - 2009-01-06 09:46:20

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

jimmydadean - 2009-02-02 20:17:51

A lot of really good books on this list, Steppenwolf and Atlas Shrugged in particular, but to me personally, I can't stand Moby Dick.

Anonymous - 2009-02-16 14:41:30

Who is the composer of this list? It seems both spotty and naive. The omission of Mann's "Magic Mountain" is a case in point! and " Melville's "Billy Budd" is another, Not to mention Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"........ Philosophy has major divisions such as Ontology, etc. Do any of the suggested works address central issues of philosophy? Only tangentially.

Aaron Brown - 2009-03-12 13:00:59

I think The Fountainhead is 100 times better than Atlas Shrugged.

George - 2009-03-12 21:23:09

The holographic universe has emerged recently as a real game changer

Robert Taylor - 2009-03-14 13:24:35

Atlas Shrugged is probably the greatest novel ever written.

jane - 2009-03-16 13:34:37

i agree with "cat's cradle," but perhaps i am biased as it is my favorite book.

aehs kered - 2009-03-16 23:02:33

Flatland by Edwin Abbott

oto - 2009-03-22 02:28:32

No way does Atlas Shrugged belong in this company. Completely flat and simplistic characters and philosophy. More suitable as a graphic novel, despite Alan Greenspan's foreword and Rand's self-aggrandizing afterword. The present economic situation proves how wrong she was. Shame on you for sullying your list with this one. Influential, perhaps. Great? Neither her book nor her acolytes.

Brian - 2009-03-26 17:56:15

The Holographic Universe is wonderful. I read it years ago and will soon re-read it.

eddie - 2009-03-31 03:20:47

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Linoleum - 2009-03-31 11:42:00

When I saw this list I swore if it didn't have "The Man Without Qualities," I'd throw a fit!

Richard - 2009-04-05 10:25:56

Pardon a correction to an earlier poster: Atlas Shrugged moat assuredly belongs in this company. Completely hardcore philosophy, even i find it difficult to agree with some of her 'purist' thoughts, yet I see that she has a grip on some part of thought we all seek. The present economic situation proves how horribly right and prescient she was. It is the waiving from a pure capitalist system through inadvisable Statist interventions that has brought us to our current troubles. Bravo to you for placing her tome on your list. Influential, alas, not enough. Great? perhaps in the future she'll rate higher. We can only hope...

patrick - 2009-04-07 16:56:17

of ALL time? maybe of the last 160 years, but it is highly doubtful that the "Top 10 Greatest Philosophical Novels Of All Time" have all been written since 1850...

Daniel R. - 2009-05-08 20:52:27

Our current economic situation is the result of the massive amounts of government regulations that this country is under. We are not, nor have been, a capitalist nation. People hate on Rand WAY too much. She stood for individual freedom; if you're against her, what do are you for? Atlas Shrugged should definitely be on this list.

James Yates - 2009-05-26 02:06:05

Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy

Lucas J. - 2009-06-10 18:33:38

I 2nd the call for Zarathustra

Pocket - 2009-06-18 11:55:51

I agree about Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Amazing Amazing. There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.

freakclub - 2009-07-13 02:27:38

I prefer "Zorba The Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis over Robert Pirsig's "Zen..."

Bagger vance - 2009-09-12 16:45:23

Franny and Zoey by Salinger. Also I would have included Mahabharata instead of war and peace.

Tom - 2009-09-12 17:11:44

don't be stupid. what country have you been living in? we have done nothing for the past 8 years but let the most capitalisty of our society run things, and deregulate like crazy, and our economy is in the shitter. your ideas have been TESTED FALSE. atlas shrugged is garbage played out in a perfect world. notice how all the objectivists are handsome or beautiful, whereas any other ideology is portrayed as shapeless or ugly.

Parmenides - 2009-10-24 13:31:12

No Vonnegut? Ayn Rand? No Nietzsche? No Kafka? No Orwell/Huxley? Who wrote this list?

fmtanweer - 2009-10-24 15:23:40

agreed... The Stranger should definitely be on this list

joanna - 2009-10-24 18:36:25

Cats Cradle was The Book in my life

kris - 2009-10-24 21:07:15

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance should be #5 at least.

Sam Gompers - 2009-10-25 01:44:31

Atlas Shrugged is complete shit. Ayn Rand was a total moron. No real student of philosophy would waste his/her time on that drivel. Only two-dimensional fools take her seriously-- yeah, I'm referring to you!

Russ - 2009-10-31 11:39:02

Disagree with much of what Rand says, but this current economic crisis was not caused by a free-market system. There was DIRECT government pressure from both the left and the right to make housing loans accessible to low-income people; this is the opposite of how a free-market functions. In a free market, there is no external political pressure - if you think something is a good financial move, you do it. Unfortunately, due to this pressure billions of dollars in loans were made to people who had no hope of paying them back. Then when they defaulted on their mortgages, the whole system imploded. This has NOTHING to do with true capitalism - true capitalism would have left the lenders alone to make loans to whomever they feel is qualified.

bongmaster420 - 2009-11-15 00:13:55

Isn't it funny how Atlass Shrugged is the most discussed book in the comments, yet it's either you love it or you hate it. It wasn't written by a complete moron, and has caused more than enough philosophical discussions to be on the list. I personally think that Caligula by Camus should also be here.

Jack0fSpades - 2009-11-22 16:07:04

I love how everyone is commenting on the placement of books on this list, but there's a good chance that most have not read ALL of the books, therefore not understanding them enough to grade them on a numerical scale.

anonymous - 2009-11-23 05:47:43

there is no such thing as a "free market" never has, never will. the "free market" is just another buzzword to lead the sheeple. also, where is fight club? that book changed my life.

Elemental - 2009-11-24 13:29:54

I submit that "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein is as deeply philosophical as any of the novels on this list. I would also call your attention to a perhaps little-known book, "The River Why" by David James Duncan. And Ayn Rand? Really? Oh, and any Henry Miller would be good here.

Felissia Hardy - 2009-11-27 12:53:33

Most of these work for me. One of my favourites though was James Clavell's novel "Shōgun".

Ari - 2009-12-23 08:12:19

well I found this list very interesting, but I believe it remains incomplete without James Joyce's Ulysses!!

Anonymous - 2010-01-03 20:47:03

Thus Spoke Zarathustra is missing

blanca - 2010-01-15 15:24:00

I agreed with Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

ala n mckinlay - 2010-01-17 15:58:04

Grok this. Stranger in a Strange Land is a great science fiction novel. That's it. To put it in the same category as Zen and the Art, or Camus is to be absurd.

arott - 2010-01-29 15:41:00

I agree with "bongmaster420". Ayn Rand didnt expect people to like or understand her novels or philosophy. She wrote what she wanted to write and she became big! I wanna see you try and write something meaningful like she did. I like her philosophy. I mean, How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?

Yan - 2010-03-05 22:05:03

I would like to include "The Lamplighter" by Anthony O'Neill.

Nick - 2010-03-18 01:43:38

Whether you agree with me or not, investing the time necessary to enjoy Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow was one of the highlights of my young life and should be considered here.

Eduardo Cardoso Braga - 2010-04-14 11:04:31

Emile. Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

anon - 2010-04-21 15:36:44

Atlas Shrugged? Greatest Philosophical novel of all time? Not even close!

Anonymous - 2010-05-10 03:07:27

good list. I remember reading Moby Dick when i was younger and thought it was boring. i picked it back up some years later and thought it was much much better the second time around. I'm sorry but i think there should have been something else on the list instead of zen. cats cradle would definitely been a better choice. Also, every time I try to read Tolstoy,its just too boring. I've read all of war and peace, and it had a few sparks of imagination, but not enough to make a fire. War and Peace should be replaced by Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche was and is a fucking hauss. And one more thing: Ayn Rand is the tits. People argue over her and her philosophies because they deal with an important subject: man and his morals.Laissez-Faire capitalism works,and if you don't think so, I bet you think that our money system is fine having: 1)massive inflation on a national currency 2)our currency controlled by a PRIVATE BANK called the federal reserve system 3)having no "real" money because our money is based on credit, meaning it's based on a promise to pay back debt. Since every U.S. dollar printed off is worth less than it was before it was printed (due to inflation of money supply),we will never be able to pay back our debt. Oh, by the way, there is such a thing as free capitalism, it just has never fully be utilized. People have been taught more and more to beg and cheat for their money, and i bet that statement included the retards who hate Ayn Rand. If you think Laissez-Faire capitalism doesn't work, you tell me a better system of capitalism. You prove that another system is better, in every way. Go ahead, try it.

evan - 2010-05-20 16:27:47

@ala n mckinlay I found your comment to be very amusing. Nobody commented on it, but saying it's absurd to compare Heinlein to Camus just tickled me.

Stefan - 2010-06-06 19:23:07

Interesting points all around. I have my own reservations and preferences, but I'm inclined to believe that the point with these lists or any 'quantifier' for that matter, is twofold: to suggest and to provoke. As much as I enjoyed reading this list, I also enjoyed it's comments. So, chances are you 're reading this because you haven't reached wisdom yet or you probably wouldn't have googled your way into. Rather than protest, find something that tickles and get your hands on it. Never read Musil and will probably do. ( Happy to see Dosto and Mel make it. Would have been happier with a Salinger, Bellow or Kazantzakis instead of Rand)

Dee - 2010-06-20 10:53:07

Atlas Shrugged is amazing. Liberalism is a mental disorder.

Nate - 2010-06-24 15:31:07

Kevin, since you've compared "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" to "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," I feel compelled to point out Nietzsche's comprehension of Buddhism was abysmal. Nagarjuna's "Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way" kicks the crap out of Nietzsche's philosophy in every way possible except emotional rhetoric. And without Nagarjuna there would be no Zen and without Zen, no "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is also a better book, imo.

J. - 2010-08-09 15:27:28

I remember reading this list before I ever read Atlas Shrugged. I read the quote provided, and was very impressed. A year later, I read Atlas Shrugged, and it was the most important book that I have ever read. Finally, someone who gives mankind another option! Atlas Shrugged provides a philosophy for living on Earth - it helped me to see that my life is my own to live, and my happiness is my own to achieve. Thank you for including this book.

Justyn - 2010-08-18 01:52:00

I can't say that I have read all the books on this list, so I won't argue against any, but I would throw out that Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is a fantastic philosophical book, for anyone interested

Alex - 2010-09-07 04:38:30

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a load of horseshit.

Myles - 2010-09-27 15:40:21

I would like to see "The Island" - Aldous Huxley

Phreekoid - 2010-11-01 00:12:30

Ayn Rand sucks major right wing shit....

Anonymous - 2010-11-19 16:36:55

No love for Sophie's World ?

CMA - 2010-12-08 21:09:35

Atlas Shrugged, was one of those books which wasn´t meant to be taken literally, to apply the word ¨purist¨ would loosely fit an adequate description, it was meant to be offensive in some of its notions for people to grasp at least halfway what is meant for an ideal reality, at the same time I found it congruent with Sartre´s view´s on responsability or even Nietzsche´s Ubermensch, but for the literary part I have to admit it was boring, the caracters were either heroes or villians, the view wasn´t original but it was a slap in the face, maybe not the most depurated philosophical work but it achieved it´s goal, personally I found astonishing that no one commented a peep of Brothers Karamazov, that to my point of viez was the most interesting book on the list only because it wasn´t written from one philosophical point of view, but rather from a clash of diferent perspectives and how would they play out in a sad sad world, at the end I could only identify one common ground all the characters lived in a despair of their own, being signalized as a basic human condition... someone care to disagree, please comment? (please excuse gramatical errors, English is not my first language)

G$ - 2010-12-18 23:25:49

I loved Atlas Shrugged. I'm not smart enough to explain why, only it shook some of my core principles and beliefs about ability and art in terms of economics and society. I know it's not a novel, but I like The Giving Tree.

Dr. Zaman - 2011-01-21 13:15:09

I am surprised not to see Ayn Rand's "Fountainhead". This novel has been considered one of the best philosophical novels of her time.

Jack - 2011-07-22 16:05:26
“Two novels can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other involves orcs.” (at bottom of post entitled "Ephemera"
Shannon Renee - 2011-08-09 22:15:54

I love number one. By far my favorite.

Spinoza - 2011-09-16 16:58:09
Ayn Rand is a f**king decadent moron! Books that should be on this list are: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Idiot, The Magic Mountain, The Stranger, Notes From Underground, The Trial, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. But still more.
jeff f - 2012-05-17 23:35:10

Where is Aldous Huxley on this list, the greatest and most philosophically versed writer of the 20th century ? His final and greatest novel, "Island", certainly bears mentining here, along with almost anything else he has ever written. And to all you 'Atlas Shrugged' fans out there, liberalism is NOT a disease - you think it is now, but when you or a loved one needs an act of compassion at a future point in life, you better pray the person on the giving end isn't a hard-liner like the person presently looking back at you in the mirror.

Phobos - 2012-07-07 21:59:29

Ayn Rand is a fucking fascist twat.

Morton - 2012-12-01 22:34:49

How the heck is Ayn Rand fascist she supported pure unadulterated freedom and greatly criticized acts of manipulation towards a populous. It's really not correct to call her right wing either as she supported things like gay marriage and abortion as well as an end to welfare. I would call her libertarian but she wouldn't like that. Also whether or not you agree with the philosphy doesn't determine it's place on the list.

enlighten reader - 2012-12-09 13:55:44

I think that the people that don't believe that a stranger in a strange land doesn't belong on this list need to take a deep look at the word ALLEGORY. The story itself was a deep look at society as a whole, the way we treat things or people we don't understand and what would happen to a person with magical / mystical / religious powers of healing and personal self control over mind and body. I also believe it shows just how much programing we go through in our day to day lives starting with our parents imprinting us with all of their prejudices and life experiences which we in turn use to dictate the rest of lives.

Alan D. James - 2012-12-16 16:03:09

Atlas Shrugged: Juvenile commentary from someone who refused to enter the adult world.

Sydney - 2013-05-14 04:25:46

The Root of Heaven and Earth, by E. A. Grace -- a really spectacular vision of what it means to be human, full of rich ideas, complicated, and full of life. I can't think of another novel that offers such a complex interweaving of really substantive ideas along with such a satisfying and meaningful story. The characters feel real and the ideas are powerful and important. Great book.

Drew - 2013-09-27 15:00:46

It seems that some of the comments on this list about Atlas Shrugged are very hostile. I myself haven't read it and therefore can not support it or attack it. It seems however that critics, rather than say how Ayn Rand is wrong on a certain topic, tell of how she is a "fascist twat", "a moron", and "right wing".

Malcolm - 2014-01-14 01:02:44

Most of the books listed are mostly well known but I have read an unknown novel that was the most "philosopjical" I have read: Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughn Petterson.