The best 35 American Literature books

Delve into the rich tapestry of American literature with this thoughtfully curated book list. From classic works of fiction to groundbreaking memoirs, these titles capture the essence of American life and culture.
Explore the works of renowned authors such as Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Toni Morrison, as they explore themes of identity, injustice, and the American dream. Whether you're a literature aficionado or simply curious about the great works that have shaped American literature, this collection has something for everyone.

The best 35 American Literature books
How do we create content on this page?
1
American Literature Books: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury
4.8 (38 ratings)
Listen to the Intro
00:00

What's Fahrenheit 451 about?

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) tells the tale of a near future with fireproof homes, where firemen are now tasked with the job of burning books. It’s a dystopian future, where pleasure is catered to and intellectualism has been all but extinguished. But after a chance encounter with a free spirit, one fireman starts to question the true purpose of his job.

Who should read Fahrenheit 451?

  • Fans of classic literature
  • Sci-fi lovers
  • Anyone who enjoys a good dystopian novel

2
American Literature Books: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston
4.0 (2 ratings)
Listen to the Intro
00:00

What's Their Eyes Were Watching God about?

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is a defining work in African-American and feminist literature. It explores love, independence, and identity through the eyes of a Black woman in the rural American South.

Who should read Their Eyes Were Watching God?

  • Readers interested in feminist literature
  • Appreciators of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Fans of immersive, character-driven novels

3
American Literature Books: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner
4.2 (6 ratings)
Listen to the Intro
00:00

What's As I Lay Dying about?

As I Lay Dying (1930) centers on the arduous journey of the Bundren family to bury their mother, Addie, in her hometown. The story’s uniqueness lies in its delivery through the perspectives of fifteen different characters, subtly unraveling the family’s complex dynamics and individual struggles. 

Who should read As I Lay Dying?

  • Lovers of American literature
  • Fans of complex, multi-character narratives
  • Readers interested in family dynamics and individualism

4
American Literature Books: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy
Or the Evening Redness in the West
4.6 (8 ratings)
Listen to the Intro
00:00

What's Blood Meridian about?

Blood Meridian (1985) tells the gripping tale of “the kid,” a runaway teenager who falls in with several gangs of violent filibusters following the Mexican-American War. Inspired by historical events, the story follows the outlaws as they cut a bloody swath through the desert wilderness, murdering Mexicans, Native Americans, and fellow men alike.

Who should read Blood Meridian?

  • People interested in the history and mythology of the American West
  • Fans of Westerns, curious about a gripping tale that subverts the genre
  • Anyone who appreciates a visceral and intense story

5
American Literature Books: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James
3.5 (2 ratings)
Listen to the Intro
00:00

What's The Portrait of a Lady about?

The Portrait of a Lady (1881) represents a highpoint in the literary career of Henry James, one of the most accomplished novelists in the English language. It tells the story of Isabel Archer, a beautiful and spirited American brought to Europe by a wealthy aunt. Defying social expectations, she turns down two marriage proposals in order to pursue a journey of self-discovery. Her love of liberty, however, leads her into a trap of her own devising: a union with the outwardly charming yet manipulative Gilbert Osmond.

Who should read The Portrait of a Lady?

  • Fans of classic literature 
  • Readers interested in themes of identity and freedom
  • Anyone who loves nuanced storytelling 

6
American Literature Books: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

What's For Whom the Bell Tolls about?

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel by Ernest Hemingway that takes place during the Spanish Civil War. It follows the story of an American protagonist, Robert Jordan, who is fighting for the Republican side. The book explores themes of love, honor, and the futility of war, and is known for its powerful and evocative writing style.

Who should read For Whom the Bell Tolls?

  • Readers who enjoy immersive and intense war narratives
  • Those interested in exploring the complexities of human nature and morality during wartime
  • Individuals who appreciate Hemingway's distinct writing style and impactful storytelling

7
American Literature Books: The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl

John Steinbeck

What's The Pearl about?

The Pearl by John Steinbeck tells the story of a poor Mexican diver named Kino who discovers a valuable pearl. Believing it will bring his family a better life, Kino soon finds himself in a desperate struggle against greed, envy, and violence. The novella explores themes of wealth, power, and the corrupting influence of material possessions.

Who should read The Pearl?

  • Those interested in exploring themes of wealth and its corrupting influence
  • Readers who enjoy literary works with rich symbolism and social commentary
  • People looking for a thought-provoking and emotionally engaging narrative

8
American Literature Books: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Andrew Bujalski

Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes, Andrew Bujalski

What's Flowers for Algernon about?

Flowers for Algernon is a thought-provoking novel by Daniel Keyes that delves into the complexities of human intelligence and the impact of societal expectations. Through the eyes of Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who undergoes a groundbreaking experiment to increase his intelligence, the book explores themes of identity, empathy, and the ethical implications of scientific advancement. It is a poignant and unforgettable story that challenges our perceptions of what it means to be truly intelligent.

Who should read Flowers for Algernon?

  • Curious individuals seeking to explore the complexities of human intelligence and consciousness
  • Those interested in thought-provoking narratives that challenge perceptions and societal norms
  • Readers who enjoy emotionally impactful stories that provoke introspection and empathy

9
American Literature Books: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Christopher A. Hubert

The Color Purple

Alice Walker, Christopher A. Hubert

What's The Color Purple about?

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a powerful novel that explores the lives of African American women in the early 20th century. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Celie, the book delves into themes of racism, sexism, and the power of female relationships. It is a poignant and thought-provoking read that has left a lasting impact on its readers.

Who should read The Color Purple?

  • Readers who enjoy thought-provoking and emotionally impactful stories
  • Individuals interested in exploring themes of race, gender, and resilience
  • Those looking to expand their understanding of the African American experience

10
American Literature Books: The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Paper Mill Press

The Call of the Wild

Jack London, Paper Mill Press

What's The Call of the Wild about?

The Call of the Wild is a classic novel by Jack London that tells the story of Buck, a domestic dog who is stolen from his home and sold into the brutal life of an Alaskan sled dog. As Buck adapts to the harsh wilderness and learns to trust his instincts, he undergoes a transformation that brings out his primal nature. This gripping tale explores themes of survival, loyalty, and the untamed spirit of the wild.

Who should read The Call of the Wild?

  • Readers who enjoy adventure stories and tales of survival
  • Those with a love for nature and the great outdoors
  • Animal lovers who appreciate stories that explore the bond between humans and their animal companions

11
American Literature Books: Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

Franny and Zooey

J. D. Salinger

What's Franny and Zooey about?

Franny and Zooey is a thought-provoking novel by J.D. Salinger that delves into the complexities of family, spirituality, and the search for meaning in life. Through the stories of the two siblings, Franny and Zooey, the book explores existential questions and the struggle to find authenticity in a world filled with superficiality.

Who should read Franny and Zooey?

  • Readers who enjoy thought-provoking and introspective stories
  • Those interested in exploring themes of spirituality, personal identity, and existentialism
  • People who appreciate complex and well-developed characters

12

What's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn about?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an iconic coming-of-age novel by Betty Smith. Set in early 20th century Brooklyn, it follows the life of young Francie Nolan as she navigates poverty, family dynamics, and her own dreams for the future. With beautifully crafted characters and a poignant storytelling style, the book explores themes of resilience, hope, and the power of education.

Who should read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

  • Anyone who enjoys coming-of-age stories with strong female protagonists
  • Readers who are interested in exploring the challenges and triumphs of growing up in a working-class neighborhood
  • Individuals who appreciate rich, vivid descriptions of the human experience

13
American Literature Books: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road

Jack Kerouac

What's On the Road about?

On the Road (1957) is a novel by Jack Kerouac that follows the journey of two friends as they travel across the United States. Fueled by a sense of freedom and a desire for new experiences, the book captures the spirit of the Beat Generation and explores themes of self-discovery, rebellion, and the search for meaning in life.

Who should read On the Road?

  • Individuals with a desire for adventure and exploration
  • Readers who enjoy stories about personal journeys and self-discovery
  • People who are drawn to the counterculture movement of the 1950s and 1960s

14
American Literature Books: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

What's Invisible Man about?

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison tells the story of a nameless African American man who navigates through a world where he feels unseen and unheard. The novel explores themes of identity, race, and societal expectations, offering a powerful commentary on the realities of life for black Americans in the early 20th century.

Who should read Invisible Man?

  • Readers who enjoy thought-provoking and introspective narratives
  • Individuals interested in exploring themes of identity, race, and social invisibility
  • Those who appreciate rich and symbolic storytelling

15
American Literature Books: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, George Eliot

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton, George Eliot

What's The Age of Innocence about?

'The Age of Innocence' is a classic novel by Edith Wharton that explores the complexities of social conventions and the consequences of defying them. Set in New York City in the 1870s, it tells the story of Newland Archer, a young man engaged to a respectable woman but drawn to her unconventional cousin. Touching on themes of love, duty, and societal expectations, the novel offers a poignant portrayal of the struggle between personal desire and societal conformity.

Who should read The Age of Innocence?

  • Readers who enjoy classic literature and exploring social norms
  • Individuals interested in the complexities of love and relationships
  • Those who appreciate rich and descriptive writing that captures the essence of a bygone era

16
American Literature Books: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening

Kate Chopin

What's The Awakening about?

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a poignant novel that delves into the inner thoughts and desires of its protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Set in the late 19th century, it challenges societal norms and explores themes of freedom, self-discovery, and the search for identity. As Edna awakens to her own needs and aspirations, the novel prompts readers to question the constraints placed upon women during that time.

Who should read The Awakening?

  • Readers who enjoy thought-provoking literature that explores complex themes
  • Individuals interested in feminist literature and women's issues
  • Those who appreciate evocative and lyrical writing style

17
American Literature Books: Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tender Is the Night

F. Scott Fitzgerald

What's Tender Is the Night about?

Tender Is the Night is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that delves into the complexities of love, marriage, and mental illness. Set in the 1920s on the French Riviera, it follows the lives of a wealthy American couple and the impact of their deteriorating relationship on those around them. Through beautiful prose and intricate storytelling, Fitzgerald explores the dark side of the American Dream.

Who should read Tender Is the Night?

  • Readers who enjoy character-driven and emotionally complex narratives
  • Those interested in exploring the glamour and turmoil of the Jazz Age
  • People who appreciate beautiful prose and lyrical writing style

18
American Literature Books: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

What's Cat's Cradle about?

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a thought-provoking novel that explores themes of science, religion, and the destructive potential of humankind. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story follows a writer who becomes entangled in a complex web of lies surrounding the creation of a deadly substance called Ice-nine. With Vonnegut's signature dark humor and sharp wit, the book challenges our beliefs and raises important questions about the consequences of our actions.

Who should read Cat's Cradle?

  • Readers who enjoy satirical and thought-provoking storytelling
  • Individuals interested in exploring themes of science, religion, and human nature
  • Those who appreciate unconventional narrative structures and dark humor

19

What's All the Light We Cannot See about?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a captivating novel set during World War II. It tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths eventually cross as they navigate the chaos and destruction of the war. Filled with beautiful prose and intricate storytelling, the book explores themes of survival, humanity, and the power of connection.

Who should read All the Light We Cannot See?

  • Readers who enjoy historical fiction, particularly World War II settings
  • Those looking for a beautifully written and emotionally engaging story
  • People who appreciate unique narrative structures and perspectives

20
American Literature Books: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson

What's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas about?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) is a wild ride through the drug-fueled counterculture of the 1960s. Written by Hunter S. Thompson, this semi-autobiographical novel follows the journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they embark on a drug-addled trip to Las Vegas. With Thompson's unique blend of satire and surrealism, the book explores themes of disillusionment, escapism, and the American Dream.

Who should read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

  • Readers who enjoy unconventional and edgy narratives
  • Those curious about the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s
  • People interested in exploring the darker side of the American Dream

21
American Literature Books: Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger

Nine Stories

J. D. Salinger

What's Nine Stories about?

Nine Stories is a collection of short stories by J.D. Salinger that delves into the complexities of human relationships and the struggles faced by individuals in their pursuit of authenticity. Each story offers a unique perspective and leaves a lasting impact on the reader, making it a timeless classic.

Who should read Nine Stories?

  • Readers who enjoy short stories with deep, thought-provoking themes
  • Those who appreciate complex and well-developed characters
  • People who are interested in exploring the human condition and the complexities of life

22
American Literature Books: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt

Jeanine Cummins

What's American Dirt about?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a gripping novel that tells the story of a mother and son fleeing drug cartel violence in Mexico and seeking asylum in the United States. It offers a powerful and emotional portrayal of the hardships faced by migrants and the lengths they will go to in search of safety and a better life.

Who should read American Dirt?

  • Anyone interested in a thought-provoking exploration of immigration and the American dream
  • Readers who appreciate compelling and emotionally impactful storytelling
  • Individuals looking to gain empathy and understanding for the struggles faced by migrants

23
American Literature Books: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides

What's Middlesex about?

Middlesex is a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides that tells the story of Calliope Stephanides, a hermaphrodite who grows up in Detroit. The book explores themes of identity, family, and the immigrant experience, as Calliope navigates her unique journey towards self-discovery and acceptance.

Who should read Middlesex?

  • Readers who enjoy multi-generational family sagas
  • Individuals interested in exploring themes of identity and gender
  • Those who appreciate richly detailed and thought-provoking storytelling

24
American Literature Books: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Friederike Poziemski

Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov, Friederike Poziemski

What's Lolita about?

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov that delves into the controversial and taboo topic of a middle-aged man's obsession with a twelve-year-old girl. Through beautiful prose and intricate storytelling, Nabokov challenges the reader to confront their own moral boundaries and raises questions about the nature of love, desire, and the power dynamics in relationships.

Who should read Lolita?

  • Readers with a strong stomach for controversial and challenging subject matter
  • People interested in exploring the complexities of human nature and obsession
  • Those who appreciate masterful and thought-provoking storytelling

25
American Literature Books: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy

What's No Country for Old Men about?

No Country for Old Men is a thrilling novel by Cormac McCarthy that takes place in the desolate landscape of West Texas. When a man stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and a case full of money, he sets off a chain of events that leads to relentless pursuit by a ruthless killer. Filled with tension and moral dilemmas, this book delves into the darkness of human nature and the unpredictable consequences of our actions.

Who should read No Country for Old Men?

  • Readers who enjoy literary fiction with a dark and philosophical edge
  • Those interested in exploring the complexities of human nature, morality, and fate
  • People who appreciate unconventional storytelling and thought-provoking narratives

26
American Literature Books: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Kim Michele Richardson

What's The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek about?

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is a powerful historical fiction novel that tells the story of Cussy Mary, a pack horse librarian in 1930s Kentucky. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the harsh realities of rural Appalachia, the book explores themes of literacy, prejudice, and the strength of the human spirit. It shines a light on a little-known piece of history and celebrates the importance of books and the people who bring them to others.

Who should read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek?

  • Readers who enjoy historical fiction set in the 1930s
  • Those interested in stories about strong, independent women breaking societal norms
  • People who appreciate books that shed light on lesser-known historical events and social issues

What's The Perks of Being a Wallflower about?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is a poignant coming-of-age story that follows Charlie, a shy and introspective teenager. Through a series of letters, Charlie shares his experiences as he navigates high school, friendship, love, and loss. The book delves into themes of mental health, identity, and the complexities of growing up.

Who should read The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

  • Teenagers and young adults navigating the ups and downs of adolescence
  • Individuals who appreciate introspective and emotionally resonant storytelling
  • Readers who enjoy coming-of-age narratives with complex and relatable characters

28
American Literature Books: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian

Andy Weir

What's The Martian about?

The Martian by Andy Weir follows astronaut Mark Watney, who is mistakenly left behind on Mars after a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate. With limited supplies and ingenuity, Watney must find a way to survive on the desolate planet while NASA works tirelessly to bring him home. A thrilling tale of resilience, problem-solving, and the power of the human spirit.

Who should read The Martian?

  • Science enthusiasts and those curious about space exploration
  • Readers who enjoy a mix of humor and gripping survival stories
  • Individuals who appreciate detailed and realistic scientific explanations

29
American Literature Books: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, Robert C. Evans

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway, Robert C. Evans

What's The Old Man and the Sea about?

The Old Man and the Sea, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Ernest Hemingway tells the story of an aging Cuban fisherman named Santiago, who struggles with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream. Filled with themes of struggle, resilience, and the nature of mankind, it is a timeless classic that explores the relationship between man and the natural world.

Who should read The Old Man and the Sea?

  • Readers who enjoy literary classics and timeless stories
  • Those interested in themes of perseverance, resilience, and the human spirit
  • People who appreciate insightful exploration of the relationship between man and nature

30
American Literature Books: The Fault in Our Stars by Nicola Winstanley, John Green

The Fault in Our Stars

Nicola Winstanley, John Green

What's The Fault in Our Stars about?

The Fault in Our Stars is actually written by John Green and tells the story of two teenagers, Hazel and Gus, who meet at a cancer support group. As they bond over their favorite books and share their fears and dreams, they embark on a journey that challenges their perspectives on life and love. It is a poignant and beautifully written novel that explores the complexities of living with illness and the power of human connection.

Who should read The Fault in Our Stars?

  • Readers who enjoy emotionally impactful and thought-provoking stories
  • Those who appreciate authentic and relatable characters
  • Anyone interested in exploring themes of love, loss, and the meaning of life

31
American Literature Books: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row

John Steinbeck

What's Cannery Row about?

Cannery Row (1945) is a novel by John Steinbeck that takes place in a rundown area of Monterey, California during the Great Depression. It tells the story of a group of colorful characters who live and work in the area, focusing on their everyday lives and relationships. Through Steinbeck's vivid descriptions and poignant storytelling, the book explores themes of friendship, community, and the human spirit.

Who should read Cannery Row?

  • Readers who enjoy character-driven stories and vividly drawn settings
  • Those interested in exploring the lives and struggles of ordinary people
  • Individuals who appreciate a mix of humor and poignant observations about human nature

32

What's The Things They Carried about?

The Things They Carried is a powerful book by Tim O'Brien that tells the story of a group of soldiers during the Vietnam War. Blurring the line between fiction and memoir, it delves into the emotional and psychological weight that soldiers carry with them. Through gripping storytelling, O'Brien takes readers on a journey that examines the realities of war and the burden of memory.

Who should read The Things They Carried?

  • Readers who are interested in the emotional and psychological experiences of soldiers during the Vietnam War
  • Those who enjoy thought-provoking narratives that blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction
  • People who appreciate introspective and reflective storytelling

33
American Literature Books: The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining

Stephen King

What's The Shining about?

The Shining is a gripping novel by Stephen King that tells the story of the Torrance family, who move into the isolated Overlook Hotel for the winter. As the hotel becomes snowbound, terrifying supernatural forces start to take hold, driving the father, Jack, to madness and putting his wife and son in grave danger. This chilling tale explores themes of isolation, addiction, and the power of the supernatural.

Who should read The Shining?

  • Readers who enjoy psychological horror and supernatural phenomena
  • Fans of Stephen King's writing style and storytelling ability
  • Those interested in exploring themes of family dysfunction and the human psyche

34
American Literature Books: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha

Arthur Golden

What's Memoirs of a Geisha about?

Memoirs of a Geisha is a captivating novel that delves into the hidden world of 1930s Kyoto, Japan. Written by Arthur Golden, it tells the story of a young girl named Chiyo who is sold into the life of a geisha. From her training to her eventual rise as one of the most renowned geishas of her time, the book offers a fascinating glimpse into the customs, traditions, and sacrifices of the geisha culture.

Who should read Memoirs of a Geisha?

  • Anyone interested in Japanese culture and tradition
  • Readers who enjoy immersive and descriptive storytelling
  • Individuals curious about the hidden world of geishas and their experiences

35
American Literature Books: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuk

What's Fight Club about?

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk delves into the disillusionment and frustration of the modern man. Through the story of an unnamed protagonist and his alter ego, Tyler Durden, the book explores themes of consumerism, identity, and the desire to break free from societal constraints. It challenges the norms of society and encourages readers to question their own beliefs and values.

Who should read Fight Club?

  • Readers who enjoy dark and subversive narratives
  • Individuals interested in exploring themes of consumerism and societal alienation
  • Those who appreciate unconventional storytelling and non-linear narratives

Related Topics

American Literature Books
 FAQs 

What's the best American Literature book to read?

While choosing just one book about a topic is always tough, many people regard Fahrenheit 451 as the ultimate read on American Literature.

What are the Top 10 American Literature books?

Blinkist curators have picked the following:
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Andrew Bujalski
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Christopher A. Hubert
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Paper Mill Press

Who are the top American Literature book authors?

When it comes to American Literature, these are the authors who stand out as some of the most influential:
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • William Faulkner
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Henry James