One Hundred Stories that Shaped the World?

The BBC has recently polled a number of experts to vote for the most influential stories of all time and have compiled the responses into a Top 100. I thought it would be fun to look through the list a) to see if I agree and b) to see how many I’ve read (highlighted in bold).

After an initial look, there’s quite a few novels that I’ve never heard of (The Epic of Gilgamesh? Water Margin?) but I feel like some of you clever lot will be far more au fait with the titles. I liked how many of the stories seem to be foreign and how varied the list was – I guess you can interpret the word “influential” in numerous different ways. One thing I did notice was the lack of religious texts. Surely the Bible, Qur’an etc. have been more influential than any other books? I’m not sure why some of the stories from the central texts haven’t been included. 

The BBC have said that this isn’t a definitive list but a starting point, aiming to spark conversation. This made me think about why some stories are still popular hundreds of years after they were written. How do they remain relevant? Is it because they have an overriding lesson to teach us? Is that what makes us select certain tales to pass along through the generations – does a story need to teach us something important to inspire people to pass the knowledge on? Or is there something innate in the act of storytelling that culturally binds us? Read the list and tell me what you think!

1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)

2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)

3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)

4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)

5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)

6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)

7. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615)

8. Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603)

9. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967)

10. The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)

11. Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1987)

12. The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri, 1308-1320)

13. Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare, 1597)

14. The Epic of Gilgamesh (author unknown, circa 22nd-10th Centuries BC)

15. Harry Potter Series (JK Rowling, 1997-2007)

16. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985)

17. Ulysses (James Joyce, 1922)

18. Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)

19. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)

20. Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert, 1856)

21. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guanzhong, 1321-1323)

22. Journey to the West (Wu Cheng’en, circa 1592)

23. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevksy, 1866)

24. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)

25. Water Margin (attributed to Shi Nai’an, 1589)

26. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1865-1867)

27. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960)

28. Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966)

29. Aesop’s Fables (Aesop, circa 620 to 560 BC)

30. Candide (Voltaire, 1759)

31. Medea (Euripides, 431 BC)

32. The Mahabharata (attributed to Vyasa, 4th Century BC)

33. King Lear (William Shakespeare, 1608)

34. The Tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu, before 1021)

35. The Sorrows of Young Werther (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1774)

36. The Trial (Franz Kafka, 1925)

37. Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust, 1913-1927)

38. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)

39. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison, 1952)

40. Moby-Dick (Herman Melville, 1851)

41. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston, 1937)

42. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)

43. The True Story of Ah Q (Lu Xun, 1921-1922)

44. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)

45. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy, 1873-1877)

46. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)

47. Monkey Grip (Helen Garner, 1977)

48. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)

49. Oedipus the King (Sophocles, 429 BC)

50. The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka, 1915)

51. The Oresteia (Aeschylus, 5th Century BC)

52. Cinderella (unknown author and date)

53. Howl (Allen Ginsberg, 1956)

54. Les Misérables (Victor Hugo, 1862)

55. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1871-1872)

56. Pedro Páramo (Juan Rulfo, 1955)

57. The Butterfly Lovers (folk story, various versions)

58. The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer, 1387)

59. The Panchatantra (attributed to Vishnu Sharma, circa 300 BC)

60. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, 1881)

61. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark, 1961)

62. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists (Robert Tressell, 1914)

63. Song of Lawino (Okot p’Bitek, 1966)

64. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing, 1962)

65. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie, 1981)

66. Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangarembga, 1988)

67. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)

68. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967)

69. The Ramayana (attributed to Valmiki, 11th Century BC)

70. Antigone (Sophocles, c 441 BC)

71. Dracula (Bram Stoker, 1897)

72. The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K Le Guin, 1969)

73. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens, 1843)

74. América (Raúl Otero Reiche, 1980)

75. Before the Law (Franz Kafka, 1915)

76. Children of Gebelawi (Naguib Mahfouz, 1967)

77. Il Canzoniere (Petrarch, 1374)

78. Kebra Nagast (various authors, 1322)

79. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott, 1868-1869)

80. Metamorphoses (Ovid, 8 AD)

81. Omeros (Derek Walcott, 1990)

82. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1962)

83. Orlando (Virginia Woolf, 1928)

84. Rainbow Serpent (Aboriginal Australian story cycle, date unknown)

85. Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates, 1961)

86. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe, 1719)

87. Song of Myself (Walt Whitman, 1855)

88. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1884)

89. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain, 1876)

90. The Aleph (Jorge Luis Borges, 1945)

91. The Eloquent Peasant (ancient Egyptian folk story, circa 2000 BC)

92. The Emperor’s New Clothes (Hans Christian Andersen, 1837)

93. The Jungle (Upton Sinclair, 1906)

94. The Khamriyyat (Abu Nuwas, late 8th-early 9th Century)

95. The Radetzky March (Joseph Roth, 1932)

96. The Raven (Edgar Allan Poe, 1845)

97. The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie, 1988)

98. The Secret History (Donna Tartt, 1992)

99. The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats, 1962)

100. Toba Tek Singh (Saadat Hasan Manto, 1955)


Do you agree that these are the most influential books of all time? How many books from this list have you read? Why do you think they’re still influential today? Have you been personally influenced by any of them?  Let me know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “One Hundred Stories that Shaped the World?

  1. Oh yeah you’re right about religious texts. And I’ve read 41 and want to read a lot of the other ones on here, so I definitely think it’s a good list (at least one I want to use as a guideline for my tbr 😉 ) Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course you have 😉. I nearly mentioned you as someone who would definitely know at least half of these stories 😊. Seriously, I’m in awe of the stuff you read. I don’t know how you find the time.

      Liked by 1 person

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