Most Famous Authors of all Time

For this selection we are looking at the world’s top 55 Most Famous Authors of all Time whose seminal work affected the world in some level. They are ranked in chronological order so it is easier to keep up.

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Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was an Early Modern Spanish writer widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world’s preeminent novelists. He is best known for his novel Don Quixote, a work often cited as both the first modern novel of world literature“.

Related: A Brief History Of Literature

The character of Quixote became an archetype, and the word quixotic, used to mean the impractical pursuit of idealistic goals, entered common usage.

statue of don quixote in madrid spain. Most Famous Authors of all Time
Statue of Don Quixote in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Alex Does

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

One cannot talk of literary icons of English literature without mentioning William Shakespeare. No high-school literature class is complete without reading one of his works. His influence permeates our society, and it’s common to hear references to his plays often. It’s not just literature where he reigns supreme.

Shakespeare is known for his comedies, tragedies, and sonnets alike. Plays like Troilus and Cressida take inspiration from Hellenic sources, while others are more recent and based on Renaissance-era Venice and Elizabethan England. To read more about English literature click here!

Shakespeare is also noted for his rhythm and use of the iambic pentameter, but his most significant influence on English was his expression. He is famous for having coined new words and phrases that we still use, such as “wear my heart upon my sleeve” and “Be all and end-all.”

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen’s plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favorable social standing and economic security

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was an English novelist who wrote the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which is considered an early example of science fiction and one of her best-known works. She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)

Nationality: French

Known for: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers

Dumas is one of the most prominent French writers with his historical novels that tell of adventurous tales. Since the early 20th century, his works have been made into about 200 movies. His complete works total 100,000 pages and due to the level of success of his early works, he was able to be a full-time writer and dedicate himself solely to writing.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

Victor-Marie Hugo was a French Romantic writer and politician. During a literary career that spanned more than sixty years, he wrote in a variety of genres and forms. He is considered to be one of the greatest French writers of all time.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart

Poe was one of the premier writers during the Romantic Movement. His works are known for their mystery and grim themes, many of which include the death of one of the characters. He is credited with being the father of detective fiction as well as one of the early science fiction writers.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Nationality: English

Known for: Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol

Often referred to as the greatest novelist of Victorian times, Dickens had several works that were praised by critics and peers. His first recognized work was in 1836 with The Pickwick Papers. He helped popularize serial publications, which meant pieces of his work were published in magazines in installments.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

Nationality: American

Known for: Moby Dick

Known mainly for his work Moby Dick, Melville was virtually unsuccessful as an author and novelist. He had other small successes, such as Typee in 1845, which became a bestseller in London. He also published Omoo based on the success of his previous work. But his later years were not nearly as successful as his earlier ones.

Jules Verne (1828-1905)

Nationality: French-Algerian

Known for: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days

Verne was one of the leaders in the science fiction genre of literature. In fact, he is often referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction,” along with H.G. Wells. Many have called his works of exploration inspirational, including Jacques Cousteau, the astronauts on Apollo 8, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson

Often referred to as the “Father of American Literature,” Twain has contributed a great deal to the culture. His 1885 novel – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – is credited with being the “Great American Novel.” Twain served as a pilot on a riverboat along the Mississippi River for some time before becoming an author.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Nationality: Irish

Known for: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest

Wilde was known as one of London’s most prominent playwrights during the last decade of the 1800s. He had one novel published during his career – The Picture of Dorian Gray– along with several plays that were performed on stage. He also wrote several essays and shorter fiction pieces, including The Decay of Lying and The House of Pomegranates.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

Nationality: German

Known for: Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Demian

A recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946, Hesse’s novels typically had themes of exploring a person’s search for spirituality and self-knowledge. His first recognized novel was published in 1904 and it was entitled Peter Camenzind. His subsequent novels were popular in Germany and parts of Europe, but they did not become well-known in the United States until the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s.

Jack London (1876-1916)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, White Fang

As an advocate of ideals like socialism and unionization, London worked these themes into many of his works, including The Iron Heel and The People of the Abyss. He had more straightforward works that explored these themes, including essays like How I Became a Socialist and What Communities Lose by the Competitive System.

James Joyce (1882-1941)

Nationality: Irish

Known for: Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Joyce was innovative in some of the techniques he used and perfected in his writing, including the idea of stream of consciousness, referencing a character’s psychic reality, and exploring a character’s inner monologue. In his work Finnegans Wake, he discarded the tradition of having a conventional plot and he used free dream associations, obscure language, puns, and literary allusions throughout the book.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Though the play is not related to the author Virginia Woolf, it still is a pretty good testament to her relevance in the literary world.

Being a part of the avant-garde Bloomsbury group, she routinely pushed boundaries to what was considered morally palatable in turn-of-the-century Victorian times and its sensibilities. Many critics make the mistake of pigeonholing her as a ‘feminist’ writer. While she certainly was a feminist icon – routinely incorporating first-wave movement themes in her writing – she was much more than just a ‘women’s writer.’

She mastered the stream-of-consciousness writing style, often leading to an inner-monologue within her literary pieces, which many readers appreciate. While the generation before her focused on external details in their writings, Woolf was probably the pioneer of giving voice to introspection, though without the jargon, needless psycho-analysis, or any hint of the subconscious.

She formulated a new method of expression that emphasized what it is to know ourselves from within.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Nationality: German

Known for: The Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle

A great deal of Kafka’s writing focused on surreal situations that involved mental and physical brutality, conflicts between parents and children, fighting the maze of bureaucracy, and alienation. The term “Kafkaesque” has come to refer to situations that are reminiscent of his writings and ideas. Many of his works also include the theme of existentialism.

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)

Nationality: Portugese

Known for: The Book of Disquietude

Pessoa is often referred to as the greatest poet of the Portugese language. He wrote under several different pseudonyms, includnig albert Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos, and Ricardo Reis. In addition to his original works, Pessoa translated many English works into Portugese, including The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Poe’s “The Raven,” among others.

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

Nationality: American

Known for: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Carnegie made a name for himself in the writing world for publishing books about self-improvement and interpersonal skills. He began as a lecturer and became one of the most famous lecturers ever. He even sold out Carnegie Hall for some of his speaking engagements. Within 20 years of its first printing, his How to Win Friends and Influence People had sold more than five million copies.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

Nationality: English

Known for: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit

Credited with bringing the fantasy genre back into the mainstream, Tolkien is often referred to as the “father of modern fantasy literature.” He was ranked sixth on The Times’ list of 50 great British writers of the latter half of the 20th century in 2008. He died in 1973, but he made the Forbes 2009 list of top-earning celebrities at number five.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

Nationality: English

Known for: And Then There Were None, Witness for the Prosecution

As the author of more than 65 detective novels and more than a dozen short stories, Christie created popular characters like Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. In addition to detective novels, she also wrote The Mousetrap, which has been running continuously since 1952. It is the longest running play ever.

F Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Fitzgerald was part of the “Lost Generation” group of writers. This was a group that served in WWI and it also included T.S. Eliot, Waldo Pierce, Ernest Hemingway and others. The term referred to their feelings of emptiness due to the war. Fitzgerald’s work often exemplified this feeling as much of it centered on consumerism, greed, and alcohol to suppress or hide those negative feelings.

He is best known for his classic American novel The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses vivid imagery and metaphors to provide a visual picture of his characters and settings and incorporate deeper meaning beyond just physical appearance. Additionally, his sentence structure mirrors the characters and settings by consisting primarily of compound-complex sentences.

The rhetorical devices that Fitzgerald uses in the novel are alliteration, allusion, epizeuxis, hyperbole, imagery, metaphor and simile, oxymoron, and personification.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters

Lewis was a novelist, and essayist, who used his writings to explore ideas about religion and other themes. His The Chronicles of Narnia has been turned into a series of motion pictures. He also authored Space Trilogy, a science fiction work for adults, and The Pilgrim’s Regress, his first novel after converting to Christianity.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Ernest Hemingway remains one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century, and his books continue to sell year after year. In today’s world, where there is a focus on literary allusions, Hemingway’s work stands out through his emphasis on raw machismo and free from intellectual subtleties.

Hemingway started out as a journalist before becoming a novelist. His first job out of high school was being a reporter for The Kansas City Star. Before long, he left to go to Italy to enlist as an ambulance driver for World War I. His time serving in WWI and in the Spanish Civil War gave him inspiration for his novels. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.

He had a personal inkling for war, masculinity, and virility, drawing influence from his service in World War I. And his work represented precisely that. Ernest Hemingway’s writing reflects raw, unbridled masculinity, with a simple yet tersely descriptive style. And that is where his niche lies. His work still influences many genres, imbibing them with their stoic yet tense ‘in the moment’ feeling.

Hemingway’s work has the quality of transporting the viewer to the scene in question. He describes each setting as if the reader were there, letting them feel the tension, joy, opinion, and sense of urgency surrounding the scene.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden

The collection of Steinbeck’s work includes 16 novels, six books of non-fiction and five short stories. In 1962, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature to the dismay of many of his critics and literary analysts of the time. His most recognized work – The Grapes of Wrath – was published in 1939 and it won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

A set of four black cameras fixed on a pole used for surveillance. Cameras used for surveillance purposes in public spheres can be considered a breach of privacy
Surveillance cameras are a common feature in Orwell’s famous masterpiece ‘1984’ and the subjects of Oceania are always under the watch of Big Brother. The ever-pervasive camera that spies on you are a common trope in dystopian novels. (Source: Pixabay)

And if you’re taking a literature class, you’re bound to come across at least one of their works. One such example is George Orwell becoming the go-to authority when talking about totalitarianism. He has become the face of dystopian fiction, with the term ‘Orwellian’ being used to denote dystopia in modern prose.

Aside from his writing style creating the word ‘Orwellian,’ his work is relevant in the modern sociopolitical environment, where countries veer towards authoritarianism. Some literary critics would even go so far as to say no other piece of literature is more relevant to politics than Orwell’s masterpiece ‘1984.

It’s impossible to talk about authoritarianism, mass surveillance, state propaganda, and falsification of truth without referencing Orwell’s work. ‘Doublethink,’ ‘Thoughtcrime,’ ‘Newspeak,’ ‘Big Brother’ are terms inspired by his work and have entered modern parlance as signs of a dystopian future and state-sponsored totalitarianism.

While some thought 1984 was based on the Soviet Union, it still finds relevance today and for times to come as a warning against authoritarian narratives. Another one of his famous works is the satirical allegory – Animal Farm – talks of how revolutions can be hijacked and used by specific groups to seize power.

Dr. Seuss (1904-1991)

Nationality: American

Known for: Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Theodor Seuss Geisel, popularly known as Dr. Seuss, is known for his children’s picture books that he wrote and illustrated. He published 46 of them with some of the most imaginative rhymes and characters. In his early career, he was an illustrator for various businesses and organizations, including the U.S. Army.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

This Russian immigrant to the US made such an impact with her work and ideology that she is still relevant in American politics. And her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, is still so famous after all these years.

While many critics label her views as sheer, unbridled capitalism, not caring who gets crushed in the search for a capital gain, her philosophy still drives many top politicians, capitalists, and business people.

Her work Atlas Shrugged is a narrative for a dystopia that draws on libertarian fears of suffocating government control. It stresses individual needs over collective, which some would argue, gives way to an ‘every man for himself’ frenzy of selfishness and greed.

Yet her work remains relevant as ever. Her views inspired the age of capitalism, freedom, entrepreneurship, and ‘laissez-faire’ market economies at their best. At their worst, some would argue that they veer towards greed, get-rich schemes, and indifference to the poor, ignored, and underprivileged.

In a way, she can be viewed as touting Charles Darwin’s theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ in the economic and social sphere. Moreover, her philosophy of Objectivism is relevant to this day in America; it taps into the values of libertarianism and individualism.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)

Nationality: French-Algerian

Known for: The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Plague

As a philosopher/author, Camus worked many of his philosophical thoughts into his novels. In The Stranger, for instance, he explored the theme of existentialism as well as nihilism and stoicism through characters like Meursault and Masson. His novel The Plague discussed the human condition and the idea of destiny.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

Nationality: British

Known for: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach

Dahl has been referred to as a great children’s storyteller, though his books have a dark sense of humor and twist endings. He wrote many short stories for magazines, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, and Ladies Home Journal, just to name a few. He received three Edgar Awards for his original works.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

Nationality: Russian

Known for: The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science, I, Robot, Nightfall

Asimov has been called one of the most prolific writers in history with more than 500 books either written or edited by him. He is mainly recognized for his science fiction works, but he has written books on many different topics, including mysteries, William Shakespeare, the Bible, and more. There is also a literary award named after him.

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

Nationality: American

Known for: On the Road, Big Sur, The Sea is My Brother

The writings of Kerouac are eclectic in that they span a variety of topics, including Buddhism, poverty, promiscuous sex, drugs, and traveling. He was one of the pioneers of the Beat Generation and the hippie movement. He was heavily influenced by James Joyce and references his work many times in his own writings.

Maya Angelou (1928- 2014)

Nationality: American

Known for: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

With a total of seven autobiographies and several poetry works to her name, Angelou is one of the more successful African-American authors to date. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 and she was selected to read her poem – “On the Pulse of Morning” – at the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993.

Haruki Murakami (1929- )

Nationality: Japanese

Known for: Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Murakami is a Japanese writer who has won several awards for his work, including the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Franz Kafka Prize, and several others. His first novel was Hear the Wind Sing in 1979. Following that, he wrote and published a sequel to it entitled Pinball, 1973. Since then, he has had success with subsequent novels in his career.

Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Nationality: German

Known for: The Diary of Anne Frank

Frank was not a writer in the traditional sense, but her diary is one of the most recognized works of non-fiction in history. During the German occupation of Amsterdam, Frank was in hiding with other family members. However, the family was captured by German troops and taken to concentration camps where they died. Her diary was saved and published in 1947.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Bell Jar, Ariel

Plath had a short career with few publications to her name, but the works that she did have published were significant. Her work The Bell Jar was somewhat autobiographical and discussed her depression and other life events. She attempted suicide several times during her life and succeeded in 1963, after which she posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Rum Diary, Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Thompson spent several years working as a journalist, but he was not well-known until after he published his book about the year he spent riding with the Hell’s Angels. He was a leader in the counter-culture and he created a new style of journalism, which he entitled “Gonzo” journalism. In this style, the journalist gets involved in the story themselves and they become a central figure of it.

Anne Rice (1941-2021)

Anne Rice was an American author of gothic fiction, erotic literature, and Christian literature. She was best known for her series of novels The Vampire Chronicles. The first book became the subject of a film adaptation—Interview with the Vampire.

Stephen King (1947- )

Nationality: American

Known for: Carrie, The Shining, Salem’s Lot,The Dark Tower

With 50 novels published and almost 200 short stories, King is one of the more prolific authors of horror fiction today. He has received numerous awards for his work, including British Fantasy Society Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, and others. He also received the prestigious O. Henry Award for his short story, The Man in the Black Suit.

Paulo Coelho (1947- )

Nationality: Brazilian

Known for: The Alchemist

Coelho is one of the most popular authors in modern history. He had several moderately successful books published, but The Alchemist is one of the best-selling books of all time. It was published in 1987 and Coelho has followed up his success with a novel every couple years since then. He has published 30 books in total.

Salman Rushdie (1947- )

Nationality: British-Indian

Known for: The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children

Rushdie began his writing career working as a copywriter for ad agencies. While coming up with memorable slogans, he also wrote Midnight’s Children during his free time. published his first novel – Grimus – in 1975 and it became his first work to be published. He won the Booker Prize in 1981. In 1988, he published The Satanic Verse, which caused great controversy and death threats for Rushdie.

James Patterson (1947- )

Nationality: American

Known for: The Alex Cross Series, Daniel X

Following a career in advertising, Patterson dedicated himself to writing. However, he had several publications prior to leaving his advertising career. His first novel – The Thomas Berryman Number – was published in 1976. Since then, he has had more than 90 novels published and 19 of them have been consecutive bestsellers.

George R. R. Martin (1948- )

Nationality: American

Known for: A Song of Ice and Fire

His work – A Song of Ice and Fire – has been turned into a wildly popular TV series entitled Game of Thrones. In 2011, Time magazine named Martin one of the “most influential people in the world.” He has won several awards for his work, including the Hugo Award three times and the Locus Award six times.

Nora Roberts (1950- )

Nationality: American

Known for: Time and Again, “In Death” series

Roberts’ novels have spent a total of more than 860 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list as of 2011. For 176 of those weeks, her novels were at the top of the list at number one. She has written under the pseudonyms J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty. By 1996, she had 100 novels published and more than 200 by 2012.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

Nationality: English

Known for: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

As a humorist and a dramatist, Adams’ works were often made into radio shows and TV series. He wrote three stories for Doctor Who, which was a science fiction program that ran on the BBC. The series has since been updated and remade. Other books of Adams’ include The Meaning of Liff, Last Chance to See, and others.

Rick Riordan (1954- )

Nationality: American

Known for: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles

In addition to his works centered on mythology, such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Riordan has worked on other projects. He helped write the children’s novel series entitled The 39 Clues with other authors. One of the books in the series that he authored – The Maze of Bones – went to number one on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Neil Gaiman (1960- )

Nationality: English

Known for: The Graveyard Book, Stardust, Coraline, American Gods

Gaiman is the first author to have won the Carnegie medal and the Newbery medal for a single work – The Graveyard Book. He began his career in journalism and he worked for the British Fantasy Society. His first story was published in 1984. He went on to publish several books and become a graphic novelist.

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Nationality: American

Known for: The Pale King, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Infinite Jest

Wallace’s Infinite Jest was his second novel and his most recognized. Time magazine named it as one of the 100 best novels published between 1923 and 1925. Another one of his books – The Pale King – was published after his death and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Dan Brown (1962- )

Nationality: American

Known for: The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons

Brown has written two best-selling novels that been turned into major motion picture. In total, his novels have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide as of 2012. The themes for his novels typically include conspiracy combined with Christian motifs, making them rather controversial. He is in the top 20 best-selling authors of all time despite only having six books published.

Suzanne Collins (1962- )

Nationality: American

Known for: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Before becoming a successfully published author, Collins spent several years writing for children’s TV shows, including Oswald and Clarissa Explains it All, just to name a few. From there, she went on to write children’s books, including the series The Underland Chronicles, of which the first book in the series was number one on the NY Times bestseller list.

J.K. Rowling (1965-)

Like her or not, Ms. Rowling has a writing style that has led her to become one of our generation’s most recognizable authors. Her acclaimed Harry Potter series has been globally recognized for its imaginative world-building, impeccable prose, and the multitude of themes juxtaposed within the revered seven novels.

Many literary snobs would be quick to scoff at Harry Potter being spoken of in the same conversation as classics such as Animal Farm and the Ulysses. However, that won’t change the fact that this series is probably the most popular fictitious publication of our time. It has left its mark on popular culture, spawning movies, video games, theater plays, and a religiously dedicated fandom.

J.K Rowling stands out as a writer for her sheer ingenuity in having carved out an entirely alternate universe, complete with fictional creatures, such as goblins, centaurs, and soul-sucking dementors. What’s remarkable is that most of her characters are inspired by a literary tradition, such as the centaurs and Basilisk taking inspiration from Greek mythology and Voldemort’s snake Nagini taking its name from Indian folklore.

While Harry Potter may not feature in a literature class curriculum, J.K Rowling’s Potterverse has become an irrevocable part of pop-culture. It holds its own as a masterpiece in modern literature. J.K Rowling’s seven novels spawned a multi-media franchise of Harry Potter, which includes movies, video games, souvenirs, plays, and fan-fiction, collectively known as Potterverse.

Nicholas Sparks (1965- )

Nationality: American

Known for: The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember

With 18 published novels to his name, Sparks is one of the more prominent authors of today. Several of his novels have been turned into major motion pictures, including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook, which was published in 1996 and it was listed on the NY Times bestseller list within a week after its release. Column3

Stephenie Meyer (1973- )

Nationality: American

Known for: The Twilight Series

The Twilight series is one of the more successful series in modern history. In 2008 and 2009, Meyer was the bestselling wrier in the US with more than 45 million copies selling in those two years combined. Meyer ranked as one of the top 50 of the 100 most influential people of 2008 by Time magazine.

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