Top 10 Political Novels

After mentioning to a friend and co-worker that I’ve been working on a political novel for more than a year now, he asked about my own tastes in the genre, resulting in an extended conversation/argument. And given the prevalence of Top 10 lists on the Internet, I figured one more wouldn’t hurt, so I’ll recount them here.

From Big Brother to Willie Stark, here are my picks for the Top 10 Political Novels of the Past 100 years:


1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

One wonders how Orwell’s classic will age, as it’s become a subject of passionate debate between those who find it dated, melodramatic and politically flawed, and those—including me—who think those people have simply been fortunate enough to put a comfortable distance between themselves and the very real horrors of Stalinism.

2. The Plague by Albert Camus

More aptly termed a philosophical work, perhaps, Camus’ existential novel explores the human condition stressed to its limits by the horrors of a plague. Stark and unflinching, it masterfully blends cold reality with an almost Kafka-esque sense of detachment.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Huxley’s dystopian vision differs greatly from Orwell’s in many ways, not the least of which is its satirical tone. Nevertheless, it packs a punch of near-equal force in its warning against the effects of totalitarianism on free thought and expression.

4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ellison’s exploration of Black identity and its extension into the political landscape of the 20th century resonates not only in what it says, but how it says it. Its experimental style resulted in one of the true triumphs of modern symbolism.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Accessible, often funny and politically poignant, Harper Lee’s Southern Gothic masterpiece on racial injustice is, thankfully, still a mainstay on school reading lists, despite censorship attempts by PC do-gooders.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another dystopian classic, but one that presents a chilling vision of a future in which women are brutally subjugated. And, sadly, another novel that enriches and provokes young minds, yet is constantly under threat of censorship for its sexual content and anti-religious sentiment.

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Regardless of how Nineteen Eighty-Four might fare in the decades and centuries to come, there can be little doubt that Orwell’s wonderfully constructed allegory (though also a protest against Stalinism) will almost certainly continue to be read and studied. Satirical and frightening at once, Animal Farm’s success lies in its penetration of human nature and the baseness from which oppression flows.

8. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Taking place in a single day in a Soviet labor camp, this disturbing work is a severe example of “writing what you know”. Having been imprisoned in one of Stalin’s camps for eight years, Solzhenitsyn knew firsthand the cruelty of the powerful imposed on the powerless, and it ranks among the top works of sheer courage in literary history.

9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Another great work of satire and perhaps the most pointed anti-war novel in 20th century American literature, Catch-22 is sometimes frustrating in its multiple points of view, its delayed interconnections and its jumbled sequence. Nevertheless, the reader bold enough to see it through is more than rewarded for the effort.

10. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

A sentimental choice, of sorts. Growing up in Louisiana, it was all but impossible to escape the considerable shadow of Huey P. Long, a man who damn near singlehandedly dragged the state into the 20th century. While Warren’s Willie Stark is only loosely based on the famous governor, his portrayal as a walking contradiction, part megalomaniac and part populist, rings true for anyone who paid attention to politics in Deep South.

8 Responses to “Top 10 Political Novels”

  1. Jamie Mason Says:

    Great list, although I’ve read too few of these. 1984, Catch-22, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Handmaid’s Tale are among my favorite books of all time.

    I can’t believe I’ve never read Animal Farm.

  2. rmccreery Says:

    The Plague is brilliant. Horrifying, but brilliant. Then again, I had a hard time with The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Jamie, while you’re reading Animal Farm, I’ll read To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, yes, I know.

    rmccreerys last blog post..Political Poetry Corner: "Primary Colors"

  3. Terrie Says:

    _The Plague_ just arrived at my door yesterday. I can’t wait to dig in. _One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch_ sounds fascinating too.

    While Jamie’s reading _Animal Farm_ and Rob is reading _To Kill a Mockingbird_ I’ll pick up _Catch 22_. It’s on my shelf, really!

    Terries last blog post..My Own Personal Ghost Detector

  4. William Haskins Says:

    you can’t go wrong with camus.

    thanks for stopping by.

  5. Sara Says:

    Camus is among my favorites. Excellent list. And now, when can I get my hands on your book, Will?

  6. Buffy Says:

    I’m always amazed at Mockingbird. How such simple words could have such a huge effect.

  7. Stop US Wars » Blog Archive » Top 10 Political Novels Says:

    [...] brideofthebookgod wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptAnother great work of satire and perhaps the most pointed anti-war novel in 20th century American literature, Catch-22 is sometimes frustrating in its multiple points of view, its delayed interconnections and its jumbled sequence. … [...]

  8. carol Says:

    I read Catch-22 at 13 when I found it on my dad’s bookshelf (my dad didn’t have many books with words in them.) It was challenging and it was summer so I wasn’t up to the work of it. I think I may have to pick it up again, now that my brains have congealed. (Since I’m over 40, I can say that out loud.) It’ll be good stretch for the workout that’s coming in William’s novel. Oh yeah.

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