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Best Authors of All Time: Your Literary Legends

Julia McCoy
Tuesday, 9th Jan 2024
Julia McCoy
5 min read · Jan 11 2022
best authors of all time

Dive into the rich tapestry of literary genius as we embark on a journey to celebrate the best authors of all time.

These writers have not just shared stories; they’ve given us characters that feel like old friends and tales that resonate deep within our souls.

From classic prose architects to modern-day poets, these are rare talents whose narratives have become cornerstones of culture and inspiration.

We’ll explore literary legends like James Joyce, whose Ulysses revolutionized modern narrative, and Leo Tolstoy, who gave us Anna Karenina — a tale as much about internal struggle as it is about love lost. Their works aren’t just books on a shelf; they are mirrors reflecting every facet of being human.

Join me as we pay homage to the best authors of all time and discover why their voices still echo throughout time.

Table Of Contents:

20 Best Authors of All Time

Here are some of the best authors of all time, whose works have had a profound impact on literature:

1. Homer

Homer, the legendary figure shrouded in the mists of time, stands as a cornerstone of ancient Greek literature. Though his life remains a tapestry woven with myth and speculation, he is traditionally hailed as the author of two epic masterpieces: “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” These works have shaped not just literary tradition but also our understanding of Greek culture and history.

Believed to have lived around the 8th century BCE—though some scholars argue for an even earlier date—Homer’s existence itself is a subject of debate. Despite this uncertainty, his influence is undeniable; his epics tell tales of heroes, gods, and the human condition—a legacy that has endured through millennia.

His style—an amalgamation of rich imagery, profound themes, and complex characters—has set a benchmark for storytelling excellence. Homer’s contribution goes beyond entertainment; it provides insight into ancient societies while offering timeless wisdom on bravery, honor, and fate. His work continues to be studied passionately by academics while captivating readers around the globe who seek adventure within its verses.

2. William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, often hailed as the greatest playwright of all time, was an English bard whose name has become synonymous with literary excellence. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, he crafted a body of work that remains unparalleled for its insight into human nature and command of the English language.

Shakespeare’s plays — tragedies like “Hamlet” and “Othello,” comedies such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and histories including “Henry IV” — have transcended their Elizabethan origins to speak universally to audiences across ages. His sonnets too are celebrated for their beauty and emotional depth.

The Bard’s influence extends beyond literature; his works have enriched theatre, film, music, and popular culture globally. Over four centuries since he died in 1616, Shakespeare continues to be revered not only for his extraordinary storytelling but also for enriching our understanding of the complexities of love, power, betrayal—and indeed what it means to be human.

3. Jane Austen

Jane Austen, a literary icon of the 19th century, is best known for her sharp wit and keen observations of English society’s mannerisms. Born in 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, she lived during a period rich with classical literature yet managed to distinguish herself through her novels.

Austen’s work focuses on themes of love, marriage, and social standing — often conveyed through strong-willed heroines like Elizabeth Bennet from “Pride and Prejudice” or Elinor Dashwood from “Sense and Sensibility.”

Her narratives masterfully blend humor with critique; they not only entertain but also illuminate the subtleties of human relationships.

Though her life was relatively quiet — and her authorship discreet during her time — today Austen stands as an enduring figure whose novels continue to captivate readers worldwide. They remain beloved both for their timeless romance and their piercing commentary on societal norms. With just six completed works left behind after her untimely death in 1817 at age 41, Jane Austen has cemented an indelible legacy that endures beyond the Regency era into our contemporary hearts.

4. Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, the quintessential Victorian novelist, was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, England. His literary journey began amid personal hardships that deeply influenced his writing and fueled his passion for social reform. Dickens rose from a tumultuous childhood to become one of the most famous writers of his era.

His novels are rich with unforgettable characters and vivid portrayals of 19th-century London life. Works like “Oliver Twist,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “Great Expectations” showcase Dickens’s genius for combining compelling storytelling with incisive commentary on societal issues such as poverty, child labor, and injustice.

Dickens’s ability to blend humor with grim realism won him widespread acclaim during his lifetime. Today he is celebrated not just for entertaining readers but also for shining a light on the dark corners of society through his fiction.

With narratives imbued with humanity and hope despite their often bleak settings, Charles Dickens remains an enduring figure whose works continue to resonate due to their depth, empathy, and narrative mastery.

5. Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists, was born in 1828 into Russian nobility. His profound moral philosophy and search for life’s meaning are reflected in his major works: “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” These novels not only offer an expansive view of Russian society but also delve deeply into the human experience.

Tolstoy’s writing is characterized by intricate character development and detailed descriptions that capture both the grandeur of history and intimate moments of individual lives. The Russian novelist challenged readers to consider ethical dilemmas, societal norms, and personal happiness through complex narratives.

Beyond literature, Tolstoy became an influential spiritual leader later in life. His ideas on nonviolent resistance influenced figures like Mahatma Gandhi. Despite passing away in 1910 at age 82, Leo Tolstoy left behind a legacy that continues to provoke thought about how we live our lives—and why it matters—in readers around the globe.

6. Mark Twain

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, is a towering figure in American literature. Renowned for his razor-sharp wit and deep understanding of human nature, Twain’s works have become classics that encapsulate the essence of life along the Mississippi River during the 19th century.

Twain’s most celebrated novels, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and its sequel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” offer a blend of humor, social criticism, and vivid storytelling. These books not only provide entertainment but also tackle complex issues such as race relations and individual freedom.

His writing style — marked by colloquial language and an irreverent attitude towards authority — has earned him acclaim as the father of American literature. With a legacy that spans humorous lectures to poignant essays and novels filled with satire and adventure, Mark Twain has left an indelible mark on both literary history and our cultural consciousness.

7. Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group and an innovator in modernist literature, was born in 1882 into an intellectual family in London. Her work is celebrated for its narrative depth, lyrical prose, and exploration of the inner lives of her characters.

Woolf’s novels like “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To the Lighthouse,” and “Orlando” are known for their use of stream-of-consciousness as a narrative device to delve into consciousness and perception. Through her writing, she examines themes such as gender roles, mental illness, and the fabric of time — often drawing from her own experiences.

A pioneer for female authors at a time when women’s voices were often marginalized, Woolf also penned essays like “A Room of One’s Own,” advocating for both literary space and literal physical space that women need to write freely.

Despite facing personal struggles with mental health throughout her life which led to her untimely death by suicide in 1941 at age 59, Virginia Woolf remains a powerful influence on writers today. The innovative contributions of this pioneering English novelist continue to challenge readers’ perspectives on storytelling itself.

8. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, a Nobel Prize-winning author, was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. Known for his terse prose and adventurous life, Hemingway’s work is often characterized by its lean dialogue and understated style — a stark contrast to the ornate writing of his contemporaries.

Hemingway’s experiences as an ambulance driver during World War I heavily influenced classics such as “A Farewell to Arms.”

Other notable works include “The Sun Also Rises,” capturing the disillusionment of the post-war generation; and “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.

His love for adventure led him across continents — from Parisian cafes to African safaris — and into various occupations including bullfighting aficionado and deep-sea fisherman. These pursuits not only provided rich material for his stories but also cemented his public persona as a rugged individualist.

Despite facing personal battles with depression and injuries from plane crashes later in life which culminated in suicide in 1961 at age 61, Ernest Hemingway’s legacy endures through powerful narratives that capture human endurance amidst strife—forever shaping modern American literature.

9. Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen, born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, is renowned for his enchanting fairy tales that have ignited the imaginations of children and adults alike for generations. His humble beginnings as the son of a shoemaker and a washerwoman did not hint at the literary fame he would achieve.

Andersen’s collection of stories includes timeless classics such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” These narratives often weave themes of beauty found within, moral lessons learned through adversity, and reflections on societal norms — often with an undercurrent of poignant commentary hidden beneath their whimsical surface.

His ability to craft tales that appeal to universal emotions has made them beloved around the world. They’ve been translated into numerous languages and adapted into various forms — from ballets to films.

Despite never marrying or having children himself, Hans Christian Andersen became known as a storyteller for all ages before passing away in 1875. Today his legacy continues; each story serves as a reminder that even from simple roots can grow enduring branches reaching far into our collective folklore.

10. George Orwell

George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in British India, is revered as one of the most influential political writers of the 20th century. His stark prose and profound insights into social injustice and totalitarianism have made his works essential reading for those pondering the complexities of power, freedom, and human nature.

Orwell’s experiences during his time serving in Burma with the Indian Imperial Police shaped much of his worldview — a perspective that he poured into seminal works such as “Animal Farm” and “1984.” These novels stand as powerful critiques of oppressive totalitarian regimes, using allegory and dystopian futures to explore how language can be manipulated for control.

His essays like “Shooting an Elephant” reflect personal narratives that highlight broader societal issues. As a champion not just for clear writing but also for clear thinking about democracy’s fragility amidst rising authoritarianism — his work remains alarmingly relevant today.

Despite battling tuberculosis which ultimately claimed his life at age 46 in 1950, George Orwell left behind a legacy defined by fierce independence thought deeply committed to truth-telling — even when these truths are uncomfortable.

11. Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, an enigmatic figure in American poetry, was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Living much of her life in reclusive solitude, Dickinson’s genius lay mostly unrecognized during her lifetime. It is only posthumously that she has been acknowledged as one of the most important poets of the 19th century.

With over 1,800 poems to her name — many untitled and uniquely punctuated with dashes — Dickinson’s work is celebrated for its unconventional style and profound exploration of themes like death, immortality, nature, and the inner self.

Her concise yet dense verses often challenge readers to unpack layers of meaning within just a few lines. While Emily led a relatively isolated existence rarely leaving her family home; it’s through this quiet observation that she crafted richly textured reflections on life’s greatest mysteries.

This American novelist passed away at age 55 in 1886 but left behind a treasure trove discovered by her sister Lavinia which propelled Dickinson to literary fame — a recluse who spoke universal truths about human experience from within the walls of seclusion.

12. James Joyce

James Joyce, a titan of modernist literature, was born in 1882 in Dublin, Ireland. His work is renowned for its revolutionary use of stream-of-consciousness technique and intricate explorations of the human psyche.

Joyce’s early stories “Dubliners” paint a vivid portrait of life in his hometown with stark realism. But it is his later novels that cemented his reputation as an avant-garde writer: “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” charts the intellectual awakening of its protagonist; while “Ulysses,” mirrors Homer’s epic in a groundbreaking narrative set on an ordinary day in Dublin.

His final work, “Finnegans Wake,” known for its dense language and dream-like structure, pushes the boundaries even further — challenging readers to experience written text as a linguistic tapestry.

Despite facing censorship battles and struggling with health issues including deteriorating eyesight throughout his career, this Irish novelist’s legacy endures through profound innovations that have forever altered how we perceive storytelling.

13. T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot, an illustrious poet and playwright, was born in 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri. His sophisticated works reshaped the landscape of modern poetry with their complex allusions and innovative use of language.

Eliot’s move to England at age 25 marked a turning point in his career as he immersed himself in the London literary scene. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” introduced readers to his distinct voice — a blend of intellectual rigor and emotional depth — while “The Waste Land,” perhaps his most famous work, captured post-World War I disillusionment with its fragmented structure and thematic density.

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948 for his outstanding contribution to present-day poetry, Eliot also penned plays like “Murder in the Cathedral” which further showcased his versatility as a writer.

His influence extended beyond literature as he served as editor at Faber & Faber publishing house, influencing future generations through both words and deeds until passing away at age 76 in 1965.

T.S. Eliot remains a seminal figure whose poetic innovations continue challenging how we think about form, culture, and spirituality within art itself.

14. F Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is one of the most acclaimed American writers of the 20th century. His novels are emblematic of the Jazz Age — a term he coined himself — and reflect both the glamour and disillusionment of the Roaring Twenties.

His magnum opus “The Great Gatsby,” though not an immediate success upon its release in 1925, has since become a quintessential exploration of ambition, love, and betrayal against a backdrop of elusive American dreams.

Fitzgerald’s work often drew from his tumultuous marriage to Zelda Sayre and their glittering yet troubled life together within high society circles. While he achieved fame as a writer; financial struggles and health issues due to alcoholism plagued much of his later years.

Despite passing away at just age 44 in 1940 with several works left unfinished, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s legacy lives on through vivid storytelling that captures an era’s spirit while offering timeless insights into human nature amidst prosperity’s promises — and pitfalls.

15. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel García Márquez, affectionately known as Gabo throughout Latin America, was born in 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia. He is celebrated as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and a pioneer of magical realism — a genre that blends everyday reality with elements of fantasy.

His most famous novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo. The book not only won him international acclaim but also played a significant role in bringing Latin American literature to global prominence.

García Márquez’s rich tapestry of work includes other beloved novels such as “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “The Autumn of the Patriarch.” His stories weave together personal and political dimensions — often reflecting on power, love, and isolation within intricate narratives suffused with lyrical beauty.

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, his literary contributions are revered for their imaginative vigor and deep human sensitivity. Gabriel García Márquez’s enchanting prose continues to captivate readers around the world — a testament to the enduring magic of storytelling.

16. Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie, the undisputed queen of mystery, was born in 1890 in Torquay, England. Her prolific career spanned over six decades during which she penned 66 detective novels and numerous short stories that have enthralled readers with their clever plots and memorable characters.

Christie’s creation of iconic figures such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple has left a lasting impact on the genre. Her books like “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” are paragons of crime fiction that continue to puzzle and delight fans worldwide.

Her play “The Mousetrap,” which opened in London’s West End in 1952, holds the record for the longest initial run.

A true storyteller whose life included work as a pharmacy assistant — which gave valuable insight into poisons often featured in her tales — Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie was named the best-selling fiction writer of all time by the Guinness World Records, with her novels having sold more than 2 billion copies.

17. Stephen King

Stephen King, a titan of horror and suspense literature, was born in 1947 in Portland, Maine. His prolific output has earned him the moniker ‘The King of Horror,’ with over 60 novels to his name along with numerous short stories and novellas. With over 350 million copies sold, his books have been adapted into films, TV shows, comics, and miniseries.

King’s ability to tap into primal fears through books like “Carrie,” “The Shining,” and “IT” has not only garnered a massive readership but also critical acclaim for their psychological depth and supernatural elements. He deftly explores themes such as good vs evil, the trials of adolescence, and the darkness lurking within small-town America.

His work extends beyond traditional horror; titles such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand by Me” —adapted from his novellas — demonstrate his versatility across genres while resonating deeply with audiences.

A recipient of many awards such as the World Fantasy Award, Bram Stoker Award, British Fantasy Society Award, and Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Stephen King continues to captivate the imagination of fans around the world with his masterful storytelling that often blurs the line between reality and the otherworldly.

18. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, an American literary mastermind known for his macabre and gothic tales, was born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. His work has left a profound impact on the genres of horror and mystery.

Poe’s haunting narratives like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” along with melancholic poetry such as “The Raven,” showcase his unique ability to explore themes of death, madness, and despair.

His creation of detective fiction is marked by the character C. Auguste Dupin in stories like “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Struggling with personal loss and financial difficulties throughout much of his life, Poe’s experiences deeply influenced the somber tone that permeates his writing.

Long after his mysterious death at age 40 in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe remains a pivotal figure whose contributions continue to resonate within modern literature — inspiring countless adaptations that pay homage to the darkly poetic vision he brought to the world of storytelling.

19. Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, a literary virtuoso renowned for his linguistic prowess and richly layered narratives, was born in 1899 into an aristocratic family in Saint Petersburg, Russia. A multilingual master of prose, he gained international fame for his intricate novels that blend sly humor with deep psychological insight.

Nabokov’s most controversial and celebrated work “Lolita,” narrates the troubling obsession of Humbert Humbert with a young girl; it stands as a landmark exploration of unreliable narration and stylistic finesse. Lolita’s pedophilia theme continues to stir controversy to this day but remains undeniably impactful within literary circles.

Other notable works from Vladimir Nabokov include “Pale Fire” and “Speak, Memory,” showcasing his versatility from fiction to memoir.

20. Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, a towering figure in contemporary literature, was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Canada. Her prolific body of work spans poetry, fiction, and critical essays — each marked by sharp wit and keen observation of social and political issues.

Atwood’s speculative fiction has garnered particular acclaim for its prescience and depth. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” her dystopian novel that paints a chilling portrait of a totalitarian future where women are subjugated, is perhaps her most renowned work. It sparked widespread discussion upon its publication and continues to resonate with new generations, sparking debates about feminism and human rights.

A versatile writer whose themes range from gender empowerment to environmental concerns, Atwood’s ability to weave complex narratives while maintaining accessibility to readers has won her numerous awards including the Booker Prize and Arthur C. Clark Award. Showing no signs of slowing down, Margaret Atwood remains an influential voice within the global literary community — shaping conversations through storytelling to this day.

Inspired by your literary heroes? Check out these guides on how to start writing a book and how much money authors can make from writing a book.

FAQs – Best Authors of All Time

Who is considered the greatest author of all time?

Debate rages, but many nod to Shakespeare for his timeless influence on language and culture.

Who is the No 1 writer in the world?

This changes over time. Currently, it’s hard to pinpoint one with so many genres and styles.

Who is the #1 best-selling author?

J.K. Rowling holds tight to this title thanks to her Harry Potter series’ global success.

What is the greatest book ever written?

“Don Quixote” often grabs this honor for its profound impact on literature and storytelling craft.

Conclusion

Reflect on the stories that have shaped us. Remember, the best authors of all time offer more than just words —they offer windows into different worlds and lives.

Ponder Ulysses’ narrative feats; feel Anna Karenina’s heartbreak. Acknowledge the famous authors who’ve woven complex characters and plots to reveal truths about love, loss, and longing. Their writings aren’t just art; they’re parts of history that continue to inspire readers everywhere.

In summary, take these literary experiences with you. Let them inform your worldviews, enrich your conversations, and maybe even guide some choices along your path through life’s vast library.

Written by Julia McCoy

See more from Julia McCoy
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