11 Best 20th Century Authors You Must Read

If you are looking for the best 20th century authors, who are some of the biggest names you need to consider? Look at a few of the top names below.

The world of literature has expanded significantly during the past two centuries, with many of the biggest writers from the 18th century and 19th-century influencing writers in the 20th century. Regardless of whether you like short stories, works of nonfiction, or critical essays, there are a few fantastic authors that you need to consider. 

Please look at a few of the best authors from the 20th and 21st centuries whose work deserves to be part of your personal library.

Best 20th Century authors

1. Ernest Hemingway 1899 – 1961

Ernest Hemingway
via Wikipedia, Public Domain, Lloyd Arnold

Any discussion of the greatest writers of the twentieth century has to include Ernest Hemingway. He was widely considered one of the greatest writers of all time, and he published many books that are still read regularly.

He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and was involved in World War I, where he worked as an ambulance driver and was wounded in the line of duty.

After he came home, he worked as a journalist before becoming a novelist. Even though Ernest Hemingway has numerous great titles to his name, one book at the top of the list is titled A Farewell to Arms. This book was written based on Hemingway’s experiences serving in the First World War. You may also want to consider reading books such as The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Sun Also Rises. 

You can also purchase a copy of A Farewell to Arms for yourself off of Amazon. 

A Farewell to Arms: The Hemingway Library Edition
  • Scribner Book Company
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 360 Pages - 07/08/2014 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

2. J.D. Salinger, 1919 – 2010

J. D. Salinger
This image was taken by Lotte Jacobi and can be found in the bottom-left corner of the original dust jacket’s back cover through Wikipedia, Public Domain

J. D. Salinger is considered one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers and one of the greatest American authors of all time. He significantly pushed the boundaries of American literature. He wrote a variety of fantastic books during his time, but one of the greatest was The Catcher in the Rye. 

In this story, the main character lives in New York. He encounters many significant challenges along the way, but he also does a lot of growing up. This is a story that many people can relate to even to this day, as everyone encounters challenges during childhood.

You can order a copy of The Catcher in the Rye from Amazon.

The Catcher in the Rye
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • J.D. Salinger
  • First Little, Brown and Company mass market paperback edition
  • J.D. Salinger (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

3. John Steinbeck, 1902 – 1968

John Steinbeck
McFadden Publications, Inc.; no photographer given – from Photoplay, taken November 1939, from Wikipedia, Public Domain

Many people read works by John Steinbeck in school, and he remains an incredibly popular author. After finishing high school, he studied English literature at Stanford; however, he left without graduating. Even though he always wanted to be a writer, he had difficulty making ends meet. Working in a variety of jobs, he wrote in his spare time. He lived in New York City for a time but eventually decided to move back to California. 

His first novel was published in 1929 and was titled Cup of Gold. From there, he published dozens of books, with some of the most famous works of the 20th century having his name next to them. He landed on the New York Times Bestseller List more than once, and some of his most popular works, including East of Eden, The Pearl, Of Mice and Man, and Grapes of Wrath.

If you want to read East of Eden, you should visit Amazon. 

Sale
East of Eden, John Steinbeck Centennial Edition
  • East of Eden
  • John Steinbeck
  • Steinbeck, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 601 Pages - 08/17/2022 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

4. George Orwell, 1903 – 1950

George Orwell
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. It is a part of the public domain

Many people are interested in horror, dystopian, and science fiction works. George Orwell, widely seen as one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, certainly fits this description. He never had a shortage of anything to say on 20th-century society, and his commentary certainly shines through in some of his most famous works, 1984 and Animal Farm. 

Many of his novels are blatant criticisms of totalitarianism. He was a prominent supporter of a Democratic Socialist Society. Even if you read some of his works in high school, you may want to check them out again.

If you are interested in reading 1984, you may want to buy a copy from Amazon. 

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1984
  • George Orwell (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 328 Pages - 01/01/1961 (Publication Date) - Signet Classic (Publisher)

5. J. R. R. Tolkien, 1892 – 1973

J. R. R. Tolkien
This image is from an unknown author and was found on Wikipedia, Public Domain

Many people are familiar with the famous fantasy and science fiction works of J. R. R. Tolkien. He is best known as the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. 

Tolkien was born in South Africa but emigrated to Britain at a relatively young age. He spent most of his time working in England during the early and middle 20th century, and it was there that he let his imagination run wild. This gave birth to the modern fantasy genre that most people know and love.

Even if you already feel like you know The Lord of the Rings like the back of your hand, there is always more to offer if you step away from the screen and dive into the pages. You can even pick up a complete copy of the Lord of the Rings for yourself from Amazon.

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Lord Of The Rings Boxed Set
  • Hardcover Book
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Harper Collins (Publisher)

6. F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896 – 1940

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Unknown Photographer. This publicity photo was distributed through Fitzgerald’s publisher, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Another one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century is F. Scott Fitzgerald. Leaving though he died at a young age, he still had a tremendous impact on multiple writing genres. He had some unique life experiences that informed his works. Even though he was born into a relatively wealthy family, romance was never his strong suit. 

This shines through in many of his works, including This Side of Paradise. After writing this book, he eventually met the love of his life, moving with her to Paris in 1924. During this time, he published his wildly popular book, The Great Gatsby. The book received a lot of negative attention at first but has quickly become one of the most celebrated novels of all time. Two movie adaptations were filmed, the first starring Robert Redford and the second Leonardo DiCaprio.

Even though he passed away of a heart attack in 1940, his books are still wildly popular even to this day.

You can even read The Great Gatsby for yourself if you visit Amazon. 

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The Great Gatsby: The Original 1925 Edition (A F. Scott Fitzgerald Classic Novel)
  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 110 Pages - 04/27/2021 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

7. Virginia Woolf, 1882 – 1941

Virginia Woolf is one of the most popular female writers of all time. She had a unique writing style in that she wrote many of her works using a stream of consciousness. She simply let her thoughts move from her brain into her hand and onto the page. As a result, many of her works became central to the feminist movement of the early 20th century. In addition, she was a passionate advocate for human rights, and much of her impact can be felt to this day.

She has a long list of published works, but one of her most popular books is titled a Room of One’s Own. The book focused on a revolutionary idea that women deserve to have money, happiness, and property, all found in a room of their own. This is particularly critical to Virginia Woolf, who simply wanted to be a writer. 

If you want to explore these ideas for yourself, you may want to pick up a copy of A Room of One’s Own from Amazon.

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A Room of One's Own
  • Mariner Books
  • Woolf, Virginia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 12/27/1989 (Publication Date) - Mariner Books (Publisher)

8. Harper Lee, 1926 – 2016

Harper Lee
This portrait was taken by Truman Capote and was used in To Kill a Mockingbird. It was found on Wikipedia and is a part of the public domain

Harper Lee is a famous American essayist and novelist best-known for her marquee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has become one of the most popular novels in American literature.

She developed ideas for the book based on her observations of her neighbors, friends, and family members. The book focuses on an event that took place in 1936 when she was just 10 years old.

In addition to To Kill a Mockingbird, she published a sequel to the book, Go Set a Watchman, published in the mid-1950s. Many of her books deal with racism, civil rights issues, and other significant problems of the era. 

You can pick up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for yourself from Amazon. 

To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Gregory Peck
  • Atticus Finch
  • Scout
  • Boo Radley
  • Truman Capote

9. Dr. Seuss, 1904 – 1991 

Dr. Seuss
Al Ravenna – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ds.01037

There is no doubt that Dr. Seuss is one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. He is one of the most celebrated children’s authors of all time, and he wrote countless children’s books during his life. He was from Springfield, Massachusetts, and enjoyed a successful career as a cartoonist, poet, and animator. He is also known for writing books that have a lot of rhymes in them, making them easy to learn. As a result, many of his books are quoted in TV shows, movies, and other novels. 

One of his most famous books is The Cat in the Hat, and you can find it on Amazon. 

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The Cat in the Hat
  • A classic by Dr. Seuss
  • Easy to read, prefect for beginners
  • For ages 3-7
  • Written by Dr. Seuss in 1957
  • Hardcover Book

10. Toni Morrison, 1931 – 2019

Toni Morrison
This file was found on Wikimedia Commons. It is used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Toni Morrison is one of the most celebrated American authors, female authors, and African-American authors of all time. So naturally, therefore, it should come as no surprise that she is one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century.

Originally from Ohio, she studied English at Howard University. From there, she earned a master’s degree at Cornell University. She started her career as an English teacher but eventually left the teaching profession to become the first female African-American editor at publishing giant Random House.

In 1970, she published The Bluest Eye. This put her on the map, but her most famous work, Beloved, was published in 1987. This book would spend close to half of the year on the bestseller list, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. Toni Morrison has left her mark on this genre, and she continues to be one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century. 

If you want to see why Beloved has become one of the most celebrated works of all time, you can pick up a copy on Amazon.

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Beloved
  • Vintage
  • Toni Morrison (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 321 Pages - 06/08/2004 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

11. Beverly Cleary, 1916 – 2021

Beverly Cleary
Unknown author – Cleary Family, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Beverly Cleary was another of the most famous writers of the 20th century. She was an amazingly talented children’s book author, and her books have sold more than 91 million copies. She also had one of the longest literary careers, as her first work was published in 1950 and her final book in 2013.

She got many ideas for her stories simply by looking out of her window and observing children as they played. Even though she has countless famous works, her most popular character is certainly Ramona Geraldine Quimby. If you want to experience the adventures of Ramona, you can find the book series on Amazon.

Sale
The Complete 8-Book Ramona Collection: Beezus and Ramona, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona Forever, Ramona the Brave, Ramona the Pest, Ramona's World
  • HarperCollins
  • Cleary, Beverly (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1728 Pages - 10/13/2020 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

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