Best American Authors of All-Time: 8 Most Famous Authors and Their Works

Are you curious about the best American authors of all time? Take a look at the list below, pick up a few extra books to add to your reading list.

America might not be one of the oldest countries, particularly when compared to England, but the United States has had its fair share of prolific authors over the years. Even though many American authors draw inspiration from their English counterparts, the United States is a country of immigrants. One of the unique facets of its literary history is the multiculturalism that shines through.

This is reflected in the numerous books that you can pick up and read for yourself. So, who are some of the best American authors of all time, and what are their works? With authors such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, there is no shortage of amazing authors to consider. 

Best American authors

1. Mark Twain, 1835 – 1910

Mark Twain - Wikipedia
A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain taken by A. F. Bradley in New York, 1907, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Without a doubt, one of the best American authors of all time is Mark Twain. Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Clemens, who had an interesting life during the 19th and early 20th century. During his life, he worked in the mines of Nevada, served in the Confederate Army, and piloted a steamboat on the river. His unique life experiences gave him a treasure trove of information with which he crafted countless works over the years. 

The first work that put marks playing on the map was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. He would go on to write a variety of bestsellers, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Prince of the Pauper. There is a reason why many people refer to him as the father of American literature

Consider picking up a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for yourself from Amazon.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (SeaWolf Press Illustrated Classic): First Edition Cover
  • Twain, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 358 Pages - 02/25/2021 (Publication Date) - SeaWolf Press (Publisher)

2. Ernest Hemingway, 1899 – 1961

Ernest Hemingway - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia, Public Domain, Lloyd Arnold –

Another prolific American author is Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway also let him interesting life during the beginning of the twentieth century. As a child, he was raised in Oak Park, Illinois. When World War 1 broke out, he served as an ambulance driver. He was wounded in the line of duty, forcing him to return home. After the war, he worked as a journalist for a few years. Then, he decided to become a novelist. 

The book that positioned Ernest Hemingway as a prolific novelist is The Sun Also Rises. While the bus did not receive amazing reviews at a time, it is widely considered to be an iconic piece of literature from the early 20th century. From there, Ernest Hemingway produced a number of works that are considered to be among the best books of all time. Some of his best-known works include A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the old man in the sea. Undoubtedly, Ernest Hemingway is one of the greatest American writers ever, and he has had a massive influence on 20th-century writing. 

Why not pick up 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)

3. Herman Melville, 1819 – 1891

Herman Melville - Wikipedia
Joseph Oriel Eaton – Houghton Library – Harvard University – Modern Books and Manuscripts, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Herman Melville is a poet, writer, and novelist of the 19th century. He was born in New York City to a merchant who did well for himself; however, after his father died in 1832, the family was in a dire financial situation. At the age of twenty, he got a job as a sailor on a merchant ship. He would spend much of his life chasing whales in the ocean. He spent a lot of time adventuring on the Marquesas Islands. His first book, Typee, was about the people he ran into on that island.

Herman Melville would go on to produce a number of other books during the course of his literary career. He published a variety of short fiction Works, including Bartleby the scrivener, but his Marquee work is Moby Dick, which he published in 1851. In the early 20th century, there was a significant Melville Revival, positioning him as one of the greatest American authors of all time. 

You can pick up a copy of Moby Dick for yourself off of Amazon.

Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
  • Penguin Books
  • Melville, Herman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 672 Pages - 10/27/2009 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896 – 1940

F. Scott Fitzgerald - Wikipedia
Joseph Oriel Eaton – Houghton Library – Harvard University – Modern Books and Manuscripts, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have had a short life, but he is still considered one of the greatest American authors of all time. He was born into an upper-class family but had a difficult time finding love. He used his struggles as inspiration for his work, publishing one of his greatest novels in 1920 at the age of 24, This Side of Paradise. It was this work that ultimately led to him marrying the love of his life.

Quickly, even his wife, Zelda Sayre, became a celebrity couple. In 1924, they moved to Paris. The following year, F. Scott Fitzgerald published his most popular work, The Great Gatsby. Even though the book received a lot of negative attention at the time, it is one of the greatest books ever.

Unfortunately, due to the negative criticism the book received, the couple descended into drinking and suffered from mental health issues. Because the family was having a hard time, they made the move to Hollywood and got a job as a scriptwriter. In 1940, he died of a heart attack; however, his work will never be forgotten.

You can read The Great Gatsby for yourself by picking up a copy off of Amazon.

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)

5. John Steinbeck, 1902 – 1968

John Steinbeck - Wikipedia

McFadden Publications, Inc.; no photographer credited – Photoplay, November 1939, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

John Steinbeck is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He always desired a career in literature, and he studied English literature at Stanford University; however, he never graduated. After leaving Stanford, he moved to New York City. He picks up a variety of jobs, trying to make it as a writer. Unfortunately, he was not able to publish any of his work, eventually returning to California.

He published his first novel, titled Cup of Gold, in 1929. He also achieved a significant amount of success in 1935, thanks to Tortilla Flat. He would go on to write 33 books in his career. Some of his most popular works include The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden. Many of his books have gone on to become classics in the world of Western literature. 

You can check out East of Eden for yourself, as it is available on Amazon.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck Centennial Edition
  • East of Eden
  • John Steinbeck
  • Steinbeck, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 601 Pages - 08/09/2022 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

6. Toni Morrison, 1931 – 2019

Toni Morrison - Wikipedia
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

Toni Morrison is one of the most popular contemporary American writers. She was born in Ohio and graduated from Howard University after studying English. She continued to earn a master’s degree at Cornell University. She took a job as an English teacher at Howard University and Texas Southern University.

She eventually left teaching and became the first African-American female editor at Random House, one of the largest publishing companies in the world. She published her first novel in 1970, The Bluest Eye; however, it was Song of Solomon, published in 1977, that made her a successful novelist. This work went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In 1987, Morris and published her most famous work, Beloved, which was a bestseller for 25 weeks. Her book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 and was eventually turned into a movie. Today, she is characterized as a prolific, influential, and visionary writer that has had an indelible influence on the future of American writing.

You can check out Beloved for yourself by picking up a copy on Amazon.

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

7. J. D. Salinger, 1919 – 2010

J. D. Salinger - Wikipedia
Photo by Lotte Jacobi, per a credit in the bottom-left corner of the original dust jacket’s back cover, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Jerome David Salinger, usually shortened to J. D. Salinger, is one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. He’s such a short amount of time studying at New York University and Columbia University; however, he devoted himself completely to writing with his work starting to show up in periodic publications in 1940. In 1942, he was drafted to serve in World War II. He saw combat overseas and was present at some of the biggest battles of the war, including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.

When he returned from the war, he picked up his career as a writer. His most famous work, The Catcher in the Rye, was an immediate success. It has been listed among some of the greatest books of the 20th century. Unfortunately, his success also brought him a lot of unwanted attention, forcing him to become a recluse. He continued to publish other works, including Seymour: An Introduction and Raise High in the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Today, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest American authors of all time.

Consider picking up a copy of The Catcher in the Rye for yourself from Amazon.

The Catcher in the Rye
  • Novel by J.D. Salinger, published in 1951. The influential and widely acclaimed story details the two days in the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after he has been expelled from prep school. Confused and disillusioned, he searches for truth and rails against the "phoniness" of the adult world. He ends up exhausted and emotionally ill, in a psychiatrist's office. After he recovers from his breakdown, Holden relates his experiences to the reader.
  • J. D. Salinger (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 01/30/2001 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)

8. Joseph Heller, 1923 – 1999

Joseph Heller - Wikipedia
Joseph Heller, Miami Bookfair International, 1986, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Joseph Heller was the son of Jewish immigrants who migrated to the United States from Russia. He graduated high school in 1941 and picked up a job as a clerk at a local Insurance Agency period when the United States joined World War Two, Heller enlisted in the Army as well. If word 60 combat missions as a bombardier and a B-25 Bomber. After the war finished, he returned to the United States, receiving an English degree from Columbia in 1949. He got a job as a teacher before he decided to begin writing.

He positioned himself among the race of American literature by publishing Catch 22. The except during World War II and has become one of the greatest literary works of all time. He went on to write six other novels which also sold well; however, none of his Future Works would perform as well as Catch 22. He also wrote an autobiography of his life as a soldier in World War 2 and as a writer after the war. Some of his other famous works include Closing Time and Something Happened. 

If you would like to check out Catch 22 for yourself, you can pick up a copy off of Amazon.

Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition
  • Simon Schuster
  • Heller, Joseph (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 544 Pages - 04/05/2011 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

Final Word on Best American Authors

These are just a few of the many amazing American authors who have contributed their talents to the history of Western literature. American works come from all periods of time, with many of them drawing on the personal experiences of their authors. Each generation of authors inspires the next, as American writers of all backgrounds share their works with the world.

Now, many of these works are readily available, so you can find them relatively quickly. If you are looking for a new book to read, consider checking out a few of the titles from the authors mentioned above. Then, don’t hesitate to read a few books by other authors as well. These books have the power to transport you to another place and time, creating a lasting impact on your life.

FAQs About Best American Authors

What is the best way to find some of the books by the greatest American authors of all time?

Now, many of these books are available online. Even though you can probably find a lot of them from your local bookstore, you can also find them easily on Amazon. Multiple editions are available, so you may want to take a look at the reviews to make sure people are happy with the quality of the book.

Are there any other authors I should consider reading? 

Yes, there are lots of amazing writers in American history. You may want to check out works by Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. You might also want to take a look at a few books that have been written by Henry James, such as The Portrait of a Lady.

How do I become a successful writer?

If you would like to become a successful writer, the best way is to start writing. Get all of your ideas on the page, and organize them later. Get feedback on your work from other people as well.

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