This list of 45 great popular novels excludes several major categories I’ve written about elsewhere. If you’re interested in those, go to 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up), Top 10 mystery and thriller series, or Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up). However, I have included a number of titles that can be described as humor or satire, even though I’ve also written separately about that genre. The other titles listed below include some that might be squeezed into one or another of these categories, but I find it more appropriate to regard them separately. I’ve listed these books in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names in two groups: first, the top 10; and then the other 33. In every case, to read the review, simply click on its headline to the right of the author’s name.
Included below are novels by some of my favorite writers: Christopher Buckley, Michael Chabon, Louise Erdrich, Timothy Hallinan, Robert Harris, Carl Hiaasen, Alexander McCall Smith, Gary Shteyngart, and Ross Thomas. In most cases, I’ve reviewed one or more additional novels by the same authors, often in different categories. To find those reviews, simply search this site for the writers’ names.
This post was updated on April 1, 2021.
The top 10 great popular novels reviewed here
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Race, without blinders on
They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley – Washington and Beijing get what they deserve in this satirical novel
The Round House by Louise Erdrich – Louise Erdrich’s haunting new novel of a brutal crime on the reservation
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain – A war hero and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in a funny anti-war novel
The Quiet American by Graham Greene – The classic Vietnam novel by Graham Greene)
The Fear Index by Robert Harris – A taut thriller about the world of multibillion-dollar hedge funds
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson – An unsparing tale of life in the living hell of North Korea
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Barbara Kingsolver writes eloquently about climate change
Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas – Cocaine, the CIA, and a Central American revolution
Great popular novels reviewed here: 17 comic novels
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley – An irreligious take on Catholic history
Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley – Wondered where UFOs come from? Christopher Buckley has the answer
God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney – Self-help gurus get their comeuppance from Christopher Buckley
Little Elvises (Junior Bender #2) by Timothy Hallinan – A crimebuster encounters the ghosts of Elvis Presley
The Fame Thief (Junior Bender #3) by Timothy Hallinan – A cockamamie story about Hollywood and the mob
King Maybe (Junior Bender #5) by Timothy Hallinan – A very funny crime novel set in Hollywood
Double Whammy (Skink #1)—Carl Hiaasen introduces Florida’s feral one-eyed ex-Governor
Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen—Carl Hiaasen on religious scam artists, Florida’s natural wonders, and the decline of local journalism
Star Island (Skink #6) by Carl Hiaasen – Carl Hiaasen skewers celebrities
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen – Carl Hiaasen skewers newspaper publishers and rock musicians
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – From Nick Hornby, a very funny story that’s not all laughs
Serious Men by Manu Joseph – A comic novel about India today, and Big Science, too
Head of State by Andrew Marr – Political satire where it hurts the most: 10 Downing Street
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday – Satire that cuts close to home in British politics
What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (Dortmunder #9) by Donald E. Westlake – Another uncommonly funny caper novel featuring John Dortmunder
The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley – A comic novel from the 1950s about nuclear madness
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu—Racist stereotyping dominates this award-winning Hollywood satire
Great popular novels reviewed here: 7 thrillers
Incendiary by Chris Cleave – A wrenching portrait of the human cost of terrorism
The Death of Rex Nhongo by C. B. George – A satisfying thriller set in Zimbabwe
The Increment by David Ignatius—A gripping novel about Iran and the CIA
The Bank of Fear by David Ignatius—Saddam Hussein, secret offshore banks, and a dissolute Saudi prince
A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin – Betrayal is in the eye of the beholder
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Why did this plane crash?
Yellow-Dog Contract by Ross Thomas – Dirty politics, union style
The Seersucker Whipsaw by Ross Thomas – A terrific novel for political junkies about Africa
Great popular novels reviewed here: 10 others
The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault – “The Broken Teaglass” by Emily Arsenault is a refreshingly offbeat novel
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah – In Ishmael Beah’s novel, hope lives on in the depths of hell
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon – A glorious new Michael Chabon novel, set in my neighborhood
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich – Tragedy, on and off the reservation
The Comedians by Graham Greene – Expatriates observe Haiti’s reign of terror in a classic Graham Greene novel
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi—Questions science cannot answer in this brilliant new novel
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún – A vivid family drama set against the backdrop of Che Guevara’s revolution
The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu – Zimbabwe through the eyes of a single mother
Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy #1) by Kevin Kwan – Ever wonder how much damage a lot of money can do?
A Burning by Megha Majumdar—Terrorism, corruption, and Hindu nationalism in India today
A Theory of Small Earthquakes by Meredith Maran – A first novel from a brilliant nonfiction writer
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart – Spoiler alert: Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel isn’t hilarious
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – Sufferin’ succotash! It’s the ghost of Tom Pynchon come back to haunt us
For further reading
To gain broader perspective on the realm of popular (trade) novels, see this list of the 100 most widely shelved novels in the world’s libraries. Since they’re all in English, I wonder whether those libraries are only in English-speaking (or other Western) countries.
You might also be interested in:
- 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up);
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series; and
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up.
And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.