Cover image of "The Orphan Master's Son," one of dozens of great popular novels reviewed here

This list of more than 50 great popular novels excludes several major categories I’ve written about elsewhere. If you’re interested in those, go to 20 most enlightening historical novelsTop 10 mystery and thriller series, or Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10. 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.

This post was updated on December 22, 2022.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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 34. 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.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieRace, 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 FountainA 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 JohnsonAn unsparing tale of life in the living hell of North Korea

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Barbara Kingsolver writes eloquently about climate change

The Good Lord Bird by James McBrideAmerican history, laughing all the way

Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas – Cocaine, the CIA, and a Central American revolution

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

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams—A hilarious novel about a dictionary

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu—Racist stereotyping dominates this award-winning Hollywood satire

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 IgnatiusA 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

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

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks—Geraldine Brooks’ outstanding novel about England and the Plague

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon – A glorious new Michael Chabon novel, set in my neighborhood

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross—When a woman sat on the Papal throne

Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch—Life in Namibia for the women and men of the US Embassy

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

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver—A brilliant novel explores the legacy of colonialism in the Congo

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy #1) by Kevin Kwan – Ever wonder how much damage a lot of money can do?

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri—Syrian refugees flee civil war in hopes of a better life

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

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood—A Muslim odyssey, from Karachi and Baghdad to San Francisco

Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra—A compelling novel explores economic inequality in India today

New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd—An epic historical novel about New York City

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart – Spoiler alert: Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel isn’t hilarious

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart—Is this the Great American Pandemic Novel?

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – Sufferin’ succotash! It’s the ghost of Tom Pynchon come back to haunt us

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams – A moving feminist novel about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary

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.

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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.