The 14 Best Books of the 1990s: A Definitive List

The 1990s was a decade of exciting literary works that left a lasting impact on the culture and society of the time. Over the years, there have been numerous lists of the best books of the 90s, each with its own unique criteria. However, in this article, we present our definitive list of the top best books of the 1990s. These books are exceptional works of literature that have stood the test of time and continue to captivate readers even today.

The 14 Best Books of the 1990s: A Definitive List

A Decade of Literary Excellence

The 1990s was a decade marked by significant cultural and technological changes. It was a time when the internet was beginning to take hold, and the world was moving towards a more globalized society. However, amidst all this change, the literary world was thriving.

During this decade, authors produced groundbreaking works of fiction and non-fiction, exploring a wide range of themes and subject matters. From the complexities of race and identity to the trials and triumphs of ordinary people, the literary works of the 90s continue to be celebrated for their boldness, creativity, and depth.

The Cultural Impact of 1990s Literature

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Perhaps one of the most notable features of 1990s literature was its widespread cultural impact. Many of the books that were written during this time explored themes and experiences that were often ignored or dismissed in the mainstream media. By putting these subjects at the forefront of their works, authors succeeded in sparking critical conversations and challenging societal norms.

For example, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” dealt with the legacy of slavery and its effect on the lives of African Americans in the present day. Similarly, John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” explored the intricacies of Southern culture and traditions, while also exposing the darker underbelly of the city of Savannah.

The Rise of Diverse Voices in the 90s


The 1990s also saw the rise of diverse voices in the literary world. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community began to receive greater recognition and acclaim for their contributions to the literary canon.

One of the best examples of this is Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The book, which speaks to the experiences of Black women in the American South, became an instant classic and remains a staple of American literature to this day.

Another notable example of the rise of diverse voices in the literary world is Junot Diaz’s “Drown.” This collection of short stories explores the experiences of Dominican immigrants living in the United States, and the challenges they face as they try to navigate their new lives. Diaz’s writing is raw, honest, and unflinching, making “Drown” a powerful and important work of literature.

The Impact of Technology on 90s Literature

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius: A Memoir Based on a True Story

While the 1990s was a time of great change and upheaval, it was also a time of great innovation. The rise of the internet and other forms of technology had a significant impact on the literary world, changing the way that books were written, published, and consumed.

One of the most notable examples of this is Dave Eggers’ “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” This memoir, which chronicles Eggers’ experiences raising his younger brother after the death of their parents, was published in 2000, but its roots can be traced back to the early days of the internet. Eggers first gained fame as the editor of the literary magazine “Might,” which he founded in 1994. The magazine was known for its irreverent and unconventional approach to literature, and it helped to launch the careers of many young writers, including Eggers himself.

Eggers’ use of technology didn’t stop with “Might,” however. When he started working on “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” he used his computer to create a unique and unconventional layout for the book. The result was a work of literature that was both innovative and deeply personal, and which helped to usher in a new era of literary experimentation.

The Enduring Legacy of 1990s Literature

The Color Purple

As we move further away from the 1990s, it’s clear that the literary works of this decade have had a lasting impact on the literary world. Many of the books that were written during this time continue to be celebrated and studied today, and their themes and ideas remain as relevant as ever.

Whether it’s the exploration of race and identity in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” the celebration of diverse voices in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” or the innovative use of technology in Dave Eggers’ “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” the literary works of the 1990s continue to inspire and challenge readers around the world.

The Criteria for Our Top List

At the heart of our list are the top best books of the 1990s. We chose these books based on a variety of criteria, including literary awards and accolades, cultural significance and influence, and timelessness. Each of these works continues to resonate with readers and remain an important part of the literary landscape today.

Literary Awards and Accolades

One of the key factors we considered when creating our list was the recognition each book received from literary awards and organizations. Many of the books on our list have won multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Man Booker Prize, among others.

The recognition received by these books is a testament to their quality and unique contributions to the literary world. They are works that showcase exceptional writing, memorable characters, and intricate storytelling that have captivated readers for generations.

Cultural Significance and Influence

Another factor we considered when selecting the top 10 books of the 90s was their cultural significance and influence. Many of these books had a profound impact on the world beyond literature, inspiring critical conversations and shaping the cultural zeitgeist of the decade.

For instance, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” became an instant cultural phenomenon, spawning a multibillion-dollar franchise that includes movies, theme parks, and merchandise. Similarly, Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” ignited conversations about colonialism, religion, and the legacy of Western influence in Africa.

Timelessness and Enduring Popularity

Finally, we considered the timelessness and enduring popularity of the books on our list. Each of these works has managed to stand the test of time, remaining as relevant and powerful today as they were when they were first published.

Whether it’s the unforgettable characters of “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt or the chilling dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” these books continue to captivate readers of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures.

The Top 10 Best Books of the 1990s

Now, without further ado, we present our definitive list of the top 10 best books of the 1990s:

BELONGING, A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug (2018)

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home

A winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Krug’s scrapbook-like illustrated memoir is a revelatory book that spent four weeks on the Washington Post bestsellers list. A third-generation German descendent of WWII perpetrators, Krug tries to come to terms with her nation’s history, her family’s culpability, and the search to find a place to call home.

You can find this book here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

The Secret History: A Read with Jenna Pick (Vintage Contemporaries)

The debut novel from Donna Tartt, “The Secret History,” is a haunting story of a group of classics students at a prestigious New England college. The novel is a mesmerizing exploration of the perilous nature of friendship, obsession, and ambition.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

The Poisonwood Bible” is the story of a family that moves to the Belgian Congo in 1959, where they encounter a radically different way of life. The novel is a complex exploration of religion, politics, and cultural identity, told through the unique perspectives of each member of the Price family.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

This book needs no introduction. The first in the Harry Potter series, “The Philosopher’s Stone” introduced readers to the wizarding world and its beloved characters. The book is an enduring classic that has inspired a generation of readers and remains one of the best-selling books of all time.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Angela’s Ashes” is a memoir of Frank McCourt’s childhood in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 40s. The book is a powerful and poignant examination of poverty, family, and coming-of-age, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1997.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

The Handmaid's Tale

Although technically published in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” gained renewed popularity in the 1990s as a result of the critically acclaimed television adaptation. The book is a chilling exploration of a dystopian society where women are oppressed and forced into subservience.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993)

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War (French Trilogy Book 2)

Birdsong” is a powerful novel about love, war, and memory. The book tells the story of a British soldier fighting in the trenches of World War I and his enduring love for a married woman.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Beloved: Pulitzer Prize Winner (Vintage International)

Beloved” is a novel that explores the legacy of slavery and its effects on African American communities in the present day. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and remains a timeless classic.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

The God of Small Things: A Novel

The God of Small Things” is a novel that explores the lives of two twins growing up in Kerala, India. The book is a powerful examination of family, love, and loss, and won the Booker Prize in 1997.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)

A Fine Balance (Vintage International)

A Fine Balance” is a novel set in India during the Emergency period of the 1970s. The book is a sprawling epic that follows the lives of four people from different backgrounds as they navigate a turbulent and dangerous time in their country’s history.


Each of the books on our list represents a unique contribution to the literary landscape of the 1990s. Whether exploring the complexities of identity or the fallout from war and conflict, these authors have provided us with a rich tapestry of stories that continue to resonate with readers today. We hope that our definitive list will inspire you to dive deeper into the works of these exceptional authors and discover the magic and power of 1990s literature.


What were the best books written in the 1990s?

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling are all very influential and popular books written in the 1990s.

What are the best books written in the 1990s that are still popular now?

The Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones books both remain hugely popular today.

What were the biggest events of the 1990s?

The biggest events of the 1990s included the fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, the Hubble Space Telescope launch, huge technological developments, and the Rwandan genocide.

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