16 Best Cormac McCarthy Books of All Time – Reading Guide

Embark on a literary odyssey through Cormac McCarthy’s works with our curated guide on the “Best Cormac McCarthy Books of All Time.” This concise reading guide will help you explore the captivating themes, characters, and narratives that have made McCarthy a literary legend.

16 Best Cormac McCarthy Books of All Time - Reading Guide

Cormac McCarthy, born Charles McCarthy Jr. on July 20, 1933, in Providence, Rhode Island, is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and attended the University of Tennessee before joining the U.S. Air Force. McCarthy began his writing career in 1965 and published his debut novel, “The Orchard Keeper.”

Over the years, McCarthy has become renowned for his distinctive writing style, characterized by sparse punctuation, evocative descriptions, and a blending of archaic and modern language. His works often delve into the themes of survival, violence, morality, and the human condition. With a career spanning over five decades, McCarthy has established himself as a literary giant, earning numerous awards and accolades for his powerful storytelling and unforgettable characters.

Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage International)

Step into the world of ‘Blood Meridian,” where you’ll follow the Kid, a 14-year-old Tennessean, as he discovers the brutal reality of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s. Set between the raw brutality of Southern novels and the melancholic tone of Western books, McCarthy’s masterpiece unveils an American apocalypse. 

Join Kid on a haunting journey with the notorious Glanton gang as they roam a nightmarish world, slaughtering indigenous people and fueling the gruesome market for scalps. Inspired by historical events, Blood Meridian ranks among McCarthy’s best works.

No Country for Old Men 

No Country for Old Men (Vintage International)

No Country for Old Men” is a thrilling Texas crime story in which chance, fate, and morality collide through the lives of a Vietnam veteran, a hitman, and a sheriff. In a time of drug runners and violence, Llewellyn Moss discovers a pickup truck with two million in cash and heroin, guarded by dead men. When he takes the money, it triggers catastrophic violence that even Sheriff Bell can’t contain.

As you witness Moss’s attempts to escape his pursuers, especially a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives, experience how McCarthy reinvents the American crime novel.

The Road 

The Road: Pulitzer Prize Winner (Vintage International)

Venture into the desolated world of a father and son as they journey through a scorched America in “The Road,” surrounded by a ravaged landscape where only ash moves on the wind, stones crack from cold, and gray snow falls under a dark sky. With nothing but a pistol for protection, the clothes they wear, and scavenged food, their destination is the coast, uncertain of what awaits.

“The Road” is a story that explores humanity’s worst and best qualities: ultimate destruction, unwavering tenacity, and the tender bond that endures in the face of utter devastation.

All the Pretty Horses 

All the Pretty Horses: Border Trilogy 1 (National Book Award Winner) (The Border Trilogy)

All the Pretty Horses” is the first novel in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy that follows young Texan John Grady Cole as he crosses into Mexico looking for an adventure and romance. Joined by his friend Lacey Rawlins, the two teenagers find work at a ranch, where their journey becomes fraught with complications and tragedy.

“All the Pretty Horses” – a National Book Award winner – offers a tale of redemption, immersing you in the power of love, sacrifice, and resilience. As you indulge in the engaging and stripped-down narrative quality, you’ll be awed by the transformative experience you take part in.

The Crossing

The Crossing: Book 2 of The Border Trilogy

Dive into “The Crossing,” the second novel in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, and join young cowboys Billy Parham and his brother Boyd on their captivating journey into Mexico. Set in the late 1930s, you’ll follow sixteen-year-old Billy as he captures a marauding she-wolf on his family’s ranch, choosing to return it to the mountains of Mexico rather than kill it. 

The Crossing” profoundly moves your heart and mind, evoking intense longing and regret. This standalone masterpiece showcases McCarthy’s spare yet potent writing style, rendering it an indispensable and approachable read for any literary enthusiast.

Cities of the Plain

Cities of the Plain: Book 3 of Border Trilogy (The Border Trilogy)

Immerse yourself in “Cities of the Plain,” the final volume of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, as you follow the intertwining lives of John Grady Cole and Billy Parham. United by their love for ranch life, these two cowboys face a world that’s changing around them in 1950s New Mexico. 

A tale of friendship and passion, as one of them is drawn repeatedly across the border by a love that’s as dangerous as it seems. In this rich narrative filled with unforgettable characters, events, and breathtaking landscapes, you’ll explore the persistence, memories, and dreams of men and the women they love and mourn.

With “Cities of the Plain,” McCarthy has crafted a literary masterpiece that spans tales of the Old West and reaches into the new millennium, capturing the unwavering humanity and magisterial prose that defines his work.

Child of God

Child of God (Vintage International)

Child of God” is McCarthy’s third novel that delves deep into the twisted life of Lester Ballard, a disturbed and ostracized mountain man with a dark obsession. Inspired by true crime cases, this novel is not for the faint-hearted, as it explores the depths of human depravity. 

You’ll follow Ballard’s haunting journey through the Appalachian wilderness and uncover shocking acts that will leave even the most dedicated McCarthy fans stunned. Experience a character stripped of all connections, drifting through a desolated world.


Suttree (Vintage International)

Suttree” is often considered McCarthy’s most autobiographical masterpiece. The epic tale spans over two decades, tracing Suttree’s journey as he abandons his privileged life and kin to live on a neglected houseboat along the Tennessee River. 

Join him in his daily encounters with an eclectic mix of thieves, drunks, and misfits he dubs the “fellowship of the doomed.” Echoing the great American novels like Herman Melville’s works, “Suttree” offers a rich, humorous, and poignant literary experience you won’t want to miss.

Outer Dark 

Outer Dark (Vintage International)

Dive into “Outer Dark,” a chilling tale of a brother and sister torn apart by violence, set in a desolate and enigmatic landscape. In early 20th-century Tennessee, Culla Home and his sister Rinthy’s incestuous relationship results in a disfigured child. Overcome with shame, Culla abandons the baby in the woods, claiming it didn’t survive birth. This twisted take on the nativity story is filled with unsettling allegorical imagery and genuine horror. 

In this tale, you’ll follow the siblings on their separate journies to find their forsaken child. As the haunting consequences unravel, “Outer Dark” grips you with its exploration of illegitimacy, incest, and infanticide, leaving an unforgettable impact.

The Orchard Keeper 

The Orchard Keeper (Vintage International)

The Orchard Keeper” is McCarthy’s debut novel, where you’ll follow the entwined lives of three men in a small Tennessee town during the years between the two world wars. In this captivating story by the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Road,” a young boy named John Wesley Rattner and a bootlegger named Marion Sylder are unaware that their lives are connected through the murder of the boy’s father. 

Alongside Rattner’s Uncle Ather, who represents a bygone era with his connection to nature and stoic independence, these characters take part in this gripping drama. Immerse yourself in this poignant celebration of values lost to time and industrialization.

The Passenger

The Passenger

The Passenger” story starts with the sunken jet, nine passengers, and a missing body. This tale follows a salvage diver, haunted by loss and fear of deep water as he becomes entangled in a complex conspiracy he can’t comprehend. In McCarthy’s first novel in 16 years, Bobby Western investigates a private jet crash off the Gulf Coast and soon finds himself delving into mysteries of quantum mechanics and the universe.

This work sparks introspection through its intriguing tales. Though some loose ends exist, resolution comes with a companion volume, “Stella Maris,” which satisfyingly concludes the story.

Stella Maris

Stella Maris

Stella Maris” is a companion novel to “The Passenger,” where you’ll uncover the story of a twenty-year-old mathematician who checks into a hospital with $40,000 stashed in a plastic bag. Alicia Western, a University of Chicago doctoral candidate diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, refuses to discuss her brother Bobby. Instead, she delves into the nature of madness, the human perception of reality, and the intersection of physics and philosophy. 

Told entirely through transcripts of Alicia’s psychiatric sessions, this intellectually challenging novel explores profound questions about God, truth, and existence while revealing her grief for Bobby. Experience this captivating journey with Alicia as she confronts her chimeras and seeks answers.

Best Plays by Cormac McCarthy 

Not only renowned for his famous books but McCarthy is also celebrated for his exceptional plays. Here are some of his finest works:

The Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited (Vintage International)

Enter the world of “The Sunset Limited,” a play set in a small New York City apartment. You’ll meet two characters, Black and White, whose names match their skin color. Black, a Christian, saves White, an atheist college professor, from suicide. 

First performed in 2006, this play became a popular TV special in 2011. Through their dialogue, both men explore their pasts and confront their opposing beliefs. While White struggles with despair, Black, an ex-con, and ex-addict, seeks to convince him of faith’s power. Together, they aim to discover life’s meaning and essence.

The Stonemason

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The Stonemason” is a captivating drama about four generations of an American family set in 1970s Louisville, Kentucky. Follow Ben Telfair as he apprentices with his grandfather, Papaw, learning the true art of masonry. 

Experience McCarthy’s storytelling mastery, infused with precise observations, powerful language, and the deep love and separation within the Telfair family, who hold onto or abandon the cherished family trade.

 The Counselor 

The Counselor (Movie Tie-in Edition): A Screenplay (Vintage International)

Discover the thrilling screenplay “The Counselor” as you follow a respected lawyer on the brink of marriage who takes a dangerous leap into the drug trade along the Texas-Mexico border. 

Hoping for a one-time deal, he soon finds himself trapped in a brutal game that threatens to destroy everything and everyone he loves. Dive into this another gripping tale of McCarthy, showcasing his mastery in exploring risk, consequence, and the delicate balance between the two. Unforgettable and shocking, “The Counselor” will leave you on the edge of your seat.

The Gardener’s Son 

The Gardener's Son: A Screenplay

The Gardener’s Son” is a teleplay commissioned by director Richard Pearce, featuring a brief cameo of McCarthy. This intense story unfolds in Graniteville, NC, where wealthy mill owner James Gregg meets a gruesome end at the hands of Robert McEvoy, a former mill worker, and amputee. Fueled by resentment towards Gregg’s influence and wealth, McEvoy’s brutal act leads to a swift trial and hanging. 

Explore the captivating script that brings the chilling aftermath to life, showcasing the tragic consequences of bitterness and rage.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the “Best Cormac McCarthy Books of All Time – Reading Guide” provides a captivating journey through the author’s diverse and remarkable works, including his acclaimed novels and plays. As you immerse yourself in McCarthy’s unique storytelling, you’ll explore profound themes, unforgettable characters, and thought-provoking narratives that have solidified his place as one of the greatest writers of our time. 


What Cormac McCarthy book should I read first?

If you’re new to Cormac McCarthy’s works, a great starting point is “The Road.”

What’s the best Cormac McCarthy book?

One of Cormac McCarthy’s most acclaimed and highly regarded works is “Blood Meridian.” This novel is often considered a masterpiece due to its intense narrative, vivid descriptions, and exploration of violence and human nature in the American West.

What is Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling book?

Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling book is “The Road.” This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has gained widespread recognition and acclaim for its powerful portrayal of a father and son’s journey through a post-apocalyptic world.

What reading level is Blood Meridian?

According to the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level analysis, Blood Meridian requires a college reading level of at least 14.6, equivalent to approximately two and a half years of study.

What is Cormac McCarthy’s shortest book?

Cormac McCarthy’s shortest book is “Child of God,” approximately 208 pages long.

Which books did Cormac McCarthy’s write?

“The Orchard Keeper” (1965)
“Outer Dark” (1968)
“Child of God” (1973)
“Suttree” (1979)
“Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West” (1985)
“All the Pretty Horses” (1992) – The Border Trilogy #1
“The Crossing” (1994) – The Border Trilogy #2
“Cities of the Plain” (1998) – The Border Trilogy #3
“No Country for Old Men” (2005)
“The Road” (2006)

He also wrote two plays:

“The Stonemason: A Play in Five Acts” (1994)
“The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form” (2006)
And two screenplays:

“The Gardener’s Son” (1996)
“The Counselor” (2013)

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Elvira Lagud