Cormac McCarthy is one of the greatest writers of our time. A highly praised literary genius, McCarthy has written numerous novels that will never be forgotten, and he has created a unique lane of his own within the realm of contemporary literature!
But which of his profound novels should you start reading first? With the help of this complete reading guide, you’ll know just which of his books is right for you! Keep reading to find all Cormac McCarthy books ranked from best to worst!
About Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy was born July 20th, 1933, and published his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, in 1965. Since then, he has become known for writing books that explore human nature, morality, and the harsh realities of merely existing as a human being. His writing is distinctive, often dark, vivid, and violent.
His poetic prose and atmospheric storytelling make his stories come alive, and his ability to transport readers into bleak and desolate settings is unparalleled. Throughout his more than five-decade-long career, he has continued to produce critically acclaimed classics that push the boundaries and pull readers in.
But which of these iconic novels should you start with? Keep reading to find all Cormac McCarthy books ranked from best to worst, and you’ll get your answer!
All Cormac McCarthy Books Ranked
Blood Meridian (Standalone)
One of McCarthy’s most famous and widely beloved novels, Blood Meridian, is a prime example of his gift for writing impeccable yet uncomfortable books that will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Set in the 1850s on the Texas-Mexico border, a 14-year-old boy named the Kid finds himself immersed in a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.
Bounty hunters travel through the brutal American southwest, relentlessly slaughtering indigenous tribes and innocent men, women, and children.
The narrative focuses on the Kid’s actions as well as the enigmatic figure known as the Judge. Despite his obscenely violent nature, the Judge possesses a complex intellect and appreciation for nature’s beauty, making him a very intriguing yet utterly repulsive character.
The Stonemason (Play)
The Stonemason is a superbly moving play that takes place in 1970s Louisville, Kentucky, and follows the Telfair family, which consists of generations of several stonemasons.
While the rest of the Telfairs have abandoned or dishonored their family trade, Ben Telfair apprentices himself to his grandfather, Papaw. The Stonemason is a powerful tale of love and division between these two men and the rest of the Telfairs.
No Country for Old Men (Standalone)
In this genre-bending novel, Llewellyn Moss stumbles upon a brutal scene. He finds a pickup truck surrounded by hoards of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back.
When Moss takes the money, he unknowingly triggers a series of violent events that spiral out of control. As he tries to escape his relentless pursuers, including a ruthless coin-flipping mastermind, Sheriff Bell struggles to maintain order.
Set in 1950s Knoxville, Suttree follows the life of Cornelius Suttree, a loner living among a community of societal outcasts. Estranged from his family, Cornelius finds solace and humor amidst a collection of eccentric and troubled individuals.
Despite living in poverty and facing constant hardship, there is a sense of camaraderie and shared understanding within this unconventional community that makes it all worthwhile.
The Road (Standalone)
One of McCarthy’s most well-known novels, The Road, is about a father and son living in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The world around them is in ruin, covered in ash, and devoid of life.
This father and son duo must Endure the bitter cold and the constant threat of lawless gangs while on their journey to find safety–although they may be forced to face the grim reality of a hopeless future soon.
The Sunset Limited (Play)
An all-encompassing play that takes place within the confines of a small apartment, The Sunset Limited follows two men named Black and White as they engage in a profound dialogue.
White, a disillusioned professor, grapples with despair despite his comfortable life, while Black, an ex-convict, and former addict, holds onto hope and seeks to convince White of the power of faith.
The Crossing (The Border Trilogy)
In the late 1930s, Billy Parham–a sixteen-year-old who captures a she-wolf on his family’s ranch–decides that instead of killing the animal, he will embark on a treacherous journey to return it to the mountains of Mexico.
Outer Dark (Standalone)
In one of the most disheartening tales of McCarthy’s bibliography, a woman bears her brother’s child, but he takes the baby away, abandoning him in the woods, and convinces her that the baby died of natural causes. However, after discovering the truth, she embarks on a solitary quest to find her son.
Meanwhile, both brother and sister navigate a desolate countryside haunted by three menacing strangers, culminating in an eerie and apocalyptic climax.
Child of God (Standalone)
Set in the backwoods of Tennessee and inspired by real-life murders in 1963, Child of God follows Lester Ballard, a disturbed loner whose descent into depravity unfolds after losing his childhood home.
As Lester becomes increasingly isolated and unhinged, his actions become more and more disturbing.
The Gardener’s Son (Play)
The Gardener’s Son displays the different dynamics between the two families. The wealthy Greggs, owners of a cotton mill, and the McEvoys, employees plagued by misfortune.
When Robert McEvoy, fueled by anger and suspicion, abandons his job and family after losing his leg in an accident, a chain of events leads him back to his hometown two years later. His pent-up rage leads him to commit a shocking act of violence that engulfs both the Gregg family and his own.
The Counselor (Play)
A lawyer on the verge of marriage takes a plunge into the drug trade, hoping for a quick windfall. He becomes entangled in a world of cocaine trafficking with high stakes and dire consequences, and soon, his carefully constructed life threatens to fall apart as his loved ones are put at risk.
Cities of the Plain (The Border Trilogy)
In the final book of the Border trilogy, Grady finds himself deeply enamored with a young Mexican prostitute and resolves to liberate her from her oppressive circumstances.
All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy)
Labeled a ‘cowboy odyssey for modern times,’ All the Pretty Horses has a summary that speaks for itself!
“Set in the late 1940s, it features the travels and toils of a 16-year-old East Texan named John Grady Cole, caught in the agonizing purgatory between adolescence and adulthood.
At the start of the novel, Cole’s grandfather has just died, his parents have permanently separated, and the family ranch, upon which he had placed so many boyish hopes, has been sold.
Rootless and increasingly restive, Cole leaves Texas, accompanied by his friend Lacey Rawlins, and begins a journey across the vaquero frontier into the badlands of northern Mexico.
In spite of its hard realities and spare telling, All the Pretty Horses is a lyrical and richly romantic story, chronicling – along with the erosion of the frontier – the loss of an era.”
Stella Maris (The Passenger Novels)
In 1972 Black River Falls, Wisconsin, Alicia Western, a twenty-year-old doctoral candidate in mathematics, admits herself to a hospital due to her diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. She is carrying forty thousand dollars in a plastic bag and refusing to talk about her brother, Bobby.
Instead, she allows herself to delve into the nature of madness, the subjective nature of human experience, and her own turbulent childhood. Through Alicia’s psychiatric sessions, the novel explores the intersections of physics and philosophy while introducing her unique companion: her hallucinations.
Alicia mourns for Bobby, who is neither fully alive nor entirely hers, as the story is told solely through the transcripts of Alicia’s therapy sessions, Stella Maris is an intellectually challenging exploration, and a thought-provoking sequel to, The Passenger.
The Passenger (The Passenger Novels)
Taking place in 1980 in Pass Christian, Mississippi, The Passenger follows protagonist Bobby Western as he embarks on a haunting journey. He dives into the dark ocean, illuminating a sunken jet containing nine bodies frozen in a surreal tableau.
The crash site is missing a few crucial items: the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger.
Bobby is haunted by the presence of law enforcement, the ghost of his father—an inventor of the Hiroshima bomb—and his sister, both his love and ruin as he travels through the South, from New Orleans’ vibrant bars to an abandoned oil rig off Florida’s coast, searching for answers and questioning science, ethics, and the depths of the human psyche.
The Orchard Keeper (Standalone)
In Cormac McCarthy’s debut novel, The Orchard Keeper, set in Red Branch, Tennessee, the lives of John Wesley Rattner, his uncle Ather Ownby, and bootlegger Marion Sylder become interwoven during pre-World War II industrialization.
Red Branch is a close-knit community characterized by its independence and resistance to outsiders. The townsfolk indulge in the pleasures of sex, and young men and women eagerly embrace their desires.
However, when government agents from the Alcohol and Tobacco Unit investigate the illegal whiskey trade in the Tennessee Hills, secrets are guarded fiercely.
The story follows Marion’s unlawful activities, Ather’s reclusive life in a ruined apple orchard, and John’s coming of age under their mentorship.
Any one of Cormac McCarthy’s works–regardless of which you choose to read–will leave a lasting impact. With the help of this guide, hopefully, you’ll be able to easily select which of his novels to dive into and set out on an enthralling journey before moving on to the next!
What is Cormac McCarthy’s greatest work?
Blood Meridian is considered by many to be his best book. It’s a very unique and compelling critique of mankind that leaves a strong impression on readers and a piercing arrow through readers’ hearts!
Was Cormac McCarthy always well-known?
No. During his early career, he wasn’t widely known. He doesn’t like fame, so he made an effort to live in obscurity, but over the years, his popularity has increased much more. As a result, he’s become more well-known and more prone to being in the spotlight.
What makes Cormac McCarthy so great?
His uniqueness and distinctive writing style. His ability to write grotesque, openly violent, oftentimes uncomfortable explorations of the things that we all wonder about–human nature and why things have to be the way they are–is what makes his writing so memorable.
Why did Cormac McCarthy change his name?
He wanted to avoid confusion when he started his writing career. He changed his first name from Charles to Cormac so as not to be mistaken for or compared to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy, Charlie McCarthy.
Which of Cormac McCarthy’s novels was the first to get popular?
All the Pretty Horses was the first of McCarthy’s novels to see widespread success. He received both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for it!
Did Cormac McCarthy attend college?
He attended the University of Tennessee in 1951 and studied physics and engineering while there. However, he dropped out of college in 1953 to join the United States Air Force.
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