List of books considered the worst
The books listed below have been cited by many notable critics in varying media sources as being among the worst books ever written.
- The Ego and Its Own (Max Stirner, 1844), this work of German philosophy has been considered the worst book ever written as well as the most revolutionary.
- O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez (Pedro Carolino, 1855), Portuguese–English phrasebook written by a man who could not speak English, instead relying on a Portuguese–French phrasebook and the French–English dictionary. The book came to public attention when it was republished in 1883 with the title English as She is Spoke, although that phrase does not appear in the original book. It is notorious for Carolino's literal translation of idioms, which produces unintentionally humorous translations.
- The Virginians (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1857–59): historical novel set around the American Revolutionary War, a sequel to Henry Esmond. An apocryphal story claims that Thackeray once confessed to Douglas William Jerrold that The Virginians was "the worst novel he ever wrote," while Jerrold replied, "No. It's the worst novel anyone ever wrote." In fact, Jerrold died before the first volume of The Virginians was published. J. A. Sutherland agreed to a degree, calling it Thackeray's worst major novel. John Halperin called it "the worst book ever produced by a great novelist." Jack P. Rawlins wrote that "The Virginians is a bad book – dissatisfying in the reading, acknowledged as dull and dried-up by Thackeray."
- What Is to Be Done? (Nikolai Chernyshevsky, 1863): written in prison in four months by a literary critic and radical, What Is To Be Done? advocates the creation of small socialist cooperatives based on the Russian peasant commune, but oriented toward industrial production. The author promoted the idea that the intellectual's duty was to educate and lead the laboring masses in Russia along a path to socialism that bypassed capitalism. The book inspired many Bolsheviks, including Vladimir Lenin, who wrote a pamphlet with the same title in 1901. However, Mark Schrad observed in Vodka Politics that "there is no real plotline or tension, and the environment and characters are stagnant. It has been called the worst novel ever written. Chernyshevsky himself even admitted that his novel contains neither talent nor art, but only 'truth.'" Adam Weiner observed on Politico that "The czar’s censor had given the novel a pass, reasoning that the dreadful writing style would damage the revolutionary cause."
- The Social War (Simon Mohler Landis, 1872): a commercially unsuccessful utopian science fiction novel. Jess Nevins described it in io9 as "reprehensible trash, the most objectionable utopia of the 19th century, and the worst science fiction novel of that period".
- Irene Iddesleigh (Amanda McKittrick Ros, 1897): published by the author's husband as an anniversary present, Irene Iddesleigh is often described as the worst novel ever written, with purple prose that is circumlocutory to the point of incomprehensibility. It was "popularised" by Barry Pain who called it "a thing that happens once in a million years." Mark Twain called it "one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time," while the Inklings competed to see who could read one of Ros's works for the longest without laughter (cf. The Eye of Argon below). In his book Epic Fail, Mark O'Connell wrote "Ros’ prose amounts to a sort of accidental surrealism. There is an intention toward metaphor—a lunge in the general direction of the literary—but an obvious misunderstanding of how such things work (and often, for that matter, how syntax works)."
- The Complete McGonagall (William McGonagall, published between 1877 and 1902): doggerel poetry originally published as broadsheets and then later in collections, usually titled some variation on Poetic Gems. Modern printings collect all of McGonagall's work into a single volume. His lack of knowledge of scansion, deafness to metaphor, inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his poetry unintentionally comedic.
- Little Pansy, a Novel and Other Miscellaneous Poetry (Mattie J. Peterson, 1890): A very small book, containing the melodrama of Pansy and her suitor, Edgar. The book also includes her poetry, which was later republished in anthologies of bad poetry.
- The Lair of the White Worm (Bram Stoker, 1911): a horror novel based on the legend of the Lambton Worm. It has also been issued as The Garden of Evil. Les Daniels noted that while The Lair of the White Worm had "potential", it was undermined by the "clumsy style" of the writing. The horror critic R. S. Hadji placed The Lair of the White Worm at number twelve in his list of the worst horror novels ever written. Historian of the horror genre H. P. Lovecraft, in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature", stated that Stoker "utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile." In 2019 the novel was featured on the podcast series 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back, which mocks literature of low quality. The book is widely considered one of the worst books ever written.
- Ralph 124C 41+ (Hugo Gernsback, 1911): science fiction novel serialized in twelve parts in Modern Electrics magazine, and is about a hero who rescues a heroine using various technological means. Even though Ralph 124C 41+ has been described as pioneering many of the tropes and ideas found in later science fiction works, it has largely been neglected due to what critics often describe as poor artistic quality. Brian Aldiss has called the story a "tawdry illiterate tale" and a "sorry concoction", while Lester del Rey called it "simply dreadful". Martin Gardner referred to the book as "surely the worst SF novel ever written". Groff Conklin more generously described it as "thoroughly delightful ... [with] the genuine charm of a sound, workmanlike antique." Reviewing the 1950 Frederick Fell edition in The New York Times, Rex Lardner wrote that while the "fine" novel "contain[ed] a good deal of sound prophecy, ... it has a narrative style as quaint as the retarder on a Hupmobile." Everett F. Bleiler similarly noted that "The literary treatment is on a very low level, but Ralph 124C41+ is renowned for its many highly imaginative technical projections."
- Mein Kampf (Adolf Hitler, 1925): Autobiography and political treatise written in Landsberg Prison by Adolf Hitler, then the leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Hitler posits a Jewish conspiracy to gain world leadership, speaks of the evils of communism, Marxism, parliamentary democracy, and of the need of the German people to seize Lebensraum ("living space") from the Slavic peoples to the east. When Hitler gained control of Germany in the 1930s, the ideology expounded in Mein Kampf would lead to the Second World War, the Holocaust, and tens of millions of deaths. Mein Kampf has been described by many writers as the "most evil book in history," and its publication has been illegal or restricted in many countries since the defeat of Nazism in 1945. However, contrary to popular belief, it was never illegal in Germany. Apart from its politics, the book itself has been criticised for its writing style; Hitler's fellow fascist dictator Benito Mussolini called it "a boring tome that I have never been able to read" and called Hitler's views "little more than commonplace clichés." Sally McGrane of The New Yorker wrote "Hitler's seven-hundred-page screed [...] is so unreadable that, despite its ubiquity during the Third Reich [...] it is unlikely that most Germans actually cracked the book open. It is full of bombastic, hard-to-follow clauses, historical minutiae, and tangled ideological threads, and both neo-Nazis and serious historians tend to avoid it."
- Dildo Cay (Nelson Hayes, 1939): Novel about the white owners of a salt mine worked by slaves on an island off Jamaica. The title refers to dildo cactuses. Pennsylvania State University's Jonathan P. Eburne wrote: "It is so earnestly bad as to call its own existence into question [...] the product less of an unsteady hand than of a resoundingly tin ear, [with prose] so categorically graceless as to supersede camp and plunge straight into ontological confusion. [...] the novel parades the typically forgettable qualities of other undistinguished midcentury fiction: tawdry displays of local color, excessive deployments of racism and misogyny, textbook Oedipal conflicts, and the hypertrophic use of italics."
- Across the River and Into the Trees (Ernest Hemingway, 1950): Novel about an American ex-soldier who is dying of heart disease, spending a Sunday afternoon hunting ducks in Venice and remembering his experiences of World War I. It was very poorly received; negative reviews appeared in more than 150 publications. Critics claimed the novel was too emotional, had inferior prose and a "static plot", and that Cantwell was an "avatar" for Hemingway's character Nick Adams. The novel was also criticized for being an unsuitable autobiography, and for presenting Cantwell as a bitter soldier. J. Donald Adams in the New York Times called it "one of the saddest books I have ever read; not because I am moved to compassion by the conjunction of love and death in the Colonel's life, but because a great talent has come, whether for now or forever, to such a dead end". Maxwell Geismar wrote, "This is an unfortunate novel and unpleasant to review for anyone who respects Hemingway's talent and achievement. It is not only Hemingway's worst novel; it is a synthesis of everything that is bad in his previous work and throws an unpleasant light on the future. It is so dreadful, in fact, that it begins to have its own morbid fascination." Philip Rahv wrote that "The first thing to be said about this novel is that it is so egregiously bad as to render all comment on it positively embarrassing to anyone who esteems Hemingway as one of the more considerable prose-artists of our time [...] This novel reads like a parody by the author of his own manner—a parody so biting that it virtually destroys the mixed social and literary legend of Hemingway that has now endured for nearly three decades."
- Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann, 1966): a novel about three women who become friends in post-war Broadway and Hollywood, and become dependent on pills. Gloria Steinem panned the book in The New York Herald Tribune as did the reviewer in The New York Times. Time magazine called it the "Dirty Book of the Month", and said, "It might more accurately be described as a highly effective sedative, a living doll." Eileen Battersby of The Irish Times called it "one of the worst books ever written" and "the first book written for people who didn't read books."
- The Eye of Argon (Jim Theis, 1970): a heroic fantasy novella notorious for purple prose and genre cliché. Attempting to read The Eye of Argon out loud without laughing became a popular party game among fantasy readers.
- Dazzle (Judith Krantz, 1990): a romance novel set in Southern California in the 1980s. Celebrity photographer Jazz Kilcullen negotiates life and love while contending with her half-sisters, who aim to sell off her father's Orange County ranch. John Sutherland described Dazzle as the "vulgarest" novel he had ever read, and listed it among the 20 worst bestsellers of the 20th century. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post called it "unremittingly, heart-sinkingly dull. [...] merely a string of romance narrative cliches tied loosely together by sex scenes every 50 or 60 pages." He later said "Even the sex in the book was boilerplate, a totally meretricious work." Publishers Weekly said "Never a disciple of realism, Krantz's interweaving of plots here is too contrived and her relationships, both familial and amatory, too oblique. Her purple prose takes on ever deeper hues, and her customary parade of hyperbolic description is in constant evidence."
- Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days (Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, 1995): post-apocalyptic Evangelical Christian fiction describing the events of the End Times from a premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It depicts the travails of several survivors who are "left behind" after the Rapture removes all godly, righteous people from the earth. Despite its commercial success, Left Behind received terrible reviews from mainstream critics. In the London Review of Books, John Sutherland wrote "Criticism lacks terms adequate to describe the narrative feebleness of these novels." Fred Clark of Patheos wrote a lengthy analysis of Left Behind and its sequels, calling them "The World's Worst Books" and discussing the Evangelical subculture from which they derive. In The Escapist, Phil Owen criticised the protagonists for their lack of concern for anyone but other Christians. In The Verge, Adi Robertson observed that "With its unpleasant characters, glacial pace, and bizarre preoccupation with phone calls and travel plans, Left Behind may be one of the dullest books [...] to ever hit the bestseller lists." David Carlson, a Professor of Religious Studies and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, wrote that the theology underpinning the Left Behind series promotes a "skewed view of the Christian faith that welcomes war and disaster, while dismissing peace efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere—all in the name of Christ".
- The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown, 2003): A mystery thriller novel following secret societies and the struggle between the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei over the possibility of Mary Magdalene and Jesus having had children together. It was widely criticized for its many factual inaccuracies and clumsy prose style. Salman Rushdie called it "a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name." Jodi Picoult said "I don't understand the hype over such a poorly written novel – and as an author who does all her own research, I know better than to consider myself an expert in the field I am writing about." Linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum said "Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad."
- American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville (Bernard-Henri Lévy, 2006): a travelogue by controversial French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. The Economist's "Schumpeter" column called it "perhaps the worst book on America ever written [...] which compounds its uselessness by mentioning Tocqueville, the author of the best book on America ever written, in its subtitle." In a scathing review in The New York Times, Garrison Keillor wrote "Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore."
- Winkler (Giles Coren, 2006): the book won the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review. In the words of The Guardian, “Coren beat off heavyweight competition for the prize with an unpunctuated 138-word description of coitus, followed by the two-word sentence, ‘like Zorro’.” ShortList magazine named it ‘one of the absolute worst ‘Bad Sex Awards’ entries ever.
- Life in the Fast Lane: The Johnson Guide to Cars (Boris Johnson, 2007): a collection of Johnson's motoring columns written for GQ. Writing for The New European, Nick Holland called it "the worst motoring book ever written, possibly […] the worst book ever written." The book was criticised for "chauvinistic and racist comments." Website Carkeys.co.uk called Johnson "the world’s worst car journalist."
- Twilight novel series (Stephenie Meyer, 2005–2008): The vampire romantic novel series has been met with mixed to negative critical response, often strongly negative. The Odyssey ranked the series No. 1 in its list of the five worst books of all time, Psychology Today called it "Worse than just a bad book" due to its dubious moral messages.
- Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James, 2011): an erotic novel based on a piece of Twilight fan-fiction, Fifty Shades depicts the BDSM relationship between aloof billionaire Christian Grey and naive student Anastasia Steele. As with The Da Vinci Code, many articles collected lists of the "worst lines," particularly those in which Anastasia discusses her "inner goddess." As well as being poorly written, many reviewers criticised the relationship between Christian and Anastasia, which was seen as abusive rather than romantic.
- Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden (Victoria Foyt, 2012): a dystopian young adult novel, Save the Pearls features a post-apocalyptic setting in which pale-skinned "Pearls" and dark-skinned "Coals" are in conflict. In The Guardian, Imogen Russell Williams panned it for "awful prose with negligible plot", adding "the whole thing is remarkable for repetition, incoherence, and prose which makes EL James look like Hector Hugh Munro."
- Field Guide to Chicks of the United States (Joe Bovino, 2012): a book by pick-up artist Joe Bovino about women of the U.S. and how to seduce them. Writing in the Huffington Post, Emma Gray said that it "May Be [the] Worst Book Ever." On Jezebel, Lindy West called the book's FAQ page "the most perfect combination of gleeful sexism and clueless racism ever committed to internet-paper."
- Die Abenteuer des Stefón Rudel (Stefan Knapp, 2012): this self-published sci-fi adventure novel by an unknown German amateur author gained a small cult following in Germany due to its poor plotting, awkward word choices, and plentiful spelling and grammar errors. German blogger Christian Schmidt called it the worst book he had ever read. German satirical site Der Postilion called it "the maybe worst book of all time". Swiss comedians Andreas Storm and Catherine Störmer featured the book in their stage program and called it "the worst book ever written in German tongue".
- List of the Lost (Morrissey, 2015): a 128-page novel about the demise of a 1970s American sprint team written by musician Morrissey (known for being the leader of the 1980s rock group The Smiths). Reviews were uniformly negative, often bordering on hostile. In The Telegraph, Charlotte Runcie described the novel as "poorly conceived, awkwardly expressed and lazily imagined." John Niven of the New Statesman, responding to critics who wrote that the book may have been improved by a strong editor, opined that "asking a decent editor to save this book would have been like asking a doctor to help a corpse that had fallen from the top of the Empire State Building." The book was also declared the winner of the Literary Review's "Bad Sex in Fiction Award."
- Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (A. N. Wilson, 2017): a biography of biologist Charles Darwin with an anti-evolution viewpoint. Jerry Coyne, writing in Dawn, called it "The worst book about Charles Darwin ever written" and "a grossly inaccurate and partisan attack on both Darwin and evolution." The Guardian and New Scientist also gave it extremely negative reviews.
- Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff (Sean Penn, 2018): political satire by the two-time Oscar-winning actor about a serial killer. Described by Cracked.com as "the worst novel in human history," Mark Hill observed that "Penn writes like he's looked up every single word in his thesaurus except "dictionary." The novel was also criticised for racist and misogynistic content. In The Guardian, Sian Cain called Bob Honey "repellent and stupid on so many levels." The novel does have some high-profile defenders, including acclaimed novelists Salman Rushdie and Paul Theroux. Despite the reviews, a sequel was published one year later as Bob Honey Sings Jimmy Crack Corn.
- Nadine Dorries' first novel, The Four Streets, which draws on her Liverpool Catholic background, became a No.1 best-selling e-book with 100,000 copies sold in the format by July 2014, although print sales in hardback and paperback were significantly lower with, respectively, 2,735 and 637 sales by then. Dorries' work of fiction gained mostly negative reviews. Sarah Ditum in the New Statesman complained that some of the sentences "read like clippings from Wikipedia" while Christopher Howse, writing for The Daily Telegraph, described The Four Streets as "the worst novel I've read in 10 years". "You should read the next one. It’s much better", Dorries told Ann Treneman of The Times.
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- Bad Sex in Fiction Award
- Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year
- Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
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- 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back
- The Big Read
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- Beckman, Jonathan. "List of the Lost by Morrissey - review by Jonathan Beckman". literaryreview.co.uk. Retrieved 15 March 2022.
- Coyne, Jerry A. (31 December 2017). "The worst book about Charles Darwin ever written".
- Hughes, Kathryn (30 August 2017). "Charles Darwin by AN Wilson review – how wrong can a biography be?". The Guardian.
- Wyhe, John Van. "'Radical' new biography of Darwin is unreliable and inaccurate". New Scientist.
- "Joanny Moulin, "Darwin Bashing": Review of A.N. Wilson's Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker". 13 November 2017.
- "Sean Penn Wrote The Worst Novel in Human History, I Read It". Cracked.com. 22 April 2018.
- Giles, Jeff (27 March 2018). "Sean Penn, Satirist, Swings at America in a Wild Debut Novel". The New York Times.
- Cain, Sian (29 March 2018). "Sean Penn's debut novel – repellent and stupid on so many levels". The Guardian.
- "Sean Penn The Novelist Must Be Stopped". 27 March 2018.
- Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. Simon & Schuster. 9 April 2019. ISBN 9781501189050. Search this book on
- "Sean Penn on Meeting Assad, His Rumored Jamal Khashoggi Documentary and New "Silly-Ass Novel"". The Hollywood Reporter. 11 September 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
- "Bestsellers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
- Treneman, Ann (5 April 2014). "The contradictory Nadine Dorries". The Times magazine. London. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 13 January 2016. Unknown parameter
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- Flood, Alison (9 July 2014). "Nadine Dorries' novel The Four Streets reaches No 1 in the charts". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 21 September 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2022. Unknown parameter
- McSmith, Andy (10 April 2014). "Nadine Dorries's novel has received caustic reviews – but don't write off every MP turned author". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2022. Unknown parameter
- Ditum, Sarah (19 April 2014). "Begorrah! Nadine Dorries' The Four Streets is a bad novel, riddled with Shamrockese". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2022. Unknown parameter
- Howse, Christopher (7 April 2014). "The Four Streets by Nadine Dorries, review: 'the worst novel I've read in 10 years'". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 15 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2022. Unknown parameter
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