Books

Bleak books - the top 10 most depressing books

Nuclear fallout, the Holocaust, government oppression, poverty, mental illness and the savage nature of humanity itself - all topics covered in some of the most depressing books.

The Road, a heart-breaking novel of unending post-apocalyptic horror including cannibalism and violence, easily topped the list and that was no surprise.

Three Oprah Winfrey Book Club picks make the list – The Road, Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust novel, Night, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye – a novel of racism, incest and cruelty. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has undergone a massive revival over the past 12 months with many critics relating the book’s collapsing society to the world’s current economic woes – it is also one of five books on the list published in the 1950s (along with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1949). Was the 1950s really such a depressing period for authors?

On the Beach by Nevil Shute is a true product of its time. Published in 1957, this end-of-the-world novel reflected the nuclear arms race of the period. One of the book’s many bleak themes is government-sponsored suicide in the face of radiation.

Sylvia Plath’s own suicide shortly after the publication of her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, adds a depressing note of realism to the appearance of this particular book on the list.

Top 10 most depressing books

By Cormac McCarthy
The Road boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, `each the other's world entire', are sustained by love.
By Elie Wiesel
Night is among the most personal, intimate and poignant of all accounts of the Holocaust.
By Nevil Shute
After the war is over, a radioactive cloud begins to sweep southwards on the winds, gradually poisoning everything in its path.
By Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.
By John Steinbeck
Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land.
By George Orwell
George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four is perhaps the most pervasively influential book of the twentieth century.
By Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged envisions a world where the 'men of talent' - the great innovators, producers and creators - have mysteriously disappeared.
By William Golding
First published in 1954, William Golding's debut novel, now a classic, is a stark story of survival, probing the depths of human nature, and what happens when civilization collapses.
By Toni Morrison
A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterised her writing.
By Thomas Hardy
Jude the Obscure is a dark yet compassionate account of the insurmountable frustrations of human existence which reflect Hardy's yearning for the spiritual values of the past and his despair at their decline.

Share

More essential reading lists

By Julie Oreskovich
17 June, 2021
We kept this list to fiction this time. Some of the expected classics are there, alongside some more contemporary fare. There is some science fiction, some YA, and above all else, some unforgettable stories.
1 Min Read
03 June, 2021
Welcome to the Weird Book Room on AbeBooks, where you'll find some of the most funny and bizarre books, the world has ever known.
1 Min Read
By Richard Davies
21 June, 2021
This was a virtually impossible task. Put together a list of 50 must-read science fiction books and don’t make anyone angry. See our list of the best science fiction books to read.
1 Min Read