Philosophical novels use fictional stories to explore thought-provoking questions that have stimulated and flummoxed readers for centuries. But the best of these books are not dry and incomprehensible tomes. Here’s my list of ten philosophical novels that include some of the most famous and commercially successful books ever written.
Hosseini’s debut novel explores the relationship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant against the backdrop of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, the flight of refugees and the rise of the Taliban. The Kite Runner held the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years.
Another debut novel and the winner of the Italian Premio Strega Prize and the French Prix Médicis Étranger Award. Eco’s tale about a Franciscan friar investigating a charge of heresy and a sudden death at a fourteenth-century Italian monastery is one of the best-selling books ever published, with more than fifty million copies sold worldwide.
Part allegory, part autobiography, this story about a mysterious boy who regales a pilot who has crashed in the Sahara with the story of his life on distant planets and his encounters with close-minded adults is the fourth most-translated book in the world and the best-selling single-volume book ever written.
Rand’s first major literary success about a young, individualistic architect who refuses to compromise with those who would hold him back has sold more than 6.5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into over twenty languages.
Time magazine included this sprawling novel split between an addicts’ halfway house and a youth tennis academy in its list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to 2005. Wallace’s magnum opus sold 44,000 hardcover copies in its first year of publication and has since surpassed one million sales around the world.
This novel about an Andalusian shepherd boy whose quest for treasure leads him to a far different and more fulfilling wealth is the third best-selling single-volume book ever and holds the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by a living author.
In a future American society, books are outlawed and “firemen” burn the ones they find in this winner of the 1954 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, a 1984 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award and a 1954 Retro Hugo Award in 2004, one of only four Best Novel Retro Hugos ever awarded. Despite being ironically and repeatedly banned, censored or redacted, Fahrenheit 451 remains the most popular novel by one by America’s best modern writers.
Beginning with perhaps the most famous opening sentence in literature (“Call me Ishmael.”), this tale of Captain Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of revenge against the white whale that bit off his leg earned its place as a “Great American Novel,” but only well after Melville’s death. William Faulkner confessed he wished he had written the novel himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it “the greatest book of the sea ever written.”
When Napoleon Bonaparte invades Russia in 1812, peasants, nobility, civilians and soldiers struggle with problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. Newsweek ranked this novel first in its 2009 list “Top 100 Books,” while Time ranked it third in its 2007 poll of the ten greatest books of all time. Tolstoy remains one of the best-selling authors in the history of literature.
A fourteen-year-old girl receives mysterious letters that lead her to explore the major concepts of Western philosophy and pose a riddle that only her burgeoning philosophical knowledge can unravel. Gaarder’s novel has sold over forty million copies and has been translated into sixty languages.
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