20 best books on modernism – 2023 reading list & recommendations

Are you a fan of modernism? Do you love exploring the innovative and groundbreaking ideas that defined the 20th century? If so, you’re in luck! In this article, we have curated a list of the 20 best books about modernism. These books delve into the artistic, literary, and cultural movements that shaped modernism, offering a deeper understanding of this influential era. Whether you’re a student, scholar, or simply a curious reader, these modernism books are a must-read for anyone interested in this captivating period of history.

The Waste Land

by T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot is a groundbreaking book on modernism that explores the fractured and disillusioned post-World War I society. Eliot’s poetic masterpiece takes readers on a tumultuous journey through a wasteland of fragmented thoughts, cultural references, and haunting imagery. This book about modernism showcases Eliot’s ability to capture the anxieties and disintegration of the modern world, reflecting the fragmented nature of human experience in a rapidly changing society. With its complex structure and intertextual references, The Waste Land remains a modernism book that continues to challenge and captivate readers to this day, offering a profound reflection on the human condition and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is a mesmerizing book on modernism that takes readers on a journey through the complexities of human relationships and the passage of time. Set in the early 20th century, this masterpiece of literature captures the essence of modernism by delving into the inner thoughts and emotions of its characters.


by James Joyce

Ulysses, often hailed as the quintessential modernist masterpiece, is a book on modernism that pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling. Written by James Joyce, this literary tour de force is a celebration of the ordinary, the mundane, and the complexities of human consciousness.

In this groundbreaking work, Joyce meticulously weaves together the lives of his characters over the course of a single day in Dublin, Ireland. Through an array of narrative techniques, from stream-of-consciousness to parodies of various literary styles, he captures the essence of a society in flux, grappling with the shifting values and uncertainties of the early 20th century.

Ulysses is not just a book about modernism; it is a modernism book in itself. Joyce’s innovative use of language, his playful experimentation with form and structure, and his unflinching exploration of the human psyche make this novel a true literary revolution.

With its richly layered symbolism, its intricate wordplay, and its bold exploration of themes such as identity, sexuality, and religion, Ulysses remains a challenging yet rewarding read for those willing to embark on its intellectual and artistic journey.

So, delve into the world of Ulysses, a modernism book that defies conventions and invites readers to question the very nature of literature. Brace yourself for a literary adventure like no other, where every page is an invitation to explore the depths of human experience and the complexities of the modern world.

Mrs. Dalloway

by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway is a captivating book on modernism written by Virginia Woolf. Set in post-World War I London, this modernism book delves into the intricacies of human consciousness and the impact of society on individual lives.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is an iconic book on modernism, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the roaring 1920s, it unravels a tale of love, ambition, and the corrupting power of wealth.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is a captivating book about modernism that takes readers on a journey through the mind and experiences of its protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. Set in Dublin, Ireland, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this book on modernism explores the inner struggles and development of a young artist.

Through Joyce’s masterful use of language and stream-of-consciousness narrative style, readers are immersed in Stephen’s thoughts, emotions, and perceptions as he navigates the complexities of religion, family, education, and his own artistic ambitions. The modernism book delves into themes of identity, self-discovery, and the clash between societal expectations and personal desires.

Stephen’s journey towards self-realization and artistic freedom is beautifully depicted, as he grapples with the constraints of Catholicism, societal norms, and his own internal conflicts. The book about modernism offers a profound exploration of individualism, rebellion, and the pursuit of one’s true calling.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a timeless book on modernism that challenges conventional storytelling techniques and pushes the boundaries of literary form. It is a thought-provoking and introspective work that continues to captivate readers with its rich symbolism, vivid imagery, and profound exploration of the human condition.

The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises, written by Ernest Hemingway, is a remarkable book on modernism. Set in the 1920s, this novel takes readers on a journey through the lives of a group of expatriates living in Paris and traveling to Pamplona, Spain. With its vivid descriptions and raw storytelling, this book about modernism captures the essence of a generation disillusioned by the aftermath of World War I.

The Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury, a remarkable book on modernism, is a literary masterpiece by William Faulkner that takes readers on a profound and tumultuous journey through the lives of the Compson family. Set in the fictional town of Jefferson, Mississippi, this book about modernism delves into themes of time, memory, and the disintegration of traditional Southern values.

The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a captivating book on modernism. This literary masterpiece explores the concept of transformation and the alienation of the individual in a modernist society. Through the bizarre and surreal metamorphosis of its protagonist, Gregor Samsa, Kafka presents a thought-provoking narrative that delves deep into the complexities of human existence.

The Trial

by Franz Kafka

The Trial by Franz Kafka is a captivating book on modernism that delves into the complex and bewildering nature of the human condition. Kafka, a master of the written word, crafts a mesmerizing narrative that grabs hold of the reader’s imagination from the very first page.

The Catcher in the Rye

by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye, an iconic novel by J.D. Salinger, is a captivating book on modernism that delves into the restless mind of an alienated teenager, Holden Caulfield.

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar, a captivating book about modernism, is a literary masterpiece written by Sylvia Plath. This modernism book takes readers on a haunting journey through the mind of its protagonist, Esther Greenwood.

Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is an enthralling book on modernism that takes readers on a mind-bending journey through a dystopian future. Set in a world where technology reigns supreme and conformity is the norm, this thought-provoking novel by Aldous Huxley challenges the very essence of what it means to be human.

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath, a timeless classic by John Steinbeck, is a book on modernism that immerses readers in the harsh reality of the Great Depression. Set in the 1930s, this masterpiece explores the lives of the Joad family as they leave their drought-ridden farm in Oklahoma to seek a better future in California.

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is an extraordinary book on modernism. Written by the legendary Ernest Hemingway, this literary masterpiece delves deep into the human condition and explores the triumph of the human spirit against insurmountable odds. Set against the backdrop of the vast and treacherous sea, this book about modernism tells the gripping story of an aging Cuban fisherman, Santiago, who embarks on a seemingly impossible quest to catch a giant marlin.

The Stranger

by Albert Camus

The Stranger, a book on modernism written by Albert Camus, delves into the depths of existentialism and absurdism. This thought-provoking novel explores the life of Meursault, a detached and indifferent protagonist who embodies the essence of modernism. As the story unfolds, Meursault is confronted with the absurdity of life and the inevitability of death. Camus masterfully captures the essence of human existence in this modernism book, challenging societal norms and questioning the meaning of life itself. Through his vivid storytelling and philosophical musings, Camus invites readers to ponder the complexities of the human condition and the absurdity that lies beneath the surface.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a mesmerizing book on modernism that takes readers on a captivating journey through the Buendía family’s history.

Set in the fictional town of Macondo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s modernism book explores the cyclical nature of time and the interplay between reality and imagination. The story spans over a century, chronicling the trials and tribulations of multiple generations.

Marquez’s prose is rich and vivid, painting a vivid picture of the magical realism that permeates the novel. From flying carpets to levitating priests, the fantastical elements perfectly intertwine with the Buendía family’s intricate lives.

Through this book about modernism, Marquez also delves into universal themes such as love, passion, and the human condition. The characters, each with their quirks and flaws, come alive on the pages, making it easy for readers to connect with their joys and sorrows.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a masterpiece of modernism, blending reality and fantasy in a way that only Marquez can. It is a must-read for anyone who appreciates intricate storytelling and the exploration of the human experience.


by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, is a mesmerizing and controversial masterpiece of modernist literature. This novel about modernism delves into the dark and twisted psyche of its protagonist, Humbert Humbert, as he becomes infatuated with a young girl named Lolita.

The Handmaid’s Tale

by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood, is a captivating book on modernism that will transport you to a chilling dystopian world. Set in the not-so-distant future, this modernism book explores a society where women are subjugated, stripped of their rights, and reduced to mere vessels for procreation.


by Toni Morrison

Beloved is a captivating book on modernism that takes readers on a haunting journey through the depths of slavery’s impact on the human spirit. Toni Morrison, a literary genius, weaves an intricate tale that explores the profound effects of trauma, memory, and identity.

In this book about modernism, Morrison’s poetic language and powerful storytelling transport us to post-Civil War Ohio, where we meet Sethe, a former slave haunted by the memories of a horrific act she committed to protect her children. Sethe’s home is soon disrupted by the arrival of Beloved, a mysterious young woman who seems to embody the spirit of Sethe’s deceased baby daughter.

As the story unfolds, Morrison delves deep into the complexities of the characters’ experiences, intertwining past and present, reality and the supernatural. Through vivid and visceral prose, she explores themes of memory, trauma, and the search for identity in a world that denies it to Black individuals.

This modernism book challenges traditional narrative structures, with its nonlinear storytelling and fragmented perspectives. Morrison’s masterful use of language and symbolism creates a rich and immersive reading experience, drawing us into the characters’ lives and offering profound insights into the lasting legacy of slavery.

Beloved is a literary masterpiece that delves into the darkest corners of the human experience, leaving an indelible mark on its readers. Morrison’s exploration of memory, trauma, and identity transcends the boundaries of time and space, making this book on modernism a must-read for anyone seeking a profound and thought-provoking literary journey.


In conclusion, these 20 books about modernism offer a captivating exploration of this influential artistic and literary movement. From insightful essays and critical analyses to comprehensive surveys and compelling biographies, these books shed light on the complexities and innovations of modernist thought. Whether you are a seasoned scholar or a curious reader, these books will deepen your understanding of modernism and its lasting impact on the world of art and literature. Dive into these pages and embark on a journey through the vibrant and transformative era of modernism.