A highly idiosyncratic ranking of all the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature

 

 

  1. T.S. Eliot
  2. Rabindranath Tagore
  3. William Faulkner
  4. George Bernard Shaw
  5. Gabriel García Márquez
  6. W.B. Yeats
  7. Samuel Beckett
  8. Pablo Neruda
  9. Toni Morrison
  10. Naguib Mahfouz
  11. Yasunari Kawabata
  12. Eugene O’Neill
  13. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  14. Ernest Hemingway
  15. Albert Camus
  16. Wole Soyinka
  17. Derek Walcott
  18. Saul Bellow
  19. Thomas Mann
  20. Bob Dylan
  21. Kenzaburo Oe
  22. Jean-Paul Sartre
  23. Isaac Bashevis Singer
  24. Rudyard Kipling
  25. Seamus Heaney
  26. Mario Vargas Llosa
  27. Nadine Gordimer
  28. Joseph Brodsky
  29. Czeslaw Milosz
  30. Octavio Paz
  31. Knut Hamsun
  32. Günter Grass
  33. Luigi Pirandello
  34. Boris Pasternak
  35. J.M. Coetzee
  36. Doris Lessing
  37. Heinrich Böll
  38. Hermann Hesse
  39. V.S. Naipaul
  40. Orhan Pamuk
  41. Sigrid Undset
  42. Bertrand Russell
  43. Henryk Sienkiewicz
  44. José Saramago
  45. Camilo José Cela
  46. Gabriela Mistral
  47. Halldor Laxness
  48. Tomas Tranströmer
  49. Ivo Andric
  50. Mo Yan
  51. Patrick White
  52. Alice Munro
  53. George Seferis
  54. Henri Bergson
  55. André Gide
  56. Nelly Sachs
  57. Odysseus Elytis
  58. Eugenio Montale
  59. John Steinbeck
  60. Selma Lagerlöf
  61. Shmuel Yosef Agnon
  62. John Galsworthy
  63. Mikhail Sholokhov
  64. Miguel Ángel Asturias
  65. Harold Pinter
  66. Giosuè Carducci
  67. Wislawa Szymborska
  68. Anatole France
  69. Elias Canetti
  70. Vicente Aleixandre
  71. Imre Kertesz
  72. François Mauriac
  73. Svetlana Alexievich
  74. Dario Fo
  75. Gao Xingjian
  76. Maurice Maeterlinck
  77. Ivan Bunin
  78. Patrick Modiano
  79. Frédéric Mistral
  80. Salvatore Quasimodo
  81. William Golding
  82. Grazia Deledda
  83. Pär Lagerkvist
  84. Juan Ramón Jiménez
  85. Gerhart Hauptmann
  86. Roger Martin du Gard
  87. Romain Rolland
  88. Sinclair Lewis
  89. J.M.G. Le Clezio
  90. Jaroslav Seifert
  91. Saint-John Perse
  92. Winston Churchill
  93. Theodor Mommsen
  94. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsen
  95. Pearl S. Buck
  96. Wladyslaw Reymont
  97. Claude Simon
  98. Elfriede Jelinek
  99. Johannes V. Jensen
  100. Herta Müller
  101. Frans Eemil Sillanpää
  102. Sully Prudhomme
  103. Jacinto Benavente
  104. Karl Gjellerup
  105. Henrik Pontoppidan
  106. José Echegaray
  107. Verner von Heidenstam
  108. Paul von Heyse
  109. Carl Spitteler
  110. Rudolf C. Eucken
  111. Harry Martinson
  112. Eyvind Johnson
  113. Erik Axel Karlfendt

NOTES:

  • I didn’t put much thought into this. I just ranked each writer wherever they seemed to fit best. Also, I’m not personally familiar with most of these writers, so most of these rankings are based on reputation.
  • I originally had Rabindranath Tagore at #1, and I think that’s defensible.
  • I would say that only about the top 65 writers on this list actually deserved the Nobel Prize.
  • The writers at the bottom of the list are those who would be completely forgotten today if they hadn’t won the Nobel Prize. Erik Axel Karlfeldt is at the very bottom because he won the Nobel Prize posthumously. If they had to give the Nobel Prize to someone who was already dead, they could have made a much better choice.
  • If either James Joyce or Leo Tolstoy had won the Nobel Prize, they would have been ranked #1. Many other writers who never won the Nobel Prize (Borges, Twain, Chekhov, Ibsen, Proust, Woolf, etc.) would have been ranked in the top ten of this list if they had won it.
  • 1-19-17: Edited to add Bob Dylan at #20
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