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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. Kazuo Ishiguro
  46. Camilo José Cela
  47. Gabriela Mistral
  48. Halldor Laxness
  49. Tomas Tranströmer
  50. Ivo Andric
  51. Mo Yan
  52. Patrick White
  53. Alice Munro
  54. George Seferis
  55. Henri Bergson
  56. André Gide
  57. Nelly Sachs
  58. Odysseus Elytis
  59. Eugenio Montale
  60. John Steinbeck
  61. Selma Lagerlöf
  62. Shmuel Yosef Agnon
  63. John Galsworthy
  64. Mikhail Sholokhov
  65. Miguel Ángel Asturias
  66. Harold Pinter
  67. Olga Tokarczuk
  68. Giosuè Carducci
  69. Wislawa Szymborska
  70. Anatole France
  71. Elias Canetti
  72. Vicente Aleixandre
  73. Imre Kertesz
  74. François Mauriac
  75. Svetlana Alexievich
  76. Dario Fo
  77. Gao Xingjian
  78. Maurice Maeterlinck
  79. Ivan Bunin
  80. Patrick Modiano
  81. Frédéric Mistral
  82. Salvatore Quasimodo
  83. William Golding
  84. Grazia Deledda
  85. Pär Lagerkvist
  86. Juan Ramón Jiménez
  87. Gerhart Hauptmann
  88. Roger Martin du Gard
  89. Romain Rolland
  90. Sinclair Lewis
  91. J.M.G. Le Clezio
  92. Jaroslav Seifert
  93. Saint-John Perse
  94. Winston Churchill
  95. Theodor Mommsen
  96. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsen
  97. Pearl S. Buck
  98. Wladyslaw Reymont
  99. Claude Simon
  100. Elfriede Jelinek
  101. Johannes V. Jensen
  102. Herta Müller
  103. Frans Eemil Sillanpää
  104. Sully Prudhomme
  105. Jacinto Benavente
  106. Karl Gjellerup
  107. Henrik Pontoppidan
  108. José Echegaray
  109. Verner von Heidenstam
  110. Paul von Heyse
  111. Carl Spitteler
  112. Rudolf C. Eucken
  113. Harry Martinson
  114. Eyvind Johnson
  115. Erik Axel Karlfendt
  116. Peter Handke

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.
  • However, Peter Handke is an even worse choice because of his terrible politics, and now occupies the bottom slot.
  • 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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