It Was the Best of Scribes: The Best British Authors

With its esteemed history and bold contemporary scene, Britain lays claim to some of the most exciting literature in audio.

Jane Austen is one of the most famous, beloved authors of all time. Despite the fact that her novels were published hundreds of years ago, they remain among the best selling classics ever, and have inspired hundreds of retellings and adaptations. Dozens of Austen fan clubs and festivals exist around the globe. And every year, thousands upon thousands of new fans fall in love with Austen. Surely she must be the most famous British novelist—right? 

Not so fast. What about Agatha Christie? It's no mystery that she's sold more books than anyone except Shakespeare. Or Arthur Conan Doyle. His Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous literary characters of all time! And wait: we just swaggered right past lonely Shakespeare, who gave us enduring stories and many words that are now in common use, including “swagger” and “lonely.” Don’t forget A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, J.K. Rowling, and Roald Dahl, who created some of the most beloved children’s characters in the world. With the hundreds of incredible British writers throughout the centuries, how can anyone possibly decide who is the most famous, or the best of bunch?

Also, wow! Britain can claim many of the greatest authors in literary history. A good percentage of literary classics are still taught today, such as 1984, Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities, and Lord of the Flies. And sure, British published works go back much further than other English-speaking countries, so they got a head start. (As the comedian Eddie Izzard put it, “I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.”) But even today, the U.K. boasts some of the world’s most esteemed living writers. 

A person could devote their whole literary life solely to British authors and still never run out of amazing things to listen to. Whether you're an avid Anglophile or just want to discover the best English novelists for yourself, here’s a list of 23 of the best for you to choose from!

Classic British Authors

Jane Austen (1775 - 1817)

Pride and Prejudice

One of Jane Austen’s most beloved works, Pride and Prejudice, is vividly brought to life by Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)....

Pride and Prejudice

One of Jane Austen’s most beloved works, Pride and Prejudice, is vividly brought to life by Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)....

Austen’s novels are famous for their social commentary on a woman’s place and marriage prospects in the late 18th century into the early 19th century, as well as the manners and virtues of the time. She published six major novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855)

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë's Gothic classic is an early exploration of women's independence in the mid-19th century and the pervasive societal challenges women had to endure....

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë's Gothic classic is an early exploration of women's independence in the mid-19th century and the pervasive societal challenges women had to endure....

The most famous of the three Brontë sisters, who were all writers. Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre, is about a governess who falls for her employer. It was first published under a pseudonym. The character of Jane Eyre was considered very independent for a woman of that time period.

Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870)

A Christmas Carol: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry

This one-of-a-kind performance puts a unique spin on a treasured classic....

A Christmas Carol: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry

This one-of-a-kind performance puts a unique spin on a treasured classic....

Dickens is widely considered the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His novels were carefully detailed and plotted, and often featured topical items from the times. Among his many famous works are A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations.

George Eliot (1819 - 1880)

The Mill on the Floss

Maggie Tulliver has two lovers: Philip Wakem, son of her father’s enemy, and Stephen Guest, already promised to her cousin....

The Mill on the Floss

Maggie Tulliver has two lovers: Philip Wakem, son of her father’s enemy, and Stephen Guest, already promised to her cousin....

Eliot was a novelist, poet, journalist, and translator. Born Mary Anne Evans, she used a pen name to keep her novels separate from her widely read work as an editor and critic, and also to protect her privacy. She wrote seven novels, including The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, and Middlemarch, which is considered one of the greatest novels of all time.

T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1865)

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

A delightful new recording of T. S. Eliot's beloved cat poems. Cats! Some are sane, some are mad and some are good and some are bad....

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

A delightful new recording of T. S. Eliot's beloved cat poems. Cats! Some are sane, some are mad and some are good and some are bad....

Eliot was a poet and playwright, whose work made huge contributions to the Modernist movement. Born in America, he became a British citizen at the age of 39. Everyone knows Cats, the musical adaptation of Eliot's book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, but in his lifetime, he was more famous for his poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

E. M. Forster (1879 - 1970)

A Room with a View

In this rich new audio production, acclaimed British American actress Rebecca Hall brings one of E. M. Forster's most admired works to life in this classic tale of human struggle....

A Room with a View

In this rich new audio production, acclaimed British American actress Rebecca Hall brings one of E. M. Forster's most admired works to life in this classic tale of human struggle....

Forster was a novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist, whose works often focused on class difference. His most acclaimed works include A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.

Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928)

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess Durbeyfield, a peasant girl and cast-off descendant of English aristocracy, has become one of the most famous female protagonists in 19th-century British literature....

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess Durbeyfield, a peasant girl and cast-off descendant of English aristocracy, has become one of the most famous female protagonists in 19th-century British literature....

Highly influenced by William Wordsworth and Romanticism, Hardy’s novels were filled with tragic characters fighting against the unfortunate circumstances of their stations in life. His notable works include Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd, and Jude the Obscure

DH Lawrence (1885 - 1930)

Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence's first major novel, was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside....

Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence's first major novel, was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside....

A writer and poet, Lawrence tackled many subjects in his work, including the industrial age and its effect on people. He also garnered criticism for the sexuality portrayed in his novels. His most famous books include Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was the subject of a trial over the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 and initially banned for obscenity in the United States.

George Orwell (1903 - 1950)

1984

You know about this one, too. And you need to know. Orwell nailed fake news and distortions of language before anyone else did. He was writing about the Soviet Union of 1948, but this book is eerily relevant, which is why it’s right back up there on the best-seller lists. Orwell knew Double Plus Ungood when he saw it.

1984

You know about this one, too. And you need to know. Orwell nailed fake news and distortions of language before anyone else did. He was writing about the Soviet Union of 1948, but this book is eerily relevant, which is why it’s right back up there on the best-seller lists. Orwell knew Double Plus Ungood when he saw it.

Orwell was a novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic, whose works were social criticisms that represented his personal views and support of democratic socialism. He is most famous for his novels Animal Farm and 1984.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Romeo and Juliet: The Fully Dramatized Audio Edition

The Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world's largest Shakespeare collection, brings Romeo and Juliet to life with this new full-length, full-cast dramatic recording of its definitive Folger Edition....

Romeo and Juliet: The Fully Dramatized Audio Edition

The Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world's largest Shakespeare collection, brings Romeo and Juliet to life with this new full-length, full-cast dramatic recording of its definitive Folger Edition....

Considered the greatest author in the English language, Shakespeare wrote plays and poetry that have been translated into every major living language. His plays are performed more often than those by any other playwright and continue to be heavily adapted for stage and screen. His most famous plays include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966)

Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's most celebrated work is a memory drama about the intense entanglement of the narrator, Charles Ryder, with a great Anglo-Catholic family....

Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's most celebrated work is a memory drama about the intense entanglement of the narrator, Charles Ryder, with a great Anglo-Catholic family....

Waugh was a writer, journalist, and book reviewer. His most famous work, Brideshead Revisited, is about a wealthy family living in the enormous Brideshead Castle.

Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941)

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College Cambridge....

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College Cambridge....

Woolf is one of the most highly regarded writers of the 20th century. A member of the renowned Bloomsbury literary group, she is famous for the stream-of-consciousness narration in her works. Her best known books include Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, and A Room of One's Own.

Contemporary British Authors

Kate Atkinson (1951 - )

Case Histories

Case One: A little girl goes missing in the night. Case Two: A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac's apparently random attack....

Case Histories

Case One: A little girl goes missing in the night. Case Two: A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac's apparently random attack....

Atkinson is a writer of short stories, plays, and novels, including the Jackson Brodie mystery series. She has won numerous awards, including the Costa Book Award multiple times. Her most famous novels include Case Histories and Life After Life.

Graham Greene (1904 - 1991)

The Quiet American

Into the intrigue and violence of Indo-China comes Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy through a mysterious 'Third Force'....

The Quiet American

Into the intrigue and violence of Indo-China comes Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy through a mysterious 'Third Force'....

One of the most popular and prolific British novelists of his time, Greene considered himself a writer of both serious novels and lighter thrillers. His most popular works include The Quiet American, The Third Man, and Brighton Rock.

Kazuo Ishiguro (1954 - )

The Remains of the Day

This is Kazuo Ishiguro's profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England....

The Remains of the Day

This is Kazuo Ishiguro's profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England....

One of England's most celebrated living writers, Ishiguro’s award-winning novels are almost all written in the first person and cover genres from historical fiction to speculative fiction. His most famous works are The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Doris Lessing (1919 - 2013)

The Golden Notebook

Author Anna Wulf attempts to overcome writer’s block by writing a comprehensive "golden notebook" that draws together the preoccupations of her life....

The Golden Notebook

Author Anna Wulf attempts to overcome writer’s block by writing a comprehensive "golden notebook" that draws together the preoccupations of her life....

At age 88, Lessing was the oldest writer to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she was awarded in 2007. Although her books covered several genres, Lessing is best known for taking on social issues. Her most famous works include The Golden Notebook and The Good Terrorist.

Hilary Mantel (1952 - )

Wolf Hall

This is Mantel's celebrated trilogy about the real-life figure Thomas Cromwell, who served as the powerful minister and advisor to King Henry VIII (whose wives, as you may recall, had a hard time keeping their heads). The series has two Man Booker Awards to its name so far—and those accolades are well deserved.

Why Game of Thrones fans will enjoy it: Royal intrigue, greed, tyrannical rulers, and beheadings.

Wolf Hall

This is Mantel's celebrated trilogy about the real-life figure Thomas Cromwell, who served as the powerful minister and advisor to King Henry VIII (whose wives, as you may recall, had a hard time keeping their heads). The series has two Man Booker Awards to its name so far—and those accolades are well deserved.

Why Game of Thrones fans will enjoy it: Royal intrigue, greed, tyrannical rulers, and beheadings.

Mantel has written memoirs and short stories, but she is best known for her historical fiction. She became the first woman to win the Booker Prize twice for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the first two novels in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. (The third novel, The Mirror and the Light, was released in March 2020—could she win a third time???)

Iris Murdoch (1919 - 1999)

The Sea, the Sea

Charles Arrowby, leading light of England's theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea....

The Sea, the Sea

Charles Arrowby, leading light of England's theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea....

A novelist and philosopher, Murdoch is considered one of the greatest British writers and thinkers of the 20th century. Her works endure singular explorations of good and evil, sexuality, relationships, and morality. Her most popular books are The Sea, the Sea, and Under the Net.

V.S. Naipaul (1932 - 2018)

A House for Mr. Biswas

Born into poverty, then trapped in the shackles of charity and gratitude, Mr. Biswas longs for a house he can call his own....

A House for Mr. Biswas

Born into poverty, then trapped in the shackles of charity and gratitude, Mr. Biswas longs for a house he can call his own....

A recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Naipaul published almost three dozen books, some of which were considered controversial, over five decades. They range from his early comedic novels to more serious dramatic works later in his career. His most famous works include A House for Mr Biswas and In a Free State

Salman Rushdie (1947- )

The Satanic Verses

The tale of an Indian film star and a Bombay expatriate, Rushdie’s masterpiece was deservedly honored with the Whitbread Prize.....

The Satanic Verses

The tale of an Indian film star and a Bombay expatriate, Rushdie’s masterpiece was deservedly honored with the Whitbread Prize.....

Speaking of controversy: Rushdie is perhaps most famous for the fatwā placed on his head by Ayatollah Khomeini, after the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, seven years after Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize. Largely set in India, his novels examine post-colonialism with allegory and magical realism. Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses are his most celebrated works.

Zadie Smith (1975 - )

White Teeth

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation....

White Teeth

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation....

Smith is arguably the most popular British writer of the 21st century. Her novels have been nominated multiple times for the Booker Prize, and have won many other accolades. Her most famous works include her wildly popular debut novel, White Teeth, along with NW and Grand Union.

Graham Swift (1949 - )

Last Orders

When four men carry out another's final wishes, they are forced to take stock of who they are...

Last Orders

When four men carry out another's final wishes, they are forced to take stock of who they are...

Swift is the author of numerous novels, which have been influenced by such literary luminaries as Faulkner, Borges, and Márquez. He has won multiple awards for his works, which include Last Orders, Shuttlecock, and The Light of Day, and has had a few novels turned into films.

Sarah Waters (1966 - )

Tipping the Velvet

Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury....

Tipping the Velvet

Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury....

One of the greatest writers of historical fiction working today, Waters has penned several novels, many of which feature lesbian protagonists in Victorian times. Quite a few of her works have been adapted for stage and screen. Her popular and highly praised novels include Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and The Little Stranger.


Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon.

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