The great 20th-century English novelist W. Somerset Maugham was once asked by an American magazine publisher to make a list of the ten greatest novels in the world. Maugham reluctantly agreed, recognizing that any such list was bound to be somewhat arbitrary. Eventually, he wrote a set of prefaces for the ten books, to be included in a series of abridged classics. An expanded version of the prefaces–which provide biographical sketches of the authors and Maugham’s discussion of what makes each book great–was eventually published as a book titled The Art of Fiction: An Introduction to Ten Novels and their Authors (1955).
Here’s Maugham’s list:
Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Stendhal, The Red and the Black
Balzac, Le Père Goriot
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Tolstoy, War and Peace
Of these, I’ve only read Melville and Dostoevsky, but it looks like a pretty solid list. I’m currently reading Maugham’s chapter on Moby-Dick.