(1917-1993), British

Anthony Burgess Best Books

On this list, readers can find ten of Anthony Burgess’s best books. They explore incredible worlds, characters, and topics that are just as worth reading today as they were when they were first written about.

Readers will find themes of overpopulation, crime, and free will, as well as education, culture, and the future throughout these novels. Burgess’s opinion on these themes is made clear through his memorable writing. This list is not comprehensive. There are several other incredible Burgess wrote during his lifetime that readers would likely enjoy. 

Anthony Burgess Best Books


A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick Artwork
A Clockwork Orange is Burgess’s best-known novel

Without a doubt, Anthony Burgess’s best-known book, A Clockwork Orange, tells the story of Alex, a fifteen-year-old thief, rapist, and all-around despicable criminal. When the novel begins, Alex runs free with his gang, committing whatever crimes he wants, sometimes going to school, and speaking in NADSAT, a specific slang Burgess created for the novel. After a burglary goes wrong, Alex is arrested and put into a program in which he’s brainwashed and made incapable of thinking a criminal thought. Readers’ initial hatred for Alex turns into sympathy as he suffers from his new thought patterns. The book ends with Alex trying to kill himself, the procedure is reversed, and Alex briefly returning to his life of crime. 

Earthly Powers 

Earthly Powers is a 1980 historical fiction novel that is panoramic and sweeping in its scope. The book is in part parody and part historical fiction. It follows Kenneth Toomey and tells the story of his life throughout the 82 chapters of the novel. His life reflects the 20th century through its moral and social themes. The main character starts the novel describing how he, a gay, retired writer, was asked by the Archbishop of Malta to help with the canonization of several figures. The novel was nominated for a Booker Prize in 1980 but was later named one of the most important British books of the previous 25 years. 

The Wanting Seed 

The Wanting Seed is a dystopian novel written in 1962. It is concerned with themes of overpopulation and other societal issues. Burgess explores the social ramifications and how they connect to culture, government, and history. Tristram Foxe and Beatrice-Joanna, husband and wife, are introduced at the beginning of the novel. Their son recently died, and the story follows their lives and the broader issues at play in their contemporary society. Burgess describes how the government was encouraging people not to have children and to even self-sterilize. Things change suddenly when a blight spreads across the earth, threatening food supplies. 

Inside Mr. Enderby 

Inside Mr. Enderby is the first book in a series Anthony Burgess started in 1963. It was published under a pseudonym before Burgess claimed the books. The first, Inside Mr. Enderby, was followed by Enderby Outside, The Clockwork Testament, or Enderby’s End, and Enderby’s Dark Lady, or No End to Enderby. The story starts with school children traveling to meet a poet, Francis Xavier Enderby, who is sleeping. He composes his poetry while sitting on the toilet seat, and he uses his bathtub as a cabinet for papers and food scraps. Burgess describes the decline of Enderby’s marriage and the loss of his muse. He writes one final poem before attempting to overdose on aspirin. 

Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare’s Love Life 

Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare’s Love Life is, as the title suggests, a fictional story of Shakespeare’s life. It was first published in 1964 and took some of its inspiration from Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets. In these poems, he describes an affair with a Black woman, or at least someone with dark features. Burgess took this feature of Shakespeare’s writing and created Fatimah, a Black prostitute. 

1985

1985 was written in 1978 as a tribute to George Orwell’s 1984. The book is split into two parts. The first is a series of essays that discuss Orwell’s work, and the second part is a novella set in 1985. It uses the same concept as 1984, suggesting that if the world doesn’t change, society is going to be in a very bad place. The protagonist is a school teacher who struggles with the education system. It is more concerned with approaches to studying he disagrees with. 

The Doctor is Sick 

The Doctor is Sick was published in 1960 and apparently written in only six weeks. The book was composed after Burgess returned from Malaya. He also wrote several other novels in this period. These included A Clockwork Orange and Devil of a State. The plot follows Edwin Spindrift, a doctor who is unhappily married and suffering from an unknown brain condition. The majority of the novel is a dream sequence that occurs while Edwin is anesthetized for surgery.

One Hand Clapping 

One Hand Clapping is a 1961 novel published under Burgess’s pseudonym, Joseph Kell. He was inspired to write the book by what he saw as unnecessary and damaging changes to the western education system. The plot follows Howard, a man with a photogenic memory. He uses it to win money on a TV show before discovering that he’s also clairvoyant and starts to win money off horse races. He gambles the winnings and travels the world. He’s upset, on his return, by the corruption of the world. He decides that he and his wife should commit suicide. She kills him instead, takes the money, and starts a new life. 

Napoleon Symphony 

Napoleon Symphony is a fictional recreation of Napoleon Bonaparte’s world. It was first published in 1974 and is structured in four movements, like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. The novel follows a suffering Bonaparte who is dealing with heartburn and halitosis. He seducesTsar Alexander I of Russia in part of the novel. But, the bulk of the book focuses on his conquest of Egypt. Interestingly, the novel is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick, the director of A Clockwork Orange. 

A Dead Man in Deptford 

A Dead Man in Deptford was published in 1993. It was the last book Burgess published before his death. It depicts the life and times of Christopher Marlowe, an Elizabethan playwright who is second in fame only to William Shakespeare. He was conscripted to work as a spy for Queen Elizabeth. He’s sent to Rheims to find anyone conspiring against the Queen and the Church of England. He’s instrumental in the arrest of several characters. The book was made into a film in 2010. 

FAQs 

What is Anthony Burgess’s best-known book? 

Anthony Burgess’s best-known book is A Clockwork Orange. It was published in 1962 and later adapted into a famous film. The latter was directed by Stanley Kubrick and well-loved by audiences around the world. 

Is A Clockwork Orange based on a true story? 

It is loosely based on some events in Burgess’s life. But, the story is fiction. Readers might find parallels between social events and movements of his life and what plays out in the novel. 

What genre did Anthony Burgess write? 

Anthony Burgess wrote in a variety of genres. These include historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and more. 

Did Anthony Burgess only write novels? 

Anthony Burgess also wrote poetry, short stories, autobiographical amounts of his life, journalist articles, studies of linguistics, books on music, and other non-fiction. 

What was Anthony Burgess’s first novel? 

His first novel was Time for a Tiger. It was published in 1956 under the pseudonym ‘Anthony Burgess,’ shortening his own name, John Anthony Burgess Wilson.

About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.

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