Cormac McCarthy Best Books

Cormac McCarthy is often described as one of America’s most important and best living writers. Below, readers can explore his best novels.

He’s a reclusive figure, someone who has spent little time in the public spotlight but who has also written several incredibly notable books, all of which have been made into influential feature films. On this list, readers can explore the ten novels McCarthy has written throughout his life. 

Cormac McCarthy Best Books


The Road 

The Road is a harrowing novel about a post-apocalyptic world. It follows a father and his son as they attempt to survive in a starvation-ravaged wilderness. The industrial world has collapsed, and the human race appears to be on the brink of extinction.

Dangers are posed by disease, starvation, and other human beings throughout. The novel is incredibly dark and was made into an award-winning film in 2009. It is likely McCarthy’s best-known novel, closely followed by No Country for Old Men.

No Country for Old Men 

No Country for Old Men is another of McCarthy’s better-known novels. It was written in 2005 after the author penned the screenplay by the same name. The story takes place around the Mexico/United States border in 1980 and follows a drug deal gone wrong.

McCarthy focuses on three main characters, Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh, and Ed Tom Bell, who deal with the fallout from the drug deal. Chigurh is hired to find and kill Moss after he stumbles upon a case of drug money. Bell, the sheriff, tries and fails to protect Moss. Interestingly, the title of the book comes from the poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ by William Butler Yeats. 

Blood Meridian 

Blood Meridian is a McCarthy novel that follows a group of young men as they attempt to wipe out the Apache Native Americans in Mexico. It’s a notoriously violent novel that has also been cited as one of the best books of the 20th century. The men perusing the natives cite the latter’s savagery as the reason why they’re being hunted. But, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear very quickly that they are just as, if not more, savage than those they are perusing. 

All the Pretty Horses 

This novel was published in 1992 and takes place in the mid-1900s. It starts with the funeral of John Grady Cole’s grandfather and the choices to sell the family ranch and move. Grady runs away and moves towards the Mexican border with his friend Rawlins. They are joined by Jimmy Blevins and encounter an array of troubling adventures.

The book has been described as far more Romantic than McCarthy’s other novels. It was, as many of his novels have been, adapted into a film. It featured Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz and was released in 2000. 

Suttree 

Suttree is a 1979 novel and is usually described as semi-autobiographical. The novel follows a man named Cornelius Suttree, who has given up a life of privilege to work as a fisherman along the Tennessee River, an area that McCarthy knew well, having spent much of his life in the state.

The novel includes flashbacks and shifts in perspective that set it apart from some of McCarthy’s other novels. Some critics have compared it to Huckleberry Fin and Ulysses. It took McCarthy twenty years to write the novel. 

The Crossing 

Published in 1994, The Crossing is the second part of the “Border Trilogy.” It follows All the Pretty Horses, published two years prior. The book is set between the United States and Mexico around the beginning and during the Second World War. Billy Parham serves as the main character. It is a darker novel and more melancholic than the first book in the series. But, it is not as violent nor as disturbing as a novel like Blood Meridian. Throughout, McCarthy uses concise dialogue, something that occurs throughout his “Border Trilogy” novels. 

Child of God 

Child of God is McCarthy’s third novel. It follows a dark main character, a serial killer, operating in the 1960s in Appalachian, Tennessee. The novel did not bring McCarthy the economic success that he needed during this time in his life, but it did establish some of the primary themes that McCarthy would explore throughout the rest of his career. These include violence and isolation.

Throughout the novel, he uses several interesting characteristics. He writes without the use of quotation marks, sometimes making it challenging to distinguish between characters’ dialogue. He also uses poetic-sounding prose, something that sets the novel apart from some of his other books. 

Outer Dark 

Outer Dark was published in 1968 and was McCarthy’s second novel. It’s set somewhere, and readers are led to believe, in Appalachian Tennessee, like other novels McCarthy wrote throughout his life. It may be playing out around the turn of the 20th century. The novel features Rinthy, a woman who bears his brother’s child. The brother leaves the child to die in the woods, but Rinthy goes after it. 

Cities of the Plain 

Cities of the Plain is the final novel in the “Border Trilogy.” It was published in 1998. The title, like many of McCarthy’s novels, has a biblical origin. It references Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:29. The story takes place in the mid-1950s and follows John Grady Cole, who can also be found in the other two “Border” novels. 

The Orchard Keeper 

The Orchard Keeper is the first novel McCarthy wrote. It was published in 1966 and won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for a notable first novel. Critics often describe how similar McCarthy’s prose is to William Faulkner’s. 

FAQs 

What is considered Cormac McCarthy’s best book?

Some books that are often cited as McCarthy’s best are The Road, No Country for Old Men, and Blood Meridian. The latter is often cited on lists of the best American books of the 20th century. 

Where should I start with Cormac McCarthy?

The Road is one of the best books to start with if one is interested in reading McCarthy’s novels. Other books like Blood Meridian are far more violent and maybe better enjoyed if readers are already acquainted with McCarthy’s style and themes. 

What is the most brutal book?

Some of the most brutal books written throughout the history of literature include Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and Piercing by Ryu Murikami. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is another good example. 

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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