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What Is Cormac McCarthy's Best Book?

young cormack mccarthy

Cormac McCarthy (born July 20, 1933) is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He was born Charles McCarthy Jr. in Providence, Rhode Island, but changed his name to Cormac, after the Irish King Cormac mac Airt, to avoid confusion with his father.

McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee but never graduated. Instead, he served in the U.S. Air Force and later received a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters to write his first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” which was published in 1965.

Following this, McCarthy traveled to Europe, returned to the United States, and wrote several more novels, eventually gaining more substantial recognition with the publication of “Suttree” and “Blood Meridian” in the 1980s. “Blood Meridian,” often cited as his masterpiece, is a brutal and lyrical western novel, known for its profound exploration of good and evil.

McCarthy’s later “Border Trilogy” of novels – “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Crossing,” and “Cities of the Plain” – cemented his reputation as one of America’s most significant contemporary writers. These works combine elements of the western genre with philosophical meditations on the nature of humanity and morality.

In 2006, McCarthy published “The Road,” a post-apocalyptic novel depicting a father and son’s struggle to survive in a devastated world. This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 and was adapted into a critically acclaimed film.

Cormack McCarthy‘s writing style is distinctive for its sparse punctuation and complex vocabulary. He often explores themes of life, death, and the human condition in his work, drawing from his experiences in the southern United States and Mexico.

His contributions to American literature were recognized in 2009 when he was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

Book Publication Year Genre
The Orchard Keeper 1965 Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature
Outer Dark 1968 Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature
Child of God 1973 Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature
Suttree 1979 Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature
Blood Meridian 1985 Western, Epic, Postmodern literature
All the Pretty Horses 1992 Western, Romance, Bildungsroman
The Crossing 1994 Western
Cities of the Plain 1998 Western
No Country for Old Men 2005 Crime, Thriller, Western
The Road 2006 Post-apocalyptic fiction

What Is The Best Cormac McCarthy Book of All Time?

The Orchard Keeper

Cormac McCarthy’s debut novel, The Orchard Keeper, is a multi-generational narrative set in Tennessee in the years between the two World Wars. The narrative orbits around three main characters, subtly intertwining their lives in the orchard country of East Tennessee. McCarthy showcases his unique narrative style and themes of wilderness and decay, launching a successful career in fiction.

  • Publication Year: 1965
  • Genre: Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature

Outer Dark

Outer Dark is a novel steeped in the Southern Gothic tradition. The story follows siblings Rinthy and Culla Holme, and explores themes of incest, guilt, and the nature of evil. McCarthy’s atmospheric description and complex storytelling weave a haunting narrative that stays with the reader long after the last page.

  • Publication Year: 1968
  • Genre: Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature

Child of God

In Child of God, McCarthy delivers a chilling tale of Lester Ballard, a violent man ostracized from his Appalachian community. As Ballard descends into lawlessness and madness, McCarthy explores themes of isolation, morality, and the capacity for evil in humanity.

  • Publication Year: 1973
  • Genre: Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature


Suttree is a semi-autobiographical novel set in 1951 Knoxville, Tennessee. The eponymous character, Cornelius Suttree, rejects his previous life of privilege to live on the banks of the Tennessee River, interacting with the marginalized society. This novel showcases McCarthy’s unique blend of humor and tragedy, drawing a portrait of rebellion against societal norms.

  • Publication Year: 1979
  • Genre: Southern Gothic, Postmodern literature

Blood Meridian

Arguably McCarthy’s most acclaimed work, Blood Meridian is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion. The narrative follows a teenager referred to as “the kid,” in his journey with a gang of Indian-hunters. McCarthy’s grimly poetic storytelling and the exploration of good versus evil make this novel a standout in American literature.

  • Publication Year: 1985
  • Genre: Western, Epic, Postmodern literature
  • Notable Accolade: Time’s 100 Best English-Language Novels (2005)

All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses is the first book in McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”. The novel follows young John Grady Cole as he ventures from Texas to Mexico with his friend, exploring themes of love, loss, and adventure. McCarthy’s lyrical prose and the coming-of-age storyline have garnered widespread praise from readers and critics alike.

  • Publication Year: 1992
  • Genre: Western, Romance, Bildungsroman
  • Notable Accolade: National Book Award (1992)

The Crossing

The Crossing, the second book in the “Border Trilogy”, follows the story of young Billy Parham who captures a wolf and attempts to return it to the mountains of Mexico. The novel is an exploration of wilderness, the brutality of reality, and the fleeting dream of freedom.

  • Publication Year: 1994
  • Genre: Western

Cities of the Plain

The final installment of the “Border Trilogy”, Cities of the Plain, unites characters John Grady Cole and Billy Parham from the previous books. They now work on a ranch in New Mexico, their lives taking turns as they navigate the journey into adulthood. McCarthy beautifully merges the coming-of-age narrative with a tragic love story, concluding the trilogy on a poignant note.

  • Publication Year: 1998
  • Genre: Western

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is a crime thriller novel set in the borderland between Texas and Mexico. The narrative follows three central characters in a ruthless chase after a misplaced $2.4 million. The novel, which explores themes of fate, conscience, and corruption, was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film.

  • Publication Year: 2005
  • Genre: Crime, Thriller, Western
  • Notable Accolade: NYPL Books of the Century

The Road

The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel depicting a father and son’s journey across a scorched America. In the face of devastation, they continue to push towards the coast, surviving on the bare minimum. The novel is a lyrical exploration of love, hope, and survival in the direst of circumstances, winning McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

  • Publication Year: 2006
  • Genre: Post-apocalyptic fiction
  • Notable Accolade: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2007)