10 Best Cormac McCarthy Books You Should Read

Cormac McCarthy, a celebrated American novelist and playwright, has a unique voice that has captivated readers around the world. His works are often dark and philosophical, delving into themes of human existence, morality, and the often brutal nature of life. McCarthy’s prose is renowned for its vivid imagery, complex characters, and ability to blend various literary genres, creating a unique reading experience.

Born in 1933, McCarthy began his literary career with “The Orchard Keeper” in 1965. Since then, he has penned several novels that have received critical acclaim, even winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His writing style is characterised by a lack of punctuation, dense language, and intricate plotlines, which has earned him comparisons to literary greats like William Faulkner and James Joyce.

This article presents an overview of the best Cormac McCarthy books that any reader looking to explore the deeper, darker aspects of humanity must consider. From the raw and intense portrayal of the American Southwest to the apocalyptic landscapes of a decaying world, these novels offer a glimpse into McCarthy’s unparalleled imagination.

1. Blood Meridian

“Blood Meridian” is often considered Cormac McCarthy’s magnum opus. This novel is a visceral, blood-soaked depiction of the American West and the violence that shaped it.

Set in the 1850s, the story follows the teenage runaway known as the Kid as he joins a group of Indian-hunters. Led by the enigmatic and terrifying Judge Holden, this novel is both a historical fiction and a nightmarish allegory. Its stark, unflinching portrayal of violence and the human condition has made it one of the most discussed and dissected works in contemporary literature.

2. The Road

“The Road” is perhaps McCarthy’s most accessible novel, and it brought him mainstream success, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This post-apocalyptic novel follows a father and son as they traverse a desolate landscape, trying to survive in a world turned ashen and lifeless.

Through their journey, McCarthy explores themes of love, hope, despair, and the human will to live. The simplicity of the language contrasts with the complexity of the emotions, creating a hauntingly beautiful narrative that stays with the reader long after the book is closed.

3. No Country for Old Men

“No Country for Old Men” is a thrilling novel that blends elements of crime, suspense, and western genres. The story revolves around a drug deal gone wrong, and the characters caught in the ensuing chaos.

Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a suitcase full of money and makes a fateful decision to take it. This sets off a deadly chain of events as he’s pursued by a relentless assassin, Anton Chigurh. Alongside this, the aging Sheriff Bell reflects on the changing world and the loss of moral values. McCarthy’s masterful storytelling and exploration of fate, choice, and morality make this novel a standout work.

4. All the Pretty Horses

“All the Pretty Horses” is the first book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, showcasing his unique vision of the American Southwest. It follows the story of John Grady Cole, a young cowboy who heads to Mexico after the sale of his family’s ranch.

The novel’s rich, poetic prose paints a vivid picture of the landscape and the life of cowboys. It’s a coming-of-age story that delves into themes of love, freedom, and the loss of innocence. McCarthy’s ability to blend romance and adventure with philosophical insights makes this book a timeless classic.

5. The Crossing

“The Crossing” is the second installment in the Border Trilogy, and it continues to explore the themes of youth, identity, and destiny, set against the backdrop of the American Southwest.

The protagonist, Billy Parham, embarks on a series of journeys across the border into Mexico. Each journey serves as a metaphorical crossing, with Billy’s encounters with various characters providing lessons and insights into human nature and existence. McCarthy’s lyrical language and profound themes make this novel an enriching read.

6. Cities of the Plain

“Cities of the Plain” is the final volume of the Border Trilogy, uniting the protagonists of the previous two novels, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, as they work on a ranch in New Mexico.

The novel captures the end of an era as the traditional ways of the cowboy are disappearing. Amidst the shifting landscape, the characters grapple with love, friendship, and the inexorable passage of time. McCarthy’s elegant prose and contemplative exploration of human relationships make this a fitting conclusion to the trilogy.

7. Child of God

“Child of God” is a disturbing and challenging novel that delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche. The story follows Lester Ballard, a social outcast who descends into madness and violence.

Set in the Appalachian Mountains, McCarthy’s unflinching portrayal of Ballard’s degeneration into a cave-dwelling murderer is both horrifying and thought-provoking. This novel raises uncomfortable questions about society, isolation, and the thin line between sanity and madness.

8. Suttree

“Suttree” is a semi-autobiographical novel that stands out in McCarthy’s body of work for its humour and detailed character exploration. Cornelius Suttree leaves his privileged background to live among the outcasts of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Through his interactions with the misfits and drifters, McCarthy creates a rich tapestry of life on the margins. Themes of rebellion, existentialism, and redemption are explored with humour and pathos, making this a uniquely engaging read.

9. The Orchard Keeper

“The Orchard Keeper” is McCarthy’s debut novel, showcasing his early experimentation with style and theme. Set in rural Tennessee, it weaves together the lives of three characters, each struggling with their own personal conflicts.

While not as refined as his later works, this novel offers a glimpse into the development of McCarthy’s literary voice. Its exploration of human nature, community, and connection to the land is deeply evocative and promising of the masterpieces to come.

10. Outer Dark

“Outer Dark” is another early work that exhibits McCarthy’s penchant for dark and haunting narratives. The story follows a brother and sister through a bleak and foreboding landscape, as they are pursued by three mysterious figures.

The novel’s symbolism and existential themes make it a complex and rewarding read. McCarthy’s ability to create an atmosphere of dread and unease marks this as a powerful and unique contribution to American literature.


Cormac McCarthy’s literary oeuvre is a treasure trove of complexity, depth, and beauty. From the violent and unyielding landscapes of “Blood Meridian” to the tender relationship between father and son in “The Road,” his works offer readers a profound exploration of the human condition. Whether it’s the existential questions posed by “No Country for Old Men” or the lyrical journey of “All the Pretty Horses,” McCarthy’s novels are timeless classics that challenge, entertain, and inspire. His mastery over language and storytelling makes him one of the most important voices in modern literature, and this selection of books provides a comprehensive starting point for anyone looking to delve into his world.

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