10 Books From Nobel Prize Winners You've Probably Never Heard Of

From Holocaust survivors to the first female Nobel Laureate, these writers's book are a must have.

In 2016, the Swedish Academy awarded songwriter Bob Dylan with the Nobel Prize in Literature for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Now, this impressed me because as much as I enjoy Dylan’s music, I never thought he'd win an award for literary composition, let alone the Nobel Prize. It begs the question of, what does it take to become a Nobel Prize winner? According to Sara Danius, secretary of the academy, “The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to someone who has done outstanding work in an idealistic direction that adds the greatest benefit to humankind.” So you not only have to create a literary masterpiece, it has to have impact as well. While we are puzzled by Dylan winning this highly respected award, we decided to profile other winners whose works are not only admirable but their life stories are inspiring as well.

Flowers of Sardinia (1914), by Grazia Deledda

Deledda received her prize in 1926 for picturing the life of her native island Nuoro (Sardinia, Italy) and finding a connection with human conflict. She comes from a family of farmers and her passion for literature originated from a family tradition of sitting together and sharing short stories. Among many of her books, Flowers of Sardinia illustrates her intimate ability to picture her homeland and its beautiful cultural nuances.

Crowds and Power (1960), by Elias Canetti

Elias received his prize in 1981 for writing from a broader scope and providing a variety of ideas with artistic flair. He is a German author who was born in 1905 and escaped Nazi persecution at a young age. His most famous book, Crowds and Power, is a non-fiction piece that questions crowd dynamics and why we are compelled to follow a single power when in a group.

The Great Weaver from Kashmir (1927), by Halldór Kiljan Laxness

Laxness was an Icelandic writer who received his prize in 1955. He was born in 1902 and he has been the only Icelandic to ever received such honor. He started writing at a young age, but as a teen he joined an abbey where he was surrounded by monks and he taught himself Latin, French, theory, and philosophy. His experiences in the abbey inspired his novel The Great Weaver from Kashmir.

Fatelessness (1975), by Imre Kertész

Kertész was a holocaust survivor who lived as a teen in between concentration camps. His most acclaimed piece Fatelessness, is an autobiography of his 14-year-old self. He died at the age of 86 in 2016 and suffered from Parkinson during his final years. He was awarded the prize in 2002 and he was the first Hungarian to ever received one. His writings stand as a voice of freedom against the oppression of authoritarian figures.

Kristin Lavransdatter (1920), by Sigrid Undset

Her historical novels are actually a trilogy: The Wreath (1920), The Wife (1921), and The Cross (1922). She was born in Denmark but lived in Norway most of her life. In 1940, Undset fled to the US during WWII. She received her prize in 1928 for her powerful descriptions of Norway's way of life during the Middle Ages. The story follows the life of a woman and how she deals with a wide array of conflicts, stemming from her family and religion to her husband.

Miguel Street (1959), by Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul

Naipaul is a British writer from Indian descent born in Trinidad and Tobago. He has 30 published works, which he wrote during a period of 50 years. His most distinguished one is a collection of short stories called Miguel Street, which were inspired by his childhood growing up in an Hindu community during the 1940's conflicts in Trinidad. He was awarded the prize in 2001 for his ability to uphold the truth and expose what it felt like to grow up in the West Indies.

Beloved (1987), by Toni Morrison

Morrison is an African-American woman who received her prize in 1933. Her novel takes readers back to the American Civil War, where the main character (a female African-American) escapes slavery in Kentucky. Her book was adapted into a film with the same name. She is the first black woman to ever receive a Nobel Prize.

Seventeen and The Death of a Political Youth (1961), by Kenzaburo Oe

Japanese writer Oe is one of the most noted contemporary writers from Japan. His writings, like this novel, touch issues like social conflict, politics, and philosophy. His novels Seventeen and The Death of a Political Youth were inspired by the life of Yamaguchi Otoya, who committed suicide after assassinating the chairman of the the Japanese Socialist Party in 1960. When he was a child, he was told that the emperor of Japan was a god and had to be obeyed at all costs. As he grew older, he saw the irony of these teachings and explored it in his writing. He received his prize in 1994 for his contribution in creating narratives that showcase "a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."

Pabellón de Reposo (1944), by Camilo Jose Cela

Cela grew up in a happy middle-class family, but before turning 20, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and confined to a sanatorium.There, he wrote his novel Pabellón de Reposo, which narrates the story of a group of patients recovering from tuberculosis in an sanatorium. He received his prize in 1989 and passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.

The Captive Mind (1953), by Czeslaw Milosz

Milosz was given his award in 1980 for exposing the conditions of a world at war. He wrote many poems about WWII, and his novel The Captive Mind is a must read that explore why people were so enamored with the concept of Stalin. This Polish writer passed away in 2004 at the age of 93.


Lately, the academy has been criticized for awarding non-literature writers like Dylan and journalist Svetlana Alexievich with the Noble Prize of Literature. Yet, they reiterate that winners are chosen based on their ability to create a speech that will not disappear even after their death. In addition, we know fame isn’t everything, but being recognized for your life’s work is a nice feeling. There are millions of books waiting to be read, it's not bad to start with those that apparently left their mark in humanity.


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