Stephen King is synonymous with horror writing. He is one of the best writers in the genre and has written a staggering amount over the course of his writing career. If you’re searching for where to start with his writing, this is our list of the 15 best Stephen King books.
Who is Stephen King?
As mentioned, Stephen King is a prolific horror author. His writing also branches out into many other genres, such as supernatural fiction, gothic drama, dark fantasy, and – of course – psychological horror.
King was born in Portland, Maine; he still lives in the state with his wife Tabitha as they split their time between Maine and Florida.
King’s first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974 and successfully launched King to fame. Since then he has written 63 novels, 5 non-fiction books, 20 novellas, and 120 short stories. Collectively his books have sold more than 350 million copies and dominated bestsellers lists.
That is a lot of reading material to try and sift through to find out which book you want to read first. If it’s a bit overwhelming for you, hopefully this list of the 15 best Stephen King books will help narrow down your search.
Summary of the Best Stephen King Books
Our list of the 15 best Stephen King books includes a good variety of genres from his bibliography. Including his most famous work of non-fiction, On Writing, as well as his dark fantasy and science-fiction books.
While any such list will be subjective to the individual reader, all 15 of these books have inarguably made a massive impact of King’s career. These books are the perfect place to start reading King’s writing.
A modern horror classic, IT begins in Derry, Maine. It is a town that feels hauntingly familiar, but the hauntings in this town are real. Years ago, seven teenagers first stumbled across the horror, but they thought they had grown up and moved on since then.
However, none of them can withstand the inexplicable force that is driving them back to Derry. Once they are back within town lines they must once again face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.
2. The Shining
The chance to become an off-season caretaker at an atmospheric old hotel seems like the perfect new job for Jack Torrance in The Shining. At first it seems to be his chance at a fresh start. He imagines he will have plenty of time to reconnect with his family and also work on his writing.
But as winter settles in with its harsh weather, the idyllic location grows more remote and sinister as the days pass. It is only Jack’s gifted five-year-old who notices the strange and terrible forces that are gathering around this old hotel.
3. The Stand
The Stand begins with a man escaping from a biological testing facility and spreading a mutated strain of the flu that will wipe out 99 per cent of humanity within a few weeks. After that horrible sequence of events, those who survive are scared and in desperate need of a leader.
Then, two forces emerge. One is Mother Abagail, who is a benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges all to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado. But the other is Randall Flagg, who delights in chaos and violence. He is also ominously known as the nefarious “Dark Man.”
As the two gather power and supporters, who the survivors choose to follow in this post-apocalyptic world will decide the fate of humanity.
In this horror fantasy novel Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who finally meets his biggest fan. Annie Wilkes is a rabid reader of his works, but she is also Paul’s nurse and captor. She tends to his shattered body after a car accident, while keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.
In 11/22/63 Stephen King creates an alternate reality history surrounding the assassination of JFK. In this novel Jake Epping is a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine.
While marking papers he finds something shockingly eerie and quickly discovers that his friend’s local diner contains an incredible secret. The storeroom is a portal to 1958.
Epping then creates a new identity and embarks on an insane mission to travel back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination. King’s novel is evocative in its world-building of a bygone era as Epping’s new life transgresses all the normal rules of time in the attempt to stop the assassination of the President.
6. The Gunslinger
The first book in The Dark Tower series introduces readers to Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. Referred to as one of Stephen King’s most enigmatic heroes, Roland is a haunting figure on a spellbinding journey of good and evil.
In a world that frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black. Along his journey he also encounters an alluring woman named Alice and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake.
This fantasy horror novel is both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike.
Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie cemented his voice in the horror genre. The book is about the misunderstood high school student Carrie White, who is bullied relentlessly.
Subsequently, when Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers, she proceeds to go on a violent rampage of revenge against those who tormented her. As a result, this modern classic remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of King’s career.
8. Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary introduces the Creeds as the perfect idyllic family. As they move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, their picture-perfect image seems to be complete. The father is a physician, the wife is beautiful, the daughter is charming, and the newborn son is adorable.
But the nearby woods are hiding a blood-chilling truth that is more terrifying and powerful than death itself. Terror lurks around the corner of their perfect home, and the Creeds will soon learn that sometimes dead is better.
9. The Green Mile
The first novel in The Green Mile books introduces readers to Cold Mountain Penitentiary. The men of E Block are all convicted killers waiting their turn to walk the Green Mile. There they will meet with Cold Mountain’s electric chair: “Old Sparky.”
Prison guard Paul Edgecombe has seen his share of oddities while working the Mile, but he’s never seen anyone like John Coffey. This man with the body of a giant and the mind of a child was condemned for a shockingly violent crime. Edgecombe will soon discover a terrible, wondrous truth about Coffey that will challenge his most cherished beliefs.
10. ‘Salem’s Lot
In this popular novel, the horror of ‘Salem’s Lot permeates even thousands of miles away. Firstly we are introduced to a man and a boy, both terrified of the small town of ‘Salem’s Lot. While they are miles away they share their secrets of the tree-lined streets that still haunt them.
However, they soon realize they must return to ‘Salem’s Lot for a final confrontation with the unspeakable evil that lives on in the town.
11. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. It comprises the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.
King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999. As well as how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery.
Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it: Fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
12. The Drawing of the Three
This is the second novel in The Dark Tower series.
While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, the last gunslinger, encounters three mysterious doorways on the beach. Each one enters into the life of a different person living in contemporary New York.
Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean and the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.
13. Different Seasons
Different Seasons is a collection of four Stephen King novellas. As the title suggests, each story takes place in a different season. First is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, described as the most satisfying tale of unjust imprisonment and offbeat escape since The Count of Monte Cristo. Next, Apt Pupil, which depicts a golden California schoolboy and an old man whose hideous past he uncovers as they enter into a fateful and chilling mutual parasitism.
The third novella, The Body, follows four rambunctious young boys as they venture into the Maine woods. In sunlight and thunder they find life, death, and intimations of their own mortality. Finally, The Breathing Method is a tale told in a strange club about a woman determined to give birth no matter what.
14. Under the Dome
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field.
Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage. A gardener loses his hand as “the dome” comes down on it. People running errands in the neighboring town are also divided from their families.
No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when – or if – it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens. There is town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a selectwoman, and three brave kids.
Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing – even murder – to hold the reins of power. As well as his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry.
But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
15. The Waste Lands
The Waste Lands is the third novel in The Dark Tower series.
Several months have passed, and Roland’s two new tet-mates have become proficient gunslingers. Eddie Dean has given up heroin, and Odetta’s two selves have joined, becoming the stronger and more balanced personality of Susannah Dean.
But while battling The Pusher in 1977 New York, Roland altered ka by saving the life of Jake Chambers, a boy who – in Roland’s where and when – has already died. Now Roland and Jake exist in different worlds, but they are joined by the same madness: The paradox of double memories.
Roland, Susannah, and Eddie must draw Jake into Mid-World then follow the Path of the Beam all the way to the Dark Tower. But nothing is easy in Mid-World.
Along the way our tet stumbles into the ruined city of Lud, and are caught between the warring gangs of the Pubes and the Grays. The only way out of Lud is to wake Blaine the Mono, an insane train that has a passion for riddling, and for suicidal journeys.
The Best Stephen King Books Wrap-Up
Here is our list of the best Stephen King books if you’re looking for something that will keep you up at night.
- IT (1986)
- The Shining (1977)
- The Stand (1978)
- Misery (1987)
- 11/22/63 (2011)
- The Gunslinger (1982)
- Carrie (1974)
- Pet Sematary (1983)
- The Green Mile (1996)
- ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)
- On Writing: A Memoir about the Craft (2000)
- The Drawing of the Three (1987)
- Different Seasons (1982)
- Under the Dome (2009)
- The Waste Lands (1991)
From classic horror to dark fantasy, non-fiction advice to supernatural prose, there is bound to be a book within Stephen King’s oeuvre to delight any reader. These 15 best Stephen King books are the perfect place to start with his writing.
Looking for more book lists?
Check out this list of all the Stephen King books in order.