Stephen King is a well-known American author of fantasy, suspense, supernatural fiction, and horror books. Throughout his career, King has written numerous books, some of which have been adapted into television series, comic books, miniseries, and feature films. What are the most captivating Stephen King books of all time?
In his earlier works, King explored numerous terrifying themes, including biological warfare, ghosts, deranged murderers, rabid dogs, and vampires, among others. Some of the recent best Stephen King books focused more on the psychological profiles of his protagonists, mostly women who had challenging backgrounds.
The best Stephen King books ranked
Here is a look at the top 10 Stephen King books of all time.
10. The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
The book’s plot begins where The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands ended. The four gunslingers, Roland, Susannah, Eddie, and Jake, riddled Blaine the Mono for several hours. Eddie defeated Blaine by telling childish jokes making the computer unable to handle his illogical jokes.
The gunslingers then find themselves marooned in an alternate version of Topeka in Kansas. A super-strain virus has ravaged the city. The four then follow the road to a far-away glass palace.
While heading to the palace, the gunslingers hear the sound of a thinny (a place where reality no longer exists). Camping near it, Roland tells the rest of the gunslingers about his encounter with a thinny in his earlier years.
In one thrilling night, Roland takes the reader on a journey to the mid-world in a town called Hambry, where he fell in love with Susan Delgado. He tells of his old tet-mates, Cuthbert and Alain, and how they once battled John Farson, the malevolent harrier who ignited the final war.
This fourth installment of the thrilling Dark Tower series is undeniably one of the top Stephen King books, primarily due to its gripping storyline.
9. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
When most people hear about The Shawshank Redemption, it is possible they think more of the film rather than the movie. Well, the fantastic movie was based on an equally amazing novel by Stephen King titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
The novel is set in 1947 at the Shawshank Prison and narrated by Red, one of the inmates serving a life sentence for accidentally killing two people when he murdered his wife by messing with her car’s brakes.
When Andy Dufresne arrives at the prison to serve his life sentence, it marks the beginning of a new phase for the rest of the inmates. Andy was found guilty for the murder of his wife and her lover, although he maintains an unwavering assertion of his innocence.
Andy faces a difficult adjustment to life in prison. Other inmates view him as a snob, and guards turn a blind eye when he is assaulted by ‘the sisters’. Red is the only one who seems to believe Andy’s story.
A short time into his sentence, Andy realizes that Red can procure several items illegally. He asks for a rock hammer, cloths, and a poster of Rita Hayworth, a renowned actress.
Andy then becomes an asset to the prison guards for helping them with their tax and other financial paperwork. He then tells Red about a significant investment he has under a fake name.
Red barely gives much thought to Andy’s story until one morning when Andy’s cell is found to be empty. A routine search does not reveal anything, but upon lifting the Rita Hayworth poster, a massive hole on the wall is seen.
Red then joins the dots and realizes Andy had been digging at night using the rock hammer for years. Red is later released and traces the rock under which Andy mentioned in his story. He finds an envelope with a letter and a thousand dollars.
Red chooses to violate his parole conditions and sets off for Mexico to find Andy. The novel is one of the most underrated Stephen King books, probably due to the success of the film.
8. The Dead Zone
The Dead Zone tells the life of Johnny Smith in three phases. When he was a young boy, an ice-skating accident left him severely injured. After the incident, he began getting infrequent snippets of the future.
The storyline then skips to 1970 when Johnny is a high school teacher. He has enjoyed a mysterious winning streak at the wheel of fortune alongside his girlfriend, Sarah Bracknell.
On his way home, he is involved in a freak accident that makes sends him into a five-year coma. He wakes from the coma only to realize that he suffered massive neural damage. Additionally, he realizes that he can tell people’s future just by touching them.
He then plans to return to his old teaching job, a proposal that is denied because his effectiveness as a teacher cannot be guaranteed. He then relocates to New Hampshire to work for a man named Chuck.
Johnny develops a new hobby that includes meeting politicians and seeing their future. These include Jimmy Carter and the mysterious Stillson, whose future points to a worldwide nuclear war.
Johnny attempts to kill Stillson to avert the nuclear war, but he misses and is fatally wounded by Stillson’s guards. However, that future is still averted when Stillson is photographed using a child as a human shield.
Before dying, Johnny touches Stillson and feels that the terrible future has been thwarted.
7. The Green Mile
The Green Mile is undoubtedly part of the Stephen King best books list. It was later adapted in a hugely successful film featuring the renowned Tom Hanks. When the book was published, all its six volumes made the New York Times bestseller list.
The novel is set in 1932 at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, home to the convicts in E Block. The convicted killers all await their turn to walk the famous Green Mile, which is the distance from the penitentiary to the building that houses the prison’s electric chair.
Paul Edgecombe, a correctional officer, has witnessed his fair share of peculiarities throughout his career. However, he has never come across a character like John Coffey, a huge man with the mind of a small child.
Coffey was convicted of a crime so startling in its violence and appalling in its execution. Edgecombe is about to find out the truth about John, a reality that will change his long-held beliefs as well as those of the reader.
Is Coffey the malevolent killer of two young girls, or is he innocent of all crimes he was convicted of? Whichever it is, he seems to have strange powers that may save the rest of the inmates.
On 22nd November 1963, three gunshots rang out in the city of Dallas. President JF Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could turn this back and stop JFK’s assassination?
11/22/63 is a fantastic novel that tells the story of a man traveling back in time to prevent the renowned politician’s murder. The novel was published after Under the Dome, another massively successful book by King.
The main character, Jake Epping, is a teacher at Lisbon Falls in Maine who makes extra cash teaching grownups in the GED program. One day, he receives an essay from one of his students who details a story about the night a man killed his wife and children with a hammer.
Jake’s friend, Al, who owns a local diner, divulges a secret about his workplace. The restaurant is a time portal to the year 1958. Al asks Jake to help him by going back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.
Jake agrees and begins his new life as George Amberson. The novel then introduces Lee Oswald, a troubled loner, and Sadie Dunhill, with whom Jake falls in love. 11/22/63 is irrefutably one of the best Stephen King novels.
Misery tells the story of famous novelist, Paul Sheldon. He makes a controversial move and kills off Misery Chastain, a prominent protagonist in his bestselling Misery novel series. He sees the move as a means of expanding his creative writing horizons.
Later, he is involved in a horrific highway accident. He wakes up in a strange place that is clearly not a hospital or his home. An ex-nurse named Annie Wilkes is standing over him. She says that she is the novelist’s number one fan.
With time, Paul finds out that he was not a good thing for Annie to find him. Unknown to him, Annie was enraged when the novelist killed off Misery Chastain. She demands that he finds a way to bring back the character to life.
While at it, she asks that Paul makes the new novel his best work yet. The writer quickly realizes that Annie is very persuasive in her violent ways.
As Sheldon struggles to write the new novel, he discovers why Annie is no longer a nurse.
4. Salem’s Lot
What is the scariest Stephen King book? While the answer to that may vary from one reader to the other, Salem’s Lot is undoubtedly one of the contenders. The book was released after King’s success with Carrie.
Salem’s Lot begins with a thrilling introduction. “Turn off the television - in fact, why don’t you turn off all the lights except for the one over your favorite chair? - and we’ll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them.”
The book tells the story of Ben Mears, a writer originally from the fictional town of Jerusalem’s Lot. He left the town years ago and is now coming back. Nothing seems to have changed.
The Marsten House, which once housed the notorious hitman Hubert Marsten, is purchased by two strangers. The new owners, Richard Straker and Kurt Barlow seem strange, and as soon as they come to Salem’s Lot, children begin to disappear.
While the happenings in the town all seem pretty common, some strange events begin to take place. Soon, the town’s residents’ surprise turns to panic, confusion, and, ultimately, terror.
3. The Shining
The Shining is a fantastic horror novel probably only eclipsed by its 1980 movie adaptation. The book features one of the most enduring horror stories ever told. Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, was published in 2013.
The novel is set in Colorado during the 1970s. Its story revolves around Jack Torrance, his wife, Wendy, and their son Danny. Jack is hired as the new caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, a place he soon realizes has a very dark past.
The house has housed mob executions, illicit affairs, and terrible murders. Jack views his new job as the perfect way to start a new life and try to mend his broken family ties.
As the winter sets in, the Overlook Hotel begins to feel more remote and ominous. The only one who notices the dreadful forces gathering around the hotel is five-year-old Danny.
The novel tells two parallel stories, one set in 1958 and the other in 1985. Every 27 years since the dawn of time, a bizarre creature known as ‘It’ comes from the sewers beneath Derry to mutilate and murder people.
Only seven people have faced ‘It’ and lived to tell the tale. They include accountant Stan, fashion designer Beverly, limousine driver Eddy, radio DJ Richie, librarian Mike, architect Ben, and novelist Bill.
In 1958, the seven survivors created a group known as The Losers Club. They are bonded by their social and physical differences as well as their encounters with the many forms of ‘It.’
The 1958 story describes how, as children, the seven members of Losers Club encountered It as a fifteen-foot-long spider. They nearly killed it, and now in 1985, they reunite once again to try and kill the monster.
In It, King explores the themes of eternity, good and evil, adulthood, and childhood in one of the most gripping narratives that made him so famous.
1. The Stand
What is considered the best Stephen King novel? The answer to this question may vary from one reader to another. However, The Stand is undeniably among the contenders for the top narrative on the Stephen King books list.
The book is set in a world devastated by a terrible plague and reeling under the constant struggle between good and evil. The Stand was published in 1978 and was King’s fifth novel.
The novel is a rework of a short story titled Night Surf by Stephen King. The author revised and added some sections, changed the timeframe to 1990, and made changes to different aspects of pop culture. The Stand has been translated into at least 12 languages.
A super-virus nicknamed Captain Trips is accidentally released into the world, wiping off 99.4% of the entire human population. The remaining 0.6% struggle for survival while trying to rebuild humanity’s civilization.
Two opposing characters are poised to become leaders. One is the good-natured Mother Abagail, and the other is Randall Flag, a dark man with a knack for destruction. The survivors have to choose sides and prepare for the last stand between good and evil.
The best Stephen King books listed above have well-thought storylines with the author's signature character development. King's vast fan-base is sufficient evidence of the success of his numerous novels.