50 Famous Books That Were Posthumously Published

Even after an author dies, his or her work can live on to educate and inspire. Many famous authors have had their works published after their death, some with their blessing and others against their expressly stated wishes. For better or worse, here are fifty such works that have been published after the author has passed on.

Non-Fiction

Check out these non-fiction works that didn’t come out until after the author’s death.

  1. Billions and Billions by Carl Sagan: Known for his ability to convey the wonders and joys of science, especially astronomy, this book by Sagan published after his death in 1996 lives up to that reputation. Readers will find an excellent collection of his essays, some previously published and some not, that give you insight into the universe beyond and human nature in our own small spheres of influence.
  2. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway begins this book by offering the reader the choice to regard it as a work of fiction, but history tells us that it was based on Hemingway’s time in Paris in the 1920′s, whether loosely or not is up to the reader to decide. Self-indulgent it might be, but readers will love reading about his time boxing with Ezra Pound, carousing with F. Scott Fitzgerald and chatting with James Joyce.
  3. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: Had Anne Frank lived, it’s entirely possible that the world would have never been able to read her touching and intriguing diary documenting the time she spent hiding from the Nazis, and it’s amazing that the work survived at all given the circumstances. As tragic as her passing was, it allows readers to remember not only her life but the tragedy of the Holocaust.
  4. The Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche: Published in 1901, a year after Nietzsche’s death, this book collects many of his previously unpublished essays. While not as fully developed as it could be, this book boldly addresses topics like religion, morality, art and knowledge.
  5. Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza: Dating back to 1677, this work may have been published after Spinoza’s death but it stands up as one of this most important. Within it’s pages, the philosopher lays out his ideas about the nature of God, human emotions, freedom and happiness.
  6. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: Italian statesman Machiavelli wrote this book in 1531, forever connecting his name with brutal and unethical methods of control. Whether readers agree with his suggestions for running a state or not, lessons abound in this political treatise.

Poetry and Short Stories

These shorter works represent sometimes brilliant writing not published during the author’s lifetime.

  1. The Aeneid by Virgil: Standing alongside works like the Iliad and the Odyssey, this epic poem tells the story of the Trojan warrior Aeneas. While considered an important work today, it almost never saw the light of day. Virgil demanded the work be burned upon his death, but instead his executors published it in it’s unfinished form.
  2. Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath: Know as much for her personality as her work, this poet’s best work wasn’t known until after her suicide in 1963. This collection garnered the artist a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
  3. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson: A recluse during her life, few of Emily Dickinson’s works were ever read by outsiders during her lifetime. In fact, few even knew she was such a prolific poet until her work, collected in this book, was discovered by her sister.
  4. The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen by Wilfred Owen: A soldier at only 22 in WWI, Owen’s work speaks volumes about the experiences of young men at war. Unfortunately, Owen didn’t live to see the end of the war himself, but his work survived and today is regarded as some of the best wartime poetry ever written.
  5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth: This romantic poem, the product of fifty years of work, was published shortly after Wordsworth’s death in 1850. It is largely autobiographical, documenting the author’s youth and experience with the French Revolution.
  6. Armageddon In Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut: Creative and insightful, Vonnegut’s work stands out from the literary pack. After his death in 2007, this book was compiled and brings together both his fiction and non-fiction writings and a few drawings.

Big Names

Some of the best known authors out there had works published after their death, sometimes to rave reviews.

  1. The Trial by Franz Kafka: One of Kafka’s best known and best loved tales, this work was nearly lost to history as Kafka requested it be burned upon his death. Instead, it was published along with his other famous works Amerika and The Castle, none of which were entirely completed upon his death.
  2. The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald began this novel during the last year of his life when he was working as a screenwriter in Hollywood but only finished 17 of the planned 31 chapters. Heavily edited, the novel has received mixed reviews but may have been one of Fitzgerald’s best if he had lived to finish it.
  3. Persuasion by Jane Austen: Before her untimely death in 1817, Austen had written a series of novels that didn’t see publication during her lifetime that included this title and one other: Northanger Abbey. Like most of her works, it deals with a woman struggling between love and practical marriage.
  4. The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Jules Verne: Famous for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 days, Verne’s novels evoke a sense of masculine adventure and the thrill of the unknown. Readers will not be disappointed in this posthumously published work about murder and intrigue abroad a ship.
  5. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf: This book is the last of Woolf’s work published, presenting an annual pageant in a small village as war looms and personal dramas come to a boil.
  6. Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man by Joseph Heller: Mirroring Heller’s own life, this roman a clef describes an author trying to live up to the success of an earlier work. Published after his death, this book was well-received but never garnered him the attention of his earlier work Catch-22.
  7. Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy: Bringing together Russian Czars and Islamic chieftains, this book addresses political and societal issues in much the same way as Tolstoy’s earlier and better known works.
  8. The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain: This short tale comes from what historians and literary aficionados call Twain’s "dark period."In it, Twain addresses his doubts about the existence of God, the soul, afterlife and even reality.

Literature

These books have intrigued bibliophiles and literature aficionados all over the world, but their authors never got to see the success.

  1. The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien: While not well-known, O’Brien’s work is beloved by literature buffs for its imagination and creativity. In this tale, reality is bent and bizarre situations shine as a robbery goes awry.
  2. 2666 by Roberto Bolano: Long beloved in his native Spanish, it was only recently that Bolano’s works were fully translated for English readers. Fans of Bolano were left with plenty to read after his death in 2003, with this critically acclaimed story that sprawls over a whopping 898 pages.
  3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: Both philosophical and comic, this novel about an encounter with the devil in the atheistic Soviet Union is a must read for fans of Russian lit. Written and then destroyed, then rewritten and finished just weeks before his death, this novel almost didn’t see the light of day. Even after publication it was widely censored and the larger public didn’t get access to Bulgakov’s full work until 1973, 33 years after it was written.
  4. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin: Written in the 1700s, this work is considered one of the best novels in the history of Chinese literature, dealing with life, death, fortune, rivalry and karma. Unfortunately, Cao didn’t live to see his novel find success, leaving behind a nearly complete manuscript upon his death in 1764.
  5. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: This book is one of the most famous posthumously published works, winning a Pulitzer Prize for creating a set of characters who are hard to forget. Oddly Toole submitted it for publication during his life, and the rejection and criticism of this work and others that led in part to his suicide.
  6. Past Perfect by Yaakov Shabtai: Israeli novelist Shabtai is best known for his work Past Continuous, winning him international acclaim. This work, published after his death, continues the story begun in that earlier work, posthumously winning the Agnon Prize for literature.

Historical Fiction

Take a look at history through a novelist’s eyes in these books.

  1. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald: This story of chance encounters and life during wartime has been slated as one of the best novels of the 20th century, and had it not been for his death in 2001 he may have been nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work.
  2. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Nermirovsky was celebrated in pre-WWII France for her fiction, but the war saw the Jewish author being sent to Aushwitz. This novel, penned only weeks before her arrest, tells about life in France during the Nazi occupation.
  3. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada: Inspired by the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, this novel depicts a man and wife who choose to stand up to the Nazis in Berlin, interweaving it with several other tales. Written in only 24 days by an author’s mind addled by drugs and alcohol, this novel is a stirring example of a stroke of genius.
  4. Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd: Dealing with politically charged issues in Northern Ireland, this young adult novel has won numerous awards and distinctions. Dowd didn’t live to see it published, passing away in 2007 from breast cancer.
  5. Queen: The Story of an American Family by Alex Haley: Many may be familiar with this tale from the movie based off of this book. Spanning generations, Haley’s story inspires hope and stirs emotions in readers from a wide range of backgrounds.

Popular Fiction

These books have a wide appeal and a few have become worldwide phenomena.

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson: This book, the first in a trilogy, has become an international phenomenon, spawning a series of movies and inspiring fans worldwide. Unfortunately, Larsson didn’t live to see his success, dying shortly before the works were slated to be published.
  2. The Man With the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming: Lovers of the James Bond series were undoubtedly sad to hear of author Ian Fleming passing away, but after the authors’ death his work was still being published. This book, adapted into a film starring Roger Moore, was one of two books published after the author’s death and remained on the bestseller list for months.
  3. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie: This novel marks not only the final work of the author but puts to rest one of the most beloved characters in literary history as well, Miss Marple. As final works go, this one was extremely successful, beloved by fans and literary critics alike.
  4. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton: Michael Crichton was a prolific and successful writer during his lifetime, creating the TV series, ER, and penning movies like Congo, Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. After the author passed away in 2008, his assistant discovered this novel in among his papers. While critics have given it mixed reviews, the movie version of the novel is already underway.
  5. The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams: Adams is perhaps best known for the quirky sci-fi book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but Adams dabbled in a wide variety of media from TV to radio. In this book, readers can peruse some of Adam’s writings for TV, movies and more as well as read the unfinished manuscript for a Dirk Gently novel.
  6. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien: True fans of Tolkien’s work are undoubtedly familiar with this work that lays out the mythology and history behind the lands of Middle Earth, but many may not know that it was not published until after the author’s death in 1973. Rejected by publishers during his lifetime, the work wasn’t brought to a wider audience until 1977, receiving the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1978.
  7. Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick: After his death in 1982, Philip K. Dick left behind several unpublished novels, this story being one of them. Moving between fiction and reality, Dick’s story deals with reality, madness and time, and though not one of his best, many fans of his work will still appreciate it.
  8. For Us, the Living by Robert Heinlen: Sci-fi author Heinlen wrote this novel in 1938, making it his first, though it remained unpublished. It was not until he died that it was brought to light, allowing readers to see where the inspiration for many of Heinlen’s later novels arose.
  9. Mama Dearest by E. Lynn Harris: This New York Times bestseller follows diva Yancey Harrington Braxton as she attempts to break into Broadway and her own musical career. Filled with sex and betrayal, this story of broken dreams entranced audiences and luckily for fans, was not the last of Harris’ works to be published after his death.
  10. The Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier: Known for his work in young adult fiction, Cormier’s last novel doesn’t disappoint, telling the story of a young man who is, perhaps unjustly, accused of murder. Readers will know him from the book The Chocolate War, and this novel takes a similarly dark tone.

Incomplete

Sometimes an author passes away in the middle of a project. These novels represent such cases, often published unfinished or with heavy editing.

  1. Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison: This novel frustrated novelist Ellison for many years of his life as the first version went up in flames in a house fire in 1967. The author never got back into his stride, and upon his death over 2,000 pages of it were collected by his family and editor. Shortened and filled in by friend and editor John Callahan, the work was finally published in 2000.
  2. Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert: This comical novel may be unfinished, but readers will still enjoy Flaubert’s entertaining, if scathing, view of bourgeoisie society.
  3. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace: Set to be published in 2011, this work by author Wallace is much hyped. Time will tell if the novel, incomplete at the time of the author’s suicide, will be as strong as his other, critically acclaimed works.
  4. The Original of Laura by Vladamir Nobokov: Before his death, Nabokov made it clear that he never wanted this book to be published as it was far from being finished and was little more than a series of scenes strung together on index cards. His wishes were not respected and this incomplete work was published, lacking the polish and brilliant prose of Nabokov’s earlier work.
  5. The First Man by Albert Camus: The story of this novel is a sad one, being found at the scene of the car accident that killed this famous French writer. While not entirely complete, critics believe that it would have been one of Camus’ great masterpieces had he gotten the chance to finish it.
  6. Shira by Shmuel Yosef Agnaon: This Nobel Laureate’s work is a hefty 585 but was still unfinished at the time of his death. The story documents a German-Jewish scholar’s adultery in Jerusalem in the 1930′s with a young nurse named, as the title would suggest, Shira.
  7. The Mystery Of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens: Dicken’s last novel remained unfinished at the time of his death, creating more of a mystery than Dickens has intended as readers will never know the fate of the eponymous Edwin Drood.

Unpublishable During Lifetime

These works weren’t published during these authors’ lifetimes because they weren’t good, but because they dealt with racy topics unacceptable to audiences at the time.

  1. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler: This autobiographical novel was written two decades before the author’s death but was not published during his life. Critical of the hypocrisy of the Victorian era, Butler thought it unwise to publish the work. By the time of his death in 1902, the novel fit in with society’s growing discontent with Victorian ideals.
  2. Maurice by E.M. Forester: Homosexuality is a taboo topic with many in today’s society and it was much more so back in 1913-14 when this book was written. Forester opted not to publish it, though he thought it a great work, because he didn’t want to deal with the scandal it was sure to bring, focusing on a homosexual character in a positive way. It was finally published in 1971 after the author’s death and subsequently made into a film.

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