- Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard is a pseudoscientific self-help book that targets those looking to improve their mental health but instead subjects them to the recruitment of a cult-like belief system.
- The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump is a long-form advertisement for the Trump brand and offers dubious business advice.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is criticized for its portrayal of teen angst and a story that seems to go nowhere.
You find yourself wanting to read a new novel, but having arrived at the store, you hesitate. Among the limitless selections are some of the worst books ever written, and you fear that your purchase may end in calamity.
I’m here to help you out. Using various metrics from Goodreads, I’ve provided you with 10 titles you should avoid at all costs. From cult classics to manifestos with truly devious intent, along with some that are just plain bad, here’s a list of books that are definitely not worth reading (unless you’re into that).
10. Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health – L. Ron Hubbard
Deep within the convoluted prose of pseudoscientific self-help, L. Ron Hubbard presented the principles that birthed Scientology in Dianetics. Tragically, this book targets those looking to improve their mental health. Instead, readers find themselves subject to the recruitment of a cult-like belief system known for exploiting its members.
Hubbard gets away with this using compelling and audacious scientific claims, but readers are not convinced. Upon inspection, none of his ideas find ground in evidence. Therefore, Dianetics runs itself as philosophical prose wearing a pearly white lab coat. Thousands of Goodreads reviews rate this book poorly with good reason.
9. The Art of the Deal – Donald Trump
This New York Times bestseller is at its best a long-form advertisement for the Trump brand and at worst a dubious collection of business advice. The autobiography of our former president struggles to do much more than tout his aggrandized success, earning the book a place on a Goodreads list for The Worst Books of All Time.
Many purchased The Art of the Deal hoping to learn the secrets to winning at business. Unfortunately, they were faced with suggestions such as “create leverage through chaos” and “Admit to nothing, deny everything.” Maybe these ideas lead to growth, but surely not for anyone without questionable intent.
8. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Even literary giants like J.D. Salinger aren’t prone to writing a terrible book, and it shows in The Catcher in the Rye. Comparable to the writings of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, an effort to portray coming of age ends up a cliché of teen angst.
Holden Caulfield, a young rebel, tries to find substance in a world that feels unreal. However, as readers follow along with a story that seems to go nowhere, they start to recognize patterns of whininess and irritation.
Many start to wonder when the story will wrap up, only to find their protagonist in a mental institution. It’s like readers spent 277 pages just for Salinger to tell them “Eh, that’s life.” Some give kudos to this ending, but that’s a frustrating stretch for most, earning it a place on our list.
7. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Some writers use books less to tell a story and more to admire their own intelligence. Ayn Rand notoriously does this in her many manifestos on Capitalism and Individualism. It’s for this reason that Atlas Shrugged, no matter the praise, often comes up on lists of the worst books of all time.
When I read this epic novel years ago, I thought “Wow, Rand really knows how to personify the color gray.” It’s because the characters in Atlas Shrugged don’t exist to tell a story, but to embody her Objectivist philosophies. This is not a book, but rather a 1,200-page proclamation on the dangers of communism, written to their extremes.
6. Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
A book that could very possibly be a marketing tactic of the airline industry, Eat, Pray, Love offers morsels of “feel-good” to disguise self-indulgence.
When most people look to shake things up, they take a class or move to a different city; heck, some might buy a van and road trip across the United States. However, when Elizabeth Gilbert goes looking for self-discovery, it’s through a luxury trip around the world.
A memoir meant to inspire an audience becomes a pedestal for a privileged individual to spout half-baked spiritual musings. Written with an amount of fluff that would make an editor hold their head, this book should have stayed in Gilbert’s diary.
5. The Eye of Argon – Jim Theis
Our hero, Grignr, follows a path written with the utmost disrespect for the English language. It’s as though Theis used the “Replace For” function in Microsoft Word and called it a finished draft. Unfortunately for Grignr, his adventures feel lost and chaotic most of the time.
Many readers hope for a unique story in the Eye of Argon. However, with incessant fantasy tropes and all too familiar plot motivations, we could have asked ChatGPT to write this novel and it would have come out just the same.
4. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
Riding on the coattails of Tom Hanks’ incredible acting, The Da Vinci Code comparatively makes for one of the worst books ever.
Following a murder in the Louvre Museum, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu find themselves wrapped in a mystery tied to what may be the child of Jesus Christ. However, the story quickly devolves into spatterings of waxed poetics and gross redressings of old conspiracy theories.
Bookending dialogue that’s more like historical prose, Dan Brown attempts to add suspense. However, readers come to expect a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, only adding to the ridiculousness of the plot. In the end, The Da Vinci Code becomes less of a mystery thriller and more of a case study on how to use the word “cryptic.”
3. The Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer
I had to group these books into one, for if I hadn’t, they would take up half the list. The Twilight Saga attempts to blend vampire lore and teenage drama but barely manages to read like a young girl’s diary.
In the series, we meet Bella Swan, a high school student with a supposed troubled past. But as hard as Meyer tries to portray it, we hardly ever get to know our main character. It’s an aspect that only stands to contrast Edward Cullen’s trait of sparkling in the sunlight.
We endure four books of Swan pining over this vampire — as well as a werewolf, which only manages to keep the emotional depth of the books shallow — for us to witness our heroine do whatever it takes just to be with him. Is it mind control or just bad writing?
2. Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James
Wherever we find the Twilight Saga on a list, we’re bound to find Fifty Shades of Grey. A book series that reads like fan fiction but somehow ends up a mainstream success.
In the Fifty Shades books, E.L. James doesn’t actually care about the characters. They’re simply vessels that navigate us to erotic scenes. Along the way, readers enter autopilot as they pass by a constant repetition of phrases made different by the use of synonyms.
We want to believe that Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele have found a way to tightrope-walk what is typically considered an unhealthy, controlling relationship. However, after everything is laid out, we’ve come to witness the romanticization of borderline abusive tendencies and manipulation. It’s a spicy dramatic novel that only has us wondering if we could make writing fan fiction work, too.
1. Mein Kamph – Adolph Hitler
This list features a variety of the worst books ever. Some, literal eye sores and tests of endurance. Others, such as Mein Kamph (“My Struggle”), are terrible for the messages they put out into the world. Not only is this arguably the worst book ever, but it is also considered one of the most dangerous.
Written from his jail cell for inciting a coup, Adolph Hitler laid out his plan to commit atrocities against the Jewish people. In Mein Kamph, the infamous dictator slogged bigotry and hatred over and over. This is no literary work; it’s part autobiography and part political manifesto, giving us a look into the mind of a tyrant.
The 10 Worst Books Ever (Based on Hard Data) Summary
|Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard
|The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump
|The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
|Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
|Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
|The Eye of Argon by Jim Theis
|The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
|The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
|50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James
|Mein Kamph by Adolph Hitler
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Slava Dumchev/Shutterstock.com.