Best Stephen King Books Of All Time: Top 5 Iconic Novels Most Beloved By Experts

Are you scared of clowns? Do you find them sinister, if not evil, or at least creepy? If your answer is yes, it may be “thanks to” legendary horror-author Stephen King. With so many bestsellers to leaf through, there are far too many options to include on the list of the best Stephen King books. One contender, “It,” introduced the world to the evil killer-clown “Pennywise” – and installed a deep fear of those supposedly silly creatures in the subconscious of millions of readers. Stephen King made the scary clown a horror staple that continues to fuel our nightmares. 

One reason for King’s bestselling success – along with his superb writing skills, of course – is that many of us actually enjoy being scared; as long as it’s the right amount: A Danish study shows that humans have a “Goldilocks zone” in which fear turns into a pleasant experience. “We find that there seems to be a ‘sweet spot’ where enjoyment is maximized. […] [There is] empirical evidence on the relationship between fear, enjoyment, and physical arousal in recreational forms of fear,” says study author Marc Malmdorf Andersen. 

There are even benefits beyond entertainment to scary fiction. “Scary stories present ample learning opportunities. Fiction allows the audience to explore an imagined version of the world at very little cost. Through fiction, people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practice their mind-reading and emotion regulation skills,” explain researchers in the journal Personality and Individual Differences

“One reason that horror use may correlate with less psychological distress is that horror fiction allows its audience to practice grappling with negative emotions in a safe setting,” the study authors continue. “Experiencing negative emotions in a safe setting, such as during a horror film, might help individuals hone strategies for dealing with fear and more calmly deal with fear-eliciting situations in real life.”

Due to their immense popularity, quite a few of Stephen King’s novels have been adapted into successful movies, such as “Carrie”, “Misery”, “The Green Mile”, and “Stand by Me”. That begs the question: which are the best Stephen King books of all time that prove to be the most legendary and chill-inducing reads? StudyFinds visited expert book review websites to find out. And because Stephen King fans enjoy a suspenseful read, we listed them in reverse order, saving the best for last. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

The List: Best Stephen King Books, According to Experts

5. “The Stand” (1978)

“The Stand” is a postapocalyptic story about a virus – “Captain Trips” – that kills almost all life on earth. The few survivors split into two groups facing each other in a final fight of good against evil.  Due to its complexity, this novel was originally published in an abridged version. “It’s a crazily ambitious book, but King executed it flawlessly,” writes The Rolling Stone.

eyes on a dark background book cover
The Stand by Stephen King

Esquire even calls this titlehorror’s War and Peace: a huge, continent-spanning chronicle of death and rebirth” and an “American epic,” which ensures the novel a place on this list.

Finally, Vanity Fair states that “The Stand is an odyssey that remains unmatched, and ever-more relevant […] decades later.”

4. “It” (1986)

King’s truly terrifying story about a group of young outcasts facing a shapeshifting evil, mostly in the form of the clown “Pennywise,” traumatized generations of readers and made scary clowns a horror staple.

red writing and clown smile on white background
It by Stephen King

In addition to its impact on pop culture, “It” is one of King’s best novels as it allows readers to “explore deep themes that extend far beyond the traditional horror genre,” adds Business Insider.

The novel further stands out because it is “King’s treatise on everything he’s learned about his dark craft by this point in his career,” according to Esquire. This book is rightfully “lauded as one of the best horror novels of all time,” says IGN.

3. “The Dark Tower” series (1982 – 2012)

At least one book from this eight-novel series made it to nine out of the ten consulted lists. “Gunslinger” – “a sprawling fantasy epic,” per Books and Bao – and “Wizard and Glass” – “as close to a standalone story as you can get in The Dark Tower,” according to Esquire, seem to be the experts’ favorites.

yellow and black covered books box set
The Dark Tower Series by Stehphen King

“The Dark Tower” series follows its hero, Roland Deschain, a gunslinger, on his journey through a postapocalyptic world to said dark tower. “King makes the fascinating elements of each book work together beautifully, creating a world we can’t help but get lost in […] The series is a true testament to King’s storytelling abilities and keen attention to detail,” writes Reader’s Digest.

2. “Misery” (1987)

A very close second on this list, “Misery” tells the story of novelist Tom Sheldon, who finds himself first rescued, then imprisoned by his “number one fan” nurse Annie Wilkes, “a multi-dimensional villain [in] an intense and graphic tale of the struggle between prisoner and captor,” according to Business Insider.

dark blue book cover with house
Misery by Stephen King

“A horror both psychological and gruesome in turn, Misery features one of King’s very best villains,” Books and Bao agrees.

Just in case you aren’t convinced yet, The Manual keeps its review short and sweet: “A No. 1 national bestseller, Misery is amazing, and just go read it now.”  

1. “The Shining” (1977)

A recovering (?) alcoholic, his young wife, and their psychic toddler are left alone in the middle of nowhere to take care of a haunted hotel during the off-season. What could possibly go wrong?

dark brown book background
The Shining by Stephen King

Say “boo” if the image of an axe-swinging Jack Torrence didn’t immediately enter your mind. Despite its Razzie award nominations, “Stanley Kubrick’s legendary film adaptation featuring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall only helped push the novel’s fame and notoriety,” knows ScreenRant.

In addition to being a “modern horror classic,” this legendary title also represents a special landmark for its author. According to Business Insider, “Stephen King’s most popular book is also his first-ever bestseller.” The novel “cemented King as a master of horror writing. His ability to vividly bring paranormal and personal terror to life truly shines (no pun intended) in this page-turner,” adds Reader’s Digest.

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