Literary One-Hit Wonders

Whether they wrote one book or 12, these famous authors are known for just one hit.

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'All the King's Men' by Robert Penn Warren

Warren won the Pulitzer Prize for this southern-fried political novel, his best known and most commercially successful work (the movie version went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and it was also adapted into an opera). (amazon.com)

'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath

Plath was a published poet before she took her own life, but her only novel, a semi-autobiographical story of a young woman's breakdown, is far and away her magnum opus. (amazon.com)

'Black Beauty' by Anna Sewell

Sewell's classic tale, told from the point of view of a horse who lived a hundred years ago, is an enduring children's novel and the author's only work. (amazon.com)

'Madam Bovary' by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert's masterpiece, Madame Bovary, about bored housewife who commits adultery, heralded a new age of realism in literature. Although he published numerous novels, Bovary was, and is, his biggest blockbuster. (amazon.com)

'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger

Salinger wrote short stories for The New Yorker, but this high school English class staple, about Holden Caulfield's complicated adolescence, was his first and only novel. (amazon.com)

'A Confederacy of Dunces' by John Kennedy Toole

Toole's hilarious novel follows the adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, an obese slob living in New Orleans. The book, submitted by the author's mother years after his suicide, was rejected by a string of publishers before it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. (amazon.com)

'Doctor Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak

The publication of this widely popular novel about a physician's life and loves during the Russian Revolution nearly cost Pasternak his life when it was awarded the Nobel Prize in Soviet Russia. While he also published poetry, Zhivago was by far his greatest achievement—it became an international bestseller. (amazon.com)

'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

Shelley's literary career didn't peak at 19, when she published this gothic masterpiece, but her subsequent stories aren't known nearly as well as that of Frankenstein's monster. (amazon.com)

'Gone With the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell

Mitchell died tragically at 48: she was hit by a car while crossing Peachtree street, a prominent setting in her beloved Civil War-era novel. (amazon.com)

'In Search of Lost Time' by Marcel Proust

Proust died before he was able to complete work on this seven volume series. Perhaps he could have crafted more hits if it weren't for this sprawling modern novel about a young man's experience growing up and entering society. (amazon.com)

'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison

Ellison's is most remembered for this fictional account of the black American experience, which won the National Book Award and established the author as an important 20th century writer—even if we can't name is other works. (amazon.com)

'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

Harper Lee famously failed to produce another book after the extraordinary success of her novel about racism in the South. The warm reception landed Lee with a long bout of writer's block. (amazon.com)

'The Little Prince' by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The French aviator's famous novella has sold more than 200 million copies, but few have his other works, such as Southern Mail and Airman's Odyssey, sitting on their bookshelves. (amazon.com)

'Mash' by Richard Hooker

Hooker, a former military surgeon, wrote this novel (which was adapted for the much-loved television show of the same name) about the doctors who worked in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals during the Korean War. His only follow-up, a sequel called Mash Mania, didn't quite capture the public's attention. (amazon.com)

'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka

Sure, Kafka's writing goes beyond the story of a traveling salesman who's transformed into a bug, but the German author became immortal when he penned this incredibly influential tale. (amazon.com)

'Moby-Dick' by Herman Melville

We challenge you to name another Melville novel. Can't come up with one? Maybe that's because Billy Bud and Hugger Mugger are overshadowed by this unforgettable seafaring story of Ahab and the whale. (amazon.com)

'A Separate Peace' by John Knowles

Knowles's best-received, and most memorable novel, is this moving tale of two young men who form a complex friendship in the summer during World War II. (amazon.com)

'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith

This poignant coming-of-age novel about a girl growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was Smith's greatest literary achievement. (amazon.com)

'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte

Between them, the Bronte sisters wrote wrote hugely important novels. But Emily's enduring story of Catherine and Heatcliff was her only novel. (amazon.com)

'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' by Ken Kesey

The Merry Prankster became a cult hero in the sixties, but quick—can you name his other novels? (amazon.com)

First Published October 26, 2011

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