British readers have voted JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” as the greatest debut novel of all time. 

A poll of 2,000 UK literary lovers, commissioned by to launch its Kindle Storyteller Award, saw the 1997 first instalment of Rowling’s series take 31% of the vote. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien were joint-second on the list with 26%, followed by “Carrie” by Stephen King (20%) and “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (18%).

The other novels to make the top 10 included: “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding (17%); “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams (16%); “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L Frank Baum (15%); “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson (14%); and “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell (14%). 

Here we round-up what the book critics said in their reviews of the top 10 debut novels:


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) by JK Rowling – 31% 

Much like her star character, JK Rowling had a “wizardry inside”, said Michael Winerip in his 1999 review for The New York Times, and she “soared beyond her modest Muggle surroundings” to achieve something “quite special”. This first novel is “wonderful” and though “all this hocus-pocus” is “delightful”, the magic in the book is “not the real magic of the book”. Much like Roald Dahl, Rowling “has a gift for keeping the emotions, fears and triumphs of her characters on a human scale”, even while the supernatural is “popping out all over”.


To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee – 26% 

Author Harper Lee, an Alabaman, wrote her first novel with “all of the tactile brilliance” and none of the “preciosity” generally supposed to be “standard swamp-warfare issue” for Southern US writers, said TIME magazine in its original August 1960 review of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, under the headline “About Life & Little Girls”. The novel is an account of “an awakening to good and evil” and Lee’s prose has “an edge that cuts through cant”. She teaches the reader “an astonishing number of useful truths” about little girls and about Southern life. 


The Hobbit (1937) by JRR Tolkien – 26% 

Re-reading “The Hobbit” turned out to be “something of a revelation”, said The New Yorker’s Jon Michaud in his 2012 revisit of JRR Tolkien’s classic tale. The plot “couldn’t be simpler” – it is the “very essence” of an adventure story. Compared to the “Rings” trilogy, which has been “freighted with all kinds of real-world allegories”, “The Hobbit”, written before the Second World War, “belongs to a more appealingly innocent world”. 


Carrie (1974) by Stephen King – 20% 

Structurally, “Carrie” is a “really weird one”, said The Guardian’s James Smythe in his 2012 re-read of Stephen King’s first novel. Standard “Kingian third-person narrative voice” is interspersed with “extracts from other media” – newspaper reports, autobiographies of characters, transcripts of police interviews, “that sort of thing”. “Carrie” ended up being “quite a zeitgeisty novel” and while it’s not a structure that “entirely works”, it’s a “really good story”. As a debut novel, “it’s a fairly good piece of juvenilia”. As a statement of intent – “that intent being to write stories that deal with the weird, twisted and human in equal measure” – it’s “exceptional”.


Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley – 18% 

Not only is “Frankenstein” a book about a monster, “it is also a monster of a book”, said Hernan Diaz in The Paris Review. Like the creature created by the main protagonist, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel is made up of “incongruent bits and pieces stitched up together”. The text is a “wonderful monstrosity” composed of several genres, texts, and voices “patched up into one weird creature”.


Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding – 17%

On the outside “Lord of the Flies” may appear to be “simply a story about boys trying to live on a deserted island”, said Aiman.A in The Guardian, but reading between the lines will allow the reader to “understand and appreciate” the “dark hints that make this story truly exciting and magnificent in every respect”. If you like your books to have “gripping and believable characters with a plot second to none”, then “Lord of the Flies” is for you.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams – 16%

“Astonishingly”, it is more than 40 years since Douglas Adams published “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, said Shamini Bundell on Nature. “Yet the themes of the book have hardly dated.” As ecosystems are “destroyed to make way for roads”, artificial intelligence threatens to get “seriously unruly” and the universe “continually reveals it’s a lot more complicated than we thought”, Adams’s satirical science-fiction classic and its “deadpan” surreality “never seem to fade”.


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by L Frank Baum – 15% 

This “timeless classic” has been brought to life in “countless ways”, from Broadway performances to a Hollywood blockbuster, said Bianca Schulze on The Children’s Book Review. L Frank Baum created a “mesmerising” kingdom filled with “surreal creatures” and “fantastic beings” and it’s a book that has “everything a young avid reader could want”. This “action-packed, whimsical adventure” transports the mind to “another world full of excitement and wonderment”. 


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005) by Stieg Larsson – 14% 

Posthumous debuts are “rare”, said Jonathan Gibbs in The Independent, “not least in the world of crime thrillers”, where publishers want “a brand for life, not an explosive one-off”. After Stieg Larsson presented “three completed books” to his publisher before he died in 2005, they have found “success across much of Europe”, which now “looks to Scandinavia” for its brutal murders. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, the opening instalment of “The Millennium” trilogy, introduced a “classic odd-couple duo”: crusading financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, and a freelance private investigator, Lisbeth Salander.


Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell – 14%

A story about “civil war, starvation, rape, murder, heartbreak and slavery”, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” is “not necessarily a book one would associate with hope”, said Holly Watt in The Guardian. “And yet”, at the novel’s heart lies Scarlett O’Hara, “one of the most ruthlessly optimistic characters in literature”. In a story of “rarely remitting disaster”, the “relentless determination” of O’Hara “provides a useful lesson in never giving in”.