In 1935, H. L. Mencken read the 1934 Paris edition, and sent an encouraging note to Miller: "I read Tropic of Cancer a month ago. It seems to me to be a really excellent piece of work, and I so reported to the person who sent it to me. Of this, more when we meet."
In a 1940 essay "Inside the Whale", George Orwell wrote the following:
I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory. ... Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance....
Samuel Beckett hailed it as "a momentous event in the history of modern writing". Norman Mailer, in his 1976 book on Miller entitled Genius and Lust, called it "one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century, a revolution in consciousness equal to The Sun Also Rises".
Edmund Wilson said of the novel:
The tone of the book is undoubtedly low; The Tropic of Cancer, in fact, from the point of view both of its happenings and of the language in which they are conveyed, is the lowest book of any real literary merit that I ever remember to have read... there is a strange amenity of temper and style which bathes the whole composition even when it is disgusting or tiresome.
In Sexual Politics, a book originally published in 1970, Kate Millett wrote that Miller "is a compendium of American sexual neuroses", showing "anxiety and contempt" toward women in works such as Tropic of Cancer.:295–296 In 1980, Anatole Broyard described Tropic of Cancer as "Mr. Miller's first and best novel", showing "a flair for finding symbolism in unobtrusive places" and having "beautiful sentence[s]". Julian Symons wrote in 1993 that "the shock effect [of the novel] has gone", although "it remains an extraordinary document". A 2009 essay on the book by Ewan Morrison described it as a "life-saver" when he was "wandering from drink to drink and bed to bed, dangerously close to total collapse".
Appearances in lists of best books
The book has been included in a number of lists of best books, such as the following:
- In July 1998, the Board of the Modern Library ranked Tropic of Cancer 50th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
- In July 1998, students of the Radcliffe Publishing Course, at the request of the Modern Library editorial board, compiled their own list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and the book was ranked 84th.
- Between July 1998 and October 1998, an online reader poll by the Modern Library placed the novel 68th among the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
- In a survey of librarians published in November 1998, the book was ranked 132nd in a list of 150 fiction books from the 20th century.
- Time magazine included the novel in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
- The novel was listed in the 2006 book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
- It was one of the "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" in The Guardian in 2009.
- It was included in the list "The 75 Books Every Man Should Read" (2011) in Esquire.