The book, originally entitled Strangers from Within, was initially rejected by an in-house reader, Miss Perkins, at London based publishers Faber and Faber as "Rubbish & dull. Pointless". The title was considered "too abstract and too explicit". Following a further review, the book was eventually published as Lord of the Flies.
A turning point occurred when E. M. Forster chose Lord of the Flies as his "outstanding novel of the year." Other reviews described it as "not only a first-rate adventure but a parable of our times". In February 1960, Floyd C. Gale of Galaxy Science Fiction rated Lord of the Flies five stars out of five, stating that "Golding paints a truly terrifying picture of the decay of a minuscule society ... Well on its way to becoming a modern classic".
"Lord of the Flies presents a view of humanity unimaginable before the horrors of Nazi Europe, and then plunges into speculations about mankind in the state of nature. Bleak and specific, but universal, fusing rage and grief, Lord of the Flies is both a novel of the 1950s, and for all time."
—Robert McCrum, The Guardian.
In his book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Marc D. Hauser says the following about Golding's Lord of the Flies: "This riveting fiction, standard reading in most intro courses to English literature, should be standard reading in biology, economics, psychology, and philosophy."
Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good earned it position 68 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990–1999. The book has been criticized as "cynical" and portraying humanity exclusively as "selfish creatures". It has been linked with "Tragedy of the commons" by Garrett Hardin and books by Ayn Rand, and countered by "Management of the Commons" by Elinor Ostrom. Parallels have been drawn between the "Lord of the Flies" and an actual incident from 1965 when a group of schoolboys who sailed a fishing boat from Tonga were hit by a storm and marooned on the uninhabited island of ʻAta, considered dead by their relatives in Nuku‘alofa. The group not only managed to survive for over 15 months but "had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination". As a result, when ship captain Peter Warner found them, they were in good health and spirits. Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, writing about this situation said that Golding's portrayal was unrealistic.
- It was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor's list, and 25 on the reader's list.
- In 2003, the novel was listed at number 70 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
- In 2005, the novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. Time also included the novel in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.
Popular in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, a 2016 UK poll saw Lord of the Flies ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school, behind George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
On 5 November 2019, BBC News listed Lord of the Flies on its list of the 100 most inspiring novels.