The winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize will be announced on Tuesday 6 October at London's Guildhall.
The winning author will receive £50,000 and can expect greatly increased sales.
"The choice will be a difficult one," said chair of the judges James Naughtie. "There is thundering narrative, great inventiveness, poetry and sharp human insight in abundance."
Below is a quick guide to the six on the shortlist.
THE CHILDREN'S BOOK - AS BYATT
The book: A panoramic novel set between 1895 and the end of World War I. Famous writer Olive Wellwood writes a private book for each of her children. In their house near Romney Marsh they play in a storybook world, but political upheavals are taking place beyond.
Says Helen Dunmore in The Times: "This is a long, packed novel, deliberately discursive and crammed to the gills with knowledge..."
The author: Novelist, short story-writer and critic, AS Byatt won the Booker Prize in 1990 for Possession. Her other books include The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whispering Woman.
Born in 1936, Byatt was educated at York and Newnham College, Cambridge. She was senior lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.
The judges say: "What is so extraordinary about this book is the way it doesn't read like a book that's been researched it's the accumulation of a lifetime's reading. The depth of knowledge in it is extraordinary." (Lucasta Miller)
SUMMERTIME - JM COETZEE
The book: Summertime completes the author's trilogy of fictionalised memoirs begun with Boyhood and Youth.
A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He interviews those who were important to him, and a portrait emerges of the young Coetzee as an awkward individual who evokes suspicion in the South Africa of the time.
The author: Having previously won in 1999 with Disgrace and 1983 with Life and Times of Michael K, South African writer JM Coetzee is the first ever author to be in the running for a Booker hat-trick.
Coetzee was born in South Africa in 1940. Other books include Waiting For the Barbarians, and Diary of a Bad Year. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.
The judges say: "What is most remarkable about this book is the unbelievably self-flagellatory picture that Coetzee paints of himself it's very painful to read in many places." (Michael Prodger)
THE QUICKENING MAZE - ADAM FOULDS
The book: A novel based on real events in Epping Forest in 1840. After years struggling with alcohol and depression, nature poet John Clare finds himself in High Beach Private Asylum.
Another poet, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and becomes entangled in the schemes of the asylum's owner, the peculiar Dr Matthew Allen.
The author: The youngest author on the shortlist, Adam Foulds, 34, lives in south London. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia and his poetry has appeared in a number of literary magazines. His first novel, The Truth About These Strange Times, was published in 2007.
The judges say: "It is a book that blossomed through re-reading it's a very poignant study of insanity and it's got a great recipe for hedgehogs." (Sue Perkins)
WOLF HALL - HILARY MANTEL
The book: An historical novel about Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell. A ruthless manipulator, Cromwell is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. The statesman executes his agenda against the backdrop of his king's passions and rages.
The story: Hilary Mantel is the bookmakers' favourite to win. Born in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1952, she studied Law, and lived in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, returning to Britain in the mid-1980s.
Her novel Beyond Black (2005) was shortlisted for a 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction. In 2006, she was awarded a CBE.
The judges say: "Absolutely gripping, a huge bold novel with a fantastic historical sweep - you can hear the rustle of Wolsey's gown in some darkened room at Westminster." (James Naughtie)
THE GLASS ROOM - SIMON MAWER
The book: Mawer's eighth novel begins with an architect with an ambitious plan to build a house of glass on a Czechoslovak hill for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer.
But with the outbreak of World War II, the ownership of the house changes from Czech to Nazi to Soviet and, finally, back to the Czechoslovak state, and the Landauers are drawn back to where their story began.
The author: Simon Mawer is the author of seven other novels including Swimming to Ithaca, Mendel's Dwarf, The Gospel of Judas and The Fall.
Mawer was born in 1948 in England, and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus and in Malta. He now lives with his wife and two children in Italy and teaches at the English School in Rome.
The judges say: "A hypnotic read - a sweeping confidence and scope. Mawer is an author on top of his form. Rather like the glass room which is the essence of the book... the book itself is beautifully proportioned." (James Naughtie)
THE LITTLE STRANGER - SARAH WATERS
The book: The novel is described by fellow shortlisted author Hilary Mantel in The Guardian as "a perverse hymn to decay, to the corrosive power of class resentment as well as the damage wrought by war".
Dr Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, a place he last visited 30 years ago with his mother, who had worked there as a maid. But he realises that much has changed, and the grandeur is now in decline.
The author: Sarah Waters has been shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize, in 2002 for Fingersmith and 2006 for The Night Watch. She has also won the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger Award for Historical Crime Fiction and The South Bank Show Award for Literature.
Born in Wales in 1966, she won the Betty Trask Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, was shortlisted twice for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2000.
The judges say: "It's a kind of mystery story, or a kind of ghost story, but it also blends that with an extraordinarily attentive social realism. When I was reading this there were long stretches when I forget that I was doing the Man Booker, I was so absorbed in it." (John Mullan)