Most Popular Book the year you were born —
The biggest book of 1930 was the charming Cimarron by Edna Ferber, a frontier adventure tale of a spunky woman who creates an empire for her family.
Pearl S. Buck won a Pulitzer and eventually a Nobel Prize for The Good Earth, about farm and family life in a small Chinese village.
Inspired by Charles Morgan’s own station in Holland during World War I, The Fountain is the story of a British officer’s affair with a German officer’s wife.
An epic spanning Cuba, Italy and France, Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen follows the travails of an orphan and his lady loves.
So popular was this classic tale of a strict-but-inspiring teacher and his bright Brooklyn pupils that Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton inspired two movies, two TV series and countless imitators.
Lutheran minister Lloyd C. Douglas found literary fame later in life due to novels like Green Light, about a doctor who accidentally kills a patient.
Before it was an essential piece of Hollywood history, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was a wildly popular novel about a Southern debutante during the Civil War.
John Steinbeck’s classic tragedy Of Mice and Men is essentially American in its tale of friendship and the promise of solid work and prosperity in the west.
Required reading in grade schools since its publication nearly eighty years ago, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is a coming-of-age story of a boy and his pet.
Steinbeck found another rousing success in The Grapes of Wrath, a reflection on the effects that the Great Depression had on an ordinary farming family.
The rather depressing and tragic lives of a mining family in Wales is captured in How Green Was My Valley, which was eventually adapted as a beloved film starring Maureen O’Hara.
While World War II raged, Americans delved into Ernest Hemingway’s painful depiction of the Spanish Civil War in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Franz Werfel was a Jewish writer whose satirical takedowns of the Nazis led to his flight from Vienna to Paris to the United States. Here he wrote The Song of Bernadette, the true story of a girl’s visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes.
The message of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith’s tale of an immigrant teen in turn-of-the-century New York City, was to stay strong, and look for beauty everywhere.
A depiction of race relations in Georgia in the 1920s, Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith caused immediate controversy (and was even banned) for its portrayal of the forbidden love between a white boy and a black girl.
The original bodice-ripping romance, Forever Amber by Kathleen Winson traces a pregnant teen as she schemes her way into a role as a mistress to the hedonistic King Charles II.
Daphne du Maurier followed up her smash success Rebecca with The King’s General, a gothic romance about two lovers separated by the English Civil War.
Boosted by its much-needed optimism in a troubling decade, and a film adaptation starring Frank Sinatra, The Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney was the biggest book of the year. The tragic (but ultimately uplifting) story centers on a totally unknown actress who dies during the filming of a Joan of Arc movie, and how churches around the country ring bells for days to mark her passing.
If the headlines and photos and death tolls didn’t drive home the atrocities of the Holocaust, the secret thoughts of a hidden teen girl did. Anne Frank: The Diary of Young Girl was an instant sensation upon publication, which tragically occurred just two years after Anne’s death.
Published when he was just 25 and fresh off of World War II service himself, Norman Mailer’s war classic The Naked and the Dead was the best-selling book in the country every week for over a year.
The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson follows a young priest from Ireland through his rise in the ranks up to, yep, cardinal.
There’d be no cinematic kiss in the waves without the original World War II story From Here to Eternity, by James Jones
Angsty teens (and the adults who remember what that angst felt like) took solace in the iconoclastic Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
An imaginative pivot off Christ’s crucifixion, The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas is the tale of a Roman guard who holds onto Jesus’ robe and seeks the truth behind it.
Not a Stranger by Morton Thompson follows an overconfident doctor and his fall from grace when he can’t save his own mentor.
One of the first popular portraits of 1950s ennui, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson is about a totally normal guy with a totally normal job and family who is struggling to figure out who he really is.
The book may have reached senior status by now, but spunky Eloise — the adventurous little pixie pulling shenanigans around the Plaza Hotel in New York City — remains eternally six years old in this childhood tome.
Revealing the darkly secret thoughts of otherwise polite townspeople is a recipe for cultural success, and Peyton Place by Grace Metalious was a blockbuster hit in that regard. It went on to be adapted into a film and a long-running soap opera.
Vladimir Nabokov’s greatest gift as a writer wasn’t just creating a “love story” between a pedophile and a young girl, but creating it so well that it becomes a best-seller and a cultural icon, as Lolita undoubtedly is
The best way to learn about and understand another country’s politics? Through a love triangle, of course. In Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak explains the complicated emotional upheaval of the Russian Revolution.
Telling complicated issues through the eyes of a child is an excellent literary strategy, as Harper Lee demonstrates in her Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird.
Henry Miller’s titillating Tropic of Cancer was banned twice in the United States and ultimately led to a Supreme Court case over its obscenity. Of course, once it was finally sold it was the biggest book of the year.
J.D. Salinger followed The Catcher in the Rye with these two separate but interconnected stories in Franny and Zooey, about members of his irrepressible Glass family.
Another best-selling book about a member of the clergy, The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West was published the day that Pope John XXIII passed away.
The James Bond franchise films kicked off in 1962, and scribe Ian Fleming’s novels started to climb the best-seller list in tandem. First up was You Only Live Twice.
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow had another smash with Herzog, about a man having a midlife crisis.
One of the defining books of the 1960s was the fizzy drama of Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann, a story of three friends addicted to tranquilizers.
Ira Levin’s eerie novel Rosemary’s Baby, about a woman who gives birth to the devil’s baby, was later adapted to the similarly popular film starring Mia Farrow.
Like a precursor to Melrose Place, John Updike’s Couples followed ten couples and their sexual interactions. Welcome to the sexual revolution, everyone!
Philip Roth burst on the literary scene with Portnoy’s Complaint, a novel structured entirely within a sex-crazed man’s appointment with his therapist.
Love Story, the irresistible tale of a rich preppy boy and a smart aleck girl (who will get cancer) by Erich Segal, was the weepy journey that millions of people signed up for willingly.
The most terrifying movie of all time is also a pretty frightening book. William Peter Blatty was inspired to write The Exorcist by an actual news story of a supposed demonic possession.
The hippies reached mainstream status with Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, a graphic novella about a seagull who leaves society behind and finds a higher plane of existence.
Following Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut kept Americans on their toes and constantly examining their consumer-driven lives in Breakfast of Champions.
The book behind the movie, Jaws is wonderfully researched and deeply imagined by a journalist and first-time novelist Peter Benchley.
E.L. Doctorow invented a fantastical version of early twentieth century New York in Ragtime, where his characters magically interact with real historical figures like Booker T. Washington and J.P. Morgan.
Agatha Christie died in 1976, which may have caused her final detective novel, Sleeping Murder, to rocket to the top of the best-seller list for the year
Australian author Colleen McCullough scored a globe-spanning hit with The Thorn Birds, an epic about three generations of a family in the outback.
The Godfather films were already gigantic hits when author Mario Puzo strayed into the similarly complex and corrupt world of gambling in Fools Die.
Readers aren’t exactly sure what Sophie has to choose until the dark final third of the novel Sophie’s Choice, a controversial depiction of three people in a Brooklyn boarding house after World War II, written by William Styron.
What a concept: A man with amnesia who must figure out why everyone is trying to kill him, including the CIA. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum led to more books and eventually a film franchise.
Stephen King hit his best-selling groove with his tenth horror novel, Cujo, about a demonic dog. He has remained there pretty much ever since.
The original movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial was so major that its novelization, by YA/sci-fi author William Kotzwinkle, was the biggest book of the year.
At times brutally violent and painful to read, The Color Purple by Alice Walker is ultimately the story of how three black women find salvation through friendship.
Michael Corleone returns in The Sicilian, Mario Puzo’s literary sequel to the first Godfather book.
Danielle Steel has released at least one (but often more than one) juicy best-seller every year for the past forty years, but Secrets scored the distinction of being the biggest of 1985.
Pat Conroy’s novel The Prince of Tides depicts a brother trying to unknot the family secret tormenting his schizophrenic sister.
Patriot Games was the second book in Tom Clancy’s blockbuster series (and eventual film franchise) about CIA expert Jack Ryan.
Anne Rice’s hugely popular Vampire Chronicles series got its third installation in The Queen of the Damned.
Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel The Satanic Verses won critical acclaim, but his choice to explore this particularly controversial section of the Quran led to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, to issue a (ultimately unsuccessful) fatwa for his assassination.
The first Hispanic author to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Oscar Hijuelos nabbed the honor for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which follows two musical brothers in their emigration from Cuba to New York City
Tim O’Brien had already written two books about his experience in Vietnam when he released The Things They Carried, a hazy mix of memoir, short story collection and novel.
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan is one of the biggest (and best) friendship novels, as it follows four African-American women who are waiting for a man to take their breath away.
What if you met your soul mate too late in life? That’s the tough question at the heart of The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller.
John Berendt chronicles the sordid scandals behind the walls of Savannah’s gorgeous antebellum mansions in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
The owner of a record shop recounts his top five relationships in High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s gigantically successful first novel.
Oprah waved her magic wand over the publishing industry with her creation of a national “book club” on her show. Selecting The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard as the introductory book led to it being the best-seller of the year.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is a sweetly old-fashioned narrative in which a Civil War soldier abandons service and begins a slow pilgrimage home. The book broke records for its stay at #1 on the best-seller list.
Toni Morrison had already won the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes by the time her seventh novel Paradise came out, but its selection for Oprah’s book club helped its rise to #1.
Harry Potter mania was already spreading when J.K. Rowling’s second book in the series arrived, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
The rumor of Nicholas Sparks’ ability to reduce any man, woman or child to tears was already out by 2000, when he released his fourth novel The Rescue.
Jonathan Franzen cemented his place as one of the country’s greatest novelists with The Corrections, his third book.
With an arresting first sentence — “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” — Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones drew in readers (and their book clubs) around the world.
Who can resist the idea that secret symbols have been in plain sight, holding together Western civilization, for thousands of years? Not the millions of readers who grabbed onto Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
The concept alone is enough to make you tear up: A man dies and meets five people from his past who try to explain the meaning of his life to him. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom flooded tear ducts throughout the year.
Sue Monk Kidd creates a mythical world on an island off the coast of South Carolina, where people believe in the magic of a carved old chair owned by a saint, in The Mermaid Chair.
Newspaper columnist John Grogan recounted the true story of his family’s adventures with “the world’s worst dog” in Marley & Me.
Fans dressed up, camped out and celebrated the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the iconic series.
Teens (and eventually, adults) fell for the story of star-crossed lovers in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: a teenage girl, and a centuries-old vampire posing as a high school student.
A young daughter sues her parents for the rights to her own body — and the right not to donate its parts to her cancer-stricken older sister — in My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.
Stieg Larsson’s thrilling page-turner The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gave the world an unforgettable protagonist in the pierced, tattooed Lisbeth Salander.
Black maids in the South, who see all manner of scandal but never tell, reveal all to a white journalist in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.
Good old word of mouth led a piece of straight-up erotica, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, right up the best-seller list.
When a woman disappears, her husband is suspect #1 — which is exactly what she was hoping for. The twisty, turny Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn captivated audiences.
Two teens with cancer fall in love. Is it dusty in here? Kids and adults alike fell for The Fault in Our Stars, the YA weepy by John Green.
An alcoholic narrator is the unreliable witness in the disappearance of a local woman in The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant Hamilton has had the unexpected effect of making the life of a long-dead founding father into page-turning material. Thanks to the musical, the biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is now flying off book shelves.