Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 06/10/2010

What Americans used to read

By Valerie Strauss

With summer upon us, reading lists abound, and to me, that's a good thing.

I love book lists. High-brow, low-brow, no-brow, it doesn’t much matter: I get a kick out of seeing what other people like to buy, or think is influential, or believe are beautifully written, or consider overrated or find funny, or....

While looking for different lists on the web, I came across those compiled by Publishers Weekly of bestselling hard-back books for every year of the 20th century.

Following are the Top 10 lists for the years 1990, 1980, 1970, etc., down to 1910, exactly 100 years ago.

If you come across an adult , teen or child reading list that you find particularly interesting, send it to me at and I’ll post them, for adults or kids.

1. The Plains of Passage, Jean M. Auel
2. Four Past Midnight, Stephen King
3. The Burden of Proof, Scott Turow
4. Memories of Midnight, Sidney Sheldon
5. Message from Nam, Danielle Steel
6. The Bourne Ultimatum, Robert Ludlum
7. The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, Stephen King
8. Lady Boss, Jackie Collins
9. The Witching Hour, Anne Rice
10. September, Rosamunde Pilcher

1. A Life on the Road, Charles Kuralt
2. The Civil War, Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns
3. The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Heritage: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother, Jeff Smith
4. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
5. Financial Self-Defense: How To Win the Fight for Financial Freedom, Charles J. Givens
6. Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, John Bradshaw
7. Wealth Without Risk: How To Develop a Personal Fortune Without Going Out on a Limb, Charles J. Givens
8. Bo Knows Bo, Bo Jackson and Dick Schaap
9. An American Life: An Autobiography, Ronald Reagan
10. Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene


1. The Covenant, James A. Michener
2. The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum
3. Rage of Angels, Sidney Sheldon
4. Princess Daisy, Judith Krantz
5. Firestarter, Stephen King
6. The Key to Rebecca, Ken Follett
7. Random Winds, Belva Plain
8. The Devil’s Alternative, Frederick Forsyth
9. The Fifth Horseman, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
10. The Spike, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss

1. Crisis Investing: Opportunities and Profits in the Coming Great Depression, Douglas R. Casey
2. Cosmos, Carl Sagan
3. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Milton and Rose Friedman
4. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins
5. Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese
6. The Sky’s the Limit, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
7. The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler
8. Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet, Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey
9. Nothing Down, Robert Allen
10. Shelley: Also Known as Shirley, Shelley Winters



1. Love Story, Erich Segal
2. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
3. Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway
4. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
5. Great Lion of God, Taylor Caldwell
6. QB VII, Leon Uris
7. The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Jimmy Breslin
8. The Secret Woman, Victoria Holt
9. Travels with My Aunt, Graham Greene
10. Rich Man, Poor Man, Irwin Shaw

1. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex but Were Afraid To Ask, David Reuben, M.D.
2. The New English Bible
3. The Sensuous Woman, "J"
4. Better Homes and Gardens Fondue and Tabletop Cooking
5. Up the Organization, Robert Townsend
6. Ball Four, Jim Bouton
7. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris
8. Body Language, Julius Fast
9. In Someone’s Shadow, Rod McKuen
10. Caught in the Quiet, Rod McKuen


1. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
2. Hawaii, James A. Michener
3. The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa
4. The Chapman Report, Irving Wallace
5. Ourselves To Know, John O’Hara
6. The Constant Image, Marcia Davenport
7. The Lovely Ambition, Mary Ellen Chase
8. The Listener, Taylor Caldwell
9. Trustee from the Toolroom, Nevil Shute
10. Sermons and Soda-Water, John O’Hara

1. Folk Medicine, D. C. Jarvis
2. Better Homes and Gardens First Aid for Your Family
3. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook
4. May This House Be Safe from Tigers, Alexander King
5. Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Book
6. Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Ideas
7. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer
8. The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater
9. I Kid You Not, Jack Paar
10. Between You, Me and the Gatepost, Pat Boone


1. The Cardinal, Henry Morton Robinson
2. Joy Street, Frances Parkinson Keyes
3. Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway
4. The Wall, John Hersey
5. Star Money, Kathleen Winsor
6. The Parasites, Daphne du Maurier
7. Floodtide, Frank Yerby
8. Jubilee Trail, Gwen Bristow
9. The Adventurer, Mika Waltari
10. The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg

1. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book
2. The Baby
3. Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
4. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
5. Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl
6. Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Peter Marshall
7. Your Dream Home, Hubbard Cobb
8. The Mature Mind, H. A. Overstreet
9. Campus Zoo, Clare Barnes Jr.
10. Belles on Their Toes, Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey


1. How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn
2. Kitty Foyle, Christopher Morley
3. Mrs. Miniver, Jan Struther
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
5. The Nazarene, Sholem Asch
6. Stars on the Sea, F. van Wyck Mason
7. Oliver Wiswell, Kenneth Roberts
8. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
9. Night in Bombay, Louis Bromfield
10. The Family, Nina Fedorova


1. Cimarron, Edna Ferber
2. Exile, Warwick Deeping
3. The Woman of Andros, Thornton Wilder
4. Years of Grace, Margaret Ayer Barnes
5. Angel Pavement, J. B. Priestley
6. The Door, Mary Roberts Rinehart
7. Rogue Herries, Hugh Walpole
8. Chances, A. Hamilton Gibbs
9. Young Man of Manhattan, Katharine Brush
10. Twenty-Four Hours, Louis Bromfield


1. The Man of the Forest, Zane Grey
2. Kindred of the Dust, Peter B. Kyne
3. The Re-Creation of Brian Kent, Harold Bell Wright
4. The River’s End, James Oliver Curwood
5. A Man for the Ages, Irving Bacheller
6. Mary-Marie, Eleanor H. Porter
7. The Portygee, Joseph C. Lincoln
8. The Great Impersonation, E. Phillips Oppenheim
9. The Lamp in the Desert, Ethel M. Dell
10. Harriet and the Piper, Kathleen Norris


1. The Rosary, Florence Barclay
2. A Modern Chronicle, Winston Churchill
3. The Wild Olive, anonymous (Basil King)
4. Max, Katherine Cecil Thurston
5. The Kingdom of Slender Swords, Hallie Erminie Rives
6. Simon the Jester, William J. Locke
7. Lord Loveland Discovers America, C. N. and A. M. Williamson
8. The Window at the White Cat, Mary Roberts Rinehart
9. Molly Make-Believe, Eleanor Abbott
10. When a Man Marries, Mary Roberts Rinehart

Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | June 10, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  best 20th century books, best books of 1900s, best selling books, best selling books of the 20th century, bestselling books, reading lists  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Do we need preschool graduation ceremonies?
Next: Do we need preschool graduation ceremonies?


I don't like bestseller lists. I like to pick books from the most frequently challenged/banned lists.

Posted by: sarahee | June 10, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget, the bestseller lists are based on what booksellers report. Before computers, one bookseller I knew used to just look around the store when the source called, spot an empty spot on the shelf, try to remember what was there, and report that title as a bestseller! Now, of course, the accuracy depends on the stores contacted. I used to work for an independent store in the Midwest, and the PW list of the bestselling books at Christmas were never what our customers were buying. (One year the magazine reported that a particular novel was a surprising non-seller--surprising to the publisher because it was based on a specific court case. The booksellers asked about it replied, "What case was that?" It seems the case was well-known in New York and a very minor news story outside of New York.) So all such lists are suspect.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 15, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company