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The most popular book the year you were born

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    The most popular book the year you were born

    There is nothing quite like settling into a book you love. But finding a real page turner can be hard, and has only gotten more difficult as of late as the amount of choices has grown exponentially. In 2016, over 300,000 new books were published in America, with an additional 400,000 self-published. Walking through a bookstore as you seek out your next read can indeed be frustrating if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

    Still, nothing helps judge a book like the test of time, and in honor of national book month, Stacker used data from Publisher’s Weekly to compile a list of the most popular novel in America each year since 1920. Ranging from Steinbeck classics to modern hits, browse this list for a look into what was popular the year you were born - you might even find your next favorite.

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    1920: The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey

    Set in the American West, Zane Grey solidified the symbols associated with the West in the minds of American readers. These images provided the imagery that inspired many plots and American folklore stories. The Man of the Forest is an exciting story about a protagonist who saves a rancher’s niece after he overhears a plot to kidnap her. During the time of its publication, Grey was traveling and going on outdoor excursions frequently. He often contributed to Outdoor Life magazine, which can explain why his connection with the wild manifested itself vividly in his work.  

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    1921: The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield

    Dorothy Canfield was one of the early bestselling novelists in American literature. The Brimming Cup explores one woman’s identity as she adjusts to motherhood and her new marriage. As she finds herself attracted to another man, she reassess the values on which her marriage is based.

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    1922: If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson

    A.S.M. Hutchinson’s bestseller centers around an unhappy marriage and deals with issues of divorce and suicide. A movie based on If Winter Comes was released by MGM in 1947.

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    1923: Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton

    This book was a controversial bestseller in the 1920s that was eventually adopted into a silent film. The novel centers around a woman who becomes revitalized by using hormone treatments.

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    1924: So Big by Edna Ferber

    So Big was inspired by the life of Antje Paarlberg, a widow in a South Holland, Illinois farming community. The book follows the life of a young woman who becomes a teacher and encourages a young man to pursue his artistic interests. Over the years, there have been multiple popular adaptations of this novel.

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    1925: Soundings by A. Hamilton Gibbs

    A. Hamilton Gibbs was a London-born citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1920. Soundings follows a young girl from England as she grows and travels abroad, where she falls in love with her American roommate's brother. The novel raised new ideas about women’s freedom and sexuality at the time it was published.

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    1926: The Private Life of Helen of Troy by John Erskine

    Adapted into a silent film in 1927, The Private Life of Helen of Troy is a story that is set after the events of The Iliad in which Helen goes back to Sparta and deals with her daughter's engagement to Orestes.

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    1927: Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

    Sinclair Lewis, a staple of American literature, masters the study of hypocrisy through the protagonist's journey as an evangelist who lives a double life filled with self-indulgence. The novel was later adopted into a film featuring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons.

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    1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

    The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that begins when a bridge in Peru breaks and five travelers fall into the gulf to their deaths. The protagonist aims to determine out the underlying cause of the tragedy, uncovering deep mysteries along the way.

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    1929: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

    Erich Maria Remarque is a German novelist whose works centered around war. This novel is a story of a German soldier who joins the army during World War I and describes the horrifying trenches and mental anguish of warfare that marked a generation of soldiers.

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    1930: Cimarron by Edna Ferber

    This novel gets its name from the Cimarron Territory, an area that was unsettled between the Midwest and the West. It is a story about the collision of cultures on the frontier in fictional Osage, Oklahoma, a territory that opens in 1889. Edna Ferber, a native of Michigan, was fascinated and inspired by stories her parents used to tell her about the West where they had previously settled. The story was adapted into two film versions.  

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    1931 and 1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

    Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for best novel in 1932, The Good Earth is a work of historical fiction that has become a renowned modern classic. It provides an image of 1920s China through the protagonist: a farmer during the rule of the last emperor.

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    1933 and 1934: Anthony Adverse by Harvey Allen

    Adapted into a film shortly after its publication, Anthony Adverse is a story of an orphan who goes onto a lifetime of adventure across the world. This novel is seen as Hervey Allen’s most successful and widely known work.

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    1935: Green Light by Lloyd C. Douglas

    Green Light follows a surgeon’s destroyed career after he takes the blame for a lethal failed operation performed by his mentor.

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    1936 and 1937: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that later became  an iconic film, Gone with the Wind is a story of a plantation owner’s daughter and her struggles to secure her true love. It is set during the Civil War era and explores themes of the South.

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    1938: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

    Translated into multiple languages and adapted into film, theatrical, and musical works, The Yearling is a story of a young boy on a farm who is refused a pet. He eventually finds an orphaned fawn that he takes in, prompting a difficult coming-of-age as he strives to maintain his new friend amid his rural surroundings.

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    1939: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    Set during the Great Depression, this novel follows a family who is stuck in the Dust Bowl on a journey to California from their Oklahoma home in search of better fortune. It was adapted into a film in 1940.

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    1940: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

    This is the story of a South Wales mining family, centering on the struggles and successes of families who work in the coal mines. Published during World War II, How Green Was My Valley resonated with its audience as the mining industry was suffering a labor shortage due to the loss of men to the war effort. The book was later adapted into a film by John Ford that earned an Oscar for best picture, beating out Citizen Kane.

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    1941: The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin

    The Keys of the Kingdom is a story of a Scottish Catholic priest’s struggle to build a mission in China. The novel has six parts and was adapted into a 1944 film starring Gregory Peck.

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    1942: The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel

    A work that spent over a year on the New York Times Bestseller list, the novel tells the story of Bernadette Soubirous and Our Lady of Lourdes. It was adapted into a film in 1943 starring Jennifer Jones.

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    1943: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

    The Robe is a historical novel about the crucifixion of Jesus that was based on Lloyd C. Douglas’s career as a minister. He was inspired to write the story after receiving a letter from a fan asking him what he thought had happened to Jesus’s clothing after he was crucified. The story was on the New York Times Best Seller list for nearly a year and was later adapted into a film.

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    1944: Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith

    Banned for its lewdness and crude language, Strange Fruit explores the theme of interracial love. It takes place in Georgia in the 1920s and centers around a young white man who falls in love with a black woman.

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    1945: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

    Set in 17th century England, Forever Amber tells the story of a young woman who seeks to improve her social status by sleeping with and marrying successful and important men. Although it was banned by 14 U.S. states, it became a bestselling novel and sold over 3 million copies.

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    1946: The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier

    The King’s General is a passionate love story that details the broken union between a young woman who falls in love with a young man who eventually becomes a soldier in the English Civil War. A well-researched novel, du Maurier strove for historical precision and accuracy in this story.

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    1947: The Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney

    Eventually adapted into a drama film by RKO, Janney’s debut novel centered around a Broadway manager and a young movie star who has just passed away. The novel juxtaposes two worlds - the big city and the small American town.

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    1948: The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas

    Set two decades before Jesus started prophesying, The Big Fisherman is centered around an arranged matrimonial alliance between a Jewish king’s son and an Arab king’s daughter.

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    1949: The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

    This historical novel is the only Finnish novel to be adapted into a Hollywood film. The story is set in ancient Egypt, and the protagonist is a royal physician who tells the story of Pharaoh Akhenaten.

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    1950: The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson

    This book garnered immediate success as a bestselling novel, sold millions of copies, and was eventually published in multiple languages. Based partly on the life of Francis Cardinal Spellman the Archbishop of New York, the novel follows the story of an American protagonist from the lower-middle class who seeks to become a Cardinal of the Catholic church.

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    1951: From Here to Eternity by James Jones

    The debut novel of James Jones, From Here to Eternity is a story of members of a United States Army infantry company that are stationed in Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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    1952: The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain

    The Silver Chalice is a historical novel that incorporates first-century biblical historical figures into a fictional story about how the silver chalice, holding the Holy Grail, is made. It was inspired by the actual archeological discovery of the silver chalice.

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    1953: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

    First published in 1943, The Robe saw a resurgence in popularity in 1953 when it was adapted into a film featuring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons.

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    1954: Not as a Stranger by Morton Thompson

    Not as a Stranger details the world of a young doctor who sacrifices everything for his career. The novel became a film in 1955.

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    1955: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

    Marjorie Morningstar is the love story of a young woman who accepts a job in New York, leaving her traditional Jewish family to become immersed in the theater world.

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    1956: Don’t Go Near the Water by William Brinkley

    Don’t Go Near the Water is a comedic war novel that is set in 1945 after the invasion of Iwo Jima. It details the adventures of relations officers for the U.S. Navy during World War II. William Brinkley was inspired by his own experiences, having served as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy with public relations duties.

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    1957: By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens

    A novel that spans 49 hours, By Love Possessed is focused on the harried personal and professional life of Arthur Winner Jr, a New England lawyer. It was adapted into a film in 1961.

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    1958: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

    First published in Italy, the book is titled after the main character, Yuri Zhivago. It is set during the Russian Revolution and Civil War and tells the story of a doctor who is caught between his love life and the deepening conflicts.

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    1959: Exodus”by Leon Uris

    Exodus is a historical novel that retells the founding of the state of Israel through the the voyages of the Exodus, a 1947 immigration ship. 

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    1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

    A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that spent over 100 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list, Advise and Consent centers around politics, exploring the nominee for a secretary of state who was formerly involved with the Communist Party. 

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    1961: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

    The Agony and the Ecstasy is one of Irving Stone’s most well known biographical novels, detailing the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti. It is inspired by his time in Italy as an apprentice to a marble sculptor. Stone had 495 letters from Michelangelo’s correspondence translated into English, which he used as primary source material for the novel.

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    1962: Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter

    Eventually adapted into a film, this novel details a voyage of a group of characters on a German passenger ship sailing from Mexico to Europe.

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    1963: The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West

    The Shoes of the Fisherman is a story that deals with breaking traditions and centers around the election of a Russian pope who was formerly a prisoner. He leads the Catholic Church in dealing with contemporary issues.  

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    1964: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

    This was the first novel to earn John Le Carre critical acclaim. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a Cold War spy novel that details the story of a British agent who is sent to East Germany. It was adapted into a film and became one of the “All Time 100 Novels” by Time magazine.

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    1965: The Source by James A. Michener

    The Source is a novel that takes readers through the history of the Jewish faith and the land of Israel. It strays from the format of other Michener novels by not following a chronological order and is set in the 1960s.

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    1966: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

    Valley of the Dolls tells the story of three girls in show business in New York City. As they strive to make it to the top, the novel explores themes of sex and drugs. It was inspired by Jacqueline Susann’s personal journey on Broadway.

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    1967: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

    A story of a clash between two groups of teenage gangs — the “greasers” and the “socs” — this story explores the murder of a “soc” by a “greaser,” and was later adapted for the screen and stage.

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    1968: Airport by Arthur Hailey

    An airport manager, pilot, stewardess, and maintenance man pull together in the face of disaster in this novel that centers around a blizzard near Lincoln International Airport outside of Chicago. The film adaptation was released in 1970 with a star-studded cast that featured Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin.

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    1969: Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

    An immediate bestselling novel after its publication, Portnoy’s Complaint sparked controversy due to its portrayal of sexuality. The novel is structured as a single, continuous monologue by its protagonist to his therapist.

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    1970: Love Story by Erich Segal

    A love story of two opposites that attract, Love Story was released on Valentine’s Day and became one of the top-selling works of fiction. Erich Segal based the book partly on Al Gore’s life whom he had met while at Harvard University.

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    1971: Wheels by Arthur Hailey

    A novel that was adapted into a television series, Wheels details the automobile industry and its operations. Based on Ford Motor Company, the story provides a look at the corporate world and all of the people within it.

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    1972 and 1973: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

    A personified story about a seagull trying to learn to fly, it topped the New York Times Bestsellers list for 38 weeks and was reissued in 2014.

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    1974: Centennial by James A. Michener

    Based in the Weld County city of Greeley, Colorado, this novel is about the legacy of life on the frontier. It was eventually adapted into a television miniseries.

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    1975: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

    Ragtime details one family’s interesting life in New York. Set in the early 1920s, the novel is recognized for incorporating historical figures and important ideas in American history.

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    1976: Trinity by Leon Uris

    A story centered around Ireland during a time of division, Trinity focuses on two protagonists from opposing religious backgrounds — one Catholic and one Protestant — who ultimately come together.

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    1977: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien

    The Silmarillion, developed as a sequel following the success of The Hobbit, is a vast five-part novel that outlines the sphere in which Middle-earth and other related worlds exist. The epic novel, published posthumously by J.R.R. Tolkien's son, is renowned by hardcore Tolkien fans for its narrative history and detail that some compare to the bible.

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    1978: Chesapeake by James A. Michener

    Centered around the forming of the Chesapeake nation that covers 400 years of regional history, Chesapeake takes readers through the settling of the Native Americans to Captain John Smith’s landing, the Revolutionary War and modern Chesapeake.

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    1979: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum

    Based on the Trilateral Commission, this story is about a U.S. intelligence agent and a Soviet KGB agent that investigate a group known as the Matarese.

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    1980: The Covenant by James A. Michener

    Set in South Africa, this novel explores the mixture between five different populations and their interactions and conflicts.

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    1981: Noble House by James Clavell

    Over 1,000 pages long and later adapted for a television miniseries, Noble House is filled with action, crime, and natural disaster. Set in 1960s Hong Kong, the story explores themes of money and power with plenty of plot twists along the way.

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    1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial by William Kotzwinkle

    A novelization of the famous film directed by Steven Spielberg, this science-fiction story of a boy who befriends a creature from another world became a national favorite.

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    1983: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn

    The bestselling novel of 1983, this science fiction novel is based on the script of the movie of the same name. It was published less than two weeks ahead of the film’s release.

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    1984: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

    The Talisman is a fantasy novel centered around Jack Sawyer, a young boy who is chosen to make a journey into another realm. This story is still considered one of the most influential fantasy works of all time.

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    1985: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel

    This historical fiction novel is centered on a female protagonist who goes to the land of Mamutoi (the Mammoth Hunters). She must learn their way of life while faced with life-changing decisions of her own.

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    1986: It by Stephen King

    It is Stephen King's epic story about a murderous shape-shifting clown who terrorizes the citizens of Derry, Maine from the depths of its sewers. 

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    1987: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

    A science fiction novel set in Haven, Maine, The Tommyknockers is about residents who come under the influence of an object buried in the woods. Stephen King, a native of Maine, sets many of his stories in his home state.

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    1988: The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy

    Tom Clancy, well known for his military-science storylines, wrote this novel as a sequel to The Hunt for Red October about the Strategic Defense Initiative development. Like many Clancy books, the systems in the book are based on real life.

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    1989: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy

    Protagonist Jack Ryan, featured in many of Clancy’s novels, is given the position of Acting Deputy Director of the CIA, where he discovers his colleagues are conducting a major discreet operation.

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    1990: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel

    The Plains of Passage is another novel that features the character Ayla, who appears in several of Auel’s books, as she journeys West. This novel is the sequel to The Mammoth Hunters and follows Ayla on a long journey.

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    1991: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley

    A sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, this work made the New York Times Bestseller list and was adapted into a television miniseries. It begins where Gone with the Wind leaves off, with Scarlett at the funeral for her former sister-in-law Melanie Wilkes.

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    1992: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

    Stephen King strays from his usual writing style with this novel with this  first-person narrative. The book reads like a spoken monologue, with no breaks or double spacing. A novel dedicated to Stephen King’s mother, it centers around a 65-year-old woman suspected of murdering her wealthy employer.

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    1993: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

    The Bridges of Madison County is a bestselling novel centered on an Italian-American married woman’s life. Set in the 1960s, the protagonist lives in Madison County, Iowa, where she engages in an affair with a photographer who has traveled there to photograph the city's bridges. With more than 60 million copies sold, it is widely read and was even adapted into a feature film and musical.

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    1994: The Chamber by John Grisham

    The Chamber is a legal thriller about a young lawyer who takes on a case for a tough client facing the death penalty. Grisham was one of the decade's most popular authors, and The Chamber certainly helped set the tone for his next several novels.

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    1995: The Rainmaker by John Grisham

    The Rainmaker is another legal novel about an inexperienced lawyer who ends up facing one of the largest cases of his career. The novel was later adapted into a film, with Matt Damon playing the lead of attorney Rudy Baylor.

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    1996: The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

    John Grisham’s seventh novel is about a jury for a tobacco trial that is suspected of being controlled by someone with ulterior motives. Set in rural Mississippi, this mystery dives into a small town where corporate interests compete with a fair-and-balanced trial.

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    1997: The Partner by John Grisham

    The Partner is a story about a law partner who fakes his own death and steals millions from his firm, only to be found years later by his disgruntled former associates.

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    1998: The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

    Grisham's ninth novel, The Street Lawyer is about a lawyer whose career is on the rise until his life changes after a violent encounter with a homeless person.

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    1999: The Testament by John Grisham

    This novel centers around an eccentric billionaire who - just hours before committing suicide - rewrites his will to almost completely cut out his family. Mystery ensues as his family fights for what they feel is theirs, leading them down a path of stories unknown to them regarding their former husband and father.


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    2000: The Brethren by John Grisham

    The Brethren is a novel about a white-collar prison home to three former judges who call themselves the Brethren. The three manage an ingenious mail scam from prison until they hook an unlikely victim, leading to chaos and mystery.

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    2001: Desecration by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

    The ninth book in a series, Desecration was on The New York Times Bestseller list for 19 weeks and centers around the end of the world and the fate of humankind.

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    2002: The Summons by John Grisham

    The Summons features a newly-divorced law professor whose life takes a turn after he is summoned to his hometown by his dying father, who leaves a mysterious secret before passing away.

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    2003: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

    The fifth in the bestselling series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix follows Harry and his friends as they face the looming threat of Voldemort paired with creeping influence of the Ministry of Magic at Hogwarts.

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    2004: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

    The Da Vinci Code is a thriller about a Harvard professor’s business trip to Paris where he discovers hidden messages in the works of Da Vinci. Later adapted into a feature film with Tom Hanks as the lead, this was the edition in what was to become one of the bestselling series in history.

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    2005: The Broker by John Grisham

    The Broker is a suspense novel about Joel Backman, a disgraced Washington D.C. power broker who is forced to hide in Bologna, Italy after a presidential pardon places him out of jail and into the crosshairs of enemies who want his secrets. An international espionage thriller, The Broker takes the reader through a world of CIA agents, deception and conspiracy.

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    2006: For One More Day by Mitch Albom

    For One More Day is a touching novel about protagonist Charley, who deals with the loss of his parents. On a night he plans to take his life, he ends up back in the house he grew up in only to find his mother, (who has been dead for many years), there waiting for him. Spending one last day with his deceased mother helps put a new spin on life for Charley.

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    2007: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

    The finale to the best-selling children series of all time, Deathly Hallows follows Harry Potter, Ron Weasely, and Hermione Granger as they prepare for a final showdown with Voldemort's army. 

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    2008: The Appeal by John Grisham

    The novel follows two lawyers who succeed in a multi-million dollar case against a chemical company. However, the company’s lawyers appeal the case and despite the deaths cause by the company’s pollution, the outcome of the cases is unclear.

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    2009: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

    A follow up to The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol is set in Washington, D.C. among hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples as the protagonist strives to unlock the secrets of a mysterious object.

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    88/ Authentic Creations // Shutterstock

    2010: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

    The finale of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest follows protagonist Lisbeth Salander as she fights for her life while potentially facing trial for three murders.

  • Debby Wong // Shutterstock
    89/ Debby Wong // Shutterstock

    2011: The Litigators by John Grisham

    The Litigators is a novel about two partners who operate a small firm and take on an unexpected successful lawyer facing rock bottom as they all team up to tackle a large case.

  • Urban Buzz // Shutterstock
    90/ Urban Buzz // Shutterstock

    2012: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

    Fifty Shades of Grey took the nation by storm bringing erotic fiction to the mainstream. The story follows a literature student who becomes attracted to a mysterious millionaire that she interviews and quickly becomes entwined with, introducing deep fantasies which soon become her own.

  • Politics and Prose // Flickr
    91/ Politics and Prose // Flickr

    2013: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney

    Part of a series of bestselling books with over 80 million copies sold, Hard Luck details the protagonist’s experiences in middle school after he must find new friends.

  • Alan Berry // Vimeo
    92/ Alan Berry // Vimeo

    2014: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

    Adapted for the screen shortly after its release, The Fault in Our Stars is a love story of a young girl going through chemotherapy who falls in love with a boy. Throughout the story, both learn about life and happiness while enjoying their fleeting time together.

  • Mark Hillary // Flickr
    93/ Mark Hillary // Flickr

    2015: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

    Go Set a Watchman is the much-anticipated follow up to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, focusing on a grown-up “Scout” as she returns home to visit her father. Set in the civil rights era, the protagonist returns to find uncomfortable truths about her family.

  • Bago Games // Flickr
    94/ Bago Games // Flickr

    2016: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

    The Girl on the Train caught the world's attention in 2016 with its first-person narrative and mysterious plot. Following the disappearance of a young woman, this emotional novel deals with relationships, trust and the mysterious ways our lives are connected.

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