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Best-selling fiction books from the year you were born

  • Best-selling fiction books from the year you were born

    “There is no friend as loyal as a book,” said Ernest Hemingway.

    When it comes to loyalty and books, The New York Times Best Sellers list has been helping bibliophiles find new adventures each week, year after year, since 1931—aside from a few newspaper strikes here and there. The Times officially began the list in 1931, but only used data from readers in New York. The list expanded nationwide in 1941. And while questions remain about the lack of transparency behind the selection process and whether it's relevant in the era of Amazon's best-seller lists that are updated hourly, The New York Times Best Sellers list continues to wield considerable clout in the book business. Authors of all genres (and the agents and publishing houses behind them) aspire to have the tagline "New York Times Best Selling author" attached to their bios. After all, making the list means making more money.

    A spot atop the list means more money and worldwide acclaim, if not lifelong fame. So what are some of the most famous and most successful books to claim the #1 spot? Stacker has created the ultimate list of the best-selling fiction novels from the year you and your friends and family were born using historical records from Hawes Publications, showing the list of books that claimed the #1 spot on The New York Times Best Sellers list each year. For each year, Stacker included books that led the list for at least four weeks or achieved particularly notable acclaim, with some books carrying over into consecutive years.

    Give Stacker's list a read before you snuggle up with your next bookstore find.

    You may also like: Books that have sold over 50 million copies

  • 1931

    Notable best-sellers: "The Ten Commandments" by Warwick Deeping, "Maid in Waiting" by John Galsworthy

    Stacker pick: "The Ten Commandments"

    This story from the 1930s features a wounded soldier who loves beauty and a beautiful young woman who loves jazz and fast living. Warwick Deeping served in World War I and this book carries the same tones of American expat writers of the Lost Generation who were deeply affected by the war, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

  • 1932

    Notable best-sellers: "Magnolia Street" by Louis Golding, "Faraway" by J.B. Priestley, "Invitation to the Waltz" by Rosamond Lehmann, "Flowering Wilderness" by John Galsworthy, "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck

    Stacker pick: "The Good Earth"

    This 1932 Pulitzer Prize winner depicted the rise and fall of a farmer and his wife in a Chinese peasant village before World War I and through the 1920s. It was among the first novels for many Americans at the time that depicted the life and voices of Chinese people, reflecting a tumultuous time in China, as the book is set around the same time as the ouster of the last Chinese emperor.

  • 1933

    Notable best-sellers: "Anthony Adverse" by Hervey Allen, "The Werewolf of Paris" by Guy Endore, "As the Earth Turns" by Gladys Hasty Carroll

    Stacker pick: "The Werewolf of Paris"

    This is a horror novel that follows the Gothic style of a narrator dealing with the fantastic—think of the narrators of "Frankenstein" and "Wuthering Heights." In this story, a young girl gives birth to a werewolf after being raped by a priest. The novel explores themes of sexuality and the animalistic side of humans, with the Franco-Prussian War and The Paris Commune of 1870–'71 as the historical backdrop.

  • 1934

    Notable best-sellers: "The Oppermanns" by Lion Feuchtwanger, "So Red the Rose" by Stark Young, "Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Stacker pick: "Tender is the Night"

    This novel tells the tale of a psychiatrist who marries one of his patients, a rich heiress, leading to the downfall of their relationship and his career. The book was published shortly after F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda was checked into a mental hospital for schizophrenia.

  • 1935

    Notable best-sellers: "Heaven's My Destination" by Thornton Wilder, "Of Time and the River" by Thomas Wolfe, "Lucy Gayheart" by Willa Cather, "Europa" by Robert Briffault, "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis

    Stacker pick: "Heaven's My Destination"

    Thornton Wilder’s best-selling novel set during the Great Depression follows George Brush, a traveling textbook salesman. He’s a religious convert determined to lead a good life, and his travels take him through a more secular America. This book is considered a picaresque novel, just like Voltaire’s "Candide."

  • 1936

    Notable best-sellers: "The Last Puritan" by George Santayana, "The Doctor" by Mary Roberts Rinehart, "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell

    Stacker pick: "Gone With the Wind"

    Margaret Mitchell’s sweeping epic novel explores the life of Georgian socialite Scarlett O’Hara, weaving a narrative around the elite antebellum class and how the Civil War changed their lives forever. The 1939 film adaptation starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable is one of the most famous, acclaimed movies of all time—many know the line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn," whether or not they've seen the film.

  • 1937

    Notable best-sellers: "Drums Along the Mohawk" by Walter D. Edmonds, "Theatre" by Somerset Maugham, "The Outward Room" by Millen Brand, "Northwest Passage" by Kenneth Roberts, "The Citadel" by A.J. Cronin, "The Years" by Virginia Woolf

    Stacker pick: "The Years"

    Virginia Woolf's last novel follows the upper-middle class Pargiter family over the span of 50 years from the 1880s to 1930s, focusing on the children of a retired British general who served in India. The Victorian, omniscient point of view used in the novel differs from her usual stream of consciousness prose.

  • 1938

    Notable best-sellers: "The Prodigal Parents" by Sinclair Lewis, "Action at Aquila" by Hervey Allen, "My Son, My Son" by Howard Spring, "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier, "All This and Heaven Too" by Rachel Field, "The Yearling" by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

    Stacker pick: "The Yearling"

    This novel centers on a family living in the Florida backwoods during the Reconstruction era, specifically young Jody Baxter and his fawn, whose death represents Jody’s coming-of-age. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939, and the 1946 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck was nominated for and won a number of Academy Awards.

  • 1939

    Notable best-sellers: "Wickford Point" by John P. Marquand, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "Escape" by Ethel Vance, "Kitty Foyle" by Christopher Morley

    Stacker pick: "The Grapes of Wrath"

    This classic John Steinbeck novel concerns the Joads, an Oklahoma family that moves west to work the fields of California in an attempt to escape the hardships of the Dust Bowl in the Midwest. Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" to shine a light on the injustices of migrant labor during the Great Depression. It’s now one of the most recognized American novels, and Pulitzer Prize winner. Its movie adaptation was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry in The Library of Congress.

  • 1940

    Notable best-sellers: "Native Son" by Richard Wright, "Stars on the Sea" by F. Van Wyck Mason, "You Can't Go Home Again" by Thomas Wolfe, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway, "Oliver Wiswell" by Kenneth Roberts

    Stacker pick: "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

    Set during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Ernest Hemingway's classic explores the horrors of modern warfare, and the political ideologies of the time such as fascism and populism. Its film adaptation was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won one.

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