The best-selling books of the year you were born
In 2018, Emily Temple, editor of the Literary Hub, analyzed nearly a century of The Editor’s Weekly bestseller lists to determine which books sell the best each year. In addition to dividing non-fiction and fiction into separate lists, it omitted young adult fiction altogether – so don’t expect to see a Harry Potter.
It’s a fascinating cultural portrait of the country in any given decade. Non-fiction bestseller lists in the 70s were a tug of war between sex and religion, where guides like The sensual man and Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask competed with Kenneth Taylor The Living Bible and Billy Graham’s angels.
The 80s were all about sci-fi movies and Stephen King. novelizations of AND the extra-terrestrial and Return of the Jedi topped the fiction bestseller list in 1982 and 1983, respectively. King took first place in 1984 (The talismanco-written with Peter Straub), 1986 (This), and 1987 (The Tommyknockers). On the non-fiction side, people have focused on health fads and business in equal measure, by Judy Mazel The Beverly Hills Diet to the autobiography of automotive titan Lee Iacocca.
No author dominated the 1990s more than John Grisham, who had a different bestseller every year from 1994 to 2000 (and more sprinkled throughout the following decade). Self-Help particularly resonated with 2000s nonfiction readers, led by Rick Warren’s Purpose-driven life and Rhonda Byrne The secret.
Trends aside, bestseller lists are often not definitive or even completely objective. For example, as Temple pointed out, some of the The Editor’s WeeklySo-called “non-fiction” offerings really push the boundaries of that term, like the Bible.
“These lists are subject to all the flaws, flaws and inaccuracies of all bestseller lists, but this is what we have,” Temple wrote.
For a fuller picture of what captivated American readers each year, Temple supplemented its breakdown with other bestsellers, as well as famous books published that year that were not top sellers. You can see the top fiction and nonfiction bestseller for your year of birth (assuming it falls between 1930 and 2017) below, and explore Temple’s more comprehensive lists for nonfiction here and the fiction here.
[h/t Literary Hub]