Did you know that The Betty Crocker Cookbook was the best-selling non-fiction book in 1950 or that the Revised Standard Version of the Bible dominated the non-fiction best-seller lists from 1951 to 1955? This makes sense to me–1950s, white Protestant middle-class, traditional gender roles, suburbs. etc..
Did you know that Bob Hope’s I Never Left Home topped the non-fiction charts in 1944? Again, Hope had been entertaining the troops during the war.
In 1937, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was the best selling fiction book (as it was in 1936) and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was #1 on the non-fiction chart.
In 1926, Bruce Barton’s The Man Nobody Knows was the best-selling non-fiction book. The following year it was Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. (And we all made such a big deal when Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, another quasi-philosophy book, hit the best-sellers list a few years ago).
In 1970, the New English Bible battled it out with Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask for the #1 spot on the non-fiction list. The Bible lost.
And here is my favorite: In 1968, the great year of revolution and student rebellion, the best-selling non-fiction book in America was The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book!! (In fact, the top ten non-fiction list was dominated by cook books, diet books, and dictionaries).
I got all of this information from a great website called “Books of the Century.” It was created by Berkeley graduate student Daniel Immerwahr. The site lists the best selling books–fiction and non-fiction–for every year of the twentieth century. A student of American culture could spend hours examining and analyzing this list.
Hat Tip: Tim Lacy at US Intellectual History.