Robert McParland’s Best Seller provides a history of American best selling books during the last century. McParland moves from year to year identifying trends and commenting on key writers. McParland uses publishing and literary history to define what makes a book a best-seller and what best-sellers say about reading American tastes and societal changes. Despite all the research, I found McParland’s analysis is clear and concise. He presents the historical context for each year, describes the best-sellers and the reasons for their appeal. In addition, McParland supplies descriptions of the authors. From classic literary works to pulp fiction, from historical blockbusters to trendy diet books, McParland’s tour of 118 years of best sellers is a delight! GRADE: A
Acknowledgments vii
Introduction: Reaching the Top of the Shelf: Discovering a Century of Bestsellers ix
Chapter One: Birth of the Bestseller: 1890s thru the 1930s 1
Chapter Two: 1940s: All the Books Fit to Sell 23
Chapter Three: 1950s: Cold War Anxiety: From Holden Caulfield to James Bond 53
Chapter Four: 1960s: New Frontiers: From Harper Lee to Kurt Vonnegut 83
Chapter Five: 1970s: The Age of Narcissism 109
Chapter Six: 1980s: The Rise of the Superstar Author 139
Chapter Seven: 1990s: Means of Ascent: Publisher Consolidation, Superstores, and the Internet 171
Chapter Eight: 2000s: E-Books and the New Millennium 211
Chapter Nine: 2010s: James Patterson, Inc. and The Soul of America 241
Notes 275
Bibliography 287
Index 293
About the Author 307


  1. Deb

    Looks interesting—although I find as I get older, I’m less inclined to look at current rankings or care if a book is a best-seller. I seem to recall several years ago that a book blogger was going to read and review every number one best-seller for the past 60 or so years—and it was amazing how many couldn’t be found or were out of print, etc., even though they had once been best-sellers.

    1. george Post author

      Deb, you’re right about books that were popular decades ago disappearing today. As BEST SELLER points out, tastes change. Publishers are NOT going to keep a book in print that doesn’t sell.

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    Sounds good. Over the years I have read several other books like this – about bestsellers – and I’m sure this will be another. Like Deb, I don’t care if I book is a bestseller – I’m more likely NOT to read a book that everyone else is reading than to read it (like GIRL ON THE TRAIN or LADY IN THE WINDOW). But I like reading books about books, always have.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, Art Scott, Rick Ollerman, and I will be on a BOUCHERCON panel about mystery publishers. BEST SELLER provided some interesting facts that will find their way into my presentation.

  3. wolf

    I read once that WW2 had a lot of effects – on the styles of the authors and on the wishes of the readership.
    Books were/became a bit more “brutal” after the war …
    Is this true for the bestsellers too?

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, that analysis certainly fits the popularity of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. The late 1940s and 1950s saw plenty of hard-boiled private eye novels published in paperback.

      1. wolf

        Of course, Mickey Spillane!
        I have to admit that as a student in the 60s I read as many of his novels as I could get – they were so different from what I could get in Germany and used to read.
        Though I knew of course that they didn’t depict life in the USA – but NYC was always a dream of mine. It took me more than 20 years to make that dream come true – and I was lucky there, the USA were just way too expensive for European tourists.

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, my brother, sister, and their spouses just returned from a Viking cruise down Danube River. They loved it! They especially loved Prague. The U.S. dollar is strong right now (that will change soon) so the 10-day trip was affordable.

      3. wolf

        Totally OT:
        Re Viking cruises on the Danube:
        One of their rather big hotel ships a few days ago on the Danube in the middle of Budapest ran into a smaller ship and sank it. Most of the around 30 South Korean passengers on that smaller ship died – some are still missing but in these waters …
        So they took the Viking captain into custody, none of his passengers were harmed however. I don’t know whether they were informed of the accident and the many deaths.

      4. george Post author

        Wolf, we also saw the video of the giant cruise ship who crashed into the dock in Venice. No cruises for me!

    1. george Post author

      Patti, Robert McParland provides a clear, well-written guide to a century of Best Sellers. Every Library should own this book.

  4. Cap'n Bob

    How does he define best sellers? If you go by the NYT lists you’re not getting an accurate picture! They list by how many are ORDERED but not sold, or how many unsold get remaindered or pulped!

    1. george Post author

      Bob, good point. The definition of “Best Seller” has evolved over the past 100 years. McParland focuses on the number of books sold.


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