The Most Popular Book the Year You Were Born
So many books, so little time—find your birth year’s bestselling title based on Publishers Weekly’s list for a suggestion of what to read next.
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1950: The Cardinal, by Henry Morton Robinson
Published in more than a dozen languages and with more than 2 million copies sold, The Cardinal was later made into a film starring John Huston. It’s the story of a working-class American’s rise from the suburbs of Boston to become a cardinal of the Catholic Church. Protagonist Stephen Fermoyle’s trials and triumphs prove timeless with this title that’s back in print by popular demand. “This book cannot be disregarded as a propaganda vehicle. At almost every turn, the position of the church is strengthened by analysis, emphasis, and example,” reports Kirkus Review. Find out 15 more hit movies that were books first.
1951: From Here to Eternity, by James Jones
Considered an American classic, From Here to Eternity gives a picture of army life in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Robert E. Lee Prewitt is Uncle Sam’s best bugler and a committed career soldier. But he’s low on patience for army politics, making it difficult for him to stomach that he’s not chosen for the role of First Bugler. His anger leads to a transfer, which spirals downward from there. Some scenes and dialogue have been added to this newer version—previously considered unfit for the original publication. This was the most popular candy the year you were born.
1952: The Silver Chalice, by Thomas B. Costain
This novel takes place soon after Christ’s death and resurrection. The Silver Chalice is a story about Basil’s call to design a case that will hold the silver cup that Christ and his disciples drank from at the Last Supper, his mission is to sculpt their likenesses upon it. He encounters grave danger.
1953: The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas
The Robe digs into the roots and heart of Christianity, set against the backdrop of ancient Rome, as Marcellus, a Roman soldier, wins Christ’s robe as a gambling prize. A story of adventure, romance, and faith—this soldier goes on a quest to discover the truth about the robe in a timeless tale of spiritual longing and redemption. “The Robe was the first adult novel I ever read; it changed my mind about religion, about fiction and about the possible relationship between the two,” wrote Andrew M. Greely from the New York Times.
1954: Not As a Stranger, by Morton Thompson
Lucas Marsh has been obsessed with becoming a doctor since he was a young child when he viewed the profession from a naive perspective. The journey of medical school and starting his own practice in a small town give him a realistic picture of the job, including how much sacrifice is involved. His hardest lesson is coming to grips with the reality that doctors are also human. “One gets glimpses of the functioning of a town in which what affects one seems to affect all,” according to Kirkus Review.
1955: Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk
Marjorie Morningstar is a cautionary tale of love and destruction, set in the world of theater. Marjorie Morgenstern is a 19-year-old Jewish woman, who leaves New York for her dream job—working for Noel Airman, the outgoing director at a summer-stock company. This classic love story, blended with humor and sorrow, covers two decades across two continents. And if sad books are your favorite kind, here are some other powerful reads.
1956: Don’t Go Near the Water, by William Brinkley
Don’t Go Near the Water is set on a remote Pacific island during the last days of World War II. Focused on the public relations sector of the Navy, the story follows the adventures of a group of young naval officers (without the influence of any intervening naval training). Full of good clean fun, the cast of characters is sure to entertain. Brinkley was born in 1917, the youngest of five kids and the son of a minister.
1957: By Love Possessed, by James Gould Cozzens
Arthur Winner Jr. is a second-generation lawyer in a small unnamed American town, where life is fairly contemporary. Raised with a strong moral code from his father, he begins to wrestle with shifting morals and social boundaries. The tension escalates when his skeletons threaten exposure. Coming via a series of flashbacks, By Love Possessed is sexually explicit, with lengthy descriptions. One Goodreads reviewer refers to this book as a literary monster, explaining the text as dense and cumbersome but beautiful. Cozzens’ novel was a National Book Awards finalist in 1958.
1958: Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak
This book focuses on the aftermath of the Russian Revolution for a bourgeois family. Dr. Yury Zhivago (Pasternak’s alter ego) is known as a physician, poet, and philosopher. Not only does the war disrupt his life, but also his heart, for he is in love with Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His beautiful poems contrast with the harshness of the Bolsheviks. Doctor Zhivago was not published in the former Soviet Union until 1987. “As a public speaker, he [Pasternak] was incomprehensible. His work is notoriously hard to translate,” according to the Guardian. For more romantic literature, check out the best love poems for every mood.
1959: Exodus, by Leon Uris
The reader gets two parallel stories, both about reclaiming their homeland, in this epic novel. The first is about two 19th-century Jewish brothers seeking refuge in Palestine. The second is the 20th-century story of Israel gaining its independence after World War II. The 1960 film adaptation, starring Paul Newman, was nominated for three Academy Awards. One Goodreads reviewer refers to this book as a story of perseverance and hope.