The Most Popular Books on Goodreads for the Past 100 Years

If there’s one thing I love on par with books, it’s data. And here Goodreads can provide. One of the better features Goodreads has brought out in recent times is the ability to see the most added books by year for the past hundred years*. This provides insight into burning questions such as “What books from 1927 are currently the most popular?”, or more probably “what literature has been frequently taught in school for the past few decades?”, and even (because these book lists are notably heavily American) “what demographics make up Goodreads’ core user base?”

These lists also shine a light on the already glaring diversity problem of the book world. Of the number one most popular books for each year:

– 62% were written by men.

– 81% were written by white people. The combined total for all White/European, Jewish, and Latinx writers comes to 97%.

– 93% were written by heterosexual people.

– 100% were written by cisgender people.

– 86% were originally written in English.

– 52% were written by Americans, 25% by Brits, and another 21% by people from other countries of Europe or the Americas.

There’s nothing particularly surprising about these numbers, but there’s not much to be proud about. For those of you who like colour and detail, this lack of diversity can also be viewed by way of pie charts.


But rather than wallowing, we should read. Selected from the top twenty-five most-read books for each five-year period, here are twenty books for one hundred years of diverse and popular reading. And if you’re looking at this list, thinking it could be more diverse, you’re right, it still should be. Let’s just keep reading harder.

1917-1921 – The Age of Innocence– Edith Wharton

1922-1926 – The Prophet – Khalil Gibran

1927-1931 – To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

1932-1936 – Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier

1937 – 1941 – Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

1942-1946 – Ficciones– Jorge Luis Borges

1947-1951 – The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

1952-1956 – Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

1957-1961 – Things Fall Apart – China Achebe

1962-1966 – The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

1967-1971 – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

1972-1976 – Roots – Alex Haley

1977-1982 – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

1982-1986 – The Color Purple – Alice Walker

1987-1991 – Beloved – Toni Morrison

1992-1996 – The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

1997-2001 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

2002-2006 – The Kite-runner – Khaled Hosseini

2007-2011 – Room – Emma Donoghue

2012-2017 – The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

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