The books of the century (Which century? The 20th, of course!)

You’re surely wondering which books were the most influential, or most popular, or most important in the 20th Century.

Fortunately, Daniel Immerwahr has done the work for you.

“Who’s he when he’s at home?” you’re asking.

Well, in his own words, this Northwestern University professor says: “I am a scholar of U.S. and global history, specializing in empire, development, and the history of ideas. My last name is pronounced IM-mer-var and my Erdös number is 5.” That last observation is the most important one, of course.

Immerwahr has compiled—again as described in his own words—and sorted by decade

four different lists of books published during the twentieth century:

  1. The top ten bestsellers in fiction, as recorded by Publishers Weekly
  2. The top ten bestsellers in nonfiction, also as recorded by Publishers Weekly.
  3. The main selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, which was founded in 1926. 
  4. Critically acclaimed and historically significant books, as identified by consulting various critics’ and historians’ lists of important books. 

I immediately went to the 1960s, being the seminal decade for me, since it went from when I was 13 to 22. Focusing only on the “critically acclaimed and historically significant books,” I was shocked to learn that I’ve read only 5 of the 14 on the list:

  • John Updike, Rabbit, Run
  • Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd
  • Günter Grass, The Tin Drum
  • Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative
  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

So why am I so poorly read? Or are the books on Immerwahr’s list not really the most “critically acclaimed and historically significant books” of the decade? Inquiring minds want to know.

Categories: Books