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Best-Selling Novels of the 1990s

Updated on August 21, 2012


In the first few decades of the 1990s various authors reached the number one spot on the bestseller lists; some were repeats and some made it for the first time. But after 1994 the number one position was dominated by one writer: John Grisham. Title after title topped the lists, and despite the fact that many sterling authors wrote many enormously successful books, none managed to topple Grisham from his number one status. It was an unprecedented streak that has not been duplicated to this day. The list's source is Publisher's Weekly.


1990: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel


This is the sequel to the 1980s bestseller "The Mammoth Hunters". It takes place in Ice Age Europe. The recurring characters, a couple named Ayla and Jondalar along with their animal companions leave the land of the mammoth hunters and journey across the harsh, forbidding wilderness. Befriended by some, threatened by others, they search for that which has eluded them, a place they can call home.


1991: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley


This sequel to Margaret Mitchell's classic "Gone With the Wind" was commissioned by the late author's estate, which reportedly afterwards was embarrassed by the results. Despite the fact that it received universally negative reviews it spent 28 weeks on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list. It continues the story of the romance of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara through the deep South and on to Ireland. Many loyal readers of "Gone With the Wind" were outraged by this book's publication, which they considered demeaning to the original.


1992: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King


This is a quiet mystery from the master of horror. It is told in the first person and concerns an old housekeeper who is confessing to the police why she killed her husband thirty years earlier, and trying to convince them that she did not kill her employer. It is told in a single long narrative, without chapter or section breaks, and does not contain the supernatural or horrific elements typical of a King novel.


1993: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller


This love story was the surprise hit of the 90s. Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer, is assigned to photograph seven covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa. He meets a lonely farmer's wife, Francesca Johnson, and they have an affair which lasts only four days but which they remember for the rest of their lives. It's a slim book, told in flashbacks and journals as if it were based on fact. It was made into a popular, award-nominated film with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.


1994: The Chamber by John Grisham


Thus begins Grisham's domination of the number one spot on the bestseller lists. In this novel a former Klansman is about to be executed for a bombing, and his grandson, a lawyer, determines to help him obtain a stay of execution. It became a major motion picture with Gene Hackman and Chris O'Donnell.


1995: The Rainmaker by John Grisham

A down-on-his-luck lawyer stumbles upon a case that could make or break him. Himself a neophyte, he finds himself set against a huge, well-organized legal machine. This became a film with Matt Damon and Danny DeVito.

1996: The Runaway Jury by John Grisham


A widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer decides to sue big tobacco. An elite lawyer and his team is hired by the companies, a man who is an expert at jury-fixing. But then a mysterious juror enters the scene, who begins to subtly manipulate the jury at the same time that his equally mysterious girlfriend manipulates the defense team. Grisham goes into the intricacies of jury selection and the power struggles that go on behind major court cases. This became a film too, with Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, and Dustin Hoffman.


1997: The Partner by John Grisham


A partner in a law firm fakes his own death and then makes off with multi-millions of the company's money. Four years later he is found in Brazil, and the games begin. He is kidnapped and tortured to try to get him to reveal where the money is. And then a complex legal situation ensues that involves the law firm, insurance companies, the FBI, and his adulterous wife.


1998: The Street Lawyer by John Grisham


An up-and-coming lawyer in a major law firm is held hostage along with some of his colleagues by a homeless Vietnam War veteran. The situation ends bloodily, but the lawyer takes to the streets to ascertain the truth of the veteran's claims; discovering that the homeless are usually without legal representation and at the mercy of big corporations, he forsakes his affluence and begins to do his legal work among the poor.


1999: The Testament by John Grisham


One of the richest men in America is dying, and his greedy relatives flock around to divide up the spoils. But his will contains a surprise no one expected, and an alcoholic lawyer heads down to the Amazonian jungle to find an heiress who is selflessly working among the native tribes. He has many adventures in the wilderness before returning to deal with the money-hungry swarm of family members.


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