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Top 10 Best Selling Books of the 1950s

Updated on April 23, 2017

1. From Here to Eternity, James Jones

Can anyone watch From Here to Eternity without loving it?

James Jones caught the public's imagination with his story of adultery, love, lust and the tensions between soldiers and their commanding officers.

It was James Jones' debut novel and has been voted one of the best 100 novels of the 20th century.

Jones went on to write two companion novels to From Here to Eternity - The Thin Red Line (also made into a movie) and Whistle; all three books have similar close relationships between the two lead male characters - Jones saw this as a thematic trick to which readers could relate.

His daughter revealed in 2009 that the original version of From Here to Eternity was heavily edited by her father who did not feel 1950s readers were ready for his description of gay sex. These passages were reintroduced for a reissue in 2009.

It deserves its position at #1 - a book that has everything you could want - great characters, great plot and wonderful interwoven story lines.


James A Michener
James A Michener

2. Return to Paradise - James A Michener

James A Michener was a prolific author but a hard working one. A quote from James A Michener reveals one of his secrets when writing a novel "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."

He honed his craft after a spectacular academic career. He writes women's roles particularly well and his books are real page turners.

Return to Paradise was a collection of short stories so to get to #2 is quite an achievement. It was Michener's sequel to Tales from the South Pacific (adapted into the musical South Pacific) and once again, the pacific islands feature heavily in the stories.

People loved South Pacific and seemed to be keen for more of the same.

3. The Silver Chalice - Thomas P Chastain

Thomas Chastain was a Canadian author who, upset by the various retellings of the Arthurian legend set about writing a novel which tells the story of the silver chalice created by Basil, a humble craftsmen.

The chalice is created to hold the cup used by Jesus at the last supper.

A complex book which interweaves Christian mythology with biblical prose and the Arthurian legend, it turned out to be a real page turner, using the main character Basil, in a 'hero's journey' from humble beginnings through his life as a slave into his freedom and the creation of the chalice.

It spend over a year in the best sellers list.

Chastain came to writing fiction later in life after a long, successful career as a journalist; all of his novels were historic fiction.

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

4. East of Eden - John Steinbeck

East of Eden is considered by many to be Steinbeck's best novel and he believed it to be so himself.

It was semi-autobiographical and based loosely on his own grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, an Irish immigrant who settled in the Salinas Valley, California and worked hard to make a living and settle in the USA.

Steinbeck worked his usual magic with characterisation and conflict, placing the East coast newly wealthy Adam Trask into the more down to earth world of the Hamiltons.

East of Eden is a difficult novel to explain because it has rich layers of thematic significance - it is about choice, depravity, love, self-destruction, wealth, poverty, guilt and freedom and Adam Trask's family, in particular are examined through a number of these themes.

The Hamilton's become like the one constant in Adam Trask's life; a beacon of hope for his two sons, one becoming more wayward as the other becomes more righteous.

East of Eden was gnarled by the critics but the book buying public loved it; it was later made into a movie starring James Dean.

James Dean in 'Giant'
James Dean in 'Giant'

5. Giant - Edna Ferber

The author of Giant, Edna Ferber, is perhaps more famous as a member of The Vicious Circle, the group of authors/dramatists/actors including Dorothy Parker and Harpo Marx who met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel to amuse themselves about the coming and goings of their peers.

Ferber has perhaps not achieved the fame of Dorothy Parker but her writing talents, in many respects, outshone many of that same group.

She had already enjoyed significant success with her novel 'Showboat', which was adapted for the stage and screen by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Giant was a story of a different kind, about ego and a woman making sense of a man's world.

Set in Texas between the First World War and the 1950s, it follows the fortunes of its female lead, Leslie Benedict as she makes sense of her new state and this world of ambition, competition and wealth.

It was made into a movie in the 1950s, directed by George Stevens starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

6. The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway

Published in 1952, The Old Man and The Sea is often cited by Hemingway fans as their favourite of his novels because it seems to have been written when Hemingway himself was not yet overcome with depression.

It won the Pullitzer Prize and was cited in his Nobel Literature Prize in 1953.

The story of Santiago, the elderly sailor, the unluckiest fisherman in the village and his battle to catch the biggest marlin in the straits of Florida. It is a battle between man and fish but also of man against himself - epic and yet told through the friendship of Santiago with young fisherman, Manolin.

Hemingway described it as his 'sea book' but alluded to his borrowing from bible stories. It has a deeper meaning for many who read it and see Hemingway's use of old and young men, old ways and new ways, the battle between man and nature, the respect achieved because of winning the battle, albeit at the cost of the fish being eaten by sharks.

Hemingway also interweaves the boy's love of Joe Di Maggio and baseball to ground the story as a 'modern' novel, rich in biblican and mythological themes.

7. The Robe - Lloyd C Douglas

The Robe enjoys its place at #7 in the 1950s best selling books list because of the movie adaptation of the same name.

The book was written by Lloyd C Douglas in 1942 and was a best seller that year.

The movie raised public interest in the novel on which it was based and Douglas enjoyed the book achieving even better reading figures in the 1950s.

The story is, like The Silver Chalice, another biblically inspired one with Roman tribune Marcellus, involved in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ given the robe in which Jesus was taken to the cross.

The story is told through how the robe is at first treated without respect and how Marcellus is affected by wearing it.

After suffering a mental breakdown, Marcellus travels to Judea to learn more about Jesus and talks to people who were helped.

This has an enormous impact on the disturbed Marcellus, restoring his mental health and opening his heart to Christianity and the man who first wore the robe.

The real Desiree Clary, subject of Selinko's novel.
The real Desiree Clary, subject of Selinko's novel.

8. Désirée - Annemarie Selinko

Annemarie Selinko was an Austrian author who fled Austria during World War Two, moving to Denmark and then Sweden.

Her novel 'Desiree' was translated into many languages and became a best seller around the world.

It told the story of Desiree Clary, once the fiancé of Napoleon Bonaparte and later Queen of Norway and Sweden.

Once again, Selinko had Hollywood to thank for adapting her story into a movie starring Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando.

That was enough to capture the public imagination who wanted to read the novel after seeing the movie.

Selinko enjoyed success around the world with the novel. Her other novels were all made into movies in Europe but not in English.

Leon Uris
Leon Uris

9. Battle Cry - Leon M. Uris

Leon Uris is more famous for his 1958 novel about the founding of the state of Israel, Exodus.

Battle Cry was written in the early 1950s and is thought to be based on Uris' own experiences as a Marine in World War Two, serving in the Pacific.

It is a novel with many characters, all expertly described by Uris. Readers often dislike so many characters but there was a reason for Uris' characterisation. He wanted to show that this regiment were drawn from all over the USA, went to boot camp together and then supported one another in wartime at the Battle of Guadalcanal.

It is a novel about ordinary Americans, drawn from north, south, east and west and their ability to become 'one America', ready to sacrifice their lives from one another when the battle was underway.

Uris also wrote the screenplay for the move of the same name, made in 1955 starring Van Heflin and James Whitmore.

10. Love Is Eternal - Irving Stone

Irving Stone's career as an author is more well known for his biography of Vincent Van Gogh, Lust for Life.

His novels were all historical biography told in novel form - the real stories told through storytelling!

Love Is Eternal, written in 1954, was the story of the love and marriage of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd.

It covered their lives from meeting one another to marriage, his presidency, raising a family (the Lincolns lost 3 of their 4 children at a young age, both were devoted to their children) and his assassination.

Essentially a love story with an extremely interesting political background, it was written in 1954, becoming a best seller that year.

It followed his novel, The President's Lady, written about President Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel Donalson.

The 1950s best selling books were often made into movies. Do you ever read a book after you've seen the movie on which it was based? Which do you think is best?

See results
Tallulah Bankhead on the cover of Life Magazine, she was larger than life and very, very funny
Tallulah Bankhead on the cover of Life Magazine, she was larger than life and very, very funny

Non-Fiction

Here is the list for the Non-Fiction best selling books of the 1950s.

Not much has changes in the decades following the 1950s, with cookery books, gardening books, health books and biographies still doing well! I have read the Tallulah Bankhead biography and it is very, very funny. How about this for a quote "they photograph Shirley Temple through gauze, they should photograph me through linoleum."

Perhaps the most notable book on this list is Rachel L Carson's The Sea Aroud Us. Carson was certainly ahead of her time and is respected as one of the early and most influential environmentalists.

  1. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book; Betty Crocker’s Good & Easy Cook Book
  2. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
  3. Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
  4. Washington Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
  5. Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book; Diet Book; Barbecue Book; Decorating Book; Flower Book
  6. The Sea Around Us, Rachel L. Carson
  7. The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
  8. U.S.A. Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
  9. Tallulah, Tallulah Bankhead
  10. The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale


Comments

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    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Thanks for reading Linda, I have not read any Hemingway; must sort that out!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Superb list of some oldie, but goodie books (and movies)! My favorite is Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      point2make, many thanks for your comment - Uris, Hemingway and Steinbeck seem to have quite a few fans (according to the comments) - I just need days to have about 28 hours and I'd get through all of the reading I would like to do.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Paul, many thanks for reading - when I was putting it together, I found a few books which were on my parents and grandparent's shelves - big family of readers, glad that rubbed off on me - I love the movie of East of Eden but have yet to read the book.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Theresa, many thanks for reading - I have not read any Uris books but he was a favourite of my dad's back in the day. My American literature reading needs to be refreshed to be honest!

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 

      5 years ago

      A very interesting hub and there are some great books on that list. My favorites would be Steinbeck, Hemingway and Uris. I have watched very few of the movies that were made from some of these books. I prefer reading the book. It gives me so much more satisfaction than a movie could ever do. Good hub....well done.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Jools99,

      This is a very interesting and useful hub for me who saw a lot of these books on my parents' bookshelves. I haven't read many yet, but I do plan to read "The Old Man and the Sea" and "East of Eden" first. Voted up and sharing with followers.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Jools - Very interesting. I read the books by Leon Uris, Michener, Steinbeck, Lloyd Douglas, and Irving Stone in the late sixties and early seventies because they were on my mother's book shelf. She was an avid reader and had good taste. I eventually read everything Leon Uris ever write, twice! :) Hope you are having a good week. Theresa

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Dianna, thanks for your comment. I thought the 50s list was a revelation - so many books worth tracking down to read, many of them turned into movies; as you say, it's always nice to discover which is best, book or film!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      You have listed several interesting books and ones that I would still love to read, when I get the time. I have remember watching The Robe as a movie, would love to see how closely it matches the book. Excellent review.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      tirelesstraveler, thanks for your visit :o) I feel thoroughly ignorant after compiling these lists and I consider myself fairly well read - I need to rad more American lit though!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Lady_E, many thanks for your comment; if you haven't seen it - watch the movie, great way to 'read' this story.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      5 years ago from California

      Loved Leon Uris when I was in my 20's. Steinbeck and Hemingway were inflicted on me in school. Michener fascinated me for a summer, I nearly broke my back carrying his books in my suitcase. It wasn't until "Adventures with Charlie" that I could forgive Steinbeck for the "Red Pony". Thanks for a lovely trip down memory lane.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 

      5 years ago from London, UK

      I haven't heard of any of the Authors, so it's a very interesting read for me. particularly the first one - From Here to Eternity.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      PDXKaraokeGuy, thanks so much for your comment and I sympathise with you - there is nothing worse than investing time in a book only for it to run out of steam on you before the end. I can think of a few books where that has happened to me; the last time was The Rainbow by D H Lawrence; loved Sons and Lovers but the Rainbow made me fall asleep.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      The old man and the sea is one of my favorite books of all time. James Jones, however, wrote one of only two books I have never finished, which was Whistle. Even three years after starting it, I'm still mad at James Jones for the time he stole from me.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Many thanks My Cook Book for your comment, glad you liked it.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Janine, many thanks for your comment, didn't realise how interesting I would find this list, I am hooked on reading some of them now; I won't get any work done!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Jackie, thanks for your comment. I would love to work in a book shop (though I suppose running one is more of a challenge!) but I might not get any work done :o) Seeing the list led me to look for more of his books on the internet. I am going to download some to my Kindle soon.

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 

      5 years ago from India

      Great hub with good list of book. I like it. Thanks for the share.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      5 years ago from New York, New York

      So many great books in one place Julie and thank you so very much for compiling this list and sharing here. Have voted and shared, too!!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Michener is my favorite, also a favorite of many customers the many years I ran a book shop. No movie can really do justice to a book....with the exception of Gone With the Wind, of course.

      Well done! ^

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Maria, thanks so much for your comment - Wow, a relative of Tallulah! I used to be fascinated by Hollywood stars when I was much younger and read lots of biographies from my library. This was one of the first I read and I always remembered that quote! She was very good friends with Dorothy Parker, both struck from the same mould I think :o)

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Jools,

      What an interesting and informative series this will be...and you are off to a fabulous start.

      In this time period, I am definitely more versed in the movies, yet this gives me an incentive to read the books now.

      So cool that Tallulah is a distant relative of my hubby's Mom. I gave my pup, Aunt Baby this as a middle name in memory!!

      Also still hooked on The Power of Positive Thinking...probably always will be.

      Great job...Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Carol, the non-fiction list is an eye opener isn't it? How little has changed; universal themes are the things to go for if you're writing non-fiction. Thanks so much for your comment and the share, much appreciated :o)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Steve, thanks for reading and for your comment - I am keeping this series going, I find it fascinating. My hubby only ever reads fantasy novels and has finally talked me into reading one - I am reading it at the moment and I must admit, quite enjoying it. I read all kinds and there are a couple here that I am downloading.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Bill, I am hoping it will be the first of a series so watch this space. I am doing the 60s tomorrow/Monday. Interestingly, I have read one of them and am now desperate to read 'Giant' and 'East of Eden' - when I was researching both, I was intrigued by all of the great reviews and so I'm downloading to my Kindle. I am not surprised to hear you've read so many Bill, you do love a good read :o)

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      i really enjoyed reading this and many of the books came to mind. The power of positive thinking was my Bible and I read it many times. Now we have much fancier titles that say almost the same thing. Voting up and sharing.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      5 years ago from Manchester, England

      An interesting idea for a hub Jools, I like it!

      And I have to confess to not reading any of those books! I've seen the films does that count? :)

      I read a lot of science fiction when I was young and ignored the usual best sellers popping up around me. And I'm still reading sci-fi so not much has changed.

      Enjoyed reading about these books, more please.

      Voted Up and Interesting.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great list, Julie! I don't think I have seen a hub like this one since I joined HP. Interesting niche. I was happy that I have read seven of the ten fictions....I'm not so good on the non-fiction list. :)

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