Top 10 Best Selling Books of the 1950s
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
- Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book; Betty Crocker’s Good & Easy Cook Book
- How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
- Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
- Washington Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
- Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book; Diet Book; Barbecue Book; Decorating Book; Flower Book
- The Sea Around Us, Rachel L. Carson
- The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
- U.S.A. Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
- Tallulah, Tallulah Bankhead
- The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale