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Top 10 Best Selling Books of the 1990s

Updated on April 23, 2017
J.K. Rowling, best selling 1990s author.
J.K. Rowling, best selling 1990s author. | Source

1, 2, 3 Harry Potter And ....

This is very difficult and others might have refused to put Jo Rowling's books on this list but I think they deserve to be here and truly, they were the best sellers of ALL books in the 1990s, both adult and children's fiction.

J.K. Rowling must still wake up with a smile every day and think of the rejection letters gathering dust in her attic.

The top 3 best selling books of the 1990s were all Harry Potter novels.Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, ...Chamber of Secrets and ...Prisoner of Azkaban which all sold millions of copies thanks to their enormous popularity with children all over the world and maybe thanks to a lot of adult readers too.

J.K Rowling deserves her success; she wrote Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone at a time of her life that was very difficult, losing her mother before it was published and also living on state benefits as a single parent in a tiny flat.

She is truly an inspirational author and yet has remained very down to earth in spite of her success and enormous wealth.

She has since completing the Harry Potter series, written a tragicomic adult novel, The Casual Vacancy and is currently writing a pre-teens childrens' book.

Jo Rowling donates generously to charity but is also an active participant in many British charities where she plays an active role in publishing their causes and appearing in person to raise awareness.

4. Pelican Brief - John Grisham

John Grisham's Pelican Brief is a legal novel which melds political intrigue and murder, leaving its main character, law student, Darby Shaw running from the bad guys for most of the novel.

Grisham is very clever with the plotting. We know that Darby's investigative brief about businessman, Victor Mattiece, suggests that he is involved in the murders of two supreme court justices.

She shows the brief to her boyfriend to ask his opinion and he and his law professor are both murdered.

Soon Darby begins to realise that maybe her speculative brief has some truth to it and that those she names may be involved in much more than even she believes.

A real edge of the seat legal thriller, the Pelican Brief also became a best selling movie, starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.

5.The Client - John Grisham

John Grisham was another author who really came into his own in the 1990s with several best selling books throughout the decade.

The Client is Grisham's tale of an eleven year old boy who knows too much. A series of chance encounters lead to him being at the centre of a criminal investigation which could see his provide the most important clue to a case being solved.

The boy, Mark Sway lives in a trailer park with his mother and brother and he possesses all of the wiles necessary to survive a life lived on the edge of poverty.

His lawyer, maybe the book's most intriguing character is female whirlwind, Reggie Love, only four years out of law school and still learning the ropes.

Grisham has fun with all of the male lawyers thinking they can outsmart Reggie but he also has Reggie turn the tables again and again as she does everything to protect her young client.

The Client is a 1990s best selling book because it is a real page turner - Grisham understands story telling and in spite of some of its heavier jargon-rich paragraphs, it is still an entertaining read.

Costa Rica - site for the Dinosaur stampede

6. Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton's amazing Jurassic Park brought science into a novel about dinosaurs.

Could the scientific knowledge we have today bring back dinosaurs?

This story is mainly about men meddling where they shouldn't and is mainly a close up look at human nature at its best and then at its worse.

John Hammond, the creator of Jurassic Park has used dinosaur DNA found in amber to recreate real dinosaurs.

He intends to open the dinosaur park to the public but after some financial problems, tries to engage the support of two renowned palaeontologists in his project, little realising that one of his own scientists has already agreed to sell dinosaur eggs to an unscrupulous rival of Hammond's.

What ensues is one of the scariest looks at what might happen if human beings involved themselves in science in a negative way.

Crichton was very interested in chaos theory and this book was his cautionary tale on the evil that could come from ill considered scientific experimentation.

Stephen Spielberg filmed Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World to huge acclaim. Both movies were blockbusters.

The dinosaur stampede and other forest scenes were filmed in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Hawaii.


Cover of The Firm by John Grisham
Cover of The Firm by John Grisham | Source
Gene Hackman and Tom Cruise starred in the film version of The Firm
Gene Hackman and Tom Cruise starred in the film version of The Firm | Source

7. The Firm - John Grisham

John Grisham's third best seller on this list is The Firm, the tale of bright-eyed, ambitious, newly qualified lawyer, Mitch McDeere.

It was, arguably, the novel which brought his other books to the public eye.

It was made into a successful movie by director, Sydney Pollack, starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman. This brought Grisham to a wider audience and led to his earlier novels becoming best sellers a few years after they were first written.

McDeere is tempted to sign up with 'the firm' of Bendini, Lambert and Locke and is welcomed with a huge salary, BMW car and oceanside house on a low cost mortgage.

His first day is spent at the funeral of two of the firm's associates, killed in a snowboarding accident on vacation.

The memorial plaques for other associates hang on the walls at the firm's office and Mitch wonders why they have lost so many associates under strange circumstances.

The book is another of Grisham's page turners as Mitch gets pulled into the world of riches and fame whilst also realising that he's in over his head.

John Grisham is famously circumspect when it comes to his talents as a writer, rarely interviewed on the matter (he doesn't like it) but he would be a fascinating person to interview.

Maybe all hopeful fiction writers would ask his for his secrets.



Robert James Waller, author of one of the 1990s best selling books, The Bridges of Madison County
Robert James Waller, author of one of the 1990s best selling books, The Bridges of Madison County | Source

8. The Bridges of Madison County - Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County is a novel which took America by storm when it was published in 1992.

It was a romantic novel written by a man and a simple story of the sensuous joy of a man and a woman meeting and falling in love when he visits her state, Iowa to photograph its beautiful covered bridges.

Francesca Johnson is an Italian, married to an America but her husband is often away from home and she is lonely and alone when she meets photographer, Robert Kincaid.

It is an unusual novel in that the narrator suggests that it is a true story but in fact Waller said it was not based on real material though the main character was based on himself.

He was praised to the skies on Oprah Winfrey's show for his wonderfully gentle way of fictionalising the romance; it is indeed a very romantic novel so don't expect any Fifty Shades of Grey style 'prose' in this novel.

It is now one of America's best selling books ever, having sold over 50 million copies since it was first published.

9. Rising Sun - Michael Crichton

Rising Sun is the follow up novel of Jurassic Park and many fans of the first book were delighted to read another Michael Crichton novel, though this one is very different.

Crichton was never afraid to take on difficult or controversial subjects; his readers almost always enjoyed his novels because he made them think or at the least squirm in their seats about some of the issues he covered.

Rising Sun is a reference to the Japanese symbol on their flag and looks at the issue of Japanese investment in American technology companies, especially when the Japanese and Americans build businesses in a very different way.

A murder occurs at the opening event for the Nakamoto Corporation in their new L.A. offices, an American girl is murdered and some of the evidence points to a Japanese killer but the Japanese owners of the company will not take this kind of 'racism' lying down.

Rising Sun is a murder mystery dressed up as a political thriller; Crichton keeps you off guard constantly, questioning the moral and legal twists and turns with every page turned.

John Grisham- best selling 1990s author.
John Grisham- best selling 1990s author.

10. The Chamber - John Grisham

John Grisham's The Chamber was another of his excellent books adapted for the screen, starring Gene Hackman and Chris O'Donnell.

The main story of The Chamber involves a man, Sam Cayhall accused and acquitted twice of murdering a Jewish lawyer, Marvin Kramer, who supported civil rights.

Cayhall is a member of the Ku Klux Klan and after some twenty years, an associate goes to the police and tells them that he was there when Cayhall killed Kramer.

Cayhall is taken captive again, tried and sentenced to death.

His grandson, an inexperienced lawyer decided to defend him.

The book is as much about the relationship between grandfather and grandson as it is about the legal issues involved in race relations and civil rights.

The book dwells more on the issue of the death penalty than anything else and that is a subject as talked about today as it was when this book was written.

Grisham's writing is excellent as always and he does not rely too much on legal jargon to push the story forward.

Periphery characters are central to the plot as the gap of twenty years from his first arrest to his actual conviction leads his grandson, Adam to trace his grandfather's shady past. Some of the people he meets will make Adam doubt his grandfather's account of things and this is all the better for the reader, only too anxious to keep turning the pages!

Stephen King
Stephen King

Completing the 'proper' Adult Fiction List

In the 1990s, John Grisham truly dominated the best sellers list.


Stephen King also enjoyed enormous success in the 1990s with two books, the short story collection Four Past Midnight and his horror, The Stand both selling millions of copies in 1990.


Other authors who did well in the 1990s - Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele, Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell and Sidney Sheldon.


J. K Rowling stole the show though with her bespectacled boy wizard.

Non-Fiction

Best selling non-fiction books in the 1990s ranged from Sex by Madonna to Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus by Dr Gray.

The latter book is the best selling non-fiction book of the 1990s.

Other non-fiction best sellers in the 1990s include Diana, Her True Story by Andrew Morton. This is supposedly the 'official' biography,

He reissued the book after her death and entitled it, 'Diana, Her True Story - Commemorative Edition'

The goose laying the golden egg comes to mind!

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    • jcsales profile image

      jcsales 2 years ago

      Interesting read. I love reading novels. Especially Grisham. Nice to know that 4 out of your 10 are Grisham novels.

    • Jools99 profile image
      Author

      Jools99 2 years ago from North-East UK

      Many thanks for your kind comment. I tried reading 'Bridges of...' and like you, got bored of waiting for something to happen - it also has a very unsatisfying ending - but hey ho, if Oprah likes your book, then you'll sell a fair few copies.

    • lyoness913 profile image

      Summer LeBlanc 2 years ago from H-Town

      Grisham and Harry Potter- the only book on this list that I couldn't quite swallow was Bridges of Madison County- urgh. Just couldn't get into it. Otherwise, this was a great decade for literature. Great hub! :)

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK

      Kenneth, all the best to you too, keep smiling :o)

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago

      Hi, Jools99,

      You may be right. But I still love this hub and the way you presented it in your special style. I wish you nothing but my BEST in your writing adventures.

      It makes me so happy to know that my friends succeed.

      Peace to you today.

      Your friend,

      Kenneth

    • Jools99 profile image
      Author

      Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK

      Kenneth, thanks so much for your kind comment - I think we are already followers :)

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Jools99,

      A very nice hub. Excellent in fact. Well-written. Voted up and away. I really admire your writing talent. Honest. I am going to leave you some fan mail and then follow.

      And honored to do both.

      Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Dianna, many thanks for reading - I have read some and not read others -but I didn't like some of the ones I read. I usually go to Amazon and see what other reviewers thing as well :o)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I see many that I will have to look into when I get a break. Thanks for the list on best sellers, always helps to have such information handy. It saves lots of time looking for a good book.

    • Jools99 profile image
      Author

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Sharkye11, mny thanks for reading. You are very astute to mention the fact that J K Rowling brought reading to many kids who might otherwise have continued to turn on their PS3 or X Box and we should all be thankful for that. Her latest novel (a book for adults) has just gotten so-so reviews and she is now writing another children's book but it is aimed at pre-teens.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, so glad you liked it and took the trouble to comment, I appreciate it. I have come to Stephen King very late in the day and have just started to read 'Misery'. I have just read his book, On Writing, which is, as you might have guessed, about writing fiction (which I prefer to writing non-fiction if I'm honest!) and it is very easy, good read. He doesn't give any secrets way, other than if you write fiction, you should write every single day.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting list! I have actually read all of these, but I didn't know they were bestsellers. I was a teen in the 90's and bought most of my books at yard sales. If it looked interesting, I bought it. I actually didn't read Harry Potter until 2001, when I was 20. We accidentally ordered a copy of the movie from a club, watched it, liked it...then ordered the books. I got to read the first three at the same time, then began the grueling process of waiting for the next books. I agree, it deserves to be on the list even though I was a little disappointed by the ending. The series had an amazing impact on our society, and attracted a lot of kids back to reading. Voting up!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      This is excellent jools, you really did your homework. I appreciate the insight into J. Rowlings. I'm not surprised Grisham did so well, he is such a good writer and I've enjoyed every book of his that I've read. I have to say though good old, crazy and weird Stephen King is still my favorite. I read every one of his earlier novels starting in 1974. I read every one that came out until life started getting in the way. I can remember looking out the window at night after reading "Salem's Lot", to be sure no one was out there ;) Thanks so much for these excellent books that will now be added to my reading list.

      Voted up, useful, and very interesting. Shared with my followers.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Rolly, many thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it :o)

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi Jools99... thanks for all the work you have put into this... some really great stuff here... loved it.

      Hugs and Blessings from Canada

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      girishpuri, thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it - now you just need to find the time to read them all.

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      Thanks for this amazing list. many books i am yet to read. thanks

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      dearmommy, many thanks for reading and commenting - oops i forgot the American publishers gave her book a different title. I really like Jo Rowling as a person as much as an author.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      I can't recall ever reading a Stephen King book but since I am now reading his book 'On Writing' I am thinking about giving one of his books a try. Thanks so much for your comment.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, I haven't read the Painted House, so thanks for the heads up :o) I didn't like his last one or the one about the baseball player accused of murder (name escapes me so that tells you what I thought of it). Other than that though, I just love his books. I started reading him pretty late and bought a stack of his books from a charity shop for about $2 a piece; best $10 I have ever spent, I read them one after another - fab. Thanks so much for your comment.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      We'll have to share notes! I'm really enjoying it; his wisdom on writing is kind of homespun and common sense I think - I like it that he doesn't write plots, preferring to let the characters deal with the 'situation' as he creates it.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Mohan, many thanks for your comment- I read every chance I got in the 90s, though it was sometimes tough with a wee one running around.

    • dearmommy profile image

      dearmommy 4 years ago

      Love Harry Potter and I agree it totally deserves to make the list. I had to google "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," because I was confused, and learned that it is only "The Sorcerer's Stone" in the United States. Thanks for teaching me something new today!!

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Thanks for giving me the list, as when I will ponder over one, I will revisit this hub and decide over which one to choose.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I've read all of these books except the Harry Potter novels. My favorite book from that period was Stephen King's The Stand, since I'm a huge Stephen King fan.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

      A very revealing and interesting work and well received. whonu

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      John Grisham is one of my favorite authors. I have all of his books on my shelf. He did write one I really didn't care for, though. I think it was called "The Painted House.

      I never could get into the Harry Potter books , don't know why. My kids all think I'm nuts cause they all loved Harry.

      Great Hub. Voted UP and shared.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      ...and strangely enough Jools, I've just re-read Stephen King's On writing!!!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      Like Billybuc my prolific '90s reading habit meant that I've read every one of these excellent books! thanks for the memories that this compilation brings...

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      shiningirisheyes, I am actually reading Stephen King's book 'On Writing' at the moment for his take on how to write (after all, he's been hugely successful). It is a very good book and also quite amusing; he's very down to earth and I should heed what he says "I won't take too long to give you my insights, after all, the longer you read about writing, the less you write!"...nuf said!

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Mike, I wish every day had about 28 hours so that I could read more; I love it but like you, never have enough time to do all of the things I enjoy.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Maj, Jo Rowling went with what she enjoyed writing and good luck to her; she must hoot with laughter (or derision) when she thinks about that pile of rejection letters :o)

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Nell, sorry for taking so long to reply - computer misbehaving. I have not read Bridges but I did see the movie (I love Clint). I can see why Robert Redford might also fit the bill,he has a quiet intensity doesn't he?

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      My Dad and I were huge John Grisham fans and I have read almost everything he has ever written. I am also a big fan of Stephen Kings mind and his style of writing. Another great list.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      I have read a bit from Harry Potter, haven't touched the other ones till now though... One day... :)

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Wow - I was obviously missing something in the 80s - I haven't read Grisham. However, the Bridges of Madison County got me in. And yes, Harry Potter - I agree with you on Rowling.Never ceases to amaze how something suddenly captures the collective imagination.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      The Bridges of Madison county, now that was a great book, then I watched the film. The trouble was that in the book I could 'see' robert redford as the main character, but in the film it was clint eastwood! lol! and of course Michael Crichton, he was a great writer, so many different books, he is well known for his jurassic books but there were so many others too, great list, voted and shared! nell

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Jackie, thanks for your comment. yes, I bet he loves all of that reader adulation..but his bank balance must make him smile as well :o)

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      John, I know, he really dominated in the 90s. I love his books. I still re-read them now, I have recently reread A Time To Kill and enjoyed it just as much as last time.

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      I haven't read any Michael Crichton but I have read almost all of John Grisham's, I am a big fan. Brisges of Madison County, the movie was ok, the book a bit slow for my normal tastes. Harry Potter - I included them because she is now one of the bestsellng authors of all time but I have to say, I was too lazy to read the books but have seen all of the mives at least once.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Oh and I just watched that movie last night for the second time...just as good!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      That John Grisham, he is the greatest writer I think. Just how many decades has that man been writing?! I could never keep his books on the shelf, he should be a very wealthy man, but I am sure to be appreciated means so much more to him. ^

    • jonmcclusk profile image

      Jonathan McCloskey 4 years ago from Cinnaminson, New Jersey

      Wow, I knew John Grisham was popular but I suppose I never grasped to what extent. Another great list filled with great information.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 4 years ago from Iowa

      I've read all of these (the novels) except the two Crichton books, which is a little odd since I've read many of his, just not these two. And a few thoughts about the rest: I think John Grisham is a great storyteller but he needs to end his books on the second-to-last chapter. Every time I read one of his books, the final chapter falls flat for me. I never did get the appeal of Bridges of Madison County. I so wanted to like it, being from Iowa, but just couldn't get into it. And I read and loved all of the Harry Potter books. When a new one came out, I'd schedule a couple of days just to read it because I knew I wouldn't be able to put it down until I was done!

    • Jools99 profile image
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      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Bill, my first comenter (again - thanks my friend!), I read less in the 1990s mainly due to motherhood :o) I caught up with all of John Grisham's novels in the 2000s - but I read most of 'em!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL...Oddly I have read every single one of the fictions on this list....evidently I took the 80's off and then dove back into reading during the 90's....which coincides with twelve years of sobriety by the way. Duh!

      Love this list and series and I agree with you, Harry Potter belongs.