The date of release isn’t always relevant in helping a book become a bestseller. Still, historically, a year’s bestselling books sometimes have a fascinating correlation with current events. Here are some examples from our archival lists.


• Publishers Weekly Consensus, our first original bestseller list, debuts (before that, we had published syndicated lists from the Bookman).


• Lists separated into Fiction (F) and Nonfiction (NF), when WWI brings increased interest in the latter.

• U.S. enters WWI.

Photo Caption: Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H.G. Wells, a novel about WWI, is the #1 F title that year.


• Prohibition enacted, women’s suffrage passed.

Photo Caption: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, a novel about WWI, is the #1 F title that year.


• First radio baseball broadcast and Tulsa, Okla., massacre.

Photo Caption: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, a reflection on WWI and Prohibition, is the #1 F title for 1921, and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is the #4 F title.


• Scopes monkey trial is decided in Tennessee on July 21.

Photo Caption: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, a novel dealing with the culture of science and considered one of the first novels to directly address science as a driver of plot, is the #10 F bestseller for the month of August.


• Prohibition repealed on December 3.

Photo Caption: Life Begins at Forty and More Power to You!, two self-help books by Walter B. Pitkin, are the #2 and #8 NF bestsellers for the month of December.


• U.S. enters WWII on December 7.

Photo Caption: Berlin Diary by William L. Shirer and That Day Alone by Pierre Van Paassen, both about WWII, are the #2 and #4 NF bestsellers, respectively, for the week of December 20.


• Jackie Robinson makes his historic MLB debut on April 15.

Photo Caption: Gentleman’s Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson, a novel about anti-Semitism in the U.S., is the #2 F bestseller for the week of May 3.


• Army-McCarthy hearings take place from April 22 to June 17.

But We Were Born Free by Elmer Davis, an indictment of McCarthyism, is the #2 NF bestseller for the week of June 26.


• “Please, Mr. Postman” becomes Motown’s first U.S. #1 hit on August 21.

Photo Caption: The week of September 4, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, John Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer are the #2, #5, #7 F bestsellers, respectively.


•  Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., takes place on August 28.

Photo Caption (l.): The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin is the #2 NF bestseller the week of September 2.

• JFK assassinated on November 22.

​Photo Caption: JFK: The Man and the Myth by Victor Lasky is the #2 NF bestseller the week of December 2.


• Woodstock Festival takes place August 15–18.

The week of August 25, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor are the #1, #3, #4, and #5 F bestsellers, respectively.


• Senate hearings into the Watergate break-in take place May 17–June 27.

Photo Caption: The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort and Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution by Robert Atkins are the #1 and #2 NF bestsellers, respectively, for the week of July 23. In the early ’70s, diet books infiltrate the NF bestseller lists and never go away.


• President Nixon resigns under threat of impeachment on August 8.

Photo Caption: For the week of August 12, All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein is the #1 NF bestseller and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré is the #1 F bestseller.


• First IBM PC is released on August 12.

Photo Caption: Cosmos by Carl Sagan is the #11 NF bestseller the week of August 28.


• The Berlin Wall falls on November 9.

Photo Caption: The week of November 17, My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan is the #1 NF bestseller and The Dark Half by Stephen King is the #1 F bestseller.


• The U.S.S.R. dissolves on December 15.

Photo Caption: Maus by Art Spiegelman is the #11 NF bestseller for the week of December 20.


• The O.J. Simpson trial is decided on October 3.

Photo Caption: I Want to Tell You by O.J. Simpson is the #12 NF bestseller for the year.


•  The Second Gulf War starts on March 20.

Photo Caption: The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language & Culture by Michael Savage and Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First by Mona Charen are the #3 and #15 NF bestsellers, respectively, the week of March 17.


•  Barack Obama is elected president on November 4.

Photo Caption: Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama are #5 and #6, respectively, paperback bestsellers for the week of November 10.