The most popular books of the last 50 years

The Best-Seller List shows the book that was the most popular (out of a total of 50) the previous year.

70. Are You Experienced (1957)

Evel Knievel rose from sharecropper’s son to become a grandstand competitor in a sport not everyone knew much about. With his legendary showmanship, Knievel became one of the great circusmen of the 20th century.

68. The Floating Plantation (1957)

A book that may not have been all that popular back then, it’s now regarded as one of the most important historical accounts of African-American life in America. Among other things, the book does much to explain the history of slavery, the events leading up to the Civil War, and the upheavals wrought by Reconstruction.

67. The Red Badge of Courage (1947)

A list, simply named for the difficult-to-master “R” in the title, was written to spotlight the most popular books. In the 1950s and ’60s, the list has served as a useful census of readership. Some of the most popular titles have included various romance novels, pre-sci-fi comics, college textbooks, science-fiction magazines, and men’s magazines.

65. The Children of Amnesia (1956)

A children’s book based on the famous literary short story by Terry Southern, The Children of Amnesia follows the fate of two boys who are separated from their families and fall into the clutches of the Ku Klux Klan.

64. Elton John – Rare, Unreleased, Unsigned (1972)

Written by the singer-songwriter in 1968, this exhaustive, seven-album collection contains several songs and original recordings never before released to the public.

63. Is It Too Late for Us to Say I’m Sorry? (1962)

A collection of works by French feminist writers, some considered risqué or shocking, the book includes poems, short stories, essays, and photographs. It is being published as a series of its own.

62. The Turning Point: 1959-1961 (1958)

This collection highlights times of social and political change that occurred during the ’60s. Among the writers profiled in this first anthology are Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, James Baldwin, and, of course, Ernest Hemingway.

61. The Secret History of the Universe (1961)

Inspired by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, this was the first edition of the “Big Bang” book, which went on to inspire generations of physics students and become a classic.

60. Mathula (1957)

A sweeping nonfiction narrative on the history of mathematics, Mathula follows the history of mathematics from the Renaissance to the present day.

59. The Birth of the American Family (1961)

A study of the importance of marriage, the book delves into two centuries of American divorce rates, relating each step of that process to a long and storied history.

58. My Son Wears Crocs and Other Observations (1961)

This autobiography by Bob Hope chronicled the comedian’s childhood in rural Kansas and his extraordinary life as a gifted and distinguished performer.

57. The Wisdom of Solomon (1961)

A practical guide to family history, this book has grown in stature over the decades and is now considered a must-read for anyone interested in genealogy.

56. Famous People: How Americans Really Live (1960)

A previously unpublished collection of letters, this book compiled interviews with such stars as Oprah Winfrey, Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Robert Redford.

55. Gorilla: The Unbearable Memoir of a Human Being (1961)

In this first work of nonfiction, Jane Goodall gives readers her first detailed look at the simian world and their struggles for survival. The book has come to define the plight of captive gorillas and become a staple of Western history courses.

54. My First Kiss (1966)

After riding a bicycle for the first time, 18-year-old Owen Wilson met Ann Gifford, a 25-year-old swimsuit model. The five-hour-long kiss took Wilson’s mind off his growing asthma problems and he went on to marry her in August of that year.

53. Spock: His Biography (1960)

Written by actor Leonard Nimoy, this account of the famous half-human, half-Vulcan grew out of the TV show Star Trek.

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