Five Popular Books 1912 - 1919
Prior to 1912, The Publishers' Weekly yearly list of best selling books combined fiction with nonfiction. Since fiction books were more popular, the nonfiction works never made the top spots. But fiction and nonfiction were listed separately in 1912 and 1913, combined again during the war, and then kept separate from 1917 on to today. This site contains the complete text for five nonfiction books that made the best seller list for the years 1912 through 1919.
The nonfiction top sellers for 1912 included books about travel, self-help, preschool learning with the Montessori method and a biography of Mark Twain. The fourth most popular nonfiction book that year was written by the author of Twenty Years at Hull House, Jane Addams. In A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil she describes the plight of girls, some not yet in their teens, who were forced into prostitution. The book covered all the guilty parties from the pimps to the ineffective or corrupt, legal system.
Several books from the top ten in 1912 again were best sellers in 1913. But the most popular book was the newcomer, Crowds by Gerald Stanley Lee. The book is subtitled A Moving-Picture of Democracy and is filled with Lee's observations of both social and economic conditions. With provocative chapters titles like, "Is it Wrong for Good People to be Interesting?", he provided both insight and humor to human activities.
1917 saw the United States enter the war in Europe and books about the conflict became very popular. But it also saw books of poetry, psychic phenomena and a cookbook make the top ten. And the sixth most popular general nonfiction book of that year was the birth of the movie star best seller. Laugh and Live by Douglas Fairbanks passed along his ideas for living a happy and healthy life through attention to body, mind, and spirit.
The subject of World War I still played strongly on the emotions of readers in 1918. The top three spots for best selling general nonfiction were held by poetry books dealing with the heroics and evils of the fighting. The poetry of With the Colors by Everard J. Appleton was typical of the these. It celebrated the heroes both in and out of the limelight, and painted the Germans as heartless savages.
During times of distress, people will sometimes go to any length to seek some kind of comfort. And one of the ways that people looked for answers in World War I was by using Ouija boards. The desire to communicate with the dead with the Ouija board and other means also showed up in the fourth most popular nonfiction book of 1919. In The Seven Purposes, Margaret Cameron relayed guidelines for living from the spirit world in hopes that humanity would be united.
Although these five books came from a world generations ago, the subjects they deal with and how we feel about them are much the same today. We may think we're grown more sophisticated, but we still go ga-ga over books by celebrities, the emotion of poetry is embodied in the endless, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and more Ouija boards were sold at the height of the Vietnam war than in World War I.
NOTE:These books are in the public domain in the United States. No claims are made for any other country.