Were the 1930s the greatest decade for literature?

I’ve been diving into my Greatest Books list lately. As I added more details to the document, I wondered if there was an outstanding year on the list (read about that here). Then I wondered if there was a greatest decade for literature.

And here’s what I found:

Greatest Books Greatest DecadesThe decade from 1930-1939 saw 30 books published that ended up on the various lists I culled for this Greatest Books list.

The Greatest Decade for Literature:


  • Greatest Decade for Literature: Brave New World1930, Laughing Boy by Oliver Lafarge
  • 1930, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett
  • 1930, U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos
  • 1930, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • 1931, Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes
  • 1931, Light in August by William Faulkner
  • 1932, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  • 1932, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • 1932, Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
  • 1932, Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine
  • 1932, The Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell
  • 1933, The Store by T.S. Stribling
  • 1934, Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
  • 1934, I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  • 1934, Appointment in Samara by John O’Hara
  • 1934, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  • Greatest Decade for Literature: Their Eyes Were Watching God1934, Tender is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • 1934, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  • 1934, A Handful of Dust Evelyn Waugh
  • 1935, Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson
  • 1936, Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis
  • 1936, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  • 1937, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • 1938, The Late George Apley by John Philips Marquand
  • 1938, The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
  • 1938, Scoop Evelyn Waugh
  • 1939, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
  • 1939, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  • 1939, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West

I wonder if some of these came out of the exuberance and excess of the 1920s while others came out of the hardships of the 1930s. It’s quite an impressive list.

The next tier of greatest decades for greatest books includes 1950-1959 (29 titles), 1960-1969 (29 titles), and 1920-1929 (28 titles).

Clearly, the Greatest Books list is biased against very, very old books, which may have been lost in time or not had access to large audiences, and also very new books, which may not have had the chance to win awards and stand the test of time yet. But, this has been a fun experiment nonetheless.

It’s made me think about historical events and conditions that may have helped create great writers or their great works.

Have you thought about your favorite works of literature and when they were published?

Would you agree or disagree that the 1930s was the greatest decade for literature?


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