Was 1934 the greatest year for literature?

I’ve been working on a “greatest books” list for several years now. I recently reorganized my list and double checked my sources. My version of a “greatest” list comes from Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, Modern Library’s 100 Greatest Novels, and a list of lists from GreatestBooks.org.

Download the Greatest Books list here.

As I added more details, I started to wonder if there were trends in these data points.

So I did a pivot chart of the years the books were published and it looks like a whopping seven were published in 1934.

Greatest Books Greatest YearsThe “Greatest Books” published in 1934 were:

  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  • Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
  • Appointment in Samara by John O’Hara
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  • A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

I was surprised by this. I didn’t recognize all of these titles, though I did recognize most of the authors.

The next tier of great years for greatest books includes 1925, 1932, 1940 and 1969 with five books each from the Greatest Books list.

I’d say that 1925 easily gives 1934 a run for her money with these titles:

  • So Big by Edna FerberAn American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  • So Big by Edna Ferber
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Obviously, the Greatest Books list is biased against very, very old and very new books. 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. Also, it’s revealed social trends and an author’s popularity streak.

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

Would you agree or disagree that 1934 was a greatest year for literature?


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