I started out by looking at the most popular books published in 1971, as voted for by Goodreads.com readers. I thought this would be a good place to start, however actually it is precisely the worst place to start. If I looked at what was popular now, I’d be viewing it through the lens of history, and forgotten classics would be just that… forgotten. Instead, I need to go back to what was popular at the time. Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly Bestselling books of 1971 (it’s from the USA only and also may exclude some books, but it is a start).
- Wheels by Arthur Hailey
- The Exorcist by William P. Blatty
- The Passions of the Mind by Irving Stone
- The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
- The Betsy by Harold Robbins
- Message from Malaga by Helen MacInnes
- The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
- The Drifters by James A. Michener
- The Other by Tom Tryon
- Rabbit Redux by John Updike
The bestselling book of 1971, Wheels, was a plot driven novel set against the backdrop of the automobile industry. The author, Arthur Hailey, was one of the bestselling authors of the late 1960s and 1970s. Most of his novels are written around a particular industry. Other novels include Hotel, which featured five days in the life of employees and residents of a luxury New Orleans hotel, Airport, about one eventful night at an airport, and The Moneychangers which was about the banking industry. Hailey used to spend three years on each novel, one year for research, 6 months for reviewing his notes, and 18 months writing. While researching Wheels for instance, he spent several months at a Detroit car plant, and for Hotel he read 27 books about the hotel industry!
Other books on the list include The Exorcist, the story of two priest’s attempt to exorcise a demon, which was made into a now famous film in 1973. Frederick Forsyth became one of the most famous thriller writers in the world in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, but back in 1971 he was an unknown – The Day of the Jackal about an assassination attempt on French President Charles De Gaulle was his first novel.
James Michener is known for his epic historical blockbusters, but The Drifters was a contemporary novel about six young runaways adrift in a world of dreams, drugs and dedication to pleasure. John Updike’s Rabbit Redux is the sequel to his book Rabbit, Run, and book 2 in the Rabbit Angstrom series.
Up to now I’d at least heard of these books or their authors at least, however the rest were completely new to me. Here’s a bit about each of them.
The Passion of the Mind – this is set in 1880s Vienna and is a fictionalised biography of Sigmund Freud.
Like this year’s no. 1 book, The Betsy is set in the automobile industry too. It features a racing car driver and the head of an automobile company, who go against the wishes of the rest of the company to build ‘The Betsy’, the world’s most advanced motor car.
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk is considered a masterpiece of historical fiction. It follows the fortunes of one American family throughout World War II, capturing the drama, romance and heroism as well as the great tide of global events. It also has one of the highest ratings I’ve ever seen on Goodreads for a novel – 4.36/5.
Also on the list is Message from Malaga, a cold war spy novel set in Spain, then finally The Other by Thomas Tryon, a terrifying horror novel set in a small country town in Connecticut in the 1930s.
So that’s the 10 bestselling novels of the year, a very interesting mix. I mentioned at the beginning another list though the Goodreads list of most popular books of 1971. I’m not going to go through this list too, but are there any books that stand out? Here’s a couple:
The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett – This was the English comic fantasy author’s first book. He’s most well known for his Discworld series, which made him one of Britain’s bestselling authors (he was top selling author of the 1990s, and in his career sold over 85 million books). It would be five years until he published his next book, and 12 years until he published his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic.
The most popular book according to the list is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson, a classic of American popular culture it is about a drug soaked weekend road trip.
On the list there was also a new book, The Nemesis, by Agatha Christie, and books by P.D. James, Dr Seuss, Alfred Camus and Anne McCaffrey amongst many others.