The Books that Defined the Decade

Bestselling books lists can really reveal a lot about us, beyond our taste in literature. There was a massive craze towards erotic fiction in 2012, followed by a fascination with the dangerously unreliable female narrator –which must have really stressed us out because adult colouring books were all the rage in 2015 (as well as the desire to tidy up our homes, Marie Kondo style). We can see how movie adaptations really elevated a book in terms of sales, as the majority of these bestsellers have been adapted to the screen. Read on to find out the bestsellers per year this past decade.


Boosted by Reese Witherspoon’s endorsement, the #1 book this year so far is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. (That’s another major thing lately, celebrity book clubs – Emma Watson, Sarah Jessica Parker, etc.) The murder mystery set in the natural beauty of the marshes in North Carolina coast will soon be adapted to the screen. Educated by Tara Westover, which Afshan Shafi called it “required reading” in her review, is #3, while Michelle Obama’s incredible memoir is still number #2.


The former first lady dominated the bestsellers list in 2018 with her thoughtful, funny, heartfelt memoir Becoming. You don’t have to be a biography fan to check her book out, it’s a tale of growing up in Chicago where she had to unconsciously fight prejudice throughout her school years, and how supportive her parents and brother were in helping her achieve her dreams. The book talks about how she becomes herself, then how she met Obama to become ‘Us’ and then how they became ‘More’.

Several of the bestsellers this year were books about Trump’s administration including:

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (#4)

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (#5)

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey (#11)


A prime example of the power of the silver screen is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Originally published in 2012, this book shot to the number 1 spot when it became a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts (it was #32 the previous year). Roberts plays Auggie’s mom, a boy who has facial differences that make him stand out. 2017 also marks the year of Rupi Kaur, the ‘Insta-poet’ whose book Milk and Honey nabbed the #2 spot on the bestseller list.


This was the year Harry Potter fans knew the feeling of true disappointment. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (a script for the play co-written with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany) was number 1 this year, but felt like it was an unnecessary and forced extension of the magical universe that an entire generation grew up loving. We’d like to focus more on neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s incredibly moving memoir, When Breath Becomes Air which was #7 on the list. Paul wrote the book while fighting cancer for his newborn daughter but passed away before he could complete it, so the task fell to his wife. This is a powerful, heartbreaking book written by an incredibly special soul.


This is the year we really looked to destress and declutter. Japenese phenomenon (and organising consultant) Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing made it to #2 this year while several adult colouring books including Johanna Basford’s gorgeous Secret Garden (#4) and Enchanted Forest (#7).


A mysterious book, originally published in 2007, was consistently seen in the top 10 list in previous years and finally made it to #1 this year. It’s called StrengthsFinder and it’s by Tom Rath. Having never heard of it, it seems to be some self-help book. Otherwise, John Green’s young adult romance The Fault in Our Stars shot up to the #4 spot after its movie adaptation came out this year. (Who said books are dead? They seem to be a very important source material for films.)


The mysterious StrengthsFinder 2.0 found its way to the top spot this year as well. Having nothing to say about this, let’s consider Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial/ seminal/ culturally cult book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead making it to the number 2 spot. ‘Lean in’ is now a pretty familiar term in the cultural realm, but the book raised some doubts about its applicability to all ethnicities and income brackets. Intersectionality did not seem to be a concern for Sandberg and the book’s advice may not stand the test of time but the phrase has definitely become popular. 


Ah, 2012. E L James’ erotic fiction trilogy, Fifty Shades, dominated the top three spots on the list while Hunger Games continued its popularity and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl came in at #12. A strong year for female protagonists, let’s just leave it at that.


This was the year we lost Apple CEO and business genius Steve Jobs, and a book about him by Walter Isaacson reached the number 1 spot. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was at #5 while inspirational World War II story Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (of Seabiscuit fame) reached #6. Another interesting cultural phenomenon, perhaps capitalizing on the frustration of modern parents, was the satirical children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach. Not sure if parents actually read this to their children, or just to themselves, as a form of catharsis. Whatever the point of the book, it really resonated. Wholesome Jennifer Garner even did a reading!


Stieg Larsson’s last book in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, secured the top spot this year while The Help by Kathryn Stockett came in at #4 (both had/will have movie versions coming out).

I'm a writer, editor, and mom with an Economics background who hopes that you find something meaningful, inspiring, educational or provoking in this fantastic section.

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