What is the most interesting book you have ever read?
Why this survey was relevant
At the time of this survey the United States was smack in the middle of the Great Depression. People were out of work and a large majority were out of hope. Some people looked for a distraction from their despair. The golden era of TV was still over a decade away and although FDR and his fireside chats gave some hope, most turned to books. But what kind of books do you turn to during such a helpless time? This survey from 1937 wanted to know exactly that and below is what they found.
The Bible : 26%
Gone with the Wind: 22%
Anthony Adverse: 5%
The Good Earth: 3%
( Various Others 44% )
Survey Beta Conclusion
Not a very surprising result given the strength of the grip religion had and, still to this day, has in the US. Despite prohibitions and persecution, the Bible enjoys the greatest popularity of any book ever published in a human language. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the highest-selling book of all time. The economic depression of the 1930s may have added to the popularity of the Bible in 1937 as people strived to find meaning and solace in its many pages. In times of difficulty believers often look deeper into religion for answers and those with no religion seek it out as a last hope.
Gone with the Wind was published in 1936 so there will almost certainly be some “recency bias” in play here. Recency bias is a phenomenon whereby our human memories favor more recent events over ones further away in the past regardless of how they made us feel at the time. Many people in this survey may have read “more interesting” books in 1930-1934 but a large portion of them read Gone with the Wind in 1935/6 so that is the freshest, “most interesting” book they can recall.
Anthony Adverse probably isn’t a book that many people would recall nowadays. It was a huge, sprawling epic set in the 1800s that captured the public’s imagination. It transported the reader to every corner of the world and spanned the protagonists’ entire life, from cradle to grave.
One theme is present in all the books in this list, those of inequality and injustice. Themes such as these feature heavily in some of the best-selling books of the present day.
It’s interesting to think about how high the Bible might score in this survey today.