Books have an incredible power to change lives. They can give you the strength to make huge decisions, tap into your deepest emotions, and introduce you to new ways of thinking. With hundreds of millions of titles to choose from, it can be impossible to pick a favorite, but PBS wanted to try.
For the series The Great American Read, literary experts crafted a list of 100 popular novels. The titles were diverse; no two books by the same author appeared, and the publication dates ranged from the 1600s to 2016. PBS then presented that list to about 7,200 Americans, who gave a whopping total of four million votes expressing their favorites.
One title shot to the top of the list within the first week and didn’t waver for the entire five-month voting period: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
The result isn’t surprising. The Pulitzer Prize-winning story about racism in a Southern town through the eyes of a young while girl sells more than a million copies every year and has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide since its debut in 1960. When the author’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, hit the shelves in 2015, it broke a record for the most first-day sales at Barnes & Noble and immediately became the top seller on Amazon. This is the surprising reason To Kill a Mockingbird became so famous.
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To Kill a Mockingbird had some tough competition. Topping out the rest of The Great American Read‘s top five, in order, were The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R Tolkien. The top choices show that not only can newer series like Harry Potter become instant classics, but 19th-century stories like Pride and Prejudice can stand the test of time. If you still haven’t read those yet, you’ll want to—along with these 50 books you should read before you’re 50.
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