Discover the best 1930s books with these timeless classic books from 1930s mystery novels to bestselling books from the Great Depression.
When you think about the 1930s, you think of a world on the brink. Between the Great Depression and the start of the Second World War, the 1930s saw life move away from the joys of the Roaring Twenties into the chaos of the 1940s.
Along with such famous 1930s books as The Grapes of Wrath, you’ll find other books written in the 1930s that showcase how much the world was changing. The Great Depression sent a shock through the world’s economy, leading to unchecked national aggression and a war like the world had never seen before.
It’s astounding to think of the staying power of novels written almost a hundred years ago. If you are interested in classics, you’ll want to try one of these classic books of the 1930s.
Best Books of the 1930s
Steinbeck’s epic on the Great Depression is a must-read classic book. After being released from prison, Tom Joad finds his family crippled by the Dust Bowl and ready to give the promise of California a try. Instead, the Joad family finds the harsh realities for migrants and begins to fall apart as they each handle the injustices of life in different ways.
Any list of 1930s books wouldn’t be complete without this infamous whodunit about a group of strangers gathered at an isolated island mansion. Suddenly, the characters begin dying one by one leaving you turning pages in this quick read. After discovering the answer to this locked room mystery, you’ll forever begin to expect the unexpected in every other novel you read.
Zora Neale Hurston
Although mostly overlooked during her life, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God has had a well-deserved resurgence in popularity in the last few decades. Hurston’s 1930s novel recounts the life of Janie Crawford through her three marriages and journey of self-discovery. Throughout the novel, Hurston makes you consider marriage, gender roles, and what makes a liberated woman.
One of the most popular books from the 1930s, Gone with the Wind is Margaret Mitchell’s idealized look at the South at the time of the civil war provides you food for thought about how we portray our bias into historical events. Her extremely flawed heroine Scarlett O’Hara gives you much to contemplate about love and selfishness. While I adore watching the movie, I love being able to see into Scarlett’s thought process in this astounding book.
Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth tells the tale of an honest Chinese farmer Wang Lung as he takes pride in working on his farm. When flood and drought force Wang Lung and his family to move to the city, riots break out against the rich. Wang Lung takes pity on one noble family, leading him to wealth but also changing his perspective along the way.
Daphne du Maurier
Working as a lady’s maid in Monte Carlo, the narrator is swept off her feet by the handsome widower Maxim de Winter. After a rushed courtship and impulsive marriage, she returns as his wife to his beautiful estate, Manderley. Yet, she quickly learns she is not the true mistress of the estate, as the household will not let her forget the memory of Rebecca, de Winter’s first wife who drowned the year before.
Fascinating 1930s Books
This memorable classic about friendship follows eternal optimists George and Lennie who share a common dream – to own some land of their own. When life leads them to work on a California ranch, they bump up against the reality that life can be extremely unfair. Steinbeck is a brilliant writer, and this story will stick with you long after you’ve read it.
Robert Graves set the bar for historical novels when he published his famous “autobiography” of the Roman Emperor Claudius. Growing up a sickly stammering child, Claudius is generally ignored by his family, watching as they murder and manipulate to gain power. Claudius’s firsthand account of all the horror, depravity, and cruelty that plagued the Roman leaders Augustus, Tiberius, and the mad Caligula truly brings history alive.
As science and technology can do more and more to improve our lives, how much of our humanity are we willing to give up to reach utopia? Huxley paints a frightening picture of a world of total uniformity that will show you the downside of a world without suffering.
If you are into satire books on the 1930s, Cold Comfort Farm‘s comical look at rural life in Britain is for you. After her parents die, Flora Poste realizes she learned everything except how to earn a living. So she decides to impose on her relatives and moves in with her aunt and uncle at the isolated Cold Comfort Farm. There, Flora sets about modernizing the farm and solving the residents’ emotional problems.
One morning, salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into a gigantic insect. Kafka’s short allegorical novel describes Gregor’s struggle to adapt to his new form and literary critics love to make comparisons to religion or psychology. You’ll have to read this bizarre tale for yourself to see how you interpret Kafka’s allegory.
When Addie Bundren dies, her family attempts to carry out her last request, to be buried in her hometown, despite their poverty. Narrated by fifteen different characters, As I Lay Dying follows the family’s trek and looks at each individual’s motivations, making it an experimental and critically-acclaimed 1930s novel.
Nonfiction Books from 1930s
If you asked me what is the absolute saddest book ever, hands down the answer would be Vera Brittain’s autobiography. When the First World War comes to Britain, Vera’s older brother and all his friends enlist in the military. Not to be left behind, Vera herself ends up leaving school to become a nurse, serving in London, Malta, and the Western Front in France. By the end of the war, almost all the men she ever knew are dead.
Published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s guide to winning people over is rather timeless. With tips to get people to like you, convince people of your point of view, and transform people without building resentment, Carnegie teaches interpersonal tactics to smooth out your professional life.
One of the pioneers of self-help books, Napoleon Hill studied the wealthiest people of the day, including Andrew Carnegie, to come up with his laws of success. Mostly focused on the mindset required to increase income, Hill focuses on such principles as persistence, specialized knowledge, imagination, and organized planning.
Books of the 1930s to Try
Of all the 1930s novels on this list, you don’t want to miss Agatha Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot mystery. During the night on the Orient Express train, millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett is murdered, his door still locked from the inside. Stuck in place by a storm, detective Hercule Poirot must discover the murderer before the train hits the next station.
Thornton Wilder’s allegorical play is generally considered his most popular work. In the small village of Grover’s Corner, you glimpse into the life of two neighboring families – the Gibbs and the Webbs. Act One establishes their daily life, Act Two covers love and marriage, and Act Three discusses death. With a sweet message of appreciating life while we live it, Our Town is a short play you can read in under an hour.
If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you should also try 1930s mystery writer Georgette Heyer’s books. One night on a dark country road, barrister Frank Amberly comes upon a lady in distress and a sports car with a dead body behind the wheel. At first, Frank believes her, until evidence starts piling up. Yet Frank can’t get past the motive: why would anyone shoot a butler?
Just so you know, Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors. He has some great books satirizing the hypocrisy of America’s middle class. However, with the start of the Great Depression, Lewis needed a new topic to write about. While not one of his best works, It Can’t Happen Here depicts the rise of a political demagogue to the Presidency of the United States.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last novel, Tender is the Night highlights the end of the Jazz age. In the French Riveria, 17-year-old actress Rosemary Hoty becomes infatuated with the glamorous couple, Dick and Nicole Diver. Both husband and psychiatrist to Nicole, Dick’s world completely transforms under Nicole’s astounding wealth. Yet, the couple eventually falls into alcoholism and mental illness, mirroring Fitzgerald’s own life.
If you are really up for a challenge, you could try Joyce’s experimental Finnegans Wake, considered one of the hardest classic books to read. In dream-like language, Joyce uses blended words and puns in different languages to create a unique syntax. With no ending and no beginning, Joyce’s circular work will have your head spinning.
Children’s Books 1930s
J. R. R. Tolkien
Before The Lord of the Rings revolutionized the fantasy genre, Tolkien introduced the world to Middle Earth with his beloved children’s fantasy book, The Hobbit. In an epic adventure, the wizard Gandalf convinces the distinctly unadventurous hobbit Bilbo Baggins on a journey to help a group of dwarves defeat the powerful dragon Smaug.
You’ve heard plenty of stories of a boy and his dog, but this children’s classic follows the eternal love of a boy and his pet fawn, a yearling deer named Flag. Through thick and thin, Jody and Flag are inseparable, and their adventures are heartwarming. But as they both grow up, can their friendship survive the harsh realities of the Florida Backwoods?
In 1929, the four Walker children spend the summer in the Lake District. While sailing their dinghy, Swallow, they encounter Nancy and Peggy Blackett on their sailboat, Amazon. Through the summer, the children camp on an island, have sailboat races, and join forces against Nancy and Peggy’s uncle in this children’s adventure series.
P. L. Travers
The epitome of classic children’s 1930s books is Travers’s bestseller, Mary Poppins. Blown in by an east wind, Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane to become the most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. She can slide up banisters, make armchairs appear out of her carpetbag, and keep you on your toes all day long.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
In the first book in The Little House on the Prairie series, Laura begins her life’s tale in 1871, when she is four years old and lives in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Wilder’s descriptive detailing of pioneer life is fascinating and gives a unique look into life on the frontier.
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How Do You Feel About 1930s Literature?
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my 1930s Books list? What books published in the 1930s have I forgotten? As always, let me know in the comments!
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