Discover the best books about the 1910s and 1900s, two decades of massive change spanning from the turn of the century to World War I.
When you think about the early 20th century, you think of a world on the brink. From the turn of the century and the First World War, the 1900s and 1910s saw massive changes from the beginning of flight to the horrors of a worldwide war.
In many ways, life almost 100 years ago was completely different than our lives today, but in some ways, things remain just the same.
Today, I’ve put together a list of books about the 1910s and 1900s. You’ll find something for everyone: fun 1910s historical fiction and terrifying WW1 books, nonfiction books about the 1900s, and even a few classic 1910s books worth a read.
Books About the 1900s
A classic coming-of-age story that has enchanted readers for decades, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn chronicles young teen Francie Nolan as she grows up in the slums of Brooklyn. Covering poverty and the American dream, Betty Smith’s masterpiece points out the struggles of the poor families of the early 20th century. Yet, the enduring message of this classic book is one of hope for the future.
If you love books within books, you’ll love Kate Morton’s bestseller. After the death of her grandmother Nell, Cassandra learns she has inherited a cottage in England. Now she sets off on a journey to discover Nell’s past and hopefully find a path forward for herself. Kate Morton expertly peels away layers of revelations to finally get the overarching mystery – how did a little girl end up found in Australia carrying only a book of fairytales.
L. M. Montgomery
Every child should be required to read the adventures of orphan Anne Shirley. When Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert decide to adopt a boy to help on their farm, they end up with a talkative wildfire of a girl who hates her red hair and has the biggest imagination possible. Using all her imagination and spark, Anne wins the hearts of everyone in town and becomes a joy in Green Gables and Avonlea.
In 1907, twelve-year-old Celestine is locked in the attic room of a large house by the sea, stolen from Africa and held against his will as kept as an unpaid servant. Decades later, Lowra, a young orphan girl from a privileged background, finds herself captive in the same attic room. When she’s older, Lowra tries to cope with her childhood abuse by searching for the truth of the other child from the attic.
Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
A novel based on the true story of Bella de Costa Greene, who was hired at a young age to be the curator for J.P. Morgan’s renowned library. However, Bella had a secret. Her dark complexion is not from her alleged Portuguese heritage but because she is African American, the daughter of the first Black man to graduate from Harvard.
World War I Books
In 1915, Eve Gardiner is overjoyed to join the Alice Network of the French Resistance during WWI, only to see it betrayed. Then, in 1947, Eve agrees to help Charlie St. Clair, an American socialite desperate to find her cousin, Rose. Rose disappeared in France during the Second World War, and Eve sees the shadows of her past in this new case. Combing both the major world wars, The Alice Network is quite a find for historical fiction readers.
This simple but unforgettable story focuses on the lives of two brothers – Charlie and Thomas Peaceful. Tommo, too young to enlist, has lied about his age to follow his brother to the front lines of the war. Told over the course of one night, Tommo reflects on the events of his life and contemplates a grim future. A poignant reminder of the horrible realities of war, Private Peaceful is a powerful book that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
At the end of the First World War, Pauline Deng runs away from her Chinese family in Paris to escape an arranged marriage back in Shanghai. In the French countryside, Pauline finds shelter with Camille, a French woman planning to escape her own abusive marriage. Until Pauline finds out a terrible secret about Camille, forcing them to make a decision that will bind them together forever.
In April 1917, a charismatic alumna gives an impassioned speech at Smith College urging the women to go to France to help with relief efforts. Kate Moran has no plans to go, but when a girl drops out, Kate’s best friend Emmeline begs her to fill the slot. Based on a true story, Band of Sisters tells of these brave women coping with the hardships of the war while navigating old rivalries and betrayals.
Chris Bohjalian’s historical fiction novel describes the horrifying genocide of Armenians during World War I. Recent college graduate Elizabeth Endicott travels to Aleppo, Syria, with her father to deliver aid to the Armenians. Living at the American consulate and working in the hospital, she comes in first-hand contact with the suffering Armenians. There she befriends Armen, a young Armenian engineer whose wife and daughter were killed in the forced march across the desert.
Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, & Karen White
In 1915, Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter hopes a trip to London on the R.M.S. Lusitania will revive her struggling marriage, but she can’t help but feel a spark for her old best friend, Robert Langford. Meanwhile, Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a con man, pretends to be an Englishwoman returning home, hoping one last heist aboard the ship will free her from her partner. In 2013, author Sarah Blake opens the old chest of her great-grandfather who died on the Lusitania and discovers something that could change history.
In 1913, Laura Lyons lives inside the famed New York Public Library where her husband is superintendent. Yet she struggles with her traditional role as a housewife and begins a degree in journalism. In 1993, Sadie, Laura’s granddaughter, becomes the curator of one of the library’s collections. When rare books begin to disappear, Sadie finds that history is repeating itself.
In 1918, Nurse Julia Powers struggles to manage an Irish maternity ward ravaged by influenza and short-staffed by the war. With the help of volunteer Bridie Sweeney and controversial Doctor Kathleen Lynn, Julia tries her best to save the lives of expectant mothers as they bring new life into the world. An interesting character study, Donoghue’s novel reflects the strain of being a healthcare worker during a crisis.
Publication Date: 21 July 2020
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To escape being typecast as a romantic lead, actress Hadley Baxter accepts a role in a biopic of Marian Graves, a female pilot who disappeared in Antarctica. Marian was rescued from a sinking ocean liner as a child and later began flying as a teen, supplementing her pilot lessons by working for a notorious bootlegger. The more Hadley learns about Marian’s attempt to circumnavigate the world, the more she realizes their fates are connected.
As a child, Esme often stayed out of sight under the table while her father and his colleagues worked on creating the first Oxford English Dictionary. When she discovers the word “bondmaid” which the men have rejected, Esme realizes that many words related to women and the poor are often ignored. So Esme sets off to collect her own Dictionary of Lost Words during the height of the women’s suffrage movement.
In the winter of 1919, young mother Mathilda Neumann drowned beneath the ice in a Wisconsin Lake. In Drowning Ruth, Schwarz takes you through the aftermath of Mathilda’s death and how it affected her daughter, her sister, and her husband. Weaving back and forth between before and after the drowning, you can’t help but wonder what really happened that night.
In September 1911, Clara Wood is still mourning the death of her lover who fell to death during the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. While working as a nurse on Ellis Island, she meets a man with a name engraved in a scarf and is caught in a moral dilemma. In 2011, Taryn Michaels mourns her husband’s death on 9/11 and discovers an engraved antique scarf in the fabric shop where she works.
Turn of the Century Classics
Erich Maria Remarque
Shortly after the start of the First World War, the compelling speeches of his teacher caused Paul Bäumer and his entire class to enlist in the Imperial German Army. Thrust into the chaos of the front, Paul faces emotional and psychological tolls greater than he could ever imagine. Yet, Paul finds no relief when he returns home and struggles to adapt to civilian life.
Ernest Hemingway’s semiautobiographical work recounts the story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front of World War I who falls in love with a beautiful English nurse. Set against the horrors of war, A Farewell to Arms was Hemingway’s first bestseller and rightfully deserves a place on any list of 1910s books.
With its focus on the message of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, East of Eden is often considered one of Steinbeck’s greatest novels. Set in the Salinas Valley of California, the story follows Adam Trask, a wealthy man whose troubles with his brother are paralleled in his own twin sons. Covering the power of love and the pain of its absences, East of Eden is enduring classic literature for your to-read list.
In one of the most classic WW1 books, Sebastian Faulks highlights the trauma of WWI veterans. Young English soldier Stephen Wraysford finds himself on the front lines in France, caught in a wild love affair with Isabelle Azaire. Yet, it’s the world of the trenches in the Battle of Amiens that ultimately ends the war but also forever changes Stephen. Later, in 1970, Stephen’s granddaughter Elizabeth tries to understand his war experiences.
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.
Carol Milford has always dreamed of redesigning villages and towns. While working as a librarian in St. Paul, she marries Will Kennicott and he convinces her to move to his small hometown of Gopher Prarie, Minnesota. There, her efforts to bring about progressive reforms are derided by the leading townspeople. Main Street was the first breakout success from Sinclair Lewis, who later became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Nonfiction Books About 1900s & 1910s
When the RMS Titanic set sail from England, she was declared as unsinkable, only to be sunk on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. Lord’s riveting account of the fatal collision gives depth to the catastrophe, describing the behaviors of the passengers and crew, which ranged from heroic to selfish.
After the Curies discovered the gleaming new element radium, its use exploded throughout the world. Hundreds of girls worked in much-coveted jobs in radium dial factories, known as “shining girls” because they would glow from their exposure to radium dust. When the women began to fall ill and die, they find themselves embroiled in a massive scandal and fight for worker’s rights, all brilliantly detailed in one of the bestselling new books about World War 1 and the 1920s.
In 1915, Germany declared that they considered the ocean around Britain a war zone and their dreaded U-Boats wreaked havoc on shipping traffic. Yet when the luxury ocean liner Lusitania set sail for New York, the crew felt it inconceivable that the Germans would target a civilian target. With his powerful narrative nonfiction ability, Erik Larson describes the horrific sinking of the Lusitania, a tragedy that urged the United States closer to joining World War I.
Which Books About the 1910s and 1900s Are You Most Interested in Reading?
What do you think? Do you enjoy reading books about the Turn of the Century and World War I? What 1910s books would you recommend? As always, let me know in the comments!
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