Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999 Hardcover – Dec 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
According to Korda (Country Matters, etc.), it was only in 1895 that someone Harry Thurston Peck of the Bookman published the first bestseller list, and that listed only fiction. PW ran the first nonfiction list 17 years later. Today, bestseller lists galvanize the publishing industry, much as their cousins do the film and recording industries, among others. Of the several books written about bestseller lists (most notably, Alice Payne Hackett and James Henry Burke's 80 Years of Best Sellers, 1977), this is the most perceptive and not surprisingly, given Korda's literary abilities, which have led to his own run of bestselling books the most engaging. The engagement arises from Korda's erudite yet conversational tone, leavened with humor and smartly opinionated (e.g., the 1958 nonfiction bestseller list, he writes, "remained the kind of thumping, predictable bore it had been through most of the fifties"). The perceptivity arises not only because Korda, longtime editor in chief of S&S, knows just about all that's worth knowing about books, but because he approaches the lists as the subtitle indicates. Decade by decade, he examines the annual hardcover lists drawn from PW beginning with 1913 to see how the books people buy embody the cultural tenor of the times. "Like a mirror," he writes, "[the list] reflects who we are, what we want, what interests us...." Korda finds, for instance, that "[books about] better sex, more sex, plus tabletop cooking, says something about the priorities of Americans in the first year of Richard Nixon's presidency.... People were looking for domestic happiness, in retreat from the... conflicts of the sixties.... " As Korda charts changes in America via the bestseller list, he demonstrates that reading tastes haven't altered all that much; as background to that charting, he presents a useful, compact history of the publishing industry. Witty and deeply informed, this is a bracing, even essential, read for anyone who loves books. (On-sale Nov. 15).
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Many readers buy nothing but best-sellers. Not a good policy either. The percentage of good books presented in best-seller listings, is just as small as the percentage of good books in the total of books ever printed. LetÕs not forget, most of the real good books are out of print. The discerning reader - a rare breed - doesnÕt care how the PR industry labels a book. And thatÕs the way it should be. There are still differences. Good books can be best-sellers, best-sellers are not necessarily good books.
No doubt, the avid reader of best-sellers is getting a fair representation in those listings, and I am quite willing to concede that those readers may represent a majority. Still: what about the others? ItÕs really like this fast food thing: McDonalds is a huge enterprise, and not without reason. But does this make connoisseurs of French cuisine yearn to ÒreallyÓ rather eat at McDonalds? KordaÕs argument is ridiculous. In matters of culture and taste, there is no such thing as democracy and egalitarianism.
All this book is, in sum, is this: Korda lists books in paragrah form then does it again in list form.
This is meant as a cultural history of what books Americans bought throughout the century, but it really is a brief history.
These pages would have been better served had he spent more time analyzing why we read what we read. Rather, he says in effect, "We are in World War II, so there are a lot of war books on the market."
And the 1980s was filled with "get-rich-quick books" that Korda said were popular among top executives but did nothing for "underlings" to rise to the top. Wouldn't he surmise that because these books were in fact bestsellers (read by millions of people), that maybe some "underling" read one and made it big. Of course not because Korda whole-heartedly admitted early on that editors and writers are liberally biased.
In reality, Korda spent 200 pages waiting to throw in the comment that, "In 1981, I was the editor of four of the year's bestsellers (not a record -- I believe the record is seven, which I think I hold -- but still not bad)." If Korda is such a reknowned editor, why is he using phrases like, "I think," which he does more than once. Why not check it out?
Overall, I enjoyed looking over the lists but grew tired of Korda's commentary on how no real literature is out there. Although the structure of the book business has changed, the same market principles are still place: If you have a product people want, it will sell.
Originally just the top ten fiction titles appeared on PW's list. It is only in recent decades that both the top 15 fiction and the top 15 nonfiction titles appear. Nonetheless, perusing these lists really does, as Korda asserts, provide a kind of insight into the American psyche and how it has changed over the last hundred years--or, more saliently, how it hasn't. Korda identifies cyclical trends, with, for example, the popularity of the women's novel, ebbing and flowing, as has the historical romance. And in nonfiction Korda identifies the nearly constant popularity of self-help books, especially diet books and cook books.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This is not a book that lends itself to a good audio recording. Listening to the "text" portions of the books was fine - very enjoyable and very informative - however,... Read morePublished on Oct. 16 2002 by Cheer Mom
"Making The List", is an interesting book that piques the reader's interest rather than satisfying it. Read morePublished on May 6 2002 by taking a rest
Korda takes a potentially fascinating topic-an analysis of American bestseller lists in the 20th century-and gets in the way of his subject. Read morePublished on April 6 2002
My only complaint about this volume is that there wasn't more of Korda's terrific commentary to go along with each decade's lists. Read morePublished on March 10 2002 by JWGD
It was on May 22, 1946, that I finished reading and enjoying Fifty Years of Best Sellers 1895-1945, by Alice Payne Hackett. Read morePublished on March 10 2002 by Schmerguls
Making The List does jut what its title suggests; it takes the best seller list since the early 1900 up until 1999 and analyzes them in order to make meaning out of the tendencies... Read morePublished on Feb. 1 2002 by Sebastien Pharand
Michael Korda, editor in chief of Simon and Schuster, has collected lists of the bestselling books (fiction and non-fiction) for the entire 20th Century. Read morePublished on Dec 26 2001 by John Knight
Michael Korda is not sanguine on the turn best-seller book publishing took in the 1990s. "At the end of the day,"Korda writes " the bestseller lists of the nineties... Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2001 by Barbara Seaman
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