Americans’ favorite books

Harris Interactive surveyed 2,234 U.S. adults online between March 12 and 17, 2014, asking “What is your favorite book of all time?”

The compiled results:

  1. The Bible
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Lord of the Rings (series) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  7. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

After the Bible, these are the most popular books, per group:

  • Millennials (18-36): Harry Potter (series)
  • Gen X (37-48): The Lord of the Rings (series)
  • Baby Boomers (49-67) and Matures (68+): Gone with the Wind

Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all loved Gone with the Wind, except liberals, who preferred Harry Potter.

Post-graduates (some education beyond college) across all generations preferred Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter or Gone with the Wind.

My impression for much of this list is, “These are the books I was forced to read in high school, and I haven’t read anything since.” I don’t know anyone who read Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby voluntarily (and I taught high school English, briefly).

The majority of Americans do not read even one book a year after finishing school, regardless of level — though of course college grads and beyond are more likely to read for pleasure. A big part of this list, for me, is simply a sign of laziness: You read a small part of the Bible every week at church. You read most of the other books in high school or college as required for some English class you were forced to take, and you had a friend who talked you into reading Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter (or you’re younger than me, and got into the movies first).

In short, this isn’t encouraging. It’s a boiler plate response.

What would I like to see? Slaughterhouse-5. A Confederacy of Dunces. Lonesome Dove. More stuff written after WWII.


4 thoughts on “Americans’ favorite books”

  1. Slaughterhouse Five is one of my favorite books, but so are a couple of the ones that appeared on the list (To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath, and Catcher in the Rye). I actually like Harry Potter, but I was a bit too old when it came out to truly consider myself a fan.

    By the way, I thought it was funny that Table 1 of the Harris press release says, “Who is your favorite book of all time?” I mentioned this poll in my post today about To Kill A Mockingbird, which will finally be available as an e-book this summer.

  2. Yeah, I noticed the “who” typo/error too, but decided to fix it. 🙂

    I saw that Harper Lee finally allowed the ebook version, though she hates ebooks. I get it; paper is nicer, but it’s also more expensive and less convenient. That, too, was part of her concern — that searching through a library took more work. Meh. It’s an echo of what many teachers/old people said at every technological advance: the fountain pen will make kids lazy because they don’t whittle quills; the ball point pen will make kids lazy because you throw it away instead of refilling it; the calculator will make people ignorant of basic math; the word processor will ruin the charm of typing (WHAM WHAM WHAM).

    I like technology. And if it helps more people read her book, she should be happy.

  3. I actually read Moby Dick voluntarily and for the first time when I was about 22 or 23. It’s one of those books I re-read every few years or so. Surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it, let alone want to read it again.

    1. Cool. My version of that is the Iliad and the Odyssey. Don’t know why, but I just love them — well, Richmond Lattimore’s translations, which keep the poetic format.

      Rick Wiedeman (mobile)


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