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Book Set in the 1930s

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For the third month of the Decades Reading Challenge, we’ll be reading books that take place in the 1930s.

You can read all about the challenge, download your free printable reading tracker, and find book lists for other decades here.

As a reminder, you can choose any book you like that is set in the decade, but to get you started, we’ve compiled a great list of books about the Thirties that includes classic literature, historical fiction novels, and non-fiction reads about some of the most fascinating events.

As you would expect of the 1930s, our list of recommendations includes numerous books about the Great Depression and books about the Dust Bowl years, but not all books about American life in the 1930s center around these themes.

Other books about the 1930s in America give us a glimpse into slices of life, including Hollywood, sports, crime, and high society.

The Thirties was also a decade defined by international tensions in the lead up to World War II, and while a number of books on our list do include fascinating stories about Hitler’s rise to power, rest assured that there are plenty of books set in the 1930s that do not mention Nazis.

Major World Events of the 1930s

Before recommending books from each decade, we like to provide historical context with an overview of the major events of the time, but if you’d prefer, feel free to scroll straight to our book list.

  • Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the majority of the 1930s would be defined by The Great Depression. In 1932, nearly 25% of the US population was unemployed, and by early 1933 nearly 1 in 3 people was unemployed.
  • Beginning in 1931, the US suffered the worst drought in its history, leading to the Dust Bowl years. Strong winds stripped the topsoil from the drought, devastating farms throughout the Midwest, and forced many to move in search of work and better living conditions.
  • The Empire State Building was completed in 1931.
  • During the 1930s, many bank robbers and murders gained celebrity status – a strange phenomenon unique to this decade.
  • Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party rose to power in 1933 and began instituting a series of measures aimed at persecuting Jewish citizens. Throughout the decade, Hitler also undermined the post-WWI international order, withdrawing from the League of Nations and building up the German army. When Germany attacked Poland in 1939, it marked the start of World War II.
  • The 21st Amendment passed in 1933, repealing the 18th Amendment and ending prohibition.
  • Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (aka “The Rock”) opens near San Francisco and is used to hold some of the most dangerous and well-known US criminals.
  • Penguin Books produced their first paperback books in 1935, making affordable literature accessible to the masses.
  • The US Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935.
  • The 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany amid a very tense political atmosphere. Adolf Hitler viewed the games as an opportunity to prove his theory of Aryan racial superiority, but was humiliated when African-American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the US.
  • The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, and continued until 1939 when Franco conquered Madrid.
  • Amelia Earhart, who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
  • In 1938, Seabiscut beat War Admiral in what came to be called the “Race of the Century.”
  • The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland premiered in 1939.
Books Set in the 1930s - Text over covers of Water for Elephants, Green Mile, A Hundred Summers & Rules of Civility

Books Set in the 1930s

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17+ Best Books Set in the 1930s, including covers of Finding Dorothy & The Green Mile

Jeanne C Quinlivan

Saturday 17th of July 2021

Book set in Canada about two geese who mate for life and an Indian couple

Janis Stavana

Friday 19th of February 2021

I also read this book and recommend it. As I read, I constantly was comparing it to Tom Sawyer.

2020 Reading Challenge - Book Girls' Guide

Wednesday 30th of September 2020

[…] March - 1930s […]


Friday 28th of February 2020

I haven't been officially participating in your decades challenge but love looking over your lists. I've read several on this list and liked them. Great list! A few I hadn't read are now on my To Read list. I recently finished This Tender Land by WIlliam Kent Krueger and loved it. It's set in 1932. Here's the description from my library's catalog: The acclaimed author of Ordinary Grace crafts a powerful novel about an orphan's life-changing adventure traveling down America's great rivers during the Great Depression, seeking both a place to call home and a sense of purpose in a world sinking into despair"-- Provided by publisher. 1932, Minnesota. The Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O'Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent's wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. -- adapted from jacket

Melissa George

Saturday 29th of February 2020

Thank you so much, Karen! This sounds like an excellent book that we're adding to our personal reading lists. Plus, it fits really well into more than one future list we have coming up AND I'm going to add it to our list of books to read if you loved Where the Crawdads Sing! Thanks so much for passing along such a great recommendation!