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Books Set in the 1930s

Whether you’re participating in our Decades Reading Challenge or found this post looking for the best books set in the 1930s, we know you’ll fill your TBR list with these highly-rated reads.

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Literary Themes in Books About the 1930s

We’ve compiled a list of highly-rated books about the Thirties, including classic literature, historical fiction novels, and non-fiction reads about fascinating topics.

The 1930s were a time of immense change and upheaval around the world. With the Great Depression and Dust Bowl ravaging economies, the rise of fascism casting a shadow over Europe and international tensions leading to World War II, it was a time of profound uncertainty. But within that uncertainty lie stories of resilience, courage, and hope.

Other books feature a glimpse into life in 1930s America, including Hollywood, sports, crime, and high society. The genres range from emotional family dramas to spy thrillers, so you should find a book to suit any mood. Overall, our must-read books set in the 1930s provide a unique window into this era’s unique challenges and triumphs.

For additional historical context, check out the timeline of major world events included at the end of the post.

Must-Read Books Set in the 1930s

You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope that this list of books has given you a good starting point.

Sign Up for the Decades Challenge

Sign up for our email list below to receive a free printable tracker for the Decades Challenge. Our weekly email newsletter helps you stay on track with friendly reminders while still allowing you the flexibility to read at your own pace. Additionally, challenge participants have an opportunity to discuss the books on this list and to provide ratings and reviews via our book logs.

Major World Events of the 1930s

We compiled this list of major events of the 1930s to provide some historical context for your reading. We hope you enjoy learning a bit more about this period in history.

  • 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. By early 1933, nearly 1 in 3 people were 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 ground, devastating farms throughout the Great Plains. This 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.
  • The Third Reich rose to power in 1933 and began instituting a series of measures to persecute Jewish citizens. Throughout the decade, Hilter 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. It 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. Hilter viewed the games as an opportunity to prove his theory of Aryan racial superiority. However, he 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 became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. Sadly, she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
  • In 1937, the Hindenburg, a German Zeppelin airship, was scheduled to make 10 round trips between Europe and the US. On the first of these flights, the Hindenburg caught fire while attempting to land in New Jersey, killing 35 of the 97 people aboard.
  • In 1938, Seabiscuit beat War Admiral in what came to be called the “Race of the Century.”
  • The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, premiered in 1939.

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Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

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