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Books Set in the 1900s-1910s: The Turn of the Century

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Whether you’re participating in our Decades Reading Challenge or you’ve stumbled upon this post looking for books about women’s suffrage, books about the Spanish Flu, WW1 historical fiction recommendations, or stories of life in the 1900s & 1910s, we hope you’ll love the choices. We also have an entire list of novels about WW1 that you’ll want to peruse.

Literary Themes In Books Set in the Early 1900s

Reading is more than just a pastime; it can also be a journey back in time. From the moment you crack open a novel set in the early 1900s, you can’t help but be transported to a world of turn-of-the-century fashion, etiquette, and societal norms. The books on our list present a unique opportunity to explore a culture that hasn’t existed for over a hundred years. In this age of technology, reading is a great way to slow down and experience the legacy of the past.

Our curated book list includes some of the highest-rated and best-loved books set in the early 1900s. The list includes a variety of historical fiction, non-fiction, and even a few classics that remain popular today. We’ve focused on selecting books that really give you an insight into the culture and history of the era.

Major World Events of the 1900s & 1910s

Before we get to the booklist for the early 20th century, we always like to provide a bit of context and a timeline of major world events.

  • Immigration hit an all-time peak with over 8.8 million immigrants in the 10 years from 1901-1910.
  • Construction began on the New York Subway in 1900.
  • US President William McKinley was shot at point-blank range in September of 1901, and he died of gangrene eight days later. Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as his successor. That same year, England’s Queen Victoria died at the age of 81 after ruling for 64 years.
  • The Ford Motor Company began manufacturing vehicles in 1903, and in 1908 Ford introduced the Model T costing $850 – a mere 1/3 the price of other cars on the market, but still too expensive for the masses. Over the coming decade, Ford perfected assembly line production, bringing down the cost of the car to $368 by 1916.
  • The Boston Red Sox defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first MLB World Series in 1903.
  • In December of 1903, the Wright brothers made the first successful man-powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
  • On April 18, 1906, the 7.9 magnitude San Francisco earthquake partially or fully destroyed 30,000 homes and caused a massive fire that ripped through the city, leveling more than 500 blocks.
  • A financial crisis, known as The Panic of 1907, was set off by a series of bad banking decisions and created a frenzy of withdrawals that sowed public distrust in the banking system. J.P. Morgan and other wealthy Wall Street bankers lent their own funds to prevent a more severe crisis.
  • The NAACP – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – was founded in 1909 by a group of prominent Black and White intellectuals in New York, led by W.E.B. DuBois.
  • In 1909, American explorers became the first to reach the North Pole.
  • In the winter of 1910, the Great Flood of Paris plunged the City of Lights into darkness.
  • The sweatshop fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in Manhattan in 1911 killed 500 workers, and eventually lead to the establishment of building, fire, and safety codes.
  • In 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, killing over 1,500 passengers and crew.
  • WWI (also known as the Great War) began in 1914. In 1917, the US joined WWI as an ally of Britain, France, and Russia. The war officially ended in November of 1918 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first appeared in movie theaters as the Little Tramp in “Kid Auto Races at Venice.”
  • The first transcontinental phone call was made in 1915. Four years later, the invention of the rotary phone allowed people to begin direct dialing numbers themselves rather than requiring every call to go through an operator.
  • The British ocean liner, the Lusitania, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915 and sunk off the Irish coast, killing nearly 1,200 people.
  • The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.
  • The Women’s Suffrage Movement was in full swing in 1915 when 25,000 women marched up Fifth Avenue in New York City. In 1919 Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, which was then ratified by all the states in 1920.

The Best Books Set in the 1900 & 1910s

Our book list below is broken into two sections – Books Set Between 1900-1909 and Books Set in the 1910s. Throughout the list, we noted those books currently available as part of the Kindle Unlimited subscription.

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This list includes a small selection of books about WW1, but we also have a separate, more comprehensive list of WW1 historical fiction here.

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.

Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls can log ratings for their monthly challenge reads. The logs provide us with data for the “BGG Reader Ratings” that are added to descriptions for future years. We’d love you to contribute your rating after you’ve finished your read this month.

Join the Decades Reading Challenge

Photo of the decades reading challenge printable with text about how to join the challenge

Book Recommendations for Other Decades

Can you send me a printable list with the book titles but not descriptions?

This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.

We’re so excited to be able to offer this fun perk this year!

The new pages will be pre-filled with every book title for the month, and include space for you to mark your interest level, make notes about whether you’ve requested the book from the library (or any other notes you’d like), and then fill in your rating. We’ll also include blank lines in case you have other books on your TBR (to be read) list that meet the prompt.

That said, you’ll always find the most updated version of our recommendations with descriptions each month at no cost on our website. We do update the list and descriptions regularly based on reader feedback. But, we know some of you wanted to print the list to take to the library or bookstore, and we hope this helps.

The best books set between 1910 and 1919

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Keri Burton

Saturday 21st of January 2023

I would like to request an add to this list. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. I feel like the "darker" side like thrillers isn't very well represented in most of these lists.

Melissa George

Saturday 21st of January 2023

Hi Keri, we just had The Winter People on our January list for the Read Around the USA Challenge and on our list of Winter Thrillers.

Jane C

Friday 20th of January 2023

OMG! I can't tell you how happy I am to see A Northern Light on this list. As a librarian and language arts teacher, I have recommended this book to so many people over the years, including as a possible choice for high school LA classes. There is so much more to the story that the synopsis doesn't cover. It truly deserved the awards it received. Can't wait to reread it!


Friday 20th of January 2023

So many good books on this list! I have read some and others have been in the back of my mind for my TBR list. The Alice Network and The Radium Girls are two of my favorites. I highly recommend. Too hard to choose just one. Thank you!

Amy Driver

Friday 20th of January 2023

Thanks so much for letting us know which books are on Kindle Unlimited! So many good ones for this month! I've read many of them already, but will be happy to choose another.

Melissa George

Friday 20th of January 2023

You're so welcome! We love that people (including us) don't have to wait on hold lists for those.

Best WW1 Historical Fiction Novels - Book Girls' Guide

Tuesday 10th of January 2023

[…] as part of our Decades or Book Voyage Challenge. A smaller selection of these books will be on the 1900s-1910s book list, but you’re welcome to count any of these reads as your challenge books if you’d […]