With the new decade underway, we invite you to join our Decades Reading Challenge. Read all about the challenge and download your free printable reading tracker here.
To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of more than twenty of the best books set in the 1910s, including a books written in that decade, historical fiction set in this time period, as well as a few non-fiction books that read like novels.
This list has something for everyone – books about every day life reflecting the progress and struggles of the time, stories of war and revolution, accounts of tragic events, and even stories of romance set against the backdrop of a decade in which woman were fighting for equality.
Major World Events of the 1910s
Before choosing a book, it’s helpful to have some context of the major events during this decade. If you’d prefer, you can skip straight to list of recommended books set in the 1910s.
Immigration hit an all-time peak with over 8.8 million immigrants in the 10 years from 1901-1910.
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.
The Ford Motor Company introduced the continuous moving assembly line in 1913, which could produce a complete car every two-and-a-half minutes.
World War I began in 1914. In 1917, the US declared war on Germany and the United States officially joined its allies Britain, France, and Russia in WWI.
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.
Books Set in the 1910s
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By Betty Smith Setting: 1900-1918, Brooklyn, New York First published 1943
This is a beloved American classic that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as deeply resonant moments of universal experience.
From the moment she entered the world, Francie Nolan needed to be made of stern stuff, for growing up in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn, New York demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior—such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce—no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama.
The Book Girls say... This classic is at the very top of our reading list for the 1910s. We can't wait to share our thoughts on it soon.
By E. L. Doctorow Setting: New York City, 1906 through WWI First published 1975
The story opens in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.
The Book Girls say... This book has been on Angela's want to read list ever since her husband performed in a production of the musical adaptation of Ragtime several years ago and she was blown away by the story!
by Sinclair Lewis Setting: 1910, Minnesota First published 1920
This classic novel shattered the sentimental American myth of happy small-town life with its satire. Main Street attacks the conformity and dullness of early-twentieth-century midwestern village life in the story of Carol Milford, the city girl who marries the town doctor.
Her efforts to bring culture to the prairie village are met by a wall of gossip, greed, and petty, small-minded bigotry. Published in 1920, this is widely considered the first popular bestseller to attack conventional ideas about marriage, gender roles, and small town life.
By Jeffrey H. Jackson Setting: Paris, 1910 First published 2010
The Great Flood of Paris is an event that has been largely forgotten by history, but this book, in breathtaking detail, captured, for the first time, the story of the flood that plunged the City of Lights into darkness.
Given the Parisians' history of deep-seated social, religious, and political strife, many at the time worried that they wouldn't be able to collaborate to confront the crisis. Yet while the sewers, Métro, and electricity failed around them, Parisians of all backgrounds rallied to save the city and one another.
A thoroughly researched work of non-fiction, this book tells the story of Improvising techniques used to keep Paris functioning. Parisians braved the dangers of collapsing infrastructure and looters, and leaders and residents alike answered the call to action.
By Susan Meissner Setting: Manhattan 1911, 2011 First published 2014
September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries...and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made.
September 2011.On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, widow Taryn Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost photograph appears in a national magazine, and she is forced to relive the terrible day her husband died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers...the same day a stranger reached out and saved her. But a chance reconnection and a century-old scarf may open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life.
By Eva Ibbotson Setting: 1912, Cambridge and South America First published 1985
For 19-year-old Harriet, weekly ballet classes are her only escape from her intolerably dull life in Cambridge. When she is invited to join a corps de ballet which is setting off on a tour of South America, she leaps at the chance against her father's wishes.
Performing in the grand opera houses is everything Harriet dreamed of, and falling in love with an aristocratic exile makes her new life complete. Swept away by it all, she is unaware that her father and intended fiancé have begun to track her down.
by Fiona Davis Setting: 1913 and 1993 New York City First published 2020
In 1913, Laura's husband ins the superintendent of the NY Public Library, which gives them, and their two children, the ability to live in an apartment in the grand building. Laura seems to have it all, but after she enters journalism school at Columbia, and meets a group of women fighting for women's suffrage, has her world view is rocked and she starts to question if the things she has are the things she wants.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie has landed her dream job as a curator at the NY Public Library, but the legacy of her grandmother, Laura, looms over her until she can no longer ignore it.
The Book Girls Say... Fiona Davis is one of our favorite historical fiction writers because of her strong female characters and because each novel is set in a famous NYC building. This book is no exception! We enjoyed the dual timeline that follows this family through the generations.
By Booth Tarkington Setting: Indianapolis, Indiana 1910s First published 1918
This book tells a prototypical "American Story" of the era. Though the book was later overshadowed by the Orson Welles movie adaptation, The Magnificent Ambersons was not only a best-seller when it first appeared in 1918 — it also won the Pulitzer Prize.
Set in the Midwest at the dawn of the automobile age—the story centers around the richest family in town, the Ambersons. Exemplifying aristocratic excess, the Ambersons have everything money can buy—and more. But George —the spoiled grandson of the family patriarch—is unable to see that great societal changes are taking place, and that business tycoons, industrialists, and real estate developers will soon surpass him in wealth and prestige. Rather than join the new mechanical age, George prefers to remain a gentleman, believing that “being things” is superior to “doing things.” But as his town becomes a city, and the family palace is enveloped in a cloud of soot, George’s protectors disappear one by one, and the elegant, cloistered lifestyle of the Ambersons fades from view, and finally vanishes altogether.
By Kate Quinn Setting: France, 1915 and 1947 First published 2017
Two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
The Book Girls say... Angela and Melissa both rated this book 4 out of 5 stars. Angela found the story of the WWI Alice Network fascinating, and enjoyed the writing style the intertwined the stories of the two woman. Unlike many other stories told from two perspectives in two different time periods, Angela liked that the two female protagonists were together in the later time period forming a unique relationship as well, which added another layer to the story.
By Aimee K. Runyan Setting: 1917 Philadelphia, 1918 France First published 2018
As World War I rages in Europe, twenty-four-year-old Ruby Wagner, the jewel in a prominent Philadelphia family, prepares for her upcoming society wedding to a man that her family chose for her. But when her beloved older brother is killed in combat, Ruby follows her heart and answers the Army Signal Corps’ call for women telephone operators to help overseas. She becomes of the trailblazing "Hello Girls" deployed to war-torn France.
The Book Girls Say... This book is very-well researched an provides a fascinating look at the too-little know history of the role of women in WWI. You'll fall in love with Ruby and find yourself invested in her personal story, which includes just the right amount of romance.
By Camille Di Maio Setting: New York City, mid-1910s First published 2018
Vera, the daughter of German immigrants in New York City, finds her life upended when the man she loves becomes engaged to another woman. But Angelo has also inadvertently opened up Vera’s life to unexpected possibilities. Angelo’s new wife, Pearl, the wealthy daughter of a clothing manufacturer, has defied her family’s expectations by devoting herself to the women's suffrage movement. In Pearl, Vera finds an unexpected dear friend…and a stirring new cause of her own. But when Pearl’s selfless work pulls her farther from Angelo and their son, the life Vera craved is suddenly within her reach—if her conscience will allow her to take it.
The Book Girls say... We asked some avid reader friends for recommendations of books about the women's suffrage movement, and this one was mentioned over and over again as one of the best.
By Helen Simonson Setting: 1914, East Sussex, England First published 2016
Described by the Washington Post as, “a novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal," this is a story of both love and war. The story begins in 1914 as a small English town reacts to the arrival of their first female teacher who is more freethinking (and attractive) than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be, and it "becomes a compelling account of World War I and its aftermath." (Woman's Day)
By Daniel Mason Setting: Vienna, 1914 First published 2018
A 22-year-old medical student enlists in World War I, enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery. He expects to find a well-organized field hospital, but when he arrives, allt he other doctors have fled and only a mysterious nurse remains. Lucius has never lifted a surgeon's scalpel but must learn a makeshift medicine. Then one day, an unconscious soldier is brought in from the snow, his uniform stuffed with strange drawings. He seems beyond rescue, until Lucius makes a fateful decision that will change the lives of doctor, patient, and nurse forever.
From the gilded ballrooms of Imperial Vienna to the frozen forests of the Eastern Front; from hardscrabble operating rooms to battlefields thundering with Cossack cavalry, The Winter Soldier is the story of war and medicine, of family, of finding love in the sweeping tides of history.
By Erich Maria Remarque Setting: Germany 1914, France 1918 First published 1929
Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, this classic novel tells of the experience of a young German soldier who enlists in World War I youthful and enthusiastic, but experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
By John Buchan Setting: Scotland and London, 1914 First published 1915
Britain is on the eve of war with Germany. Richard Hannay is living a quiet life in London, but after a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger he stumbles into a hair-raising adventure - a desperate hunt across the country and against the clock, pursued by the police and a cunning, ruthless enemy. Hannay's life and the security of Britain are in grave peril, and everything rests on the solution to a baffling enigma: what are the thirty-nine steps?
The Book Girls say... Angela has been eager to read this novel ever since seeing the play of The 39 Steps, which is a parody adaptation of the book. If you don't have time to add this one to your reading list, you could also consider watching the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film.
By Kim Izzo Setting: 1915, New York and aboard Lusitania First published 2017
As World War I rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry an aristocrat in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.
By Kate Moore Setting: America, 1917 through 1920s First published 2017
The newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and the wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of World War I.
Across the US, hundreds of girls toil in the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
The Book Girls say... We have both read this book, and both highly recommend it! It is heartbreaking, because of the terrible illnesses that the woman suffer, but it's a riveting account of a little known and important piece of American history.
By Glen David Gold Setting: opens in 1916, Hollywood First published 2009
Set against the background of World War I, Sunnyside stars Charlie Chaplin and examines America's thirst for entertainment.
The book opens in 1916 and, after an extraordinary mass delusion where Chaplin is spotted in more than eight hundred places simultaneously, he becomes one of the world's first global celebrities. But while his fame is at its peak, his inspiration is at a low. As he struggles to find a film project as worthy as himself, we are introduced to a dazzling cast of characters that take us from the battlefields of France to the Russian Revolution and from the budding glamour of Hollywood to madcap Wild West shows. The result is a spellbinding novel about dreams, ambition, and the birth of modern America.
The Book Girls say... This book gets mixed reviews - people either say it's one of the best books they've ever read or they find it too hard to get into. Angela has added this to her audio book queue, so we'll update you on our thoughts.
By Sofía Segovia Setting: Mexico, 1918 First published 2015
Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, this novel tells the story of a mysterious child that was found as a baby abandoned under a bridge and covered in a blanket of bees. Some locals believe the child is "kissed by the devil," but he is adopted by the Morales family that discovers his special gift - the ability to see visions of all that’s yet to come.
By Frances Hodgson Burnett Setting: Yorkshire, England 1910 First published in novel form 1911
The Secret Garden is often considered one of the best children's books of the twentieth century, but it appeals to both young and old alike. Mary is living in India with her uncaring parents when they are both killed in a cholera epidemic. She is sent to live with an uncle at his house in England. There she meets and helps her uncle's sickly son, Colin, recover his health.
[…] historical fiction set during WWI or WWII, you’ll find some great options on these lists: Books Set in the 1910s, Books Set in the 1940s, and Books Like the Nightingale.Throughout the list, we noted those book […]
2020 Reading Challenge - Book Girls' Guide
Wednesday 30th of September 2020
[…] January - 1910s […]
Sunday 12th of April 2020
Thanks for these lists!! I’ve enjoyed going through them and adding to my To Be Read list. I really liked The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. It is reminiscent of The Nightingale but from WW1. I also liked The Ship of Brides which takes place in the 40s at the end of the war.
Thanks again and looking forward to next month!
Sunday 12th of April 2020
Thanks for adding those suggestions for everyone, Danielle! We're glad you found some new books to add to your TBR list too. Can't wait to share the 50s list for May!