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Books Set in the 1920s

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Are you ready for month three of the Decades Reading Challenge? This month we’ll be reading books set in the 1920s.

You can read all about the challenge and download your free printable reading tracker here.

You are welcome to read any book that you’d like for the Decades Challenge, but to help you choose, we’ve compiled a great list with some of the best historical fiction novels set in the 1920s, as well as several non-fiction 1920s books centered around fascinating, lesser-known events.

The 1920s literature themes represented on our book recommendations reflect a decade that began with a roar and ended with a crash. Among the historical fiction on the list, you’ll find many vibrant jazz age books that capture the essence of the roaring twenties and the prohibition era. However, you’ll also find 1920s novels about individuals and families still struggling to recover from the impacts of WWI.

Major World Events of the 1920s

Before choosing a book, it’s helpful to have some context of the significant events during this decade. If you’d prefer, you can skip straight to our list of must-read books set in the 1920s.

  • American troops returned home at the end of WWI, but for many, their experiences in Europe made them want some of the finer things in life for their families.
  • For the first time in the 1920s, more Americans lived in cities than on farms. For the young people in America’s big cities, the 1920s were a roaring time, but many other Americans were uncomfortable with this new urban lifestyle, leading to what some historians referred to as a “cultural civil war.”
  • Two amendments to the US Constitution helped defined the 1920s. The 18th Amendment, which was ratified at the end of 1919 ushered in the Prohibition Era of the Roaring Twenties, and the 19th Amendment, ratified in August of 1920, gave women the right to vote.
  • The Anti-Communist “Red Scare” of 1919 and 1920 led to the National Origins Act of 1924, a very restrictive immigration law that set quotas and excluded people from some countries in favor of others.
  • A familiar symbol of the Roaring Twenties, flappers were young women with bobbed hair and short skirts who drank, smoked, and were more sexually free than women in previous generations.
  • Following the first commercially licensed radio broadcast in 1920, radio quickly became a family experience with everyone gathering around to listen to the news, comedy shows, and music. By 1926, there were over 700 commercial radio stations.
  • The Great Migration of African Americas from the south to northern cities led to rising social tensions in the 1920s. With this Great Migration came increased visibility of Black culture, including jazz and blues music.
  • Radio stations and phonograph records also helped usher in the Jazz Age. Across the country, Jazz bands played at dance halls and young people were dancing the Charleston.
  • The 1920s were a time of rising crime. In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover is appointed the head of the FBI to reform the Bureau, and FBI investigated Al Capone and other famous gangsters of the era. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 was the culmination of the gang war between Al Capone and Bugs Moran.
  • At the beginning of the decade cars were deemed luxuries, but by the end of the decade they were necessities. By 1929, there was one car on the road for every five Americans, leading to a rise in businesses like service stations and motels.
  • Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.
  • Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse appeared for the first time in Steamboat Willie in 1928.
  • The Wall Street Crash of 1929 started the period of The Great Depression in the United States.
15 Great Books Set in the 1920s (Text over image of Fordlandia, Killers of the Flower Moon, Jazz, & Radio Girls

Books Set in the 1920s

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Cover of Radium Girls and In a Field of Blue under text - Best Books Set in the 1920s

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Nikki Matthews

Tuesday 25th of January 2022

Great list. I have read a few: Radium Girls, The Paris Wife. Going to try out The Light Between Oceans, The Second Life of Mirielle West and The Masterpiece. (Lions of 5th Ave also by Fiona Davis was incredible)

Mary Lou Warren

Thursday 20th of January 2022

For the 1910's I was able to print the book list. I can not find the list for the 20's I want the list so I can choose what I want to request from my library. I do not have a Kindle or audible

Melissa George

Thursday 20th of January 2022

Hi Mary Lou, The book lists don't have a printable form, so we usually recommend just jotting the ones down that catch your eye as you read the descriptions.

Jerri Patton

Thursday 20th of January 2022

I've read five books from this list, my favorite is 'Killers of the Flower Moon' which is being made into a movie.

Gerry G Durisin

Wednesday 19th of January 2022

You might want to add Amor Towles' Rules of Civility to your list of books set in the 1920s.

Melissa George

Wednesday 19th of January 2022

Hi Gerry, our understanding is that Rules of Civility is set on New Years' Eve 1937, leading into 1938. But we both have it on our want to read lists and have featured in other lists, including the 1930s Decade list!

Jody Corriveau

Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

You should include the Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell books by Laurie King in your lists of books set in the 1910s and 1920s. They're great books!