Top 10 Best-Selling Books of the 1980s
1. The Covenant by James A. Michener
James A. Michener published The Covenant in the year the story in the book ends, 1980.
To say it is an epic does not really do it justice, since it begins in about 1700 BC and moves forward through the centuries to the common era, telling the story of the formation of South Africa as it progresses.
Michener, ever the great researcher does not tell the story from a single viewpoint though and we are told the story of the South African nation from the point of view of members of tribes, Afrikaans, English and actual historical figures too.
He writes at length about the Afrikaans system of apartheid and offers two possible outcomes to the issue of apartheid in his book—he actually guessed correctly that apartheid would be resolved without bloodshed.
Warning: The clip below portrays violence.
2. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
It is difficult to believe that Robert Ludlum wrote The Bourne Identity as early as the 1980s given its more recent success on the big screen.
Jason Bourne is a retrograde amnesiac who is rediscovering himself after being found floating in the Mediterranean Sea by fisherman. What becomes clear to the reader is that Bourne is no ordinary Joe.
Robert Ludlum's book takes the reader on a true spy adventure through the cities of Europe as he takes along an unwitting bystander who happens to get caught up in the action, but with whom Bourne falls in love.
The book investigates the roles of agents and double agents in the American secret service and the book is a page-turner because the more you find out about Jason Bourne, the more committed you become to him.
It is a novel with a great storyline—espionage, counter-espionage, good cops and most certainly a few bad ones—high energy from start to finish with amazing twists and turns. A real page tuner!
3. Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon
Sidney Sheldon almost deserves an article of his own to describe and celebrate his life as one of the most prolific writers in the United States.
As well as being an extremely successful fiction writer (the seventh most best-selling in history), he was also a writer of stage musicals, TV series and shows, plays and movie scripts.
He did not write his first novel until he was over fifty but once he started writing novels, there really was no stopping him.
Rage of Angels is one of his best-loved books, melding the mafia, American politics, the law, love and romance almost seamlessly.
Jennifer Parker, an inexperienced lawyer at the District Attorney's office sets up the court case for Mafia boss, Michael Morretti only to have the case thrown out when a bribe is discovered in the case. Her career seems ruined until fellow lawyer Adam decided to support Jennifer's carrer, convinced she is innocent of any wrongdoing in the Morretti case.
In a clever parallel, Sheldon aslo has Michael Morretti fall in love with Jennifer and the two men fight for her affections as she rebuilds her stalling career in the law.
Sheldon excelled in his ability to weave several story lines together in the same novel. This gave all of his novels a rather epic feel; Rage of Angels is no exception.
4. Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz
Like Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz came to fiction writing later in life and did not publish her first novel, Scruples until she was fifty years old.
Princess Daisy broke records when it was released when Krantz was paid an amazing five million dollars advance.
Judith Krantz had been a successful journalist for women's magazines before choosing to stay at home and raise her sons. She did freelance work from home and seemed satisfied with this until her husband suggested she try to write fiction because of her natural storytelling skills.
In spite of believing that she would fail, she turned out to be one of America's most popular romantic fiction authors, enjoying success with Scruples, Princess Daisy, Mistral's Daughter and I'll Take Manhattan.
Judith Krantz continues to write very good romance novels and is a born storyteller; many of her books have been adapted for television including Scruples, Princess Daisy and Mistral's Daughter.
5. Firestarter by Stephen King
Firestarter is a book which opens with a bang as the reader finds themselves literally in the midst of a crisis as a man, Andy McGee attempts to run away with his young daughter, Charlie, from the government.
Andy McGee and his wife were once part of a government drug research programme which left them both with special powers. The government are tracking down those who participated on the research project known as 'the shop'.
Government agents know that Charlie has been born with a rather startling power, pyrokenesis, the ability to start fires just with the power of her mind.
The book is set in the present moment and is very high energy, a real page-turner as the reader is desperate to find out if Andy and Charlie are going to escape the clutches of The Shop's government agents.
Stephen King cleverly switches from the present to scary flashbacks where we see the development of Charlie's amazing superpower against a backdrop of personal loss and the government's obsession with capturing the child firestarter.
Stephen King always sets his stories at the perfect pace and once you pick up this book, you won't want to put it back down.
6. The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
Ken Follett is an author, more lately of historical epics like Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, both of which was recently adapted with great success for television.
However, his earlier novels are a hotchpotch of entertaining storytelling, largely written from the viewpoint of the central protagonist. Follett is the king of pacing a novel and does so with some success on all of his early novels.
He turned to writing about espionage in 1978 with his first truly bestselling novel, Eye of The Needle and followed this with his novel, Triple in 1979 which was also a best seller.
The Key To Rebecca is the third and arguably, best of his spy novels.
It is based on the true story of German spy, Johannes Eppler who was born in Egypt, lived a rather exuberant and sensual life but was fiercely nationalistic and served Hitler as an agent during World War Two.
Follett based his lead character in The Keys To Rebecca, Alex Wolff on Eppler but with more dramatic license. The story of Eppler has also been fictionalised to a lesser or greater degree by Michael Ondaatje and Len Deighton because he did lead an extraordinary life and his biography is truly a story begging to be told.
Follett's writing is not to everybody's tastes because he can fall into rather formula-driven plotting but there is no denying his skills as a storyteller and even using a real life story here, he imbues Eppler's story with really exciting plotlines and builds tensions throughout the book; also making full use of the Egyptian landscapes, both urban and desert.
7. Random Winds by Belva Plain
Belva Plain writes what we might call historical novels or sagas. Usually, her novels involve immigrants finding their feet for the first time in their new home, the United States of America.
Her better known, and maybe, better-loved novel, Evergreen was a best selling novel in the 1970s and it could be argued that many of its readers thereafter followed Belva Plain's writing.
Random Winds is similar to Evergreen in that it is a tale of three generations of the Farrell family, all of them, doctors.
Martin Farrell does not want to tread in his father Enoch's footsteps as a country doctor driven to his grave early by overwork but he cannot afford to work as a brain surgeon without some financial support.
He married the woman who might enable his ambition when actually, he is in love with her sister and from this action is his life decided.
Belva Plain writes on an epic scale and Random Winds is another of her 'big' books. She expertly weaves poverty and wealth, ambition and apathy, love, marriage, infidelity and death with an ease other authors must envy.
8. The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
Frederick Forsyth's The Devil's Alternative started life a screenplay, The Alternative, which never made it to the screen. Frederick Forsyth knew he had a good story and rewrote it as a novel.
It melds espionage with cold war sensibilities and includes the dissident Ukranians, Americans, Russians and Europeans all trying to muscle in on a Russian shortage of wheat.
It is incredible to think that something as dull as a failed harvest could cause such tumult but Forsyth is the king of pace and also a master of building national tensions against a backdrop of political intrigue as the Americans and Europeans appear to be being outflanked by a Russian government prepared to invade European countries and take the wheat for free.
The novel features fictional representations of Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance.
9. The Fifth Horseman by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre wrote novels together, most of which were political thrillers.
The plot of The Fifth Horseman is probably more accepted now, post 9/11 than it was at the time it was written.
It is the story of a Libyan brothers, Kamal and Whalid who are determined to avenge their father losing his home on the west bank.
Kamal travels to New York on a freighter with a nuclear weapon and threatens to destroy the city in a nuclear explosion.
Immediately, the U.S. government becomes involved in this potential strike on their most important city.
Forsyth merges the middle east crisis with western sensibilities of the real picture in Libya, Israel and elsewhere and balances this with what is essentially a family story.
Soon, America's president is called in and takes advice from his defence chiefs about what action is required.
The book caused such a stir in France that their sale of nuclear reactors (for peaceful purposes) to Libya was cancelled and the French edition of the novel is also edited to not cause any political damage—France clearly felt that Libya was a threat at the time, though this was only a work of fiction.
The novelists when pressed about the story line said that it was their imaginative take on the threat of international terrorists to cause harm in the west - they believes it could happen!
10. The Spike by de Borchgrave and Moss
The Spike is another of the 1980s novels centred on the unstable political background of the Cold War.
It is the story of journalist, Bob Hockney whose investigations uncover a plot by the wily Russians for world domination within the 1980s decade.
Underpinning Hockney's discovery and further investigation is the Russians manipulation of the western press, more interested in uncovering traitors and spies in its own country than any direct confrontation with the Russians.
'The Spike' refers to the suppressing of the press and the implications of what might happen if the real stories, like Hockney's chance discovery were never brought to light and shared in the national press.
Shelley Winter's autobiography, Shelley, provided one of the most amusing and entertaining non-fiction books of the 1980s as she charted her climb from Hollywood blonde bombshell to well-respected and award-winning actress.
Carl Sagan's Cosmos enjoyed success which was also transferred to a hugely successful and still impressive TV show.
Gay Talese's book, Thy Neighbor's Wife, was a look at 1950s sexual behaviour and the generation of free love which followed. Talese, more famous as a sports journalist, thereafter took on trickier assignments; this one is one of his most well known.
1. Crisis Investing..., - D.R. Casey
2. Cosmos - Carl Sagan
3. Free to Choose - Milton & Rose Friedman
4. Anatomy of an Illness - Norman Cousins
5. Thy Neighbor's Wife - Gay Talese
6. The Sky's the Limit - Dr. Wayne Dyer
7. The Third Wave - Alvin Toffler
8. Craig Claiborne's Gourmet Diet
9. Nothing Down - Robert Allen
10. Shelley - Shelley Winters