“A group of Simon & Schuster staffers took on the daunting challenge of selecting 100 titles from our history that are believed to best represent the breadth and depth of the company’s publishing program, across imprints,” the publisher announced Wednesday.
The list begins at the very beginning, in 1924, with a release that would help define the publisher’s long history of tapping into popular tastes. “The Cross Word Puzzle Book,” by F. Gregory Hartswick, Prosper Buranelli, and Margaret Petherbridge, was compiled by founders Richard Simon and Max Schuster from puzzles in the New York World, a prominent newspaper at the time. “The Cross Word Puzzle Book,” which came with an attached pencil, is considered the first publication of its kind.
Signature S&S works have since included Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's 1974 bestseller "All the President's Men," which helped establish the publisher's eminence in political nonfiction, and Joseph Heller's anti-war classic "Catch-22." The list also features prize-winning history ( David Blight's "Frederick Douglass," Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters"), literary fiction ( Don DeLillo's "Underworld"), commercial fiction ( Mary Higgins Clark's "Where Are the Children?"), Dr. Benjamin Spock's revolutionary "The Common Sense Baby and Childcare Book" and the children's favorite "Eloise," by Kay Thompson and illustrator Hilary Knight.
"We wanted to convey the influence that these books had on culture over the past century, and the sweep of what we published," says Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp.
No author could be included twice and books no longer available through Simon & Schuster were left off, such as a major release from the publisher in the 1950s: Sloan Wilson’s novel about a World War II veteran’s struggles back home, “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.”
From 1924-1976, all of the authors listed are white, a reflection of what Karp calls "the tenor of the times." Few writers of color had mainstream success during that era and those who did published their most notable works elsewhere — Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou with Random House, Richard Wright with Harper (now HarperCollins), James Baldwin with Dial Press, Alex Haley with Doubleday, Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison with Knopf.
“They (Richard Simon and Max Schuster) were a couple of white guys who had lists of book ideas they wanted to publish and I would suspect that a lot of those ideas reflected their cultural sensibilities and personal interests,” Karp says.
A handful of Black writers appear from 1977-2000, starting with Ntozake Shange's "for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf," before the list broadly diversifies in the 21st century. More recent selections include Jenny Han's "The Summer I Turned Pretty," Carlos Eire's "Waiting for Snow in Havana," Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies," Jesmyn Ward's "Sing, Unburied, Sing," Jason Reynolds' "Long Way Down" and, the final entry, a book from 2023, Safiya Sinclair's acclaimed memoir "How to Say Babylon."
“I have distinct memories of being in the room when some of these books were being presented and feeling the energy they generated," says committee member Wendy Sheanin, Simon & Schuster's vice president for independent retail sales. “'How to Say Babylon' had that kind of energy and felt like a book that people will keep on reading.”
Karp calls the committee discussions "lively," and insists he didn't try to "big foot" anybody. One of his personal favorites, novelist John Irving, was not included, although he did argue successfully for Bruce Springsteen's memoir, "Born to Run."
“I am glad my colleagues agreed,” Karp says.
Karp openly questioned one pick. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning "No Ordinary Time," about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II, was chosen over her Abraham Lincoln biography. "Team of Rivals," the story of Lincoln's inner circle of former presidential contenders, was read by then-candidate Barack Obama, among others.
“‘No Ordinary Time’ is a wonderful book, but ‘Team of Rivals’ influenced Barack Obama’s decision to make Hillary Clinton secretary of state,” Karp says. “That book actually had an influence on the course of events.”
Like many leading publishers, Simon & Schuster began as an independently owned company and vastly expanded after the 1960s. Simon & Schuster's founders had both died by the end of the '60s, and the company changed ownership several times before being purchased last year by the private equity firm KKR.
Along the way, Simon & Schuster acquired numerous other publishers, whose books are now part of the S&S catalog and its centennial list. Several older selections, including F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" and Alan Paton's "Cry, the Beloved Country" were published by Scribner, which Simon & Schuster acquired in 1994. Other works first released elsewhere include Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" and B.F. Skinner's "Science and Human Behavior."
The list of 100 not only showcases the different kinds of books that get published, but the different ways they caught on.
Some books seemed destined from the start to make news, whether "All the President's Men," or Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs." Others were surprise hits that ended up selling millions, among them "Catch-22" and Fredrik Backman's novel "A Man Called Ove." The list also includes what Richard Simon called "planned publishing," projects initiated by Simon & Schuster, such as Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" — a perennial bestseller released in the 1930s after S&S executive Leon Shimkin sat in on a course given by Carnegie.
"I think with the original publishers, Simon and Schuster, part of their genius is they would marry ideas to authors," says Karp, who also cites such recent examples as David McCullough's bestselling book about the Wright brothers. "That's something we still look to do — find the right author for the book that we think readers want."
Other highlights of the publisher's centenary will include promotional giveaways, a dedicated website and a spring gala featuring Blume, Woodward and dozens of other authors.
This story has been updated to correct the last name of Wendy Sheanin and the first name of Fredrik Backman.