The 50 best selling books of the 1990s

Every year, top writers compete to win the Booker Prize. This year's shortlist has just been announced. But while the judges debate their choices, what about the public's taste for fiction? Or, for that matter, non-fiction? Which books have average British readers bought and read over the years? Rachelle Thackray examines the evidence

n 10 best literary fiction

n 20 best popular fiction

n 10 best biography

n 10 best non-fiction

1

DIANA: HER TRUE STORY

Author: Andrew Morton

Publisher: Michael O'Mara

Diana was the goose that lay a golden egg for Andrew Morton, the bespectacled, earnest-looking author who managed to win her trust and subsequently told the world of her anguished marriage. First published in 1992, when to all intents and purposes the royal partnership was still intact, it was later revealed that Diana had co-operated fully with the project. The book was updated after her death with new material and photographs, in time to catch the tide of sentiment.

Sales: 1.5 million in two editions

Weeks on bestseller list: 58

If you liked this, you'll love: Fergie's My Story, published by Simon and Schuster

2

BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY

Author: Helen Fielding

Publisher: Picador

For a middle-aged writerly whinge which started out as a humble newspaper column, this book has beaten all expectations; its author is now becoming resigned to being addressed as her alter ego, having already made a fortune by turning the insecurities of today's youngish, independent, have-it- all woman into hilarious idiosyncrasies. Even the Americans have a TV equivalent; the brattish Ally McBeal. Bridget herself would be happy if she could get her weight down to 8st 7lb, but her quest for self-improvement has been inversely proportionate to the unexpected success of the book.

Sales: 1,030,000

Weeks on bestseller list: 61

If you liked this, you'll love: That old chestnut with an uncannily similar plot, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, published by Penguin

3

NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND

Author: Bill Bryson

Publisher: Black Swan

After spending 20 years in Britain, Bryson decided it was time to go home - back to the States. But before taking his leave, he took one last affectionate look around this "small island", and his observations will be giggled over for generations to come. Characters such as Mrs Smegma on the South Coast come to life under his eagle eye; fans of his other bestselling books voted this one his best effort, and it topped the chart for months.

Sales: 1 million-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 107

If you liked this, you'll love: Letters From London by Julian Barnes, published by Picador

4

DELIA SMITH'S COMPLETE COOKERY COURSE

Author: Delia Smith

Publisher: BBC

With her bestselling summer, winter and Christmas collections - as well as this original course, first published in the 1970s - Delia has established herself as the nation's number one cook. The beauty of this course, now illustrated, is to offer instructions which are clear, comprehensive and pretty near infallible. Even the most hamfisted of cooks will be able to come up with a plausible concoction from this cornucopia of ideas.

Sales: 1 million-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 202

If you liked this, you'll love: Good Housekeeping Cookery Course, published by Ebury Press

5

FEVER PITCH

Author: Nick Hornby

Publisher: Gollancz/ Indigo

Undoubtedly an all-time bestseller on the subject of football, this account starts from the perspective of an Arsenal-mad 10-year-old, who became hooked on the team after seeing them beat Stoke City in 1968. More than 20 years of dedication bordering on obsession are chronicled here; from pre-match entertainment to hooliganism, from the tragedies of the stadium to Arsenal's reputation as the most boring team in the league. While lads rushed out to buy this book or hastened to put it on their Christmas list, women - for the most part - remained unconvinced.

Sales: 1 million-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 91

If you liked this, you'll love: All Played Out by Pete Davies, published by Arrow

6

ROSEMARY CONLEY'S HIP AND THIGH DIET

Author: Rosemary Conley

Publisher: Arrow

Cashing in on a nationwide wave of early Nineties post-Christmas angst about over-eating, Conley - known for her bubble-perm, boundless energy and born-again beliefs - crooned Britain's overweight ladies into shape with her video and diet books, of which this was the most popular. It contains more than 150 diet recipes, plenty of vegetarian options and a programme of easy-to- follow exercises. Conley herself, of course, exemplified the fact that it all came down to discipline.

Publisher: Arrow

Sales: 1 million-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 168

If you liked this, you'll love: Ultimate Encyclopaedia of Chocolate, published by Lorenz

7

WILD SWANS

Author: Jung Chang

Publisher: Flamingo

This book captured the hearts and imaginations of readers with its blend of politics and warmly told family history - three generations of Chinese women growing up under an oppressive regime, and their ways of coping. Like the film The Last Emperor, it tapped into the growing curiosity of the West about the East, particularly at the time of the Tiananmen Square uprising. Since then, it's been enduringly popular; a classic of its time.

Sales: 1 million-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 143

If you liked this, you'll love: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt or Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, both published by HarperCollins

8

THE RHS ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PLANT AND FLOWERS

Author: Various

Publisher: Dorling Kindersley

This is the standard textbook for any green-fingered home-owner: a feast of 1,000 illustrations plus 4,250 colour photographs, and narrative covering everything from plant origins and names, to a planter's guide and plant catalogue, and how to create a garden. It may be pricey but that hasn't stopped it from rivalling Delia Smith in sales figures; gardeners simply wouldn't be without it.

Sales: 1 million-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 117

If you liked this, you'll love: Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey, published by Sinclair-Stevenson

9

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Author: Thomas Harris

Publisher: Random House

The actor Anthony Hopkins brought to life Hannibal Lecter, the evil canniballistic serial killer. In the celebrated film version of this novel he is brought in to advise Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) on the movements of a killer on the loose. Can his genius help trap the killer who knows that beauty is only skin deep? Utterly gripping, but extremely gory, this was snapped up by bloodthirsty and enthralled fans after the film proved to be a huge hit.

Sales: 1 million+

Weeks on bestseller list: 88

If you liked this, you'll love: anything by Stephen King

10

HIGH FIDELITY

Author: Nick Hornby

Publisher: Indigo

A paean to the thirtysomething man who feels life has passed him by, this tale of woe is about Rob, a miserable chap who runs an ailing record shop and decides to track down his former girlfriends - who mostly don't want to know him - on the road to self-discovery. His creator also penned the hugely successful football book about Arsenal, Fever Pitch (no 5) and this one shot straight into the bestseller lists with its potent mix of cynicism and humour.

Sales: 755,000

Weeks on bestseller list: 75

If you liked this, you'll love: The female equivalent, Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (no 2) or Giles Smith's Lost in Music, both published by Picador

11

JURASSIC PARK

Author: Michael Crichton

Publisher: Arrow

With a multi-million-dollar Steven Spielberg film of the same name, starring Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill and Laura Dern, this Michael Crichton futuristic thriller couldn't really fail to end up on the bestseller list, with its combination of carnivorous raptors, a giant theme park, and every boy's fantasy of creating a brand-new dinosaur. Michael Crichton has written several other successful books, but Jurassic Park was a hard act to follow in sales terms.

Sales: 750,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 20

If you liked this, you'll love: Meg by Stephen Alten, published by Hodder Headline

12

THE RECTOR'S WIFE

Author: Joanna Trollope

Publisher: Black Swan

When her husband fails to win promotion in the church, Anna Bouverle - a vicar's wife for 20 years who has served God in a variety of ways - turns her back on her spouse's isolated bitterness and takes a job in the local supermarket, which brings her a new lease of life and a string of admirers. Trollope's books have dominated the bestseller lists for years, ever since she discovered the public's avid taste for deliciously-seething hypocrisy; another of her novels, The Choir, was televised.

Sales: 750,000 (including TV edition)

Weeks on bestseller list: 50

If you liked this, you'll love: The Ex-Wives, by Deborah Moggach, published by Arrow

13

BRAVO TWO ZERO

Author: Andy McNab

Publisher: Corgi

This first-hand account of operations during the Gulf War in Iraq in the early Nineties was a runaway success. McNab, with his dark humour and a talent for pace, describes an SAS mission in which he led an eight- man patrol deep behind enemy lines. For their efforts, they later became what is believed to be the most highly-decorated patrol since the Boer War.

Sales: 750,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 157

If you liked this, you'll love: The One that Got Away by Chris Ryan, published by Arrow

14

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME

Author: Stephen Hawking

Publisher: Bantam

This is one of the stalwarts of the bestseller lists, at the vanguard of popular science literature, a field that has evolved rapidly in the Nineties. Written by the wheelchair-bound Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, it deals with the nature of time and the universe, looking at theories of the cosmos from Galileo and Newton to Einstein. It also explores some of the outlying reaches of our knowledge of astrophysics.

Sales: 700,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 252

If you liked this, you'll love: Guns, Gems and Steel: a Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years by Jared Diamond, published by Vintage

15

THE PARTNER

Author: John Grisham

Publisher: Arrow

Patrick S Lanigan died in a car crash in 1992. But six weeks after his death, $90 million disappeared from his law firm; his partners knew, then, that he was still alive. A lawyer himself in real life, Grisham is one of the most popular authors in the world. His compulsively readable books have topped the bestseller charts, and their pacy formula has translated well into several high- grossing films, including The Firm, starring Tom Cruise.

Sales: (including film edition) 700,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 44

If you liked this, you'll love: any other of his thrillers, or Free to Trade by Michael Ridpath, published by Michael Joseph

16

THE GLASS LAKE

Author: Maeve Binchy

Publisher: Orion

Binchy has achieved remarkable success with her unique brand of aga saga: in this decade alone, her novels Copper Beech and Circle of Friends - turned into a film starring Minnie Driver - have made it into the bestseller lists. The Glass Lake is set in Loughshee, a typical Irish town complete with an amiable doctor, an eccentric nun who lives as a hermit in the woods, and a mad garage-owner who tries to catch angels. Martin the pharmacist, his unhappy wife, Helen, and their kids, Emmet and Kit, are the stars: it's a bit like TV's Ballykissangel in print.

Sales: 683,000

Weeks on bestseller list: 30

If you liked this, you'll love: The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough, published by Century

17

CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN

Author: Louis de Bernieres

Publisher: Minerva/ Vintage

It's not an exaggeration to say that this book has become a classic of its kind. It's a gentle but entrancing and subtly written holiday read, set on the Greek island of Cephalonia. There, a young Italian captain is billeted in the doctor's house, and turns out to be rather an accomplished musician. He treats the locals to his talents, one of whom is particularly captivated. Unfortunately, the brutality of the conflict soon catches up with the islanders.

Sales: 640,000

Weeks on bestseller list: 46

If you liked this, you'll love: AS Byatt's Booker Prize-winning Possession, published by Vintage

18

SEPTEMBER

Author: Rosamunde Pilcher

Publisher: Hodder

Following up the success of her bestselling novel The Shell Seekers, Pilcher writes of a family gathering in Perthshire in this novel, which stayed in the charts for nearly a year. Here she explores the relationships between Virginia Aird and her husband, who are bitterly divided over their son and are forced to face the unanswered questions existing behind the facade of their apparently happy marriage.

Sales: 600,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 49

If you liked this, you'll love: anything by Maeve Binchy - try Circle of Friends or Light a Penny Candle

19

A YEAR IN PROVENCE

Author: Peter Mayle

Publisher: Pan

This personal description of Provencal life - everything from mad country bumpkin-plumbers to intelligent truffle pigs - was written when the author and his wife moved into an old farmhouse at the foot of the Luberon mountains between Avignon and Aix. Often hilarious but somewhat smug, it depicted the life that every middle-aged city drone dreamed of, and for that reason alone sold extremely well. The follow-up, Toujours Provence, was also a hit.

Sales: 600,000-plus in paperback

Weeks on bestseller list: 154

If you liked this, you'll love: anything by Lawrence Durrell, or Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, published by Black Swan (see no 3)

20

SCHINDLER'S LIST

Author: Thomas Keneally

Publisher: Sceptre

Made into a hugely popular Oscar-winning film starring Liam Neeson, this book (originally entitled Schindler's Ark) is based on the true story of Nazi Party member Oskar Schindler, who took over a formerly Jewish- owned Polish factory, and attempted to save the lives of many of his workers during the Holocaust that followed. Persuading the Nazis to let him build a new factory, he drew up a list of 1000 Jews to work for him, thereby shielding them from some of the war's worst horrors. A gripping read, and one that gained sales from the film's success.

Sales: 600,000

Weeks on bestseller list: 20

If you liked this, you'll love: If Not Now, When? or If This is Man, both written by Primo Levi and published by Abacus

21

AS THE CROW FLIES

Author: Jeffrey Archer

Publisher: HarperCollins

The author, a former politician and now in the running for London's mayor, was once quoted as saying that if you wanted to write a book, you should lock yourself into a room until you'd damn well finished it. His own novels, though panned by more snobbish members of the literary establishment, have consistently done well. This one traces the rise of poor but ambitious Charlie Trumper, a man who becomes embroiled in one family's battle to build London's greatest department store against the odds and several determined enemies. Sound familiar?

Sales: 600,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 36

If you liked this, you'll love: Losing My Virginity, the recent autobiography by Richard Branson, published by Virgin

22

THE HORSE WHISPERER

Author: Nicholas Evans

Publisher: Corgi

The recent film based on this book stars Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas; the more risque scenes were omitted. Tom Booker is a Montana ranchman called upon to help a brittle but successful magazine editor (Scott Thomas) whose daughter and horse are in trouble after being hit by a 40-ton truck in upstate New York. Tom soon has them all on the road to recovery, and the book's sales reflect its feel-good factor..

Sales: 555,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 69

If you liked this, you'll love: Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, published by Arrow (now a film starring another Hollywood stalwart, Clint Eastwood)

23

MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS

Author: John Gray

Publisher: Thorsons

At last, the well-kept secrets of the opposite sex laid bare in a readable 256-page paperback. It was no surprise when this book, subtitled "A practical guide to improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships", shot to the top of the charts. Men have been keen readers (rather as teenage boys once surreptitiously fingered the pages of the girls' magazine Jackie), ensuring that four years after publication, the book is still going strong.

Sales: 534,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 121

If you liked this, you'll love: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, published by Bloomsbury

24

SOPHIE'S WORLD

Author: Jostein Gaarder

Publisher: Phoenix House

Potted history of the philosophies of the world, dressed up in a painting-by-numbers plot which features a little girl and a mysterious postman who sends her notes asking "Who are you?" and "Where does the world come from?" This book starts with the earliest Greek philosophers and devotes a chapter to each influential theory or thinker thereafter; the ideas of Descartes, Kant, Spinoza, Hulme, Hobbes and the Romantics are addressed, but the "truth" is stranger than Sophie imagines.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 83

If you liked this, you'll love: How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton, published by Picador

25

FATHERLAND

Author: Robert Harris

Publisher: Arrow

The gripping story of what life in the 20th century might have been like had the Nazis got their way. The loner March follows a trail which leads him to the black heart of wartime corruption, incorporating love, danger and Swiss bank vaults. With its true-to-life narrative, this won the W H Smith Thumping Good Read award in 1993, and since then has had a constant stream of readers.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 33

If you liked this, you'll love: Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson, published by Arrow

26

THE QUEEN AND I

Author: Sue Townsend

Publisher: Random House

A fantastically funny story, by the author of the bestselling Adrian Mole series of the 1980s, which begins with the premise that the end is nigh for the Royal Family when a radical government comes to power. Cue a move to a Leicester housing estate, and all the hilarious consequences that might entail, including problems with the corgis and a necessary trim for a few heirloom carpets. A warm-hearted and affectionate fantasy, this explores the failings of the Welfare State as well as the possible benefits to the Royals of such a lurch into obscurity.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 37

If you liked this, you'll love: The Gunseller by comedian Hugh Laurie, published by Arrow

27

THE TINKER'S GIRL

Author: Catherine Cookson

Publisher: Corgi

Cookson, the grand old dame of literature, amassed possibly the largest- known following of fans with her rags-to-riches formula; she was indubitably the Agatha Christie of the aga-saga, and her novels, eagerly awaited, sold in shoploads. This one, set in the 1870s, tells of Jinnie Howlett, who is offered an escape from the workhouse with the job of a maid to the Shaleman family, living near Cumbria. Through it, she meets the dashing Richard Baxton-Powell, and is suddenly pushed from childhood into the adult world.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 15

If you liked this, you'll love: A Little Badness by Josephine Cox, published by Headline

28

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

Author: Michael Palin

Publisher: BBC

It's now a decade since the former Monty Python star set out on his circumnavigation of the world, via Phileas Fogg's original route. (More recently, he completed another televised adventure, Full Circle). Written with punchy humour and illustrated with colourful pictures, Palin talks the reader through his experiences: in Hong Kong he was attacked by a parrot, in India he had a close shave - literally - and in Egypt he takes a trek on a camel called Michael. Readers lapped it all up.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 77

If you liked this, you'll love: Joe Simpson's Touching the Void, published by Vintage, or Stephen Pile's Book of Heroic Failures, published by Penguin

29

POLO

Author: Jilly Cooper

Publisher: Corgi

Some of the characters from Jilly Cooper's previous novels ride again - excuse the pun - in this bonkbuster, which centres on the adventures of the ravishing Perdita and her conquests in the masculine world of the polo field. Cooper has been something of a publishing phenomenon: members of the literary establishment may have heaped scorn upon her credentials, but she has won a devoted following with her lively, feisty and frequently downright raunchy style.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 40

If you liked this, you'll love: Anything by Anita Burgh

30

FOOD COMBINING FOR HEALTH

Author: Doris Grant

Publisher: HarperCollins

Despite the fact that this system of eating was devised more than 100 years ago by an American doctor, William Howard Hay, Doris Grant's guide - with a foreword by Sir John Mills - has proved consistently popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The idea is that if you avoid eating starchy foods with protein, you can vastly improve your digestion and general health. There's also advice on alleviating obesity, arthritic pain and ulcers.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 68

If you liked this, you'll love: Complete Book of Food Combining, published by Penguin

31

FROM POTTER'S FIELD

Author: Patricia D Cornwell

Publisher: Warner

Easily ensconced as one of the decade's bestselling crime novelists, Cornwell has built up a sizeable following for her character Kay Scarpetta. In this novel, the detective is summoned to New York to investigate the murder of a woman who is apparently the latest victim of serial killer William Gault. He's left a cunning trail for the police, but this cat-and-mouse narrative leaves readers on the edge as to whether he'll be apprehended.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 34

If you liked this, you'll love: Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs, published by Heinemann

32

THE RUSSIA HOUSE

Author: John Le Carre

Publisher: Hodder

A winning combination of love and intrigue from a long-established master of espionage fiction. This tale is about a derelict, saxophone- playing publisher who is recruited by British intelligence; he visits the Moscow Book Fair, where he stumbles on some hot Soviet defence secrets, and the rest is, as you'd expect, a thrilling chase. Le Carre, author of the televised Smiley's People and A Perfect Spy, saw Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer star in the filmed version of this bestseller.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 41

If you liked this, you'll love: Mexico Set by Len Deighton, published by HarperCollins, or anything by Jack Higgins

33

AN EVIL CRADLING

Author: Brian Keenan

Publisher: Hutchinson

This account, written by a former hostage, struck a nerve in the early Nineties; Keenan's release was the first ray of hope for those held in the Middle East, and he describes their plight with first-hand knowledge. His language borders on the poetic as he describes the pain and claustrophobia of imprisonment, and the book stayed a constant presence in the bestseller charts, and won accolades for its quality of writing.

Sales: 500,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 85

If you liked this, you'll love: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by J D Bauby, published by Fourth Estate, or The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, published by Vintage

34

WRITING HOME

Author: Alan Bennett

Publisher: Faber

This collection of idiosyncratic and autobiographical fragments was collated over a quarter of a century from the author's diaries, broadcast material, candid reminiscences and reviews. There's also a tribute to the late Peter Cook. When it came out in 1994, it won the Book of the Year; Bennett was also named author of the year, and the public demonstrated their agreement by flocking to buy his work.

Sales: 450,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 77

If you liked this, you'll love: Alan Clark's Diaries, published by Orion

35

ANGELA'S ASHES

Author: Frank McCourt

Publisher: Flamingo

A warmlywritten memoir of a childhood which began in New York in the 1930s generated much interest. The author tells of extreme hardship, first in the tenements of Brooklyn and later, the slums of Limerick, in Ireland. Since publication, his litany of despair - too many children, too little money, a father whose drinking bouts drove the family to disaster - has been echoed by other writers; this remembrance of times past, however, outdid them all.

Sales: 450,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 68

If you liked this, you'll love: Once In a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth, published by Picador

36

PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA

Author: Roddy Doyle

Publisher: Minerva

Now on the reading list for schoolchildren, this Booker Prize-winning novel describes the world of a 10-year-old boy from Dublin who, as the title suggests, must endure a world full of childish cruelty. Written in colloquial and engaging language, it combines moments of love and warmth with odder themes such as sardines and slaps across the face. A novel of depth and feeling which has sold steadily since 1995.

Sales: 400,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 67

If you liked this, you'll love: That old classic Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, published by Penguin

37

DADDY

Author: Danielle Steel

Publisher: Corgi

Unusually for a novel ostensibly for women, this one has a man at its centre; Oliver Watson, whose wife, Sarah, leaves him after 18 years to pursue her own ambitions, and who is forced to cope with his three children's problems and a new, turbulent love life. With something of the Sleepless in Seattle/Three Men and a Baby touch about it, this best-seller has sold steadily since it first appeared in 1991.

Sales: 400,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 13

If you liked this, you'll love: Mistral's Daughter by Judith Krantz, published by Bantam/Transworld

38

SOME OTHER RAINBOW

Authors: Jill Morrell and John McCarthy

Publisher: Corgi

Television journalist McCarthy was kidnapped in Beirut in 1986. He was kept hostage for five years, cut off from family and from the girl he was to marry, Jill Morrell. This gripping book tells of their dual struggle - his to endure deprivation, squalor and the agony of isolation; hers to accept that her partner was gone, but not to give up hope. And of the work put in on the hostages' behalf until the day in 1991 when McCarthy was released.

Sales: 400,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 82

If you liked this, you'll love: To War With Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of Countess Ranfurly 1939-1945, published by Mandarin

39

BIRDSONG

Author: Sebastian Faulks

Publisher: Vintage

This elegantly written story, first published more than four years ago, is set in France before and during the First World War. It concerns a young Englishman who lives through a set of extreme experiences. The climax of the book comes when he embarks on a traumatic love affair which tears apart the bourgeois French family with whom he is living.

Sales: 400,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 33

If you liked this, you'll love: Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, published by Penguin, or anything by Primo Levi

40

THE GOLDEN FOX

Author: Wilbur Smith

Publisher: Pan

Like John Grisham, Smith has been one of the most consistent bestselling authors of the decade, although his success stems from his first novel, The Lion Feeds, published in 1966. This is set in humid Africa, where 20 years of dynastic conflict are about to explode with ferocity. Heroine Isabella Courtenay stands between her two brothers who are ready to engage in mutual destruction; can she stop them?

Sales: 400,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 35

If you liked this, you'll love: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, published by Penguin

41

DEBT OF HONOUR

Author: Tom Clancy

Publisher: HarperCollins

Clancy's creation, Jack Ryan, played in Hollywood by Harrison Ford, has attracted a huge following; The Hunt for Red October was also a mammoth hit, both on screen and in book form. This fast-moving thriller, pacily written, had a guaranteed readership, with Ryan called in to help the President of the United States get through a tricky time.

Sales: 400,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 21

If you liked this, you'll love: The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, published by Arrow

42

A SUITABLE BOY

Author: Vikram Seth

Publisher: Phoenix House

A sensation when it first appeared - partly due to its gargantuan size - this novel tells of Lata and her mother, who attempt to find the "suitable boy" of the title through either love or maternal appraisal. The book is set in post-Independence India and involves four large families; readers tended to either love or loathe it, but it won the author the 1994 W H Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize of the same year.

Sales: 350,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 38

If you liked this, you'll love: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, published by Cape, or Romesh Gunesehera's Reef, from Granta.

43

MISS SMILLA'S FEELING FOR SNOW

Author: Peter Hoeg

Publisher: Harvill/ HarperCollins

When a little boy falls off a roof in Copenhagen and is killed, it appears to be an accident. But his neighbour, Smilla, is not so sure: she has a feeling for snow - having been brought up by her Greenlander mother - and has seen the boy's footprints in the white stuff. Although the film, starring British actor Julia Ormond, was panned by many critics, the book has been an enduring success.

Sales: 350,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 36

If you liked this, you'll love: Snow Falling On Cedars, by David Guterson, published by Bloomsbury, or Michael Dibdin's Rat King, from Faber

44

THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS

Author: Arundhati Roy

Publisher: HarperCollins

Twins Esthappen and Rahel live in Kerala, and exist among the vats of banana jam and heaps of peppercorns in their grandmother's factory. There, set against a politically turbulent background, they craft themselves a childhood amid a fragmented family. Published last year, this textured novel won its stylish author much acclaim and sold quickly when it first appeared.

Sales: 313,000-plus (as well as more than 100,000 hardback)

Weeks on bestseller list: 71 weeks (hardback and paperback)

If you liked this, you'll love: Other novels set on the subcontinent - E M Forster's A Passage to India (Penguin), or Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (Phoenix House, no 42)

45

A SENSIBLE LIFE

Author: Mary Wesley

Publisher: Black Swan

The author is famous for her late-blooming talent: she had her first novel published when she was in her seventies, and has gone on to be feted for her carefully observed tales of rural life. This book tells the story of Flora Trevelyan, a 10-year-old abandoned by self-obsessed parents, and left to her own devices in Dinard, France. She finds new friends among the rich, well-meaning English families holidaying there, and feels the first pangs of love for Cosmo, Hubert and Felix.

Sales: 300,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 32

If you liked this, you'll love: Anything by Molly Keane (Good Behaviour, for example).

46

THE LIAR

Author: Stephen Fry

Publisher: Mandarin

Written with a verve and charm characteristic of its author, the book has as its hero a chronic liar, who meets Professor Trefusis - an academic, a broadcaster, a polyglot and admirer of Elvis Costello - and joins him on an adventure which takes him from Piccadilly rent-boys to international espionage and disgraceful scenes on a cricket field. Along the way, he discovers a lost Dickens novel. Furiously inventive, the book's enigmatic author pulled in many admirers with this tale.

Sales: 300,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 29

If you liked this, you'll love: Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis, published by Hodder Headline

47

RHODES AROUND BRITAIN

Author: Gary Rhodes

Publisher: BBC

With 40 colour photographs, this collection of traditional British dishes, first published in the 1980s, was a favourite with amateur chefs and made excellent Christmas present material. Updating recipes such as braised oxtail, Lancashire hotpot and boiled bacon with pearl barley and lentils, Gary Rhodes (he of the chequered trousers and runaway hair) proved with his sales figures that the love of old-fashioned home cooking still runs deep in British households.

Sales: 300,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 28

If you liked this, you'll love: Real Good Food by Nigel Slater, published by Fourth Estate

48

THE GHOST ROAD

Author: Pat Barker

Publisher: Penguin

The Booker Prize winner of 1995, this novel concerns Sarah, a young woman working in a munitions factory and on Wilfred Owen, the lauded but tragic First World War poet. The action veers between real events and imaginary characters; Barker's former novels use the position of women as a sub-theme, but here she brings it to the fore and offers some sharp insights, which have won her a large following.

Sales: 250,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 20

If you liked this, you'll love: J M Coetzee's Boyhood: A Memoir, published by Vintage

49

SEASONS OF MY LIFE

Author: Hannah Hauxwell

Publisher: Arrow

Andy Warhol coined the phrase "15 minutes of fame", and Hannah Hauxwell - an apparently sweet old lady and the literary precursor to a legion of "ordinary" stars from fly-on-the-wall TV docu-soaps - certainly made the most of hers. Her account of her life in the countryside endeared her to the nation, and was followed by other stories of her travels abroad.

Sales: 250,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 106

If you liked this, you'll love: Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson, published by Penguin

50

RICK STEIN'S TASTE OF THE SEA

Author: Rick Stein

Publisher: BBC

Fish-lovers snapped up this collection of 150 fish recipes, written by the flamboyant proprietor of the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall. It was a hit with those looking for a more innovative take on traditional seafood cuisine, with its lists of inventive ways to make the most of the specific flavours and characters of individual fish. The author's colourful television personality also, undoubtedly, helped sales.

Sales: 100,000-plus

Weeks on bestseller list: 20

If you liked this, you'll love: The Livebait Cookbook by Charles Campion, published by Hodder Headline

Listings are based on data from Bookwatch, which has compiled newspaper bestseller lists since the 1970s. Sales figures are estimated from the time the books were tracked, and are primarily for paperback editions. Some categories, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, are not included.

Special thanks to Lizzie Lapidge at Books Etc in Canary Wharf; Steve Butler and Tom Holman at Bookwatch; Diona Gregory of The Independent books desk; and Elaine Iles at Book Data, whose Internet site showing these and a further million titles can be accessed at www.thebookplace.com.

NEXT WEEK: OUR EXPERT PANEL REVIEWS THE 50 BEST BUILDINGS OF THE 1990S.

READERS WHO WISH TO SUGGEST THEIR OWN 50 BEST IDEAS CAN WRITE TO: THE 50 BEST, THE INFORMATION, THE INDEPENDENT, LONDON E14 5DL

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