The Staying Power of To Kill a Mockingbird

Since its publication in 1960, the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has sold more than 30 million copies. As many as one million copies continue to be sold each year. In a 1991 survey of members of the Book of the Month club, respondents named To Kill a Mockingbird right behind the Bible as the book they read more frequently than any other. There are more than 1,500 customer reviews of the book posted at

The book relates the story of a white lawyer and his family in Alabama in the late 1950s. The white man, Atticus Finch, later played by Gregory Peck in the movie version of the novel, defends a black man wrongly accused of the rape of a white woman. The book was so controversial that in 1966 it was banned by the school district in Richmond, Virginia.

One of the reasons the book persists as a bestseller is that it is adopted by high school English classes across America. But the book also continues to find its way into the curriculum on college campuses.

A JBHE survey of the website of the eight Ivy League colleges found 691 references to either the book or the movie. There were more than 400 references on the University of Pennsylvania site alone. Dartmouth College had the fewest references with five. At Princeton, the book is used in the 300-level course Literature and Law.

In contrast, there is very little mention of To Kill a Mockingbird on the websites of the nation’s most prestigious black colleges. A JBHE search of the websites at Morehouse College and Spelman College found only one reference to the book on each site.