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December 12, 2014

Back to the Start: Steve Berry on His Favorite Collection

Posted by Rebecca M

Steve Berry is the internationally bestselling author of numerous thrillers, including THE LINCOLN MYTH (now out in paperback) and THE KING'S DECEPTION. His passion for history shines through in each of his books, including the forthcoming THE PATRIOT THREAT, a suspenseful look at the legality of the 16th Amendment. Here, Steve, a lifelong reader, recounts his most memorable Christmas gift and how it started his most cherished collection.

If I were asked to say what I received for Christmas when I was 10, there’s no way. Twelve? Nine? Nope. How about just two years ago? Barely. But I remember exactly what Santa Claus left me when I was 16.

I’ve been a reader all of my life, and up to age 16 Hardy Boys mysteries were the extent of my reading pleasure. Sure, I’d read passages and pages here and there from adult books, but the Hardy Boys were what I devoured cover to cover. In the 1960s those stories were, to a large extent, the entire young adult genre for boys. But during the fall of 1971, I read my first adult fiction novel, HAWAII, by James Michener. It was captivating. Then I discovered that there were millions upon millions of books out there just waiting to be enjoyed. 

The early 1970s were a time before Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-A-Million superstores. There was no Internet, no Amazon. Independent bookstores reigned supreme. Chains existed, but they were smaller. Remember Waldens? And there was another one where I lived, Cole’s. Both had stores in the mall where I worked as a teenager, right across from one another, something you’d never see today. During a work break I’d wander through those stores, but I never actually bought anything.

Then, at age 16, Santa Claus left me three books. 

All by James Michener. 


Never before had I received books for Christmas. There was also a gift certificate to one of the local independent stores not far from where we lived. I’d never been given one of those before either. A few days later I visited that store. It was located on busy Columbia Highway, in a small shopping center, amazing I still remember that after 45 years.

But it was quite an experience.

I used the certificate to buy three more of Michener’s novels. All paperbacks, as were what Santa had chosen. But I loved those books. I read every word. In hindsight, it’s clear that they represented the beginning of all that subsequently happened. At age 35 I wrote my first word. Then, at age 47, I sold my first word. There have been 13 novels since, with the 14th, THE PATRIOT THREAT, coming next March. Eventually, I replaced those worn paperbacks with hardbacks, acquiring first editions of every single Michener book (save one, his first, TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC). 

Today, that collection occupies a cherished place in our home. 

And it all started one Christmas morning.