The book, published in 1933, caught the notice of the public only after Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips was published in 1934. Lost Horizon became a huge popular success and in 1939 was published in paperback form, as Pocket Book#1. Because of its number-one position in what became a very long list of pocket editions, Lost Horizon is often mistakenly called the first American paperback book, when in fact paperbacks had been around since the mid-1800s. What made Pocket Books No. 1 of revolutionary importance was that it had the distinction of being the very first "mass-market" paperback; mass market paperbacks allowed people of modest means not only to own books they otherwise could not afford, but also to slip the paperback into their pocket for casual reading on the go, hence the name "Pocket Book". By the 1960s, Pocket Books alone, over the course of more than 40 printings, had sold several million copies of Lost Horizon, helping to make it one of the best-loved and most enduring novels of the 20th Century.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt named the Presidential hideaway in Maryland after Shangri-La. (It has since been renamed Camp David.) Likewise Roosevelt initially claimed the Doolittle Raid came from Shangri-La; this inspired the name of the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La.
The book has been made into two films:
- Lost Horizon (1937), directed by Frank Capra
- Lost Horizon (1973), directed by Charles Jarrott (musical version)
The book also served as the basis for the unsuccessful 1956 Broadway musical Shangri-La.
Hilton's novel was adapted for BBC Radio 4 in three-hour-long episodes under its Classic Serial banner:
- "The Kidnapping"
- "The Inheritance"
Broadcast 20 September to 4 October 1981, it was dramatised by Barry Campbell starring Derek Jacobi as Hugh Conway and Alan Wheatley as the High Lama, and re-broadcast 8 to 10 September 2010 on BBC Radio 7, and again in March 2012 and November 2014 on BBC Radio 4 Extra. An earlier recording of the serialised book was transmitted by the BBC Home service in the early 1960s (featuring Gabriel Woolfe playing the part of Conway.)
The novel is highly referenced in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s book Deadeye Dick (1982).
In the Mad Men Season 7 premiere, "Time Zones" (airdate April 13, 2014), Don Draper watches Lost Horizon on television while visiting his wife Megan in California. A later episode of the seventh season is entitled "Lost Horizon", seemingly a reference to the novel or film.