Are you, like many of us, devastated that there will be no more episodes of Mad Men? Are you questioning what could possibly fill that void in your heart? Well, give one of these books a try. Each of these titles will let you delve a little deeper into the world and themes of Mad Men that you enjoy,whether that is the advertising business or the emptiness of suburban life. They may not be Jon Hamm drinking an old-fashioned, but they’re the next best thing.
The Man Who Sold America by Jeffrey Cruikshank
Both the story of the life of Albert D. Laskar and an examination of how he revolutionized the advertising industry and helped to create modern American culture, The Man Who Sold America is an in-depth look at a facinating man and the birth of in advertising industry as it exists today. Laskar’s approach to advertising put more focus on the consumer and shifted the role of the advertiser from being a broker negotiating space in newspapers to having a vital role in shaping the message of the advertisements themselves. Laskar creating wildly successful advertising campaigns for brands as ubiquitous as Quaker Oats, Palmolive, and Goodyear, all while struggling with a mental disorder that often left him trapped by anxiety and unable to work. Here Cruikshank offers a look at the history of the modern advertising agency that is so central to Mad Men.
Mad Women by Jane Maas
A real-life Peggy Olsen tells the story of her time as a copywriter in the male-dominated workplace of a 1960s advertising firm. Recounting both her own experiences as well as those of her friends in the advertising business, Maas dishes the dirt on her real experiences in the environment portrayed on Mad Men and it’s just as full of booze, sex, and rampant sexism as the show makes it seem. Full of juicy insider information about events like the Ogilvy & Mather annual Boat Ride, an orgy of excess of all kinds, Maas also doesn’t shy away from the harsher realities for a woman working in this male dominated workforce, including the inequalities in pay and treatment and the difficult choices many women were forced to make between work and motherhood.
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Read by Betty Draper in Mad Men and shocking in its honesty dealing with mental illness, domestic violence, and adultery among other issues when published in 1963, The Group follows eight graduates from Vassar through their post-college lives. Beginning at the wedding of one member of the group, all eight women are not together again until they reunite for the funeral of one of their members at the end of the book, but in between McCarthy follows them as they tackle becoming wives and mothers, careers in nursing and publishing, and travel around the world. Providing an outspoken and honest look at female friendships and the lives of women in the 1930s, The Group also offers a unique social commentary on the America of that time.
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is a twenty-six year old former high school basketball star who impulsively decides to leave his wife and son. Rabbit is a person who never grew up, a man stuck in perpetual adolescence, but one with a preschool aged son and an alcoholic wife. So he runs from his problems and from the needs of those around him. A selfish, narcissistic, and irresponsible character, whether or not you are able to get on board with unlikable Rabbit’s misadventures as he flails his way towards redemption ultimately depends on whether you appreciate Updike’s writing. Rabbit, Run is a love it or hate it kind of novel, but then, many of the characters on Mad Men are also seriously flawed like Rabbit.
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
Tom Rath, much like Don Draper, is a man who has what he thinks he should want, a pretty wife, three kids, and a nice home, but is still deeply unhappy with his life. Obsessed with having more, Tom is stuck in the corporate rat race in a job that leaves him feeling dead inside and with no time for the family that he is ostensibly doing this work for. Several personal crises, including a secret from his time in the war, force him to re-examine his priorities and finally figure out what it is that he really wants out of his life. Here Wilson offers both the deeply personal story of one man’s struggle to accept and define his past and his future and a harsh condemnation of the dehumanizing corporate culture of the 1950s.
Revolutionary Road by John Yates
Frank and April Wheeler are a pair that appear to have it all: their love for each other, two lovely children, and a nice home in the suburbs. In 1950s America, it was all they could want, but their happiness slowly crumbles around them as they realize that what they have is not necessarily what they wanted. They got married too young and had children too soon. April never wanted to be a housewife and Frank is not fulfilled by his corporate job. As they move through their lives becoming more and more disenchanted with the life they thought they wanted, they begin to betray not just each other, but their own selves as well. Perhaps more than any other, Revolutionary Road has often been compared to Mad Men as their deepest themes are the same.
Sterling’s Gold: The Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man by Roger Sterling
If you’re really Jonesing for some Mad Men, here a book of quotes straight from the mouth of Roger Sterling. You can’t go wrong with that.