PPL140: 1960-1974

Photo of boy and staff reading books (Allendale Branch Library: Image Source: Pasadena Digital History--Pasadena Public Library collection) with text: "1960-1974"

The years from 1960-1974 were (famously) an era of social change, political turmoil, and generational conflict. Works published during these years addressed themes including race and racism; mental health institutionalization; arguably the first “true crime” work, written in novelized form; a novel written for young adults (and written by a young adult); and some blockbusters enhanced by their adaptations to film form.

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, early editionTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960

Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird has remained enormously popular since its publication in 1960. Recalling her experiences as a six-year-old from an adult perspective, Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed “Scout,” describes the circumstances involving her widowed father, Atticus, and his legal defense of Tom Robinson, a local black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. In the three years surrounding the trial, Scout and her older brother, Jem, witness the unjust consequences of prejudice and hate while at the same time witnessing the values of courage and integrity through their father’s example. Lee’s first and only novelTo Kill a Mockingbird was published during the Civil Rights movement, and was hailed as an exposé of Southern racist society. The heroic character of Atticus Finch has been held up as a role model of moral virtue and impeccable character for lawyers to emulate.

book cover of Ellen FosterRead Along: Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons / Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

“When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” With that opening sentence we enter the childhood world of one of the most appealing young heroines in contemporary fiction. Her courage, her humor, and her wisdom are unforgettable as she tells her own story with stunning honesty and insight.

Book cover of Go Set a Watchman

Twenty years after the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout returns home to Maycomb to visit her father and struggles with personal and political issues as her small Alabama town adjusts to the turbulent events beginning to transform the United States in the mid-1950s.


Book cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, early editionOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, 1962

Kesey’s first novel is set in the contemporary United States in a ward of a mental hospital. The rigidly regimented order enforced there by the ruthless Nurse Ratched, or Big Nurse, is thrown into upheaval by the appearance of an ebullient, energetic, fast-mouthed hustler, Randle Patrick McMurphy. Transferred from a prison work farm, McMurphy arrives expecting a jovial time, and proceeds to produce one in spite of the forbidding Big Nurse. The story is related by Bromden, an enormous, schizophrenic American Indian who long ago shut out the alien American society by faking muteness. He describes how he and the other inmates, wearied into submission by the cold, calculating routines and regulations of Big Nurse, come alive under the tutelage of the irrepressible McMurphy and acquire the courage and spirit to rebel against her. McMurphy taught them, Bromden says, that “you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.” The lesson is invaluable to the inmates, who respond vividly to the McMurphy treatment. But Big Nurse, shaken to the core by McMurphy’s usurpation of her omnipotence, takes matters into her own hands, effectively removing McMurphy’s disruptive personality by arranging for his lobotomy. The novel, a wide critical and popular success, is praised for its dramatization of the conflict between the vitality, humor, and humanity of McMurphy and the authoritarian, bureaucratic repressiveness of Big Nurse, who stands as a chillingly effective symbol of the impersonal modern world. Commentators also acknowledge Kesey’s tight, fast-paced writing style, and his use of allusions ranging from the Bible to comic books, which provide the novel with a serio-comic, mythic dimension.

Book cover of Best BoyRead Along: Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

Sent to a “therapeutic community” for autism at the age of eleven, Todd Aaron, now in his fifties, is the “Old Fox” of Payton LivingCenter. A joyous man who rereads the encyclopedia compulsively, he is unnerved by the sudden arrivals of a menacing new staffer and a disruptive, brain-injured roommate. His equilibrium is further worsened by Martine, a one-eyed new resident who has romantic intentions and convinces him to go off his meds to feel “normal” again. Undone by these pressures, Todd attempts an escape to return “home” to his younger brother and to a childhood that now inhabits only his dreams. Written astonishingly in the first-person voice of an autistic, adult man, Best Boy–with its unforgettable portraits of Todd’s beloved mother, whose sweet voice still sings from the grave, and a staffer named Raykene, who says that Todd “reflects the beauty of His creation”–is a piercing, achingly funny, finally shattering novel no reader can ever forget. 


Book cover image of Cat's Cradle Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, 1963

This surrealistic fantasy about the end of the world takes place on the island of San Lorenzo in the Caribbean. It deals mainly with religion and science as opposite means of solidifying human knowledge. Religion, according to Vonnegut, is based on satisfying lies, and science on horrifying truths. Told in episodes, the novel investigates the nature of good and evil and searches for meaning in life. The story takes place in contemporary Illium, New York, and San Lorenzo, an island in the Caribbean. The main character and narrator is John, or Jonah, as he sometimes refers to himself. He is a free-lance writer who, at the beginning of the novel, intends to write a book called The Day the World Ended, alluding to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Through research and correspondence, John learns a good deal about the so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” Dr. Felix Hoenikker. Dr. Hoenikker is described as childlike—his laboratory is stocked with dime-store toys—who has provided the world with technological advances with absolutely no regard for their possible ramifications. While playing with a piece of string, Dr. Hoenikker makes a cat’s cradle, symbolic of the emptiness upon which humankind tends to justify life. John also learns that Dr. Hoenikker died while working on a new project. Before his death, he created ice-nine, a substance capable of freezing all water on earth. When the Hoenikker children—Angela, Frank, and Newton—discover the ice-nine, they divide it among themselves and use it for their own purposes…

book cover image of The Visible ManRead Along: The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

An imaginative page-turner about a therapist and her unusual patient, a man who can render himself invisible. Therapist Victoria Vick is contacted by a cryptic, unlikable man who insists his situation is unique and unfathomable. As he slowly reveals himself, Vick becomes convinced that he suffers from a complex set of delusions: Y__, as she refers to him, claims to be a scientist who has stolen cloaking technology from an aborted government project in order to render himself nearly invisible. He says he uses this ability to observe random individuals within their daily lives, usually when they are alone and vulnerable. Unsure of his motives or honesty, Vick becomes obsessed with her patient and the disclosure of his increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales. Over time, it threatens her career, her marriage, and her own identity.

Interspersed with notes, correspondence, and transcriptions that catalog a relationship based on curiosity and fear, The Visible Man touches on all of Chuck Klosterman’s favorite themes–the consequence of culture, the influence of media, the complexity of voyeurism, and the existential contradiction of normalcy. Is this comedy, criticism, or horror? Not even Y__ seems to know for sure.

Early edition book cover of The Autobiography of Malcolm XThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X [as told to Alex Haley], 1965

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the life story of Malcolm Little: son of a Baptist minister, wide-eyed teenager in Boston, street hustler and prison inmate in New York, faithful and energetic member of the Nation of Islam, and, finally, Muslim pilgrim determined to create an organization for all blacks regardless of their religion. It is also a tale of, as the author puts it, a “homemade” education pursued in the schools, on the streets, in prison, and at the feet of his mentor Elijah Muhammad. Many considered Malcolm X’s separatist philosophies (later softened) disturbing and in direct opposition to those of the period’s other well-known black activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who argued for integration and nonviolent confrontation.

While the book received high praise when it was first published in 1965, it immediately engendered questions about its authorship. The book is unusual in that it was transcribed and constructed by Alex Haley from thousands of hours of conversations he had with Malcolm X in the early 1960s. In fact, while Malcolm X did read drafts of the book, he never lived to see it in print. In early 1965, a trio suspected to have been associated with the Nation of Islam gunned him down as he was about to give a speech in Harlem. Haley, then a recently retired Coast Guard member working as a journalist, went on to write the critically acclaimed family history, Roots.

Book cover image of When They Call You a TerroristRead Along: When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Cullors

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood In Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin. Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love, to tell the country–and the world–that Black Lives Matter.


Early edition book cover of In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote, 1966

In Cold Blood was first serialized in the New Yorker in four installments. It was an instant critical and commercial success, bringing Truman Capote both literary recognition and celebrity status. With its publication, Capote claimed to have invented a new genre, the “nonfiction novel,” and critics quickly accepted his classification, his methods, and his purpose as a new combination of journalism and fiction. He wanted to merge the two–enlivening what he saw as stagnant prose conforming to stale, rigid standards–and he wished to experiment with documentary methods. The Clutter murders were the perfect vehicle for this monumental experiment in reportage. In Cold Blood painstakingly details, in four parts, the Clutter family’s character, activities, and community status during the last days before their murder; the planning and machinations of the killers; the investigative dedication of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) agents; and the capture, trial, and execution of the murderers. While the book portrays the Clutters sympathetically, it also concentrates the reader’s sympathies on Perry Smith, who, abused and abandoned as a child and scorned as an adult, allegedly commits all four murders. In framing the question of nature versus nurture, Capote’s tightly documented, evocatively written account of the Clutter killings asks whether a man alone can be held responsible for his action when his environment has relentlessly neglected him.

Book cover of The Executioner's SongRead Along: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

Arguably the greatest book from America’s most heroically ambitious writer, The Executioner’s Song follows the short, blighted life of Gary Gilmore who became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous. Mailer tells not only Gilmore’s story, but those of the men and women caught in the web of his life and drawn into his procession toward the firing squad. All with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscape and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah. The Executioner’s Song is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest source of American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement-impossible to put down, impossible to forget.


Early edition book cover of The OutsidersThe Outsiders [Young Adult Fiction] by S. E. Hinton, 1967

Hinton’s novel tells the story of a gang of juvenile delinquents in Nebraska in the early 1960s and the social order that they form around the three Curtis brothers, whose parents are dead. Ponyboy Curtis, the novel’s narrator, relates the growing tension between social groups that leads to a stabbing death, his flight from justice, and the final “rumble,” or gang fight, to claim their territory. Hinton delves into the bonds that hold young men together when their families abandon them and society has no use for them. Hinton loosely based the novel on her high school experiences and published it when she was seventeen. She is credited as one of the first authors of modern young adult fiction. The novel helped launch a movement called “realism” or “new realism” in young adult literature. Authors in the movement sought to portray difficult, serious, and thoroughly contemporary teenage issues. After The Outsiders it became popular to write, in the words of Richard Peck, “books about young people parents thought their children didn’t know.”

Book cover image of Bad Girls Never Say DieRead Along: Bad Girls Never Say Die [Young Adult Fiction] by Jennifer Mathieu

1964. Houston, Texas. Evie Barnes and all her friends are the sort who wear bold makeup, laugh too loud, and run around with boys. Most of all, they protect their own against the world. They’re the bad girls. When Evie is saved from a sinister encounter by a good girl from the “right” side of the tracks, every rule she has always lived by is called into question. Now she must redefine what it means to be a bad girl– and rethink everything she knew about loyalty.


Early edition book cover of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, 1968

In his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick presents a dystopian future in which Earth has been decimated by nuclear war; dangerous androids masquerade as humans; and drugs, religion, conspicuous consumption, and TV are the only hedges against extreme depression and isolation. The story follows a day in the life of Rick Deckard, who makes a living identifying and “retiring” androids that have escaped their slave-like conditions on the colony of Mars. Though the novel contains many of the trappings of traditional science fiction (androids, interplanetary travel, sophisticated technology), as with the rest of Dick’s vast body of work, these elements serve as a means of exploring difficult philosophical issues, such as the nature of reality; the differences between man, animal, and machine; and whether humans have free will. Perhaps most strikingly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? depicts a future saturated with forms of propaganda, oftentimes competing against each other for possession of humans’ minds.

Book cover of The Night MarketRead Along: The Night Market by Jonathan Moore

It’s late Thursday night, and Inspector Ross Carver is at a crime scene in one of the city’s last luxury homes. The dead man on the floor is covered by an unknown substance that’s eating through his skin. Before Carver can identify it, six FBI agents burst in and remove him from the premises. He’s pushed into a disinfectant trailer, forced to drink a liquid that sends him into seizures, and is shocked unconscious. On Sunday he wakes in his bed to find his neighbor, Mia–who he’s barely ever spoken to–reading aloud to him. He can’t remember the crime scene or how he got home; he has no idea two days have passed. Mia says she saw him being carried into their building by plainclothes police officers, who told her he’d been poisoned. Carver doesn’t really know this woman and has no way of disproving her, but his gut says to keep her close.


Early edition book cover of The GodfatherThe Godfather by Mario Puzo, 1969

The story revolves around Vito Corleone, a leader of organized crime in the 1940s. He is a man who rules with quiet persuasion, asking those who wish favors from him for their loyalty and dealing mercilessly with those who cross him. When other criminals try to involve his organization in the drug trade, Corleone resists and the shield of power that he has built around his family is threatened. The aged crime lord must defend his family and pass control of his empire to one of his three sons. This book helped define how the world views organized crime in America, framing the aspects of greed and violence that are inherent in the underworld with an emphasis on family, respect, and honor. The character of Vito Corleone, the Godfather, has been compared to Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield as an archetype, a personality so true to the American experience that, though fictional, he seems familiar to everyone. Far beyond being just another crime novelThe Godfather relates to all stories of immigrant families who are trying, over the course of generations, to fit into the mainstream of American life.

Book cover image of The Necessary Death of Lewis WinterRead Along: The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay

A twenty-nine-year-old man lives alone in his Glasgow flat. The telephone rings; a casual conversation, but behind this a job offer. The clues are there if you know to look for them. He is an expert. A loner. Freelance. Another job is another job, but what if this organization wants more? A meeting at a club. An offer. A target: Lewis Winter, a necessary sacrifice that will be only the first step in an all-out war between crime syndicates the likes of which hasn’t been seen for decades. It’s easy to kill a man. It’s hard to kill a man well. People who do it well know this. People who do it badly find out the hard way. The hard way has consequences.


Early edition book cover of The Bluest EyeThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, 1970

The Bluest Eye is the first novel by American author Toni Morrison (1931- ) and one of her most controversial and frequently taught works. The book addresses themes of racial shame, racialized standards of beauty, the cultural-historical disconnection between black American mothers and daughters, and incest in an African American community in the 1940s. Published in the midst of the second wave of the feminist movement in the United States, the novel also deals with the violent intersection of racism and patriarchal society and the effects of that intersection on disempowered women’s bodies, as well as the effects of racialized sexual abuse on disempowered black men. Morrison drew inspiration for the setting of the novel from her own youth in post-Depression Lorain, Ohio, and the text has been cited as a notable example of the use of black American linguistic and cultural tropes in American literature. The novel also explores the cultural and psychological effects of the black migration from the South to the Midwest in the early twentieth century, a diaspora that disconnected many black Americans from their familial and cultural roots.

Book cover of RubyRead Along: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Ephram Jenkins has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby, “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at, ” is already quite damaged, but Ephram is forcibly drawn to her. As soon as she becomes a young woman and has any power of her own, Ruby flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York City. Years later, when a funeral forces her to return home, 30-year-old Ruby will find herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town’s dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised and stood by him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.


Early edition book cover of BurrBurr by Gore Vidal, 1973

Set in New York in the 1830s, the novel recounts the life of Aaron Burr, a notorious political figure in American History, particularly remembered as the man who shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Schuyler is a young law clerk and writer hired by Burr who becomes his friend and confidant. In the course of their relationship, Burr passes on to Schuyler his own history of the emerging United States, peppered with his unflattering portraits of the Founding Fathers. These famous men—George Washington, Alenxander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson among them—are portrayed as self-serving, venal types, descriptions that surely reflect more about the character of their creator, Burr, than they do about the historical figures themselves. It is certainly a partisan view, with Burr making little of his own faults and much of those of his political rivals. Through his protagonist, Vidal reveals his purpose: to debunk the myths that surround the men and the history of the early America. Burr emerges as an appealing character, as much for his self-proclaimed roguishness as for his elegant language. As he pieces together Burr’s life, Schuyler incorporates Burr’s writings into his own depiction of the man. One of his assignments from Burr is to write a damaging pamphlet on Vice-President Martin Van Buren, in which he claims that Van Buren is Burr’s illegitimate son. The work is centered on the theme of fathers, focusing on the importance of understanding the nation’s forefathers and illuminating the character of Charles Schuyler as he searches for a father figure. On the last page of the novel, he discovers that both he and Martin Van Buren are Burr’s illegitimate sons. Burr is one of Vidal’s liveliest and most popular historical novels. Schuyler returns in Vidal’s later novel, 1876.

Book cover of A Friend of Mr. LincolnRead Along: A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan

The novel opens in 1832 in the Black Hawk War, when Micajah (Cage) Weatherby–an imaginary character–and Lincoln meet. Afterwards Cage musters out to Springfield, Illinois, where he becomes part of the group of ambitious young men, which includes Lincoln, in this frontier town on the make. And it is through Cage that we come to know his friend Lincoln in his twenties and early thirties, the Lincoln who is already a circuit-riding lawyer and a member of the state legislature, filled with an almost ungovernable ambition. But to Cage and to others with big dreams in this group–which includes Joshua Speed, Billy Herndon, Ninian Edwards, Stephen Douglas, Jim Reed–he is also a beloved, hypnotic figure, physically powerful, by turns charmingly awkward and mesmerizingly self-possesed, and a supremely gifted story teller, a man of whom they expect big things. Cage, a poet, both admires and clashes with Lincoln, as Lincoln‘s legal ethics allow him to take a murderer’s case, or clients on both sides of the slavery issue. And Cage, himself engaged in a long affair with an independent young widow, charts Lincoln‘s never easy path, from his high spirits and earthy jokes to his soul-hollowing sadness and bouts with the hypo (depression), from his disastrous courtship of another Mary to finally marriage with beautiful, capricious, politically savvy, Mary Todd, who at the close of the novel in 1847 has presented him one son and some stability, although it leads to conflict with Cage, and sends the two men on very different paths into the future


Early edition book cover of JawsJaws by Peter Benchley, 1974

When Peter Benchley spawned Jaws in the early 1970s, little was known about sharks. In the absence of scientific knowledge, Benchley–a Harvard English major and former presidential speechwriter–drew on his imagination and memories of summers in Nantucket. His tale of a man-eating great white that trolls the waters off a resort town was published in 1974 and hit the big screen the following summer. Jaws became America’s first blockbuster movie–and made sharks its most popular menace. Inadvertently, Benchley later wrote, he had tapped “a profound, subconscious, atavistic fear in the public.” He also cemented sharks’ reputation as grudge-bearing, human-hunting, boat-bashing killers–misconceptions since refuted by research. Humans drastically reduced shark populations in the post-Jaws years, and Benchley, surveying the damage, devoted himself to ocean conservation. His book was fiction, he insisted, and ought to be read that way, but still he declared, “If I were to try to write Jaws today, I couldn’t do it.”

Book cover of Emperors of the DeepRead Along: Emperors of the Deep: Sharks–The Ocean’s Most Mysterious, Most Misunderstood, and Most Important Guardians by William McKeever

In this remarkable groundbreaking book, a documentarian and conservationist, determined to dispel misplaced fear and correct common misconceptions, explores in-depth the secret lives of sharks — magnificent creatures who play an integral part in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans and ultimately the planet. From the Jaws blockbusters to Shark Week, we are conditioned to see sharks as terrifying cold-blooded underwater predators. But as Safeguard the Seasfounder William McKeever reveals, sharks are evolutionary marvels essential to maintaining a balanced ecosystem. We can learn much from sharks, he argues, and our knowledge about them continues to grow.




Bestselling Fiction in the U.S. 1960-1974

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter

The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carré

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

Valley of the Dolls  by Jacqueline Susann

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

Airport by Arthur Hailey

Portnoy’s Complaint  by Philip Roth

Love Story by Erich Segal

Wheels by Arthur Hailey

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Descriptions and overviews from The Gale Literature Resource Center, NoveList Plus, and publisher content.