The best novels set in the 1960s and 70s

Richard Ravin Author Of Nothing to Declare
By Richard Ravin

Who am I?

I came of age during the tumult of the 1960s and 1970s. I stood more on the sidelines than at the burning center, so I’ve always wondered what it was like for those who did. That’s why I wrote my first novel, to go beyond the borders of my own experience. The 60s/70s era of political and sexual upheaval has reduced itself over time to a series of cliches. What I love about the books on my list is how willing they are to break through to real feelings and events and sensations. Hope you like them, too.


I wrote...

Nothing to Declare

By Richard Ravin,

Book cover of Nothing to Declare

What is my book about?

Sex. Drugs. Revolution. Grilled tuna.

What happens when you’re named next of kin to someone you haven’t spoken to for 15 years? Jesse Kerf’s got his life buttoned up: flash L.A. bistro, spiffy BMW, all-white condo with an ocean view. But his friend Marty’s death floors him, pulling him back to a past he’s tried to forget. Between Jesse’s long-ago love triangle, a trip that bounces him from Boston to Bali, and the weight of secrets held too long – he’s got a lot to handle. What really went down in the turbulent 1970s, when he and his friends were turning everything upside-down? To get his life together, Jesse must face not only who he was, but who he wants to be from now on.

The books I picked & why

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Dog Soldiers

By Robert Stone,

Book cover of Dog Soldiers

Why this book?

Dog Soldiers made me want to become a writer. It showed me how to marry plot and character and still write about things that matter. A novel of ideas masquerading as a crime story, it tells of a massive drug deal gone bad, with the Vietnam War and its bitter illusions in the background. If you love complicated characters, this is your kind of book. Stone draws them with good and evil mixed. Your feelings for them shift by the page. The book contains startling images and vivid dialogue, as the characters weigh their decisions against a moral code they no longer trust. If you’re curious about what the 1970s really felt like—or lived through it yourself—Dog Soldiers will take you in and leave you shaking.

Dog Soldiers

By Robert Stone,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dog Soldiers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Saigon during the last stages of the Vietnam War, a small-time journalist named John Converse thinks he'll find action - and profit - by getting involved in a big-time drug deal. But back in the States, things go horribly wrong. His courier disappears, probably with his wife, and a corrupt Fed wants Converse to find him the drugs, or else.

Dog Soldiers is a frightening, powerful, intense novel that perfectly captures the underground mood of the United States in the 1970s, when amateur drug dealers and hippies encountered the violent world of cops on the make and professional killers.…


American Pastoral

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of American Pastoral

Why this book?

I’ve always loved how Philip Roth populates his fiction with transgressors. It’s hard not to envy their boldness, bad as they may be. Narrated by Roth’s stand-in, bad boy Nathan Zuckerman, American Pastoral focuses on Zuckerman’s high school idol, ‘Swede’ Levov. Swede’s triumphs on the sporting field and later in business, anoint him for a life marked by pure American success. His inevitable fall from grace feels moving and tragic and infuriating. Swede can’t comprehend how his darling teenage daughter has become an anti-Viet Nam War terror bomber, responsible for bystander death. No happy lessons here. Read American Pastoral if you like books that leave you with as many questions as answers—the way life does.

American Pastoral

By Philip Roth,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked American Pastoral as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Philip Roth's fiction has often explored the human need to demolish, to challenge, to oppose, to pull apart. Now, writing with deep understanding, with enormous power and scope and great storytelling energy, he focuses on the counterforce: the longing for an ordinary life. Seymour 'Swede' Levov - a legendary high school athlete, a devoted family man, a hard worker, the prosperous inheritor of his father's glove factory - comes of age in thriving, triumphant, postwar America. He has a beautiful wife - Miss New Jersey 1949 - and a lively, precocious daughter, Merry. She is the apple of his eye…


Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon,

Book cover of Inherent Vice

Why this book?

Here’s a novel deeply perfumed with pot smoke and paranoia. Filled with Pynchon’s trademark puns, odd character names, and odder characters, it’s his most accessible novel, a detective story set in the early 1970s. Its main character, P.I. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, has the sleepy air of a confirmed stoner, but he’s dogged in following leads in the disappearance of an old girlfriend and her former lover. If you find yourself in a state of confusion about what’s going on, relax, Sportello’s confused, too. I love the book’s hodgepodge of 70s memorabilia: Hawaiian shirts, check; random psychedelia, check; free love, check; political conspiracies, double-check. Doc himself would tell you not to fuss about what makes sense or not. The point is, the ride itself is worth the trip.

Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Inherent Vice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon-Private eye Doc Sportello surfaces, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre that is at once exciting and accessible, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there.

It's been a while since Doc Sportello has seen his ex- girlfriend. Suddenly she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. It's the tail…


The Girls

By Emma Cline,

Book cover of The Girls

Why this book?

I love how this book is written. It’s lyrical and deeply felt with a keen eye and luminous prose. Told from her middle-aged perspective, it’s the story of 14-year-old Evie and the summer she dallied, first at the outskirts, and then at dead center of a Charles Manson-like clan. Evie’s a lonely innocent drawn to the sexy and audacious Suzanne who is closest to the leader, Russell. All the women revere Russell, and Evie performs as required: sex, thievery, nighttime home invasions, initially just for fun. The book captures the grunge and the glory of its late-1960s setting, the ragged hope for a better world. Evie longs for connection and would follow Suzanne anywhere, even to murder. I followed along, too, fearing for Evie and wishing her well.

The Girls

By Emma Cline,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gripping and dark fictionalised account of life inside the Manson family from one of the most exciting young voices in fiction.

If you're lost, they'll find you...

Evie Boyd is fourteen and desperate to be noticed.

It's the summer of 1969 and restless, empty days stretch ahead of her. Until she sees them. The girls. Hair long and uncombed, jewelry catching the sun. And at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful.

If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where…


Arcadia

By Lauren Groff,

Book cover of Arcadia

Why this book?

The utopian dreams of the 60s died hard, and this beautiful novel captures the mood of the decade—and the forces that destroyed it. Set mostly in a back-to-the-land hippie community, the book centers on Bit, the first baby born to the settlers. It follows him through childhood and adolescence, and checks in on him on the cusp of middle age, a single father in New York City. Bit’s a sensitive soul, and I felt for him, especially when the story tracked his relationship with his first lover and later runaway wife, the self-destructive Helle. Groff’s expressive use of language, her feel for the natural world, and her deep sensitivity to the psychology of her characters marks this book as a classic not to be missed. 

Arcadia

By Lauren Groff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arcadia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A staggering portrait of a crumbling utopia, this "timeless and vast" novel filled with the "raw beauty" beautifully depicts an idyllic commune in New York State -- and charts its eventual yet inevitable downfall (Janet Maslin, The New York Times).
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"Timeless and vast... The raw beauty of Ms. Groff's prose is one of the best things about Arcadia. But it is by no means this book's only kind of splendor."---Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Even the most incidental details vibrate with life Arcadia wends a harrowing path back to a fragile, lovely place you can…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the 1960s, private investigators, and Southeast Asia?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the 1960s, private investigators, and Southeast Asia.

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