The best books on why the maligned Seventies were pretty awesome

The Books I Picked & Why

Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi

By Bob Woodward

Book cover of Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi

Why this book?

Even though they weren’t musicians, the original cast members of Saturday Night Live were among the biggest rock stars of the Seventies. Their journey from underground comics and performers to crossover superstardom, via TV, albums, and movies, is the story of the rise of the counterculture in the Seventies. And, sadly, Belushi’s flameout was the dark side of that tale.

I read this book not long after I had graduated from NYU with a degree in journalism, and Woodward’s peerless reporting—including a chilling, nearly hour-by-hour chronicle of Belushi’s last few weeks before his death in 1982—made me realize the power of narrative, research, and detail. If I were stymied while writing a story of my own in the early days of my career, I’d grab my increasingly beaten-up Wired paperback and be inspired anew. 


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Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s

By Tom Doyle

Book cover of Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s

Why this book?

What happened to the individual members of the Beatles in the years after the group dissolved? Many books have been devoted to that part of their saga, but few gripped me as much as this detailed, well-researched story of McCartney and his band Wings. Written with the cooperation of Macca—who gave several interviews to Doyle—Man on the Run makes you realize how chaotic, unstable, and (to use a period phrase) wild and crazy Wings were, despite the banality of some of their music. In that regard, it’s a perfect Seventies story: Beneath the seemingly mellow vibes and image lie a far more turbulent saga, reflecting the way McCartney himself repeatedly grappled with redefining himself after his tenure in arguably the greatest pop group of all time. 


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His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

By Jonathan Alter

Book cover of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

Why this book?

Over 40 years after he left office, when he was replaced by Ronald Reagan, Carter remains an underrated and undervalued president. Alter doesn’t skimp on Carter’s shortcomings, from his sometimes rigid thinking to a nastiness that could be unleashed; the Iran-hostage debacle is also detailed in full. But using interviews with Carter and many of his associates and family members, he also makes the case, without being heavy-handed, that Carter was ahead of the curve on the ecology, voting rights, and other issues that remain frustratingly unfulfilled. 


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Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

By Peter Biskind

Book cover of Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

Why this book?

Just before and during the same period that SNL was raging on the East Coast, rising directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas were rewriting the rules of Hollywood. Biskind’s history of the New Hollywood of the Seventies, which starts with 1969’s biker classic Easy Rider, is jammed with juicy stories of sex, drugs, and film canisters. But it also makes you appreciate anew the way movies like  Chinatown, Nashville, Taxi Driver, and Star Wars made going to the local movie theater a newly thrilling and surprising experience. 


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Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards

By Josh Wilker

Book cover of Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards

Why this book?

Anyone who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies remembers baseball trading cards, using sold with a flat stick of gum. Wilker doesn’t just remember them; he uses them as a narrative device. Each chapter of this touching and honest memoir about growing up in the Me Decade is based around one card in his collection (Tom Seaver, Wade Boggs, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, and many more) and the year and memories it evokes. What could have been a glib gimmick is transformed into a smart and insightful way to recall a life and a decade. 


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