The best books on why the maligned Seventies were pretty awesome

Who am I?

I’m a senior writer at Rolling Stone, where I cover a wide range of music-related topics. But as a child of the Seventies, I was shaped by the defining and enthralling pop culture of that era, from singer-songwriters, Southern rock, and disco records to Norman Lear sitcoms. In some of my work, I’ve chronicled the highs and lows of that era, perhaps as a way to answer a question that haunted me during my youth: Why did my older sisters and their friends keep telling me that the Sixties were the most incredible decade ever and the Seventies were awful? What did I miss? And how and where did it all go wrong?

I wrote...

Book cover of Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970

What is my book about?

As a new decade arrives, so do seismic shifts in rock and roll: Three of the most iconic bands of the era break up, and new talent, reflecting the more inward and less political trends of the Seventies, busts out of the gate. The first book on the musical, political, and cultural changes of the year 1970, Fire and Rain tells the story of four landmark artists, their key albums (the Beatles’ Let It Be, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà vu and James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James), the intertwining personal ties between those artists, and the ways in which their songs and journeys mirrored the end of one era and the start of another, equally jarring one.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Bob Woodward,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This reissue of Bob Woodword’s classic book about John Belushi—one of the most interesting performers and personalities in show business history—“is told with the same narrative style that Woodward employed so effectively in All the President’s Men and The Final Days” (Chicago Tribune).

John Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose March 5, 1982, in a seedy hotel bungalow off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Belushi’s death was the beginning of a trail that led Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on an investigation that examines the dark side of American show business—TV, rock and roll, and the movie industry. From…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Tom Doyle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Man on the Run as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most famous living rock musician on the planet, Paul McCartney is now regarded as a slightly cosy figure, an (inter)national treasure. Back in the 1970s, however, McCartney cut a very different figure. He was, literally, a man on the run. Desperately trying to escape the shadow of the Beatles, he became an outlaw hippy millionaire, hiding out on his Scottish farmhouse in Kintyre before travelling the world with makeshift bands and barefoot children. It was a time of numerous drug busts and brilliant, banned and occasionally baffling records. For McCartney, it was an edgy, liberating and sometimes frightening period…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Jonathan Alter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of America's most-respected journalists and modern historians comes the first full-length biography of Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth president of the United States and Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian.

Jonathan Alter tells the epic story of an enigmatic man of faith and his improbable journey from barefoot boy to global icon. Alter paints an intimate and surprising portrait of the only president since Thomas Jefferson who can fairly be called a Renaissance Man, a complex figure-ridiculed and later revered-with a piercing intelligence, prickly intensity, and biting wit beneath the patented smile. Here is a moral exemplar for our times, a flawed…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Peter Biskind,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Easy Riders Raging Bulls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the low-budget biker movie Easy Rider shocked Hollywood with its success in 1969, a new Hollywood era was born. This was an age when talented young filmmakers such as Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg, along with a new breed of actors, including De Niro, Pacino, and Nicholson, became the powerful figures who would make such modern classics as The Godfather, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, and Jaws. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls follows the wild ride that was Hollywood in the '70s -- an unabashed celebration of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll (both onscreen and off) and a climate where innovation and…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Josh Wilker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Cardboard Gods is the memoir of Josh Wilker, a brilliant writer who has marked the stages of his life through the baseball cards he collected as a child. It also captures the experience of growing up obsessed with baseball cards and explores what it means to be a fan of the game. Along the way, as we get to know Josh, his family, and his friends, we also get Josh's classic observations about the central artifacts from his life: the baseball cards themselves. Josh writes about an imagined correspondence with his favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski; he uses the magical bubble-blowing…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in film, Jimmy Carter, and comedians?

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