The best books about the 1960s counterculture

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the 1960s counterculture and why they recommend each book.

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Strange Peaches

By Edwin Shrake,

Book cover of Strange Peaches

Bud Shrake’s novel of Dallas at the time of the Kennedy Assassination is an excellent example of what I call “eyewitness fiction.” As a prominent journalist at the rabidly anti-JFK Dallas Morning News, Shrake spent time mingling with the far-right millionaires who refashioned Dallas into a “City of Hate.” Yet the politically liberal, dope-smoking Shrake was also a denizen of Dallas’s underworld and was dating the star stripper at Jack Ruby’s nightclub. From these twin worlds, he fashioned this ferocious, comically subversive portrait of Dallas in the months leading up to the assassination.

Shrake’s writing has less in common with his Texas contemporaries than it does with American novelists Ken Kesey, Charles Portis, and Kurt Vonnegut. This novel blasts off so hard it can be a bit hard for some readers to hang on in the beginning. But if you stay with it, and latch on to Shrake’s Dexedrine-fueled…


Who am I?

I’ve been reading, studying, and writing about Texas literature for over 25 years. I’m the longtime literary curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, which holds the archives of many leading writers from Texas and the Southwest. I have a personal passion for the 1960s and have written/co-written three nonfiction books set in the sixties.


I co-wrote...

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

By Bill Minutaglio, Steven L. Davis,

Book cover of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

What is my book about?

The madcap real-life story of LSD guru Timothy Leary’s daring prison escape followed by a 28-month global manhunt as he was pursued by an increasingly desperate President Nixon and his henchmen. The book winds its way among the homegrown revolutionaries of the Weather Underground, a Black Panther outpost in socialist Algeria, hash-smuggling hippies from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and secret agents on four continents. Deeply researched from freshly uncovered primary sources and new firsthand interviews, The Most Dangerous Man in America reads like a gonzo, drug-addled modern American thriller.

All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers

By Larry McMurtry,

Book cover of All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers

Everybody knows about Larry McMurtry’s epic western, Lonesome Dove, but far fewer realize that McMurtry was at Stanford with Ken Kesey and Robert Stone in the early 1960s -- and he always had fascinating connections to the sixties counterculture.

All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers is one of McMurtry’s most endearing works: the portrait of a young, beat-influenced writer on an epic series of memorable road trips through Texas and the West. He’s exploring, observing, and questioning everything, including his own craft. The climactic scene, where McMurtry’s protagonist wades out into the Rio Grande to drown his manuscript, is one of the coolest endings in Texas lit.


Who am I?

I’ve been reading, studying, and writing about Texas literature for over 25 years. I’m the longtime literary curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, which holds the archives of many leading writers from Texas and the Southwest. I have a personal passion for the 1960s and have written/co-written three nonfiction books set in the sixties.


I co-wrote...

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

By Bill Minutaglio, Steven L. Davis,

Book cover of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

What is my book about?

The madcap real-life story of LSD guru Timothy Leary’s daring prison escape followed by a 28-month global manhunt as he was pursued by an increasingly desperate President Nixon and his henchmen. The book winds its way among the homegrown revolutionaries of the Weather Underground, a Black Panther outpost in socialist Algeria, hash-smuggling hippies from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and secret agents on four continents. Deeply researched from freshly uncovered primary sources and new firsthand interviews, The Most Dangerous Man in America reads like a gonzo, drug-addled modern American thriller.

Journey to the West

By William Hauptman,

Book cover of Journey to the West

William Hauptman is a Tony Award-winning playwright and the author of one of my all-time favorite Texas novels, The Storm Season, about a tornado chaser in Wichita Falls during the Reagan era as the middle class is dissolving.

Journey to the West is a diamond-sharp autobiographical novel based on Hauptman’s experiences leaving his conservative hometown of Wichita Falls to go to college at the University of Texas in Austin. He arrives just as the sixties begin taking off, and soon his mind gets blown and his life upended. Hauptman writes so well of this quintessential experience that so many people have when they go to college and taste freedom for the first time in their lives. The novel/memoir follows our hero as he ends up in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, starving and strung out. Hauptman, is a first-class writer and this is one of his coolest…


Who am I?

I’ve been reading, studying, and writing about Texas literature for over 25 years. I’m the longtime literary curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, which holds the archives of many leading writers from Texas and the Southwest. I have a personal passion for the 1960s and have written/co-written three nonfiction books set in the sixties.


I co-wrote...

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

By Bill Minutaglio, Steven L. Davis,

Book cover of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

What is my book about?

The madcap real-life story of LSD guru Timothy Leary’s daring prison escape followed by a 28-month global manhunt as he was pursued by an increasingly desperate President Nixon and his henchmen. The book winds its way among the homegrown revolutionaries of the Weather Underground, a Black Panther outpost in socialist Algeria, hash-smuggling hippies from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and secret agents on four continents. Deeply researched from freshly uncovered primary sources and new firsthand interviews, The Most Dangerous Man in America reads like a gonzo, drug-addled modern American thriller.

The Yokota Officers Club

By Sarah Bird,

Book cover of The Yokota Officers Club

I’m cheating a bit here because this book is set in the Japan and Okinawa, rather than Texas. But Sarah Bird is one of Texas’s most beloved writers, and this exquisite novel about the college-aged, Vietnam War-protesting daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot, is one of the finest novels written by anyone from Texas. Bird captures the mood of the Vietnam era with empathy and wonderful humor, but beyond that, The Yokota Officers Club is a deeply affecting story about families, about love, loss, and the hope of redemption. It’s a transcendent novel that feels both intimate and sweeping. Sarah Bird has written several fine books but this one is her masterpiece.

Who am I?

I’ve been reading, studying, and writing about Texas literature for over 25 years. I’m the longtime literary curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, which holds the archives of many leading writers from Texas and the Southwest. I have a personal passion for the 1960s and have written/co-written three nonfiction books set in the sixties.


I co-wrote...

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

By Bill Minutaglio, Steven L. Davis,

Book cover of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

What is my book about?

The madcap real-life story of LSD guru Timothy Leary’s daring prison escape followed by a 28-month global manhunt as he was pursued by an increasingly desperate President Nixon and his henchmen. The book winds its way among the homegrown revolutionaries of the Weather Underground, a Black Panther outpost in socialist Algeria, hash-smuggling hippies from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and secret agents on four continents. Deeply researched from freshly uncovered primary sources and new firsthand interviews, The Most Dangerous Man in America reads like a gonzo, drug-addled modern American thriller.

Be Here Now

By Ram Dass,

Book cover of Be Here Now

I recall spending a few days with Ram Dass in Aspen, Colorado, several decades back and enjoying his fascinating stories and spiritual perspectives. Back in the sixties, Ram Dass traveled to India and found his trained intellect humbled when confronted with the powerful truths his teacher revealed. He found himself shifting from a mind-based orientation to a heart-based approach. 

I love this book because Ram Dass distills what he learned and shares it from his heart while breaking all the typical rules of what a book should look like. You’ll see it in every aspect: from the cover design to the layout and paper, the illustrations, and the timeless truths—all inspired high-vibe content.


Who am I?

I am a transformational teacher and author based in San Diego, California. I am a being just like you, the very same in essence. Born with an unstoppable yearning for Truth. Through an unwavering quest for the ultimate, I came to a profound realization. Of our infinite nature. You can too! Books played an important part in this quest, especially in the beginning. We are blessed with great teachers speaking to us across time and across dimensions through their words as they transmit their blessings for our enlightenment.


I wrote...

Just Be: Transform Your Life and Live as Infinity

By Suresh Ramaswamy,

Book cover of Just Be: Transform Your Life and Live as Infinity

What is my book about?

In Just Be, I distill the profound revelations about consciousness and transformation that I came to cognize through intuition and meditation. I felt inspired to share these insights because they can quickly alleviate your suffering and bring you to Truth. 

I offer a framework to understand life and the transformational journey. I share powerful techniques to lift your consciousness. And most importantly, included in this award-winning book is a powerful vibrational component to uplift you and help shift your consciousness.

The Family

By Ed Sanders,

Book cover of The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion

There have been plenty of books on counterculture Hollywood’s most impactful and arguably most famous figure, Charles Manson—plenty of films, too. For my money, the best book is one of the first, written by the former rock musician and antiwar activist Ed Sanders. Without the benefit of hindsight, the book captures the moment—that fateful summer of 1969—perfectly and poetically.


Who am I?

I have been teaching and writing about post-WWII American film for over thirty years now, with a particular passion for (behind the scenes) Hollywood history. Road Trip to Nowhere follows up on a new sort of movie industry history I introduced in my 2017 book on 1950s Los Angeles, Hard-Boiled Hollywood. Both books focus on actors, writers, producers, and directors who don’t quite make it—aspirants and would-be players kicked to the side of the road, so to speak, and others who for reasons we may or may not understand just walked away from the modern American dream life of stardom and celebrity. 


I wrote...

Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

By Jon Lewis,

Book cover of Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

What is my book about?

Road Trip to Nowhere elaborates a primary-sourced history of movie production culture, examining the lives of a number of talented actors who got wrapped up in the politics and lifestyles of the counterculture. Thoroughly put off by celebrity culture, actors like Dennis Hopper, Christopher Jones, and Jean Seberg rejected the aspirational backstory and inevitable material trappings of success, much to the chagrin of the studios and directors who backed them. In Road Trip to Nowhere, film historian Jon Lewis details dramatic encounters on movie sets and in corporate boardrooms, on the job and on the streets, and in doing so offers an entertaining and rigorous historical account of an out-of-touch Hollywood establishment and the counterculture workforce they would never come to understand.

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