The most recommended books about counterculture

Who picked these books? Meet our 33 experts.

33 authors created a book list connected to counterculture, and here are their favorite counterculture books.
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Book cover of The Panopticon

Olivia Levez Author Of The Island

From my list on to survive desert islands, life, and everything.

Who am I?

Both my books have a survival theme. Whether it’s foraging for mushrooms, wild camping, or trying to survive lockdown, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between endurance and creativity; what happens when humans are pushed to their limits. After teaching English in a secondary school for 25 years, I decided that I wanted to write a book of my own. I hid away in my caravan in West Wales, living off tomato soup and marshmallows, to write The IslandThe books on this list represent the full gamut of survival: stripping yourself raw, learning nature’s lore, healing, falling, getting back up again. Ultimately, to read is to escape into story. To read is to survive.

Olivia's book list on to survive desert islands, life, and everything

Olivia Levez Why did Olivia love this book?

This is the book which most inspired Frances’ voice in The Island. 15-year old Anais is troubled, loving, brilliant, and creative. She is also at a young offenders’ institution named the Panopticon after being found covered in blood at a crime scene. A birthday present from my brother, this book is so powerful, moving, and evocative. It’s written in spiky Midlothian. It’s raw. It’s warm. It’s brutal.

No matter what life throws at her (and there is a lot) Anais finds a way to survive with humour and defiance. I just loved it.

By Jenni Fagan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists

Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counterculture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade…


Book cover of An American Tune

Rita Dragonette Author Of The Fourteenth of September

From my list on the Vietnam War era by women writers.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the role of women in war: men may be on the front lines, but women deal with its impact and often struggle to have equal standing. I was inspired by stories told by my mother who was a nurse in World War II and participated in surgery under gunfire and helped liberate a POW camp in Germany. Yet, no one wanted to hear from her because she was “just a nurse.” Fast forward to Vietnam where women were still being marginalized. I wrote The Fourteenth of September to even the playing field by telling a story that was largely based upon my own experience in college during l969-1970.

Rita's book list on the Vietnam War era by women writers

Rita Dragonette Why did Rita love this book?

A great story about the dark side of trying to do the right thing:

A radical, anti-Vietnam War protestor is involved in an incident where someone is inadvertently killed and is forced to go underground, where she builds a new identity and law-abiding life. Thirty years later she is recognized by a former classmate and, facing a long-delayed jail sentence, must find a way to explain it all to her family, friends, and above all, her daughter.

By Barbara Shoup,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

While reluctantly accompanying her husband and daughter to freshman orientation at Indiana University, Nora Quillen hears someone call her name, a name she has not heard in more than 25 years. Not even her husband knows that back in the '60s she was Jane Barth, a student deeply involved in the antiwar movement. An American Tune moves back and forth in time, telling the story of Jane, a girl from a working-class family who fled town after she was complicit in a deadly bombing, and Nora, the woman she became, a wife and mother living a quiet life in northern…


Book cover of Bad Girls: Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties

John C. Spurlock Author Of Youth and Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century United States

From my list on understanding American heterosexuality.

Who am I?

When I finished my second book, which followed the life course of women in the U.S. in the early 20th century, I was left with questions and some confusion about women’s sexuality in the period. Books and magazine articles at the time obsessively discussed young women and their sexual freedom. But young women’s journals, and the psychological literature showed that publicly, young women performed a heterosexual script, but privately, and emotionally, they often remained far more comfortable with other girls and young women. Slowly it became clear that the real sexual revolution of the 20th century was the triumph of heterosexual relations and norms during the 1920s until the 1940s. 

John's book list on understanding American heterosexuality

John C. Spurlock Why did John love this book?

This is a tour de force on the lives of girls and young women in the era of World War II and the 1950s.

Littauer makes use of non-traditional sources to show how young women negotiated a sexual landscape that was rapidly changing and which gave them more choices and often more control over their sexuality.

During the war years, young women found that the rapid mobilization and unsettled conditions near military bases gave them opportunities for sexual adventures that settle times would never allow.

And during the post-war, within the “going steady” practices of the time, women could become sexually active with some protection from social stigma.

By Amanda H. Littauer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this innovative and revealing study of midcentury American sex and culture, Amanda Littauer traces the origins of the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s. She argues that sexual liberation was much more than a reaction to 1950s repression because it largely involved the mainstreaming of a counterculture already on the rise among girls and young women decades earlier. From World War II-era "victory girls" to teen lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s, these nonconforming women and girls navigated and resisted intense social and interpersonal pressures to fit existing mores, using the upheavals of the era to pursue new sexual freedoms.…


Book cover of The Girls

Buffy Cram Author Of Once Upon an Effing Time

From my list on living that 60s cult/commune life.

Who am I?

I grew up living in a housing co-op on Vancouver Island, BC. While not technically a commune, it did have some of the hallmarks. There were gangs of partially clothed kids roaming wild. There were a bunch of idealistic adults who had dreams of shared land stewardship and, well, shared everything. The housing project succeeded in many ways (it still exists today) and, it failed in other ways (over the years there were many fractures in the community). I’ve always been fascinated by attempts at communal living. I suppose my obsession with cult life is just an extension of this. It is my life imagined one step further.

Buffy's book list on living that 60s cult/commune life

Buffy Cram Why did Buffy love this book?

If you’re as obsessed with Charles Manson as I am, you’ll love this novel, which tells the story of Evie, a bored and misguided 14-year-old girl who ends up inadvertently joining a cult that, while not directly stated to be the Manson cult, certainly alludes to it.

In this cult, the leader is Russell Hadrick, and though I find him less charismatic than Manson, he wields the same power over people. The other cult members and their eventual crime is the same as the real-world cult too. What I’m most impressed with about this book is the way it details everyday cult life, what with its musty piles of communal clothes, the tedium of chores, and the listlessness of too many people with too much time on their hands.

By Emma Cline,

Why should I read it?

5 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…


Book cover of The Jesus Fast: The Call to Awaken the Nations

Polly Betzner Walshin Author Of You Got Daddy Issues?

From my list on books that restore your soul and let you know you are not alone.

Who am I?

The reason why I recommended these books is they all have the constant theme of freedom. Each one is very unique, and they all have adventure, romance, tragedy, and fantasy. Every single book is a different journey of healing for your soul that I feel anyone would enjoy. We have two biographies that are so raw; they will rock your soul, and you can relate to them. We have one on how not to get offended, which is amazing, and another that is sci-fi, which is way better than Harry Potter ever thought about being. If you like me as an author, you will love the books that I have recommended. 

Polly's book list on books that restore your soul and let you know you are not alone

Polly Betzner Walshin Why did Polly love this book?

First of all, Lou Engel is an amazing man in his 60s, and he literally probably spent half of his life fasting and intercession in prayer for the nations and for the world.

This book shows you the power of fasting and the miracle answers that happened so many times in history, where there’s been a movement of God where fasting was prevalent.

By Lou Engle, Dean Briggs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Passionate, Prophetic Summons to Prayer and Fasting

We are poised at a key moment in history. Amidst pain and chaos, we can turn the tide of evil in our lands. With excitement and profound insight, seasoned prophetic leader Lou Engle shows how: through bold faith and aggressive, passionate prayer and fasting.

Here he equips you with the dynamic, practical tools you need to answer the call of countercultural consecration. Using Jesus as the role model, he reveals that 40 days of prayer and fasting always precede breakthrough, revelations of God's glory, breakage of demonic hindrances, and more. As we…


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

Richard Boch Author Of The Mudd Club

From my list on music, mayhem, drugs, and sex.

Who am I?

I was a Brooklyn kid who grew up on Long Island. I started hitting the bars and clubs in NYC when I was still a teenager. I found my way to CBGB in 1975, moved to Bleecker St in 1976, and in a right place/right time moment I found myself working the Mudd Club door in early 1979. That moment was a life changer. The Mudd Club book tells the story.

Richard's book list on music, mayhem, drugs, and sex

Richard Boch Why did Richard love this book?

The best book written about 1960’s Pop-Culture madness and mayhem. As founding member of The Fugs and a unique literary voice, Ed Sanders tells this tale brilliantly. The warning signs, the goosebumps, and knowing when it’s time to stop are all there in The Family.

By Ed Sanders,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

extremely rare,very good condition


Book cover of Leave Society

John Pistelli Author Of The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

From my list on ideas of the last 50 years.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by philosophical ideas, the more radical and counterintuitive the better. But as someone who’s never excelled at abstract thought, I’ve found these ideas’ expression in argumentative nonfiction both dry and unpersuasive, lacking the human context that would alone test the strength of propositions about spirituality, justice, love, education, and more. The novel of ideas brings concepts to life in the particular personalities and concrete experiences of fictional characters—a much more vivid and convincing way to explore the world of thought. Many readers will be familiar with the genre’s classics (Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Mann, Camus), so I’d like to recommend more recent instances I find personally or artistically inspiring.

John's book list on ideas of the last 50 years

John Pistelli Why did John love this book?

In 2021’s most widely-discussed literary novel, Lin, the former enfant terrible of the early 2000s alt-lit scene, rejects that movement’s terse and affectless style in favor of a more startlingly inventive prose alive to everyday experience’s strangeness. This autobiographical novel recounts its narrator’s attempt to wean himself from the toxic habits and substances of our “dominator” society and, through natural foods and psychedelic drugs, to return to a matriarchal cooperative tradition he describes at length. Whatever we think of Lin’s potentially sentimental historiography, he embeds it in a gentle family comedy that effloresces into a tender romance. I appreciate Lin’s countercultural commitment to rejecting fashionable pessimism and unthinking science-worship, and I respect his evolving ethic of personal kindness. It would be preachy if issued as a proclamation, but becomes a practice we can all learn to share when shown in a novel.

By Tao Lin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of Taipei, a bold portrait of a writer working to balance all his lives—artist, son, loner—as he spins the ordinary into something monumental. An engrossing, hopeful novel about life, fiction, and where the two blur together.

In 2014, a novelist named Li leaves Manhattan to visit his parents in Taipei for ten weeks. He doesn't know it yet, but his life will begin to deepen and complexify on this trip. As he flies between these two worlds--year by year, over four years--he will flit in and out of optimism, despair, loneliness, sanity, bouts of chronic pain,…


Book cover of So Real It Hurts

Jen B. Larson Author Of Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983

From my list on music and memoirs about rule-breaking women.

Who am I?

In 2011, when my all-girl garage band began gigging around Chicago, I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard people call us “riot grrrl.” We weren’t riot grrrls; we were far too late for the movement. But for so many people, riot grrrl was the only reference point they had for scary, brash female musicians. The truth is, women were involved in the movement’s origins in every part of the world. I believe we must understand that riot grrrls weren’t the first women of punk. My book Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983 details the stories of lesser-known but highly influential women who helped create punk and its adjacent genres.

Jen's book list on music and memoirs about rule-breaking women

Jen B. Larson Why did Jen love this book?

In her life and in her writing, Lydia Lunch is able to alchemize the agony of existence into euphoria more effectively than any artist that I can think of. I could have put any of her titles (Paradoxia, Will Work for Drugs, The Gun is Loaded, etc.) on this list. Her narratives – all true stories from her past – hit like a ton of bricks and leave your own blood on the page. Lydia views the world through carnage visors and takes no prisoners on her journey, weaponizing the abuse she experienced in childhood against authority as an adult. The seamy underbelly of her world is black and white with thunder strokes of red. While reading this collection of personal essays and interviews, you can viscerally hear her spooky, cigarette-burned voice as if she is whispering the prose directly into your ear from behind.

By Lydia Lunch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked So Real It Hurts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"So Real It Hurts is the perfect title for this collection. It's a mission statement. A few bleeding slices straight from the butcher shop. A sampler from an enormous archive of work that will, no doubt, be pored over by grad students, book lovers, film historians, music nerds and straight-up perverts a hundred years from now." —Anthony Bourdain, from the Introduction

Through personal essays and interviews, punk musician and cultural icon Lydia Lunch claws and rakes at the reader's conscience in this powerful, uninhibited feminist collection. Oscillating between provocative celebrations of her own defiant nature and nearly-tender ruminations on the…


Book cover of No Rules: A Memoir

Rita Dragonette Author Of The Fourteenth of September

From my list on the Vietnam War era by women writers.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the role of women in war: men may be on the front lines, but women deal with its impact and often struggle to have equal standing. I was inspired by stories told by my mother who was a nurse in World War II and participated in surgery under gunfire and helped liberate a POW camp in Germany. Yet, no one wanted to hear from her because she was “just a nurse.” Fast forward to Vietnam where women were still being marginalized. I wrote The Fourteenth of September to even the playing field by telling a story that was largely based upon my own experience in college during l969-1970.

Rita's book list on the Vietnam War era by women writers

Rita Dragonette Why did Rita love this book?

When a girl is stuck between generations in the early days of feminism:

A classic coming-of-age memoir of the early ‘70s, where a 16-year-old who thinks she has it all figured out, hits the road. She is forced to learn fast as she encounters dropouts, draft dodgers, and communal living, all the while running up against the sexism that masqueraded as freedom and love as she discovers by trial and error, the liberated woman she wants to be.

By Sharon Dukett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Rules as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this coming-of-age memoir, Sharon takes you with her on a nail-biting adventure through the early 1970s after leaving her sheltered home life at sixteen years old to join the hippies. Yearning for freedom, she lands in an adult world for which she is unprepared, and must learn quickly in order to survive.

As Sharon navigates the US and Canada-whether by hitchhiking, bicycle, or the back of a motorcycle-she experiences love and heartbreak, discovers whom she can and cannot trust, and awakens to the growing women's liberation movement while living in a rural off-grid commune. In this colorful memoir, she…


Book cover of Trout Fishing In America

Joshua Gaylord Author Of When We Were Animals

From Joshua's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Fabulist Teacher Gamer Postmodernist

Joshua's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Joshua Gaylord Why did Joshua love this book?

This is a little bit of a cheat. I’ve read this book before. But I read it again this year. I tend to read it every year.

In an era when time is a commodity constantly depleted by phones and screens when we don’t have the luxury of boredom to foster daydreaming, Brautigan celebrates the power of the imagination. His writing feels like what you would get if I sat you down at the side of an empty rural highway to wait for a bus that never comes, and all you have to occupy yourself are the flights of your own fancy.

It’s the literature of the fabulating mind, and, for all its surrealness, it manages to communicate a heartbreaking poignancy.  

By Richard Brautigan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Trout Fishing In America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Richard Brautigan's wonderfully zany, hilarious episodic novel set amongst the rural waterways of America.

Here's a journey that begins at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin statue in San Francisco's Washington Square, wanders through the wonders of America's rural waterways and ends, inevitably, with mayonnaise. With pure inventiveness and free-wheeling energy, the counterpoint to all those angry Beatniks, Brautigan tells the story of rural America, and the hunt for a bit of trout fishing. Funny, wild and sweet, Trout Fishing in America is an incomparable guidebook to the delights of exploration - of a country and a mind.