The best books about the Jazz Age 📚

Browse the best books on the Jazz Age as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Why this book?

In my view (and that of wonderful mentors, like Rollo May), this book is the great American novel, until proven otherwise. The book captures both the wonder and possibility of our vivacious country, while at the same time, pulling no punches about our “shadow” side.  It’s all here—ambition, boldness, the breaking into fresh terrain, romance; but also and equally, greed, bigotry, lust, and disillusionment.  The book also covers an underappreciated shadow side—“carelessness.”  Poignantly, the work shows that “careless” people, such as Nick and Daisy (as well as Gatsby at points) are the result of a too often corrupt and fear-driven…

From the list:

The best books on the meaning and purpose of life

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Book cover of Zelda: A Biography

Zelda: A Biography

By Nancy Milford

Why this book?

This is the book that introduced me to astonishing research and the art of life writing when I was in high school. Milford’s vivid and deeply researched biography of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is unsurpassed; she found letters presumed lost and assembled her own archive. Milford’s feminist reading of Zelda’s life is subtle and convincing, suggesting that some of Zelda’s madness may have been induced by her frustration at never becoming a creative artist in her own right. Also possibly a contributing factor: Scott’s theft of many details of her life and letters to fuel his own writing!
From the list:

The best biographies of American women

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Book cover of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady

By Anita Loos

Why this book?

I’m drawn to cheeky independent-minded people and Lorelei, the gold-digging flapper (played by Marilyn Monroe in the film of the name) is exactly that. Her most famous saying is: ‘A kiss on the hand may make you feel very nice, but a diamond and sapphire bracelet lasts forever.’ She embarks on a tour of Europe, which she assesses according to her own values. She meets Sigmund Freud, who wants to analyse her, but he finds it impossible because she’s so healthy. The humour is infectious and unforgettable.

From the list:

The best comfort books when you’re depressed

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Book cover of Casa Rossa

Casa Rossa

By Francesca Marciano

Why this book?

This book made me fall in love with Puglia, the hot, dusty “heel of the boot” with its lemons, olives, and cactus, its boxy farmhouses. Not that the story, bouncing from Paris to New York to a long-gone Rome, doesn’t deliver—the narrator, Alina, talks about a family secret passed from woman to woman, disintegrating memories, a past she must understand before the movers arrive and the house with its mural of a naked woman painted on a patio wall is no longer theirs. Present and past, the known and the unknown combine, and all of it is tied to…

From the list:

The best novels about people grappling with the past (often sabotaging their present and future in the process)

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Book cover of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

By Deborah Blum

Why this book?

A fun romp through many famous cases where “he done her in” (or vice versa) by such varied poisons as arsenic, strychnine, potassium cyanide, cyanide of mercury (even deadlier than potassium!), with an analysis of the policing and chemists’ methods used to nab the perpetrators. Not as common today as in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, death by poison was once the preferred, most devious, means for people to eliminate their enemies, ex-lovers, husbands, and wives. Taste that drink before you down it!

From the list:

The best books about crime and punishment in the Gilded Age (1870-1910)

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