Books in the 1970s

Books in the 1970s

CNN is following up their successful series on the 1960s with one on the 1970s:

Tom Hanks is an Executive Producer.

The existence of this series is kind of funny to me. I did a comedy bit years ago on our community access TV show (Freedom from Fear) called “In Search of the Seventies”. I treated it as a mystery as to whether or not the Seventies even (culturally) existed. I asked if they were really just “…the end of the Sixties and the start of the Eighties”.

I think that’s because I was too close to it. I was really engaging in pop culture in the Seventies…well, often culture that wasn’t so popular, but you know what I mean. 😉 I didn’t have the distance from it and maturity to recognize what was special about it.

Certainly, I thought the 1960s had a unique culture…with the Beatles in part driving the bus.

As to the 1980s, well, New Wave music seemed to stand out to me.

The 1970s? At that time, I wasn’t seeing what made it special.

Now I do. 🙂

People can certainly now recognize something as being styled as though it was in the 1970s…after all, there was even a very popular show called That ’70s Show…about a decade and a half ago.

I’m doing a post in another blog of mine, The Measured Circle, about the geek culture of the 1970s (and modern geek culture was arguably born then…Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, the first Star Trek convention…), but that one may be more of a listing covering various topics (update: here is that post: The Geeky Seventies). I thought I’d do a fuller post here on books in the 1970s, and not limiting it to geek-friendly books. 🙂

In the 1960s, the concepts of censorship and creative freedom changed in the United States. This was being reflected in all media. 1968 saw the introduction of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) movie ratings system, for example. While you might think that would be a sign of more restrictiveness, it actually meant that “X-rated” movies had a legitimate place. Movie theatres could avoid accusations of contributing to the delinquency of minors by having rules which (putatively, at least), kept them out of those showings.

Themes of sex and violence were much more accepted, again, riding a wave from the 1960s. We were also ready for more openness on “non-traditional” roles in our characters.

Watergate brought both a distrust in the institutions, and an interest in non-fiction.

Perhaps related to that was a trend for self-help books. That trend had arguably started before the rising tide in 1973 of belief that the highest levels of government had been involved in a 1972 break-in for political purposes, but books that had to do with independence (self-help, health) really took off in 1972 and continued through the decade.

Genre books went mainstream, notably the arrival of Stephen King.

In fact, I’d say that is a trend with some some of the others as well. The 1960s cracked open the old institutions…the 1970s commercialized the counter culture.

In book selling (I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager), the democratization of books continued with the opening of the first Crown Books (1977): the idea of discounting all books was controversial…some people see that (and cheap e-books) as devaluing literature, while others see it as making them more available to more people. The 1970s were when Barnes & Noble really became a national chain, with Leonard Riggio buying it in 1971 and it expanding through the decade (including advertising on TV, a breakthrough).

It’s also worth noting that the first e-book was made available by Michael S. Hart (Project Gutenberg) in 1971…although the market didn’t really take off until the introduction of the Kindle in 2007.

Now, let’s take a look at it year by year:


  • The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman (first of the Leaphorn and Chee books)
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  • Ball Four by Jim Boulton
  • Deliverance by James Dickey
  • The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • Love Story by Erich Segal
  • The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (first of the author’s Arthurian series)
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
  • Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer
  • 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • Papillon by Henri Charrière
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney


  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  • The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman by Ernest J. Gaines
  • Grendel by John Gardner
  • Being There by Jerzy Kosinski
  • The Betsy by Harold Robbins
  • Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese
  • The Other by Tom Tryon
  • The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh
  • The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
  • A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda
  • The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer (first of the Riverworld books)
  • Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  • The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell


  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) by Roald Dahl
  • The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  • Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins
  • The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith by Thomas Keneally
  • The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
  • The Word by David Wallace
  • Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
  • Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock


  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
  • Once Is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann
  • Burr by Gore Vidal
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber


  • Carrie by Stephen King (first published novel)
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • Centennial  by James A. Michener
  • Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
  • Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • The Other Side of Midnight by Sydney Sheldon
  • Working by Studs Terkel
  • All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  • Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
  • Alive by Piers Paul Read
  • The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein


  • The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
  • Shogun by James Clavell
  • Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie
  • The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
  • ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth  Peters
  • Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner
  • Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow


  • Blubber by Judy Blume
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
  • The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck
  • Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  • Roots by Alex Hailey
  • Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig
  • A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth #1) by Piers Anthony


  • The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
  • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • Coma by Robin Cook
  • A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
  • Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx
  • Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson


  • The World According to Garp by John Irving
  • The Far Pavilions by M.M.  Kaye
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Scruples by Judith Krantz
  • Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford
  • Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
  • Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin


  • The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
  • Ghost Story by Peter Straub
  • Life on Earth by David Attenborough
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  • The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
  • Bunnicula by James Howe

That’s a pretty good start. 🙂 I feel like I could have included more mystery series, like Dick Francis, that didn’t begin in the Seventies, but were still popular. Speaking of still popular, Agatha Christie was big. UFO/paranormal books were definitely a trend.

What do you think? What were your favorite books of the 1970s? What would you say defines the 1970s (books and otherwise)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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8 Responses to “Books in the 1970s”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    In 1977 Marcia Muller published “Edwin of the Iron Shoes,” the first in her series of Sharon McCone books introducing the first “hard boiled” female detective. I’ve gone back and purchased all of her books that are available on Kindle to read again. Most of them withstand the test of time, though current day young readers would find it quaint that she had to search for a telephone booth to check in with her office. They probably wonder what was so thrilling when she got her IBM Selectric typewriter.

    I remember spending a summer afternoon reading “Alive” and then coming in for supper and finding my mother had put a pot roast out for supper. After having read all those gory details, my system couldn’t handle the thought of cutting into that huge hunk of meat!

    I know I read Watership Down, but the only thing I can remember is that it was about rabbits. I’ve yet to correctly answer a single question about it on the Goodreads trivia pages.

    The sale of some of some of the books on your list was enhanced by another seventies phenomenon when they became part of the “made for TV” mini series format that allowed more in depth portrayal of the events of thick books such as Centennial, Shogun, Roots, and The Thornbirds. My favorites, Captains and the Kings, and Rich Man, Poor Man. The Brits made a series out of All Creatures Great and Small. There was a made for TV movie of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, and Helter Skelter along with theatrical movies for quite a few books on that list. I’m sure those helped the sale of books. Of course, in my case, I had already read the books before they were produced.

    I’ve read about half of the books on your list. I was going to pick one for each year, but there were some years that had more than one book I really liked more than all the books in other years, so here are my top 10!

    84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
    The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
    All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
    Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
    Jaws by Peter Benchley
    Centennial by James A. Michener
    Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
    Carrie by Stephen King
    Ordinary People by Judith Guest
    The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Definitely, TV tie-ins were a big deal! The miniseries was sold partially on the idea that a book could be done justice that way. I think I even remember them being called “TV novels” (which is not the same as a telenovela). 😉

      A great movie for those tech differences is All the President’s Men! Yes, they have to look for a pay phone. However, when they are researching something and the way to do it is just dig through actual issues of newspapers…well, things would be different now. 😉

      On your list, I’ve read The Exorcist, Jaws (both inspired by real events), Sybil, and Carrie.

      Vincen Bugliosi has reportedly just died..oh, and my Significant Other knew someone who only read two books, and just kept reading them one after the other: Helter Skelter and Gone with the Wind…

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        I’ve read GWTW at least four times, and each time, I’ve drawn more from it. The last read was on my Kindle, and I’ve finally reached the level of understanding where I can see the appalling racism in it. I was named after one of the characters in the book, which explains part of that continuing interest. On the third reading, I finally figured out why my mother was drawn to the character she chose to name me after. I think I’ve read it enough now to know I don’t need to read it again.

        I was surprised that I had read so many books from your lists, but then I realized that during the 70’s I was a member of both the Literary Guild and the Mystery Guild, and my mom was a member of the Book of the Month Club, so we would trade books back and forth.

        I’ve always thought that the Harry Potter books would have been better served as a mini series because so much good stuff had been left out, but after reading the “These Are The Voyages” books and seeing how the networks squeeze every last penny out of budges and hearing complaints from a friend about how badly the “Game of Thrones” books are being mangled, perhaps it’s just as well that Harry stayed with the movies.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thank for writing, Lady!

        I’ve never read Gone with the Wind…maybe some day.

        I’ve read quite a few of the books on the list, but I don’t think it is half of them.

        As to Harry Potter…I don’t think they run into those sorts of budget restrictions on HBO, or Amazon, or Netflix, for that matter. Still, budget can’t be ignored, even if the financial model is very different. All the movies together are longer than a miniseries, I would say…perhaps a season ten one hour episodes?) a book, but even then, things would be left out and changed.

        A book just isn’t a movie and it isn’t a TV series…different things. 🙂

  2. The Geeky Seventies | The Measured Circle Says:

    […] I Love My Kindle: Books in the 1970s […]

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Wow! I don’t think I can remember much from the seventies (:grin). I had occasion to watch a few episodes of “That Seventies Show”, and it wasn’t anything like the seventies I remember.

    In many ways I’m 70’s culturally deprived because I turned my TV off for the duration — so there’s a whole bunch of stuff that I missed.

    The seventies for me comes in two parts: the first half where I was a geeks geek writing tens of thousands of lines of assembly code for mainframe operating systems. I didn’t get out much (:grin), and the only things I read were computer manuals — which I read as religiously as any priest would read the bible, or imam the Koran (:grin).

    The second half I was into competitive figure skating, & darkroom photography — still didn’t get out much; still kinda scruffy, but at least I was wearing a jacket and tie, and then (wait for it) along came Disco! Ice skating became disco roller skating, and you might find me at Studio 54 or at the American Ballet Theatre — dance was my thing. The seventies morphed into 80’s pop with MJ, Madonna, and Phil Collins (I turned my TV on just in time for Miami Vice, and Magnum PI :grin)

    I spent all of the seventies and 80’s in Manhattan. When I think back to my seventies apartments, other than manuals and economics textbooks (towards the middle of the 70’s I went back to school to get an mBA in Economics at NYU) , there weren’t many books around (lots of punch card decks and computer listings tho).

    I did read a lot of Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe), Margery Alligham, PG Wodehouse — not too much Christie (I liked Miss Marple better than Poirot. Quite a bit of Sci FI, but nothing much pops out — most of the titles that stick in my mind are from the sixties or eighties. I do remember trolling my way through EC Tubb’s Dumarest saga — not enjoying it overly much, but unable to stop — all the way through all 33 titles.

    I also remember CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine cycle — didn’t enjoy that much either (:grin) — much of what I liked from Cherryh didn’t come until the 80’s. One SciFi series that I read and enjoyed in the seventies was Marion Z Bradley’s Darkover stories.

    As to your 70’s lists (where did they come from BTW?), I was aware of most of them at the time, but I probably only read about 10-20% of the titles on your lists.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Great stories!

      I also enjoyed Darkover.

      I went through several things to put together the articles. I have a terrible sense of time, as I think I mentioned, so I have to through sources to figure what was in the seventies. Goodreads, Wikipedia,, Google, Hawes New York Times Bestseller archives…those were some of the things I used.

  4. A perfect storm for writing | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] I Love My Kindle: Books in the 1970s […]

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