Great Books of the 70s

If you truly wish to understand the generation who came of age in the 1970s, you need to know the world as it stood at the start of that decade.

They had just missed the Vietnam War and the draft, they missed the hippie era, the economy was falling apart and there was no future.

No cell phones, no internet, no personal computer, no email, no cable, no smart cards, no credit cards, no smart cars. But we knew it was all coming. All of these things. None of this surprised us when it arrived.

If you are under thirty and jaded and you think you know everything and that my generation is too old, please stop reading here. You didn’t follow our path and you never could have. You won’t even understand what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t just Jonestown and Malaise and the Hostage Crisis and Kent State and Disco. It was a little bit more.

But wait, if, just if you start reading everything on this list, listen to the music I mentioned, see the movies, you can get a hint of it.

But still we imagined this wonderful future…

I was 12 in 1974 and I vividly remember these books on my parents’ and everyone else’s parents’ bookshelves. We read these books or saw the movie or talked about them and these books and their companion movies the way we saw the world.

Believe it or not a 12 year old could read these books and clearly understand them. Today’s kids? Not a chance. Even the A students. They are less perceptive than we were. We expected the draft to continue, we expected to go to Vietnam, our heros were The WWII generation. Kids my age read Vonnegut.  We saw the steel Mills shut down and a generation put out of work, flee the northeast for Oilfields in Texas and Alaska. We saw the rust belt communities collapse.

We talked to the guys coming back from Vietnam and they shared with us what they would never share with adults, we were ambivalent to Watergate and Politics, we listened to Lynnrd Skynnrd and Zeppelin and Jim Croce and Elton John and The Sweet and especially Smoke on the Water.

We didn’t just talk about hippies, we knew them, they shared their philosophy we went into head shops and smelled the incense and sat on the water beds.

This was the Freak generation. They blamed us for not caring. We did care, there was just nothing we could do about it and no-one listened to us. We had no War, we had no politics we had no purpose and we had no future.

We gave up on Mad Magazine and Cracked so we could read National Lampoon. We saw Patton, 2001, Clockwork Orange, Hang em High and Enter the Dragon at the Movie Theatres.

Long story short, young people. If our generation – the first Post-Baby Boom Generation that got all of the blame and none of the benefits, we are the ones who persevered and made this world possible. Yeah, we weren’t special. We were on our own. And yes, you’re Welcome.

Alive – Piers Paul Read 1974

This may have been the first book for adults that I ever read. For that reason, I have a deep connection to this work. Everyone in 8th grade was talking about this book. I only read it out of morbid curiosity because it was about cannibalism, but Read’s writing was so vivid, he literally put us on this plane. Every event, every up and down of hope and hope lost had me on the edge of my seat. We felt the same shame when one of the passengers yelled at the injured crying woman to shut up. We felt the same fear and revulsion about what they had to do to survive. We asked ourselves, if we had been there, could we have done it? I was able to make all the connections even though I was only 12 when I read it. The act of holy communion, the religious significance giving a hint that it was OK to break one of the most forbidden taboos. The book was mesmerizing up until the very end. I literally could not put it down. The book actually inspired me in many ways. It gave me an interest in mountains, in aviation in South America, although I have yet to visit. We fell in love with Canessa and Parrado in a spiritual sense. The book had a profound affect on us to let us believe that with faith in the almighty and our fellow man we could accomplish anything.

Papillon – Henri Charrière 1969

Another story of Survival, like the Old Billy Preston Song ‘Let the bad guy win every once in a while’. We liked Papillon. We liked Degà. Once again, as we read the book, we are living the same predicament as Papillon as if we are in prison and we must escape with him. Sure they were bad guys, the guards weren’t even bad, they were just doing their job, like in Cool Hand Luke.

Future Shock – Alvin Toffler 1970

One of the great futurists of all time. While his view of the future was scary, it was also intriguing. Boy did he ever predict what is happening now. Runaway technology, government snooping, mass social networking, even gay marriage and the networked home.

Helter Skelter – Vince Bugliosi 1974

Riveting, terrifying, written in the style of a mystery novel. We never know the outcome until the very end. It taught us that there was evil in the world and every now and then the good guys can win if they are determined enough.

Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut 1969

I got the book because my Dad was a WWII Vet. That generation was actually quite cynical and Vonnegut was their voice. I never understood this book until I came back from Iraq and I too have become unstuck in time.

The Winds of War – Herman Wouk 1971

I never read this book. My Dad was reading this on his deathbed as he was slipping away from Leukemia. I never understood the man and I have a superstition that if I read this book I will die too.

The Day of the Jackal – Frederick Forsyth 1971

Really cool political intrigue. Made no sense to me, but it made me want to travel around Europe.

The Anderson Tapes – Lawrence Sanders 1971

Great book. Super cool movie. Fascinating. Riveting. Freaky and covered the idea of covert government surveillance – of the wrong people.

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton 1969

Possibly the most riveting intro in the history of Speculative Science Fiction. I actually used the call signs Caper One and Vandal Decca through out my military career. This book got me interested in Science.

Deliverance – James Dickey 1970

This movie put a cork in wanting to travel and see America.

“Squeal Like a Pig!”

Midnight Express – Billy Hayes 1977

This movie put a cork in wanting to travel and see Europe.

“We…are the bad machines!”

Catch 22 – Joseph Teller 1961

A cynical tribute to the World War II Generation. No-one read it until the 1970s.

Yossarian was so cool.

Ball Four – Jim Bouton 1970

Destroyed the image of our sports heroes forever, or at least until Roberto Clemente made us believe in heroes again on New Year’s Day 1972.

Stark Naked: A Paranomastic Odyssey – Norton Juster 1969

Juster was famous for ‘The Dot and the Line’ and for ‘The Phantom Tollbooth.’ This was a bizarre cartoon book made up entirely of plays on words. Influential on my sense of humor. Got it from my Dad’s bookshelf at work. He was a college professor by then. Everything provocative and interesting was on his bookshelf.

Some memorable characterts were:

“Yetta Nother”,  a haggard mother with about twelve children.

“Ellis Dee”, a drugged out college student.

National Lampoon 1970- May 1975

This is the magazine on which the modern generation of humor is based.  Got it from my Dad’s bookshelf at work. You can find it online as a complete set.


Not on the List:

The Godfather – Mario Puzo 1969

Boring. I didn’t get it. It’s so heavy. Everyone wears black.

Anything by Stephen King

Please don’t ask me again. You know I find King’s work to be ultimately derivative. He writes in 900 pages what Poe wrote in 9 pages. Overblown over-dramatic drivel. Ooh Carrie, high school revenge story, ooh it’s so original. Please. I liked ‘Pet Sematary’ the first time I read it when it was called ‘The Monkey’s Paw’.

Anything by Philip Roth

This isn’t going to sound right. It’s  going to sound anti-Semitic, but of course I can get away with it for the same reason that black people can call each other ‘n1994’. I hated Philip Roth. I viewed it as pretentious elitist New York Jewish intellectual tripe about whiny wimpy men. Then I realized he may have been making a parallel to Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ that is for you too slow to pick up on it, The paitient in the Psychiatrist’s  chair as Cockroach on its back. I don’t know. He’s probably a wonderful guy.

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