The 1960s were a rather unique time around the world as a whole, with technology beginning to evolve faster than ever before, the post-war euphoria still going strong, the Cold War inspiring fear and suspicion in countless people, and of course, writers beginning to make a strong push towards new directions.
A great emphasis was placed on freedom of speech in numerous parts of the world, and authors took the opportunity to write about the world as they really saw it. This meant broaching on heavier and taboo subjects which had been swept under the carpet for far too long.
Books and novels were being published in troves exploring societal issues relating to gender, race, homosexuality, war with its crimes and absurdity, feminism, espionage, mental health, and this is just for starters. Books were a force to behold in the counterculture revolution of the 1960s, facilitating an ideological propagation which might have never been possible otherwise.
Some of the bestselling novels of the 1960s include Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Slaugherhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré.
“The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton – Otherworldly Crisis Containment
Michael Crichton will forever be remembered as one of the main pillars helping to bridge a union between literature and cinema, many of his iconic works having been turned into equally-recognized movies. The Andromeda Strain is one of them, a science-fiction novel following four elite biophysicists racing to uncover the cause behind the near-total decimation of a sleepy desert town and to contain a contagion threatening the world at large.
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“Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin – Nurturing Future Damnation
Ira Levin has populated the realms of literature with some of the most original classics it has seen from the fifties to the end of the seventies, and Rosemary’s Baby is perhaps his best-known work, at least among horror aficionados. The story follows the titular Rosemary and her husband Guy Woodhouse as they move into an ominous apartment building where an elderly couple begins to take an unusual and uncomfortable interest in their lives.
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“Airport” by Arthur Hailey – Man Against Nature
Arthur Hailey was perhaps one of the best at taking a small field and populating it with an interesting and diverse cast of characters, a talent quite well exemplified in his bestselling 1968 novel titled Airport. It follows, over the course of seven hours, the staff working at the Lincoln International Airport in the face torrid blizzard, as well as a lone airplane desperately trying to reach its destination.
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“Hotel” by Arthur Hailey – A Vacation Crisis
Arthur Hailey has been able to pierce and expose various industries over the course of his illustrious career like few others could have hoped. In Hotel (a novel adapted into a television show as well as a movie) he takes us through five fateful days at New Orleans’ largest hotel as the lives of its guests, workers and managers intersect in unpredictable ways.
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“Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair MacLean – Schemes Within Plans
Alistair MacLean is one of those authors whose works were begging to be adapted to the silver screen, something he helped realize with his screenwriting talents. Where Eagles Dare is likely his most acclaimed work, following the story of Major Smith and his tiny group of commandos, parachuted behind enemy lines to break a general out of a Nazi fortress in the mountains. However, the mission is just a cover, and a much more insidious game is being played by both sides.
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“The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut – The Inescapable Plan
Kurt Vonnegut has many novels through which he established his lifelong fame as an essential author of the 20th century, and the first of those was titled The Sirens of Titan. Published all the way back in 1959, it tells the story of Malachi Constant, Earth’s richest and most depraved man, as he embarks on a grand interplanetary voyage against his own will, learning much about the universe in the process, and forgetting even more about himself.
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“Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem – The Unnoticed Contact
Lem has left an indelible mark on the world of both literature and cinema when he published Solaris back in 1961. It tells the story of a psychologist, Kris Kelvin, sent on a mission to a distant space station for the purpose of studying an ocean which, so far, has managed to defy all scientific explanation. However, when he arrives the situation on the station seems strangely dire, and soon an unexpected visitor appears from thin air.
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“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller – Where Rational Thought goes to Die
Joseph Heller forever gifted humanity a slightly deeper understanding of human nature and the utter folly pervasive in war when he published the eternally-current Catch-22. The novel, drawing in part on Heller’s experiences as a bombardier, follows the story of Captain John Yossarian and his mates who experience the incongruous insanity of the Second World War as they fly their missions over Italy.
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“A Small Town in Germany” by John le Carre – Upsetting all the Right People
John le Carre understood like few others the ins and outs of espionage, having personally stewed in it for a number of years. In A Small Town in Germany, perhaps one of the lesser-known novels in comparison to his famous ones, tells the story of a hunt for an embassy worker, Leo Harting, who goes missing with a briefcase stuffed with confidential documents.
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“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Time is Indeed a Circle
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, is a figure who needs little introduction among book lovers. His works have always been distinguished by their profound and meaningful nature, and One Hundred Years of Solitude represents those qualities like none other. Telling of the rise and fall of a mythical town called Macondo, the story follows the lives of multiple generations belonging to the Buendia family.
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“The Source” by James A. Michener – The Holy Land Madhouse
James A. Michener had a rather peculiar specialty as an author, focusing on rather lengthy historical novels profoundly focusing on a specific geographical location. The Source, originally published back in 1965, takes us on a journey thousands of years long through the Holy Land, recounting the origins of Judaism, the rise of the early Hebrews, and all which happened since then until the modern conflict with Palestine.
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“The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone – The Grasp for Heaven
Irving Stone had a knack like none other for writing poignant biographical novels which still remained true to their sources, with The Agony and the Ecstasy arguably being his most famous and defining work. Fictionalizing the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the all-time famous artist responsible for many immortal creations, the novel takes us on a grandiose and perilous journey through the Renaissance as the artist tries to find his way in life against all odds.
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“The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John le Carre – A Warzone for Intellectuals
John Le Carre is a man whom I believe needs little introduction at this stage, having authored so many international bestsellers, some of which found their way on our television and movie screens. Already fifty years have passed since he published his first bestselling novel, the one to really launch his career, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
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“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote – Reconstruct the American Tragedy
Truman Capote may very well have revolutionized the world of journalism when he wrote the novelized yet non-fictional account of the Clutter family murder, but more than that, he created one of the most powerful and compelling true crime narrations that takes us into the emotional and psychological depths of the American tragedy. Praised by one side and criticized by the other, In Cold Blood remains a rather controversial book to this very day, one that is nevertheless deemed an important milestone in American literature.
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