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Books Set in the 1950s

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Whether you are participating in our Decades Reading Challenge or found this post searching for books books set in the 1950s, the booklist has a wide variety of books to choose from.

Three angled book covers of books set in the 1950s. The center book has a black and white photo of a woman stepping out of a car and the title is The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis.

Literary Themes in Books About the 1950s

We’ve compiled a great list of books about the Fifties. These include historical fiction novels set around the globe, books about quintessential American life in the 1950s, stories about the divergent experiences of black and white Americans in the middle of the century and the growing racial tensions, and memoirs and non-fiction reads about the events and people of the day.

With the Great Depression just a memory, and the post-WWII economy strong, the 1950s began a time of rapid change in the United States. American families were growing fast, giving rise to the baby boomer generation. These families began flocking to new suburbs in search of an idyllic, “normal” life amid increasing fears of the atomic bomb brought on by the Cold War. As they grew up, the baby boomer generation would be at the forefront of social change, including greatly influencing the Civil Rights Movement and the conflict in Vietnam – both of which began in the 1950s.

Major World Events of the 1950s

Before recommending books from the decade, we like to provide context with an overview of 1950s historical events. If you’d prefer, feel free to scroll straight to our 1950s booklist.

  • The US birthrate rose throughout the 1950s, with the Baby Boom peaking in 1957.
  • The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea in June of 1950.
  • Between 1950 and 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy carried out a campaign against alleged communists, which came to be known as McCarthyism. Many of the accused lost their jobs or were blacklisted during the Red Scare, although it turned out that most did not actually belong to the Communist Party.
  • Elizabeth II became the Queen of England following her father’s death, and her coronation was celebrated one year later, in 1953.
  • In 1954, the Supreme Court deemed racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional in a unanimous decision in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. Despite the ruling, some southern states refused to comply.
  • The Vietnam War began in November 1955 and lasted for two decades.
  • The Disneyland theme park opened in California in 1955, the same year that “The Mickey Mouse Club” premiered on television.
  • In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama after bravely refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This was one of many actions that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Following testing on HeLa cells in the early 1950s, the first polio vaccine became available to the public in 1955.
  • American Actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.
  • In 1957, nine African-American students enrolled at Little Rock Central High School. They were met with protests and resistance, ultimately being escorted into the school by Federal military troops at the command of President Eisenhower.
  • The Soviets launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite launching the Space Age, in 1957. The following year, NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – was formed.
  • In 1959, the Cuban revolution ended and Fidel Castro came into power, creating the first Communist nation in the West.
  • Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as the 49th and 50th states in the US.

Highly Rated Books About the 1950s

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We’ve updated this list year over year, based on feedback from our readers. The list contains many highly-rated 1950s historical fiction books. However, if you prefer books published in the era, some popular books from the 1950s to consider are: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Narrows by Ann Petry, and The Wedding by Dorothy West.

You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the Decades Challenge, but we hope that this list of historical fiction books set in the 50s has given you a good starting point.

Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls can log ratings for their monthly challenge reads. The log’s data is used for the “BGG Reader Ratings” that are added to descriptions for future years. We’d love you to contribute your rating after you’ve finished your read this month.

Can you send me a printable list with book titles but not descriptions?

This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.

We’re so excited to be able to offer this fun perk this year!

Every book title is pre-filled on the printable book tracker for the month. The tracker also includes space for you to mark your interest level, make notes about whether you’ve requested the book from the library (or any other notes you’d like), and then fill in your rating. We’ll also include blank lines in case you have other books on your TBR (to be read) list that meet the prompt. We’d love you to sign up here!

That said, you’ll always find the most updated version of our recommendations with descriptions each month at no cost on our website. We do update the list and descriptions regularly based on reader feedback. But, we know some of you wanted to print the list to take to the library or bookstore, and we hope this helps.

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