Whether you are participating in our Decades Reading Challenge or found this post searching for books set in the 1950s, the booklist has a wide variety of books to choose from.
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.
For additional historical context, check out the timeline of major world events included at the end of the post.
Highly Rated Books About the 1950s
While most of the recommendations on this list were published more recently, 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 challenge, but we hope that this list of books has given you a good starting point.
Sign Up for the Decades Challenge
Sign up for our email list below to receive a free printable tracker for the Decades Challenge. Our weekly email newsletter helps you stay on track with friendly reminders while still allowing you the flexibility to read at your own pace. Additionally, challenge participants have an opportunity to discuss the books on this list and to provide ratings and reviews via our book logs.
Book Recommendations for Other Decades
In addition to our recommendations organized by decade below, you can browse all of our historical fiction book lists here.
- Books Set in the 1880s and 1890s
- Books that Span Multiple Decades
- Books Set in the 2000s
- Books Set in the 2010s
- Books Set in the 1990s
- Books Set in the 1980s
- Books Set in the 1970s
- Books Set in the 1960s
- Books Set in the 1950s
- Books Set in the 1940s
- Books Set in the 1930s
- Books Set in the 1920s
- Books Set in the 1900s and 1910s
Major World Events of the 1950s
We compiled this list of major events of the time period to provide some historical context for your reading. We hope you enjoy learning a bit more about this period in history.
- 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.