We’ve crossed the half way mark of the Decades Reading Challenge, and we’ve worked out way up to the 1970s.
You can read all about the challenge, download your free printable reading tracker, and find book lists for other decades here.
As a reminder, you can choose any book you like that is set in the decade, but to give you a head start, we’ve compiled a great list of books about the Seventies that including historical fiction novels and modern classics that provide insights into life in this decade, both in the US and around the world, non-fiction accounts of some of the most defining political and scientific events of the era, and a few books published during the 1970s that have come to define this period of history.
The Seventies were a revolutionary decade as the progressive social values that began in the 1960s – such as increasing political activism and feminism – continued to grow. The hippie culture that began in the later half of the 1960s began to fade by the mid-1970s, but the environmentalist movement really took hold.
Similarly, to the political environment, the music of the 70s created a bridge between the rebellious anthems of the 60s and the pop-ier music to come in the 80s. The sounds of the 70s tended to be a bit more relaxing, and dance music became popular, including the short lived rise of disco. The 70s music scene was also defined by lots of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Major Events of the 1970s
Before recommending books from each decade, we like to provide historical context with an overview of the major events of the time, but if you’d prefer, feel free to scroll straight to our book list.
NASA’s 1970 Apollo 13 experienced an explosion shortly after launch and astronauts were able to successfully return to Earth after abandoning the moon mission.
In 1971, the US voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 years old with the ratification of the 26th amendment.
The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which provided evidence that the US Government had been lying to the American people.
Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Florida in 1971.
The 1972 break-in attempt at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building marked the beginning of the Watergate Scandal.
President Richard Nixon was reelected to a second term in November of 1972 in the midst of questions regarding his involvement in Watergate.
The US ended its involvement in the Vietnam War after signing the Paris Peace Accords in January of 1973; the war officially ended two years later in 1975.
In the 1973 landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a constitutional right.
Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in October of 1973 following charges of tax evasion and bribery.
Also in October 1973, following more revelations regarding the Watergate Scandal, the House of Representatives commenced an impeachment process against President Nixon.
In 1974, after the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over White House tape recordings regarding involvement and cover up in the Watergate Scandal, Nixon became the only US President to resign from office; Nixon was later pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford.
In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft, and the following year Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak create the Apple Computer Company. The first Apple II computers go on sale two years later in 1977.
Jaws, released in June of 1975, becomes one of the first ever blockbuster films.
President Gerald Ford, who became president following Nixon’s resignation, was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Presidential race.
The Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline opened in May of 1977.
Known as the Iran Hostage Crisis, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days from November 1979 to January 20, 1981.
Books Set in the 1970s
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by Taylor Jenkins Reid Setting: 1970s, Los Angeles First published 2019
This novel chronicles the meteoric rise of a fictional, iconic 1970s rock band - The Six - and their heedlessly beautiful lead singer, Daisy Jones. The story is told through a series of "behind the music" style interviews that will make you feel like your right there with them in the hard-partying, 70s music scene. As you hear from each member of the band, the story of these complex characters unfolds, ultimately revealing the mystery behind the band's infamous breakup.
The Book Girls Say... If you are looking for a book that will transport you back in time and make you feel like your right there in the 70s, this the book! Even if you aren't normally an audio book fan, this one is a must LISTEN. Each member of the band is read by a different narrator, which fits perfectly with the rock-umentary, interview style of the novel.
MORE BOOKS LIKE DAISY JONES... If you loved Daisy Jones & The Six, we've got a list of similar books we think you'll love.
by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock Setting: 1970, Alaska First published 2016
This YA historical fiction novel is set in Alaska told from the perspective of four different teenagers living in the same isolated community, but each from very different backgrounds, and leading very different lives. As their stories stories become unexpectedly intertwined as they deal with difficult issues in this short but moving novel about family, friendship, forgiveness, and hope.
by Thrity Umrigar Setting: India, 1970s and modern day First published 2012
This novel is about four women who began their friendship during college in Bombay in 1970s. Originally drawn together by their revolutionary fervor, over the next 30 years the friends drift apart as their lives take very different paths - one married and American while another is caught in a repressive marriage forced to wear a burkah. Through their stories, the author paints a portrait of India in the 1970s and through modern day. Ultimately, the four friends are reunited when one of them falls gravely ill and requests to see her friends together one last time.
The Book Girls Say... When Angela finished this book she couldn't stop talking about it for months. These women and their stories stick with you long after the last page!
Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger Setting: 1970, mission to the Moon First published as Lost Moon in 1994
During the glory days of NASA's Apollo space program, in April of 1970, Captain Jim Lovell and two other astronauts launched on America's fifth mission to the moon. But just hours into the flight of Apollo 13, an explosion rocked the ship and the astronauts began to lose oxygen and power.
In this book, written by Lovell and his co-author detail the full story that unfolded over the following days, with a narrative that shifts perspectives from the astronauts in the ship trying desperately to find a way home, to NASA Mission Control, and to Captain Lovell's family praying for his return.
By Jeffrey Eugenides Setting: 1970, Michigan First published 1993
Over the course of one night in a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters commit suicide one by one. Described as "a story of love and repression, fantasy and terror, sex and death, memory and longing." At its core, this novel is about the investigation into the secrets of American adolescence.
Khaled Hosseini Setting: early 1970s, Kabul, Afghanistan First published 2003
Set against the devastating history of Afghanistan, The Kite Runner tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy, Amir, and the son of his father's servant, Hassan. The two become as close as brothers until a traumatic event begins to pull them apart and down two very different paths in life.
The Book Girls Say... Angela's in person book club - a group that often has wildly different opinions about books - unanimously gave The Kite Runner five stars! Be warned, however, that this book deals with some very difficult issues, including rape and public executions.
by Robin Givhan Setting: 1973, Paris, France First published 2015
On November 28, 1973, the world's social elite gathered at the Palace of Versailles for an international fashion show. By the time the curtain came down on the evening's spectacle, history had been made and the industry had been forever transformed.
The Americans at the Battle of Versailles showed their work against the five French designers considered the best in the world. Plagued by in-fighting, outsized egos, shoestring budgets, and innumerable technical difficulties, the American contingent had little chance of meeting the European's exquisite and refined standards. But against all odds, the American energy and the domination by the fearless models (ten of whom, in a groundbreaking move, were African American) sent the audience reeling. By the end of the evening, the Americans had officially taken their place on the world's stage, prompting a major shift in the way race, gender, sexuality, and economics would be treated in fashion for decades to come.
Kristin Hannah Setting: 1974, Alaska First published 2018
Returning home from Vietnam after being held as a POW, Ernt is not the same person he was before he left. When he impulsively decides to move his family to Alaska to live of the grid, his 13-year-old daughter Leni is hopeful that it will be the fresh start the family needs for a better future. But when the harsh reality of an Alaskan winter without proper preparation begins to set in, Leni and her mother realize there is no one to save them but themselves.
The Book Girls Say... Angela loved this book and it reminder her of another favortie, Where the Crawdads Sing. Like Crawdads, it's a coming of age story about a girl with a difficult home life, very strong connections to nature, and a love interest that isn't approved of. If you also loved Where the Crawdad's Sing - here's a list of other similar books we think you'll enjoy!
By Fiona Davis Setting: New York, 1928 and 1974 First published 2018
For most New Yorkers, Grand Central Terminal is a masterpiece of architectural design, but for Clara and Virgina it represents something quite different.
For Clara, in 1928, teaching at the Grand Central School of Art in New York's crown jewel train station is the stepping stone to her future. But she and her friends will soon be blindsided by the Great Depression that may destroy the entire art scene.
In 1974, Grand Central has declined to a dangerous place full of pickpockets and drug dealers, and its at the center of a lawsuit that will decide if the terminal should be preserved or demolished. Virginia, who has recently taken a job in the Grand Central information booth, stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor that opens her eyes to the elegance beneath the decay. She sets out to find the artist, and finds herself drawn into the battle to save Grand Central.
The Book Girls say... We both LOVE New York City, the beauty of Grand Central Station and art, so it's like Fiona Davis wrote this book for us. We both enjoyed the combination of history, mystery, and even a little romance. Having only ever visited the restored Grand Central Station, it was fascinating to learn about its decline, and just how close it came to demolition in the 1970s.
by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Setting: 1974, Washington DC First published 1974
Described by TIME Magazine as "the work that brought down a presidency and launched a thousand reporting careers," this book is widely considered one of the most influential pieces of journalism in history. Published just months before Nixon resigned, Woodward and Bernstein's reporting on Watergate Scandal is a riveting detective story told in real time. It was this book that introduced "Deep Throat" for the first time.
by Colum McCann Setting: 1974, Manhattan, NYC First published 2009
In the late summer of 1974, New Yorkers all turned with rapt attention as a French acrobat illegally rigged a tightrope between the towers of the not-yet-finished World Trade Center and proceeded to walk, hop, dance, and run across it 1300 feet in the air. With this event as the connection point, the author weaves together a web of stories about many vastly different characters covering a wide cross section of New York City society as the live their separate yet intertwined lives during a time of great transition in America.
The Book Girls Say... Reviews say this one is slow to start, but well worth the effort!
by Eldonna Edwards Setting: 1970s, Northern California First published 2019
Twelve-year-old Clover Blue isn't sure of his birthday, who is parents are, or what his name used to be - but he does know that he's happy living among the Saffron Freedom Community - the commune into which he was adopted. On the commune, everyone is family, but when Clover (urged on by his funny best friend, Harmony) begins to ask questions, his search for identity will bring upheaval to the community.
Among the peaceful, nature loving members of the commune, this novel will introduce you to a unique group of characters that help paint a portrait of the decade - from the commune's guru to a Grateful Dead groupie, and from a Vietnam deserter to a surfer, and a midwife, just to name a few.
by Aimee Bender Setting: 1970s, Los Angeles, California First published 2010
As a young girl, Rose discovers upon biting into her mom's homemade lemon-chocolate cake, that she has a gift - she can taste her mother's emotions in the cake. Far from a sweet and simple coming of age book, this novel is better described as profound and haunting as Rose's "gift" turns out to be more of a curse. She discovers that her outwardly cheerful mother actually tastes of despair. And it's not just the cake - for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril through which she discovers that secrets of those who make it.
The Book Girls Say... This is one of those books with very split reviews - people seem to either love it or hate it, and for many it comes down to their feelings on the magical realism genre.
by Mary Romero Setting: 1970s, Los Angeles, California First published 2011
This is the true story of Olivia, who was born in LA, then lived with extended family in Mexico for a few years, before returning to LA to live with her mother, Carmen, who is a live-in maid for a wealthy family. Olivia sleeps with her mom in the maid's room of the house, but is raised along side the other children of the house, including attending school with them. Growing up among these children of privilege, Olivia struggles with her own identify.
The Book Girls Say... Though much of the story is told in Olivia's voice, this work of non-fiction has a bit an academic/sociological bent. rather than reading like a novel.
by Mohja Kahf Setting: 1970s, Indiana; Syria; Philadelphia First published 2006
Khadra's devoutly Muslim family immigrated from Syria, and she's growing up in 1970s Indiana "at the crossroads of bad polyester and Islamic dress codes." Capturing what it's like to grow up Muslim in middle-America, the story follows Khadra's struggle to balance her parents' beliefs and histories with her own experiences in American culture.
by Elizabeth Wetmore Setting: 1976, Odessa, Texas First published 2020
In 1976, with the next great oil boom on the horizon, the small town of Odessa, Texas is rocked by a brutal crime is committed against a fourteen-year-old girl in one of the oil fields. This novel explores justice, race, class, and religion, and the the lasting effects of the crime on the several of the women of the town.
The Book Girls Say... Melissa was concerned going into this book based on other reviews stating there were too many disconnected characters. After reading, she thought author made all the proper connections between them and they were clear as long as you didn't rush through the pages. Much of the beauty and brilliance in the book was found in single sentences peppered in to pull things together.
Melissa enjoyed each woman's individual story and loved how they intertwined. She found it to be a story of survival in terrible circumstances and how we often have to rely on others. Each character was saved by others in different ways. While she understands why the tragic nature of the book was deemed depressing by many, it also felt very representative of real life.
Celeste Ng Setting: 1977, Ohio First Published 2014
Lydia Lee was growing up 1970's small town Ohio. As the favorite daughter in a Chinese American, her parents have high expectations that she will fulfill all the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the Lee family is torn apart. This novel examines the distinctly different impact of Lydia's death on each different family, and also deals with issues of race and gender identity.
Lois-Ann Yamanaka Setting: 1970s, Helo, Hawaii First published 1996
Lovey is growing up in Hawaii, but her life is not the paradise that vacationers come for. Her Japanese-American family lives in near poverty in the working class town of Hilo on the Big Island. Written partly in Pidgin - Hawai'i Creole English - and filled with plenty of 70s pop culture references, this book is actually a collection of short stories. This coming-of-age story combines humorous satire with more serious examination of issues such as class warfare and stolen culture heritage.
by Alison Bechdel Setting: 1970s and 80s, Pennsylvania First published 2006
This graphic novel memoir chronicles Alison's upbringing in rural Pennsylvania where her father is the director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her siblings call the Fun Home. As she grows up, Alison comes to realize that she is a lesbian, and after leaving for college she comes out to her father, only to discover that he is also gay. But just a few weeks later, her father is dead and Alison is left trying to discover the truths about her father's life.
Don't let the graphic novel style fool you into thinking that this is a funny or lighthearted work. Rather, it deals with some dark and difficult issues, including violence and mental illness.
The Book Girls Say... Angela first became aware of Fun Home when it was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Knowing nothing more than the setting in a funeral home, she went to see the show unsure what to expect, and she was blown away. If you have the chance to see this work on stage, it's beautiful and powerful!
by Jeanette Walls Setting: 1970s, Virgina First published 2013
Author Jeanette Walls is well known for her memoir, The Glass Castle, as well as the tale of her incredible grandmother in Half Broke Horses. Unlike these two books, Silver Star is a work of fiction, although it was certainly influenced by her own life experiences.
This novel tells the story of two sisters, 12-year-old Bean (a spunky girl along the lines of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird) and her older sister, Liz. The sisters, after being abandoned by their mother in California, take a bus to a mill town in Virginia where their widowed uncle lives alone in a decaying mansion that's been in the family for years.
The Book Girls Say... If you've read Jeanette Wall's memoir, The Glass Castle, then you won't be surprised by her ability to write about vividly about the struggles and triumphs of dysfunctional families. Her first foray into fiction doesn't quite live up to her memoir, but it's very well written and worthy of a read!
by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio Setting: 1979, Tehran, Iran First published 2012
Argo tells the true story of the 1979 rescue of six Americans who escaped hostage capture in Iran and were hiding in the city. CIA agent Antonio Mendez came up with an ingenious but risky plan to go undercover as a Hollywood producer scouting locations for a made up science fiction film called "Argo." Under this guise, Mendez and his colleauges were able to successfully smuggle the six escapees out of Iran.
The Book Girls Say... If you enjoyed the Oscar winning film, this book provides in more of the background information, including context regarding the Iranian revolution, the embassy takeover, and the Iranian hostage crisis. The audio book is highly recommended.
by Judy Blume Setting: 1970, New Jersey First published 1970
Published in 1970, this young adult novel broke all the rules by talking to pre-teen girls about sex and religion without being prim or scolding., and each been read by generation after generation since. Now, 50 years later, the classic novel is being turned into a movie.
The Book Girls Say... If you somehow missed reading this book in your younger years, now might be the time to pick it up before the movie comes out. Or if, like me, you read several decades ago, but you now have kids approaching Margaret's age, this book could serve as a good reminder of what it's like to be young with so many questions and confusing emotions.
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