Top 10 Best Selling Books of the 1960s

Michaelangelo
Michaelangelo | Source

1. The Agony and The Ecstacy - Irving Stone

In 1961, The Agony and The Ecstacy was published and widely praised for the detailed way in which Stone tells the story of Michaelangelo.

Stone worked from translated letters sent by Michaelangelo and built up a picture of the painter and sculptor from these personal letters and also from his extensive research; living in Italy for a number of years mulling over whether to write the book as a novel.

Stone also wrote Lust for Life, the story of Vincent Van Gogh.

Stone's novels were all historical in subject matter but written as fiction. He enjoyed a long career as a writer and was famous for the level of research which went into each of his novels.

J D Salinger
J D Salinger | Source

2. Franny and Zooey - J. D. Salinger

Salinger's off-kilter book was actually the bringing together of two stories about brother and sister, Zooey and Franny Glass and first appeared as two short stories in the New Yorker magazine in the late 1950s.

Salinger was much admired during this period, having already published Catcher in The Rye to great praise.

Franny and Zooey, basically 2 episodes in the lives of two siblings is actually about morality and spirituality and how these two people make sense of their grasp on life when for one of them, Franny, things seem to be falling apart.

The novel is a cycle with Franny rejecting the life she feels trapped in at her university, also rejecting love in the process and is overwrought and wrung out with the wrongs she sees in her life. Her brother is encouraged to talk to her and make sense of her pain - he brings her out of it.


Harper Lee - reluctant publicist, amazing author
Harper Lee - reluctant publicist, amazing author | Source

3.To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird remains a twentieth century American classic and is a book about racial inequality but also has the subtext of being about a child growing up and making sense of the world around her.

Harper Lee has said that some of the book was biographical, based on an incident she remembered from her childhood but the character of Scout, whilst central to the book is not as well loved as her father, Atticus Finch, a dedicated, earnest lawyer who takes on the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman without much hope of getting the verdict he should.

To Kill A Mockingbird was an immediate success with Harper Lee winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1960.

It is a historically significant movie, given that it was released just at a time when African Americans were finding a voice in the USA.

The characterisation is wonderful, each person pops off the page and the dialogue is tight and not a word is wasted.

In spite of its serious themes, it is also very amusing in places because the main character is a small child and her take on the world is very naive and innocent.

Harper Lee has never written another book and unusually, she did not publicise To Kill A Mockingbird and has never given any speeches about it. She has received several honorary doctorates and degrees from a number of univerisities but always declined to speak about the novel.

When asked why she responded, "Well, it's better to be silent than to be a fool."

4. The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's last novel was not admired by critics in the USA and yet scooped the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, a year after it was published.

At the time it was written, Steinbeck was dissatisfied with morality in the United States and felt that the novel addressed some of the issues head on with its story of a man's failing social status making him reject his usual morality in the name of getting a foot back on the ladder.

He becomes morally corrupt and has power over others who he has supported in belittling others in his town.

All the while though, he is unsure of his actions and Steinbeck's novel is a close-up view of a man wrestling with his inner demons and the outward pressures of a wife and daughter only interested in money and things.

William Faulkner
William Faulkner | Source

5. The Reivers - William Faulkner

The Reivers is William Faulkner's picaresque novel about young Americans discovering a world nothing like the one in which they grew up.

It is funny, pacy and also racy with their introduction to theft ('reiving' was raiding or stealing), gambling, prostitution and alcohol.

The other characters with whom they come into contact seem determined to totally turn their morals but there is always their pasts to fall back on and the respects for their families is never far from the surface.

Faulkner won his second Pulitzer Prize for this novel, though it is unlike all of his other work.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Anne Morrow Lindbergh | Source

6. Dearly Beloved - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the wife of aviator, Charles Lindbergh and far from merely being a supporter of her husband's illustrious career, she was a noted feminist and gifted poet and writer.

Dearly Beloved was not made into a movie but perhaps might make an interesting movie if it were made now with its rather clever setting of the wedding of a young couple being a backdrop for the biographical ups and downs of the wedding guests?

In turn, Lindbergh examines the thoughts and feelings of a variety of the wedding party, with the bridge and groom's friends and family all being put under the microscope as the reader gets insights into not only the happy couple but also the less happy parents and guests.

Lindbergh sprinkled some of her feminist views among all of the soap opera and the book is all the better for it.

7. The Shoes of the Fisherman - Morris L West

Australian author Morris West sold over 60 million books in his lifetime and was especially admired for his 'Papal' trilogy, of which The Shoes of the Fisherman was the second part.

The Shoes of the Fisherman tells the story of Kiril Pavlovich Lakota a Russian, who is imprisoned in Siberia but on his freedom becomes a cardinal in the Rome.

The book looks at his journey from common man living in an oppressive regime to great pope who feels that his life experiences can provide those involved in the machinations of the Cold War.

When Pope Jon Paul II came to the papacy, many looked to this novel as a sort of fictional example of Pope John Paul II's own life.

Morris West shows Kiril throughout the novel as a man coming to terms with his human side; his past influences his choices and he wants to inspire those he meets with his wisdom. He is allowed close conversations with all of those involved in the politics of the cold war.

Pope John Paul II did a similar job during the 70s in the Polish 'Solidarity' movement.

8. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour–An Introduction, J. D. Salinger

Once again, J.D. Salinger delivers the finale of his tale about the Glass family.

The last 'episode' also featured in this list was about Franny and Zooey and this final look at the siblings zones in on the other two brothers, Seymour and Buddy.

In Franny and Zooey, Buddy and Seymour are both key givers of advice to Franny in his push to support his sister. Buddy, especially plays a key role.

In the last two episodes, Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenter and Seymour, An Introduction we get to see Buddy's admiration for Seymour and then the true sadness in Seymour, An Introduction of a brother coming to terms with his grief.

The New Yorker magazine hated Seymour...suggesting it should be renamed 'Seymour, A Disaster' but for those prepared to brave out its stream of consciousness style, it is described as a 'mesmerising, heartbreaking, wonderful' book.

John LeCarre
John LeCarre | Source

9. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John Le Carré

John LeCarre had worked in counter-intelligence and certainly knew all of the skullduggery which such work entails.

The Spy who Came In From the Cold is the antithesis of a James Bond novel where the spy is as slick as new paint, good looking and expends energy without ever looking tired.

LeCarre's spies are usually holed up in scruffy flats, moving through cold war Berlin and Moscow in grey raincoats and trilby hats with miserable faces and they are shattered; tired out with their jobs, their lives and the fact that their agents keep being bumped off by those supposedly 'behind' the iron curtain.

But that's what makes LeCarre's book so great - it is about extraordinary men and women, fresh from World War 2, making sense of this new world landscape and of how British spies need to work for the west in new and more cunning ways.

LeCarre had his own name passed to the Russians by British double agent Kim Philby but survived to tell the tale. Who knows how many of his George Smiley novels have included incidents form his own experience as an MI5 agent.

Many of his movies have been adapted for film - everybody seems to love a good spy thriller.

Bel Kaufman
Bel Kaufman | Source

10. Up the Down Staircase - Bel Kaufman

Bel Kaufman's 1965 novel, Up The Down Staircase is not what you could actually describe as a 'novel' in the traditional sense of the world.

It is written sometimes as prose - straightforward storytelling and other times it is epistolary - told through letters but then we get snippets of text from pieces of paper left in the school suggestion mix or on school reports.

It might be difficult that it is a work of fiction but it it.

What it does achieve is a holistic experience of those working and studying at a New York high school with a real cross-section of students (and teachers).

The young, newly qualified protagonist, Sylvia Barrett has the stuffing knocked out of her but also manages to change some of her students for the good.

It is an education story with no axe to grind; and not presented like say, The Blackboard Jungle. There are no underlying political or educational messages. It is certainly semi-autobiographical and all the better for it. Much admired now for its 'outside of the box' literary style, it is a snapshot of 1960s teaching experience and maybe a snapshop of all education - nothing much changes.

Does this decades book list reflect the tumultuous changes happening in the 1960s?

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  • No
  • Some of them do, some of them don't
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Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown | Source
Charles M Schulz
Charles M Schulz | Source

Non Fiction

The photo to the right is of Helen Gurley-Brown, who relinquished her role as editor of U.S. Cosmopolitan in 1997 after a long, illustrious career as a leading light in female focussed publishing.

Her book, Sex and The Single Girl was controversial for its time when the USA was still conservative when it came to publishing in regard to sexual equality. Natalie Wood starred in the movie based in the book, Helen Gurley-Jones stayed true to her convictions that women could be equal to men and 'have it all'; as editor of Cosmopolital, she made it more radical and edgy; it remains that way today.

The second photo is Charles Schulz; his book Security Is A Thumb and A Blanket, a much loved Peanuts book was reissued in 2006 to appeal to a new generation of Charlie Brown fans.


  1. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich -William L. Shirer
  2. The Conscience of a Conservative - Barry Goldwater
  3. I Kid You Not -Jack Paar
  4. Between You, Me and the Gatepost, Pat Boone
  5. Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book
  6. Calories Don’t Count - Dr. Herman Taller
  7. Sex and the Single Girl - Helen Gurley Brown
  8. Travels with Charley - John Steinbeck
  9. The Joy of Cooking: New Edition - Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
  10. Security Is a Thumb and a Blanket - Charles M. Schulz

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Comments 12 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Maria, many thanks for your comment - it is strange that the novels we read in our own decades re often taken in our stride and get to be 'great'later on after a decade of reflection, wonder which of the novels in the 80s and 90s will rise to the same kind of greatness as Salinger's and Lee's books?


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

tirelesstraveler, many thanks for your comment. I have read no J.D. Salinger but I plan to change that soon. I am amazed at some of the reviews for it; how come I had not even heard of it.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Jon, every decade brings its own great literature but from doing a few of these now, the 60s was a pretty good one! Many thanks for reading.


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Jools,

Like Mary C with her Academy Award series, you are putting so much research in this series...truly one that I will consult for my reading list.

It has been literally decades since I read Franny and Zooey and To Kill a Mockingbird...with those, I am overdue for a fabulous re- read.

Onto the 70 s and thanks! Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

Oh my, this must be my decade.

J.D. Salinger really? I thought I was so cool reading Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters. I carried those books around with me for years.

Love Mockingbird. It scared me half to death when I first read it. It still isn't good bed time reading. If everyone had to read it twice the whole world would be a better place.


jonmcclusk profile image

jonmcclusk 3 years ago from Cinnaminson, New Jersey

Though I wasn't around for the sixties, I'm glad the literature is still present today. To Kill a Mockingbird is still being taught from in schools today; the values to humanity it gives are priceless. Anyway, enough of my fan-crazed comment, this is a great list with some great writers who I look forward to delving into more in the future.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Many thanks for your comment (and the angels, of course!) creating these lists has led to me having a big 'spend' on Amazon - when I'm going to find time to read them all, I do not know :o)


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Love love Irving Stone's work...and who doesn't love Harper Lee's story painted on a canvas of truth causing us to pause and take a look around us. The characters are etched in my memory.

Thanks for sharing this...

Sending you many Angels today :) ps


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Janine, thanks so much for the comment and of course, the share :o) I need to read more American literature, I've spent too long on English lit.


Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

Awesome list and love that one of my favorites (JD Salinger)graced this list twice. Have, of course, voted and shared all over!!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill thanks so much, as always from your comments and encouragement! You have definitely convinced me to read some Steinbeck - daughter has Of Mice And Men in her room....maybe I'll give it a whirl later, once I get another few of this series under my belt (I'm writing whilst the going is good!)


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Love the list...my favorite book of all time, Mockingbird...and my favorite author of all time...Steinbeck...what a great decade.

Well done Julie! I like this series very much.

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