Snapshots: The Decades
Western Reserve Public Media

Literature Connection: Books That Defined the Times


The 1920s

  • The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot — The ultimate indictment of the modern world’s loss of personal, moral and spiritual values.

  • The New Negro by Alain Locke — A hopeful look at the Negro in America.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — The American dream that anyone can achieve anything.

  • Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill — A look at 30 years in the life of a modern woman.

  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway — The lost generation of expatriates.

  • Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis — A satirical look at small town life.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner — Details the moral decay of the Old South.

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston — Life in a black community.


The 1930s

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck — Chronicles the life of a displaced Oklahoma family that had lost its farm to the drought of the Dust Bowl.

  • Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell — A trilogy of novels about an Irish-American’s attempt to rise above his poor beginnings.

  • Native Son by Richard Wright — Takes on the issue of racial prejudice and the plight of blacks.

  • Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell — Describes the life of poor whites in the rural South.


The 1940s

  • The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer — A novel about the adventures of a 14-man infantry platoon stationed on a Japanese-held island during World War II.

  • Young Lions by Irving Shaw — The lives of a German and two Americans are affected by four years of war.

  • A Bell for Adano by John Hershey — A young war correspondent has proven himself as a reporter and now wishes to extend his range by becoming a novelist.

  • The Human Comedy by William Saroyan — A collection of about 100 linked stories and novels by the French realist writer Honore de Balzac.

  • Black Boy by Richard Wright — A masterful recording of the author’s own life.

  • Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock — Provides sensible, compassionate advice and hard-core how-to-do-it tips.


The 1950s

  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury — A haunting collection of short stories that chronicles humankind’s colonization of Mars.

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov — A brilliant robot psychologist’s life is bound up with the history of the robots from their beginnings as the speechless victims of humans to a different conclusion.

  • The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams — Tells about unrequited love, the seamy side of sexuality, the bitter side of aging and omnipresent reminders of mortality.

  • The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk — A novel that championed conservative morals such as valor, chivalry, patriotism and loyalty.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger — The account of three disoriented days in the life of a troubled 16-year-old boy.

  • The Grass Harp by Truman Capote — The story of three endearing misfits.

  • Giant by Edna Ferber — Steers us through the whole complexity of west Texas life.

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck — A novel that tells the stories of three generations of families and focuses on the theme of good against evil.

  • The Bridges of Toko Ri by James Michener — A World War II hero, enjoying the civilian life with his family, is called back to war in Korea.

  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansbury — A novel that anticipated many of the issues that were to divide American culture during the 1960s.

  • Laughing to Keep From Crying by Langston Hughes — examines how humor is used in black culture as a source of expression and healing.

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin — A classic that brings Harlem and the black experience vividly to life.


The 1960s

  • The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — Surveys mounting evidence that widespread pesticide use endangers both wildlife and humans.

  • The Games People Play by Eric Berne — Introduces games as ritualistic transactions or behavior patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions.

  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann — A sensational story of three pill-popping movie stars that perfectly crystallized the decadence of the 1960s.

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote — A painstaking portrait of a family’s character, activities and community status during the last days before their murder.

  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan — A detailed exploration of the author’s beliefs about women’s unhappiness.

  • Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader — A 1965 book alleging that unsafe automobile design was the major contributor to highway accidents.

  • Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe — A portrait of the coterie that gave the hippie world of the 1960s much of its philosophy and vocabulary.
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