The ‘Mad Men’ Bookshelf: What Will Don Draper Read in 1969?


Few shows in television history have given their writers half as much fun as Matthew Weiner and his crew have with Mad Men. It’s why you always see so many reading lists for the show’s characters and compilations of all the books that have actually been featured on it: Mad Men is, at its heart, a very literary show, one whose influences are clear because its writers get to embed their favorite books into the story. Taking place in 1969, Season 7 is likely to cover world-changing events like the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Woodstock, and the Manson Family murders (please hold your Megan death conspiracy theories), but the year was also filled with books that played a huge role in the cultural conversation of the time, and in some cases, had a lasting impact that can still be felt to this day. That’s why it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of these book covers on the final season of Mad Men.

Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth

This is the first book people tend to think of when they hear Philip Roth’s name — and it’s one that shocked a lot of readers when it was published. If there’s one book that’s bound to be a topic of conversation among these WASPy advertising execs, it’s this one, which features the type of Jewish-creep character that Roth would revisit again and again.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Inspired by her friend James Baldwin, Maya Angelou’s stunning coming-of-age autobiography is still one of the most talked-about books of the 20th century, so seeing it in this last season of Mad Men would not be too surprising.

The Love Machine, Jacqueline Susann

While it wasn’t as successful as her 1966 trash classic, Valley of the Dolls, Susann’s The Love Machine held the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list for most of the summer. Roth, Nabokov, and Michael Crichton couldn’t dethrone her.

Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Vladimir Nabokov

In the works for nearly a decade, one of Nabokov’s weirdest books was in the hands of just about every serious reader in 1969.

The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton

This is the book that really kicked Crichton’s career into overdrive years before Jurassic Park. It’s easy to imagine Sally and her school friends getting high and talking about a team of scientists trying to figure out how to save the world from an alien virus.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Wouldn’t it be cool if Ken Cosgrove read some Ursula K. Le Guin, then decided that he wanted to give writing another shot?

The Godfather, Mario Puzo

Picture this: Pete reads this crime novel about the ins and outs of the Italian mafia, and he thinks, “Gee, this could make a fine film.” He reaches out to the book’s author with an offer to back a film version, and suddenly Pete Campbell goes from slimeball ad man to big-time movie producer.

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

If any book from 1969 is going to make an appearance this season, it should be Vonnegut’s most well-known novel. Can’t you see Don, getting his life together after being fired, really getting into it?

The Edible Woman, Margaret Atwood

One of Atwood’s earliest books, and the one that really announced her as a literary force, it would be great to see the camera zoom in on Betty or Joan reading The Edible Woman.

I Sing the Body Electric!, Ray Bradbury

Some of these Bradbury stories could go well with Roger’s next acid trip.

Bullet Park, John Cheever

Viewers like to compare Mad Men to the work of authors like Richard Yates, John Updike, and John Cheever. Since this Cheever novel came out in 1969, maybe Weiner will figure out a way to fit it in.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

It’s actually not so hard to picture a drunk and depressed Don wandering into a bookstore, picking up this children’s classic, and having one of his flashbacks back to his own childhood spent in a whorehouse — is it?