The 1970s were a radical decade. Liberal social values which were born in the 1960s, like feminism and political activism, kept growing.
The ‘hippie’ culture which started in the last half of the sixties started fading by the mid-seventies, which is when the environmental movement began growing popular.
The ‘70s also gave rise to classic literary works, which are still on bestselling lists in the modern age. A lot of these novels are part of fantasy and science fiction genres, though several comment on bigger issues of the decade.
A few of these novels generated controversy, while some themes from these books are still relevant today. You’ll find 18 of the most revolutionary books from the 70s below.
These encompass a range of genres, from horror to science fiction, so there’s bound to be a book that suits your taste in this list. Keep reading to find some amazing examples of literature!
The Bluest Eye By Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is one of the most distinguished American authors that we know of today. Since her beginnings, she has won the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize, which show how relevant her literature is.
The Bluest Eye is where Morrison’s literary journey began. The tale follows Pecola, an eleven-year-old Black child that is affected by low self-esteem, thanks to a world that declares her features unattractive and worthless.
Pecola lives in an abusive family and has to deal with bullying in school. She has one dream, that somebody will give her blue eyes, so she can finally feel pretty. Naturally, Pecola is not ugly but is affected by society and beauty standards.
Morrison was working at Random House as an editor and would write a few more novels before she found mainstream success as a writer. The Bluest Eye was incredibly revolutionary at the time, as it showed a young Black girl as the story’s protagonist.
The book was a new voice and perspective that American literature needed. It has remained a classic novel ever since it was written decades ago.
- Explores important themes: Highlights racism, youth, and the importance of diversity
- Interesting perspective: Reader sees the world through a young child’s eyes
- Striking prose: Vivid writing style that brings the story to life
- Contains explicit violent scenes and animal cruelty
The Exorcist By William Peter Blatty
This horror novel was groundbreaking at the time, as it dealt with religion, young women speaking vulgarly, and extreme horror elements.
A dark paranormal story, The Exorcist is a tale of two priests and a despairing mother attempting to free the soul of her daughter from an unearthly malicious entity.
The mother, Chris MacNeil is an actress who is in Georgetown to film a movie. Regan, her daughter, begins to show unusual behavior.
Seizures and memory loss starts to turn into self-mutilation and extremely foul-mouthed language, but medicine and science fail to give Chris any answers.
Chris turns to Father Damien Karras, an academic priest, but soon wonders if Regan may have been possessed by a demon. Karras’ Church then calls upon Kather Merrin, an expert in exorcism, to help remove the monster.
The Exorcist is better known for its movie version, but the original book is full of details that cannot be depicted on screen.
- Well written: The plot flows well with an easy-to-follow structure
- Life-like characters: An interesting mix of characters that are all three dimensional
- Vivid descriptive prose: Very graphic descriptions that bring the horror to life
- Contains disturbing descriptions of Satanic practices and child endangerment
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy By Douglas Adams
This well-known sci-fi book was incredibly groundbreaking at the time as it mixed two genres in the world of fiction, comedy and science fiction. Up until its release, science fiction novels were mainly serious, but Douglas Adams’ book changed everything.
This is the first of three books in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. It centers around the human male, Arthur Dent, and his alien companion, Ford Prefect.
After the Earth is blown up to create space for a hyperspace bypass, the two travel around the galaxy, meeting comical characters along the way.
Examples include Marvin, an intelligent but miserable robot, and Zaphod Beeblebrox, the three-armed and two-headed former President Of the Galaxy. Originally a radio play, the book is a great example of the weird and wonderful.
If you’re ever looking for a fun read that will keep you entertained all the way through, you can’t go wrong with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
- Quick read: 208 pages long, isn’t hard to read
- Entertaining: Great comedic novel, full of funny moments
- Diverse characters: Amusing mix of characters that all add to the plot
- Some readers may find the book too strange and may struggle to get past the first book
Carrie By Stephen King
Stephen King’s novel was incredibly revolutionary at the time and has turned into a classic horror novel ever since its release. Carrie was King’s debut novel, responsible for the author’s career which is still strong today.
The novel was first published in 1974, but it was set in the imaginary future of 1979. High school girl Carrie struggles with day-to-day life. She lives with her abusive, religious mother, and is constantly bullied when she goes to school.
Though Carrie lives with a lot of pain, she has secret telekinetic powers. Her abilities give her a way to get revenge on the people that have done her wrong. This novel is a great portrayal of horror and evil in the human psyche.
Carrie’s events are well known in pop culture, but even if you already know the story, King’s writing will keep you hooked until its conclusion.
- Visionary narrative: Unique vision of the ‘future’ translates well on paper
- Very well written: Developed plot that keeps its appeal decades later
- Graphic story: Vivid descriptive elements that make the horror come to life
- The narrative isn’t chronological and includes cutaways from newspaper articles, which can make the novel harder to read
One Hundred Years Of Solitude By Gabriel García Márquez
Originally published in Argentina in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in English three years later in 1970. It was incredibly successful and influenced a lot of notable writers later, like Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison.
The novel centers on the Buendía family and their control over Macondo, a Colombian town. The plot is complex and features many different themes, like assassinations, ghostly spirits, rigged elections, and romantic affairs.
Màrquez’s novel doesn’t have one main plot but features several stories that are written in a unique, imaginative way.
Accurate historical events on one page can lead to a weird depiction of women floating into the heavens, yellow butterflies reporting a person’s attendance, or impossibly long thunderstorms.
The blend of magical realism and well-written prose ensures that One Hundred Years of Solitude will stay with you long after you read it.
- Imaginative scenery: Very vivid depictions that are hard to forget
- Well written: Features beautiful sentences that are incredible examples of writing
- Satisfying conclusion: The story ties up all of its many layers at the end
- The story features lots of primary characters that share the same name, which can make it harder to understand
Gravity’s Rainbow By Thomas Pynchon
A love-hate novel, Pychon’s lengthy World War Two story is certainly a classic. Critics view it as important to the latter half of the 20th Century as Joyce’s Ulysses was to the first.
The novel describes several characters as they aim to reveal the secrets of the threatening SG-00000 rocket, an evil invention that is hidden until the book’s ultimate conclusion.
There are many different looks into how humanity’s hunger for technology is also a desire for death itself. The novel has a lot of pages that need a little decryption to understand, as there are a lot of ideas that won’t be picked up in just one reading.
Nevertheless, its many elements are what makes the story so great, as people keep analyzing its many layers for years after it was first released.
- Well-thought-out characters: Lots of characters that are all complex and described well
- Dark and poetic prose: Spectacular scenes that are depicted vividly
- Unique reading experience: Extraordinary writing will send readers out of their comfort zone
- The novel’s length, style, and non-linear structure make it a hard book to get through
Interview With The Vampire By Anne Rice
This novel started as a short story but turned into a descriptive novel as Anne Rice wrote it, looking into the struggles and successes of life itself. The story looks at Louis de Pointe du Lac, a vampire that has lived for centuries and is tired of immortality.
Louis chooses to tell his story to a young journalist, detailing his human life and how he met Lestat, the vampire that turned him.
Louis tells the journalist about his adventures with Lestat, covering his journeys to New Orleans and Europe, in addition to the companions he met over the years of his life.
Louis looks at different vampires and their beliefs regarding their immortality, from apathetic cruelty to surreal masters of performance.
Though the novel centers on Louis the vampire, his tales give us an incredible look at humanity’s many elements, like eternity, loss, power, and desire.
- Well-written prose: Enchanting narration with a darker, captivating undertone
- Vivid scenery: Charming depictions of cities, like New Orleans
- Complex characters: Well-developed characters that all display different emotions
- Other characters’ stories can seem more interesting than the main protagonist
Song Of Solomon By Toni Morrison
Another triumph by Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon is a multilayered book that spans several different characters, plots, and themes.
The story is a coming-of-age narrative, just like Morrison’s first two books, except that this novel also features family, Black social life, and a male protagonist.
The novel does look at masculinity, but despite the story’s male lead, the women characters stand out in the novel. We read about the pain of being trapped in marriages, shattered by the strain of survival.
Many of the female characters have had to depend on men, which has silenced their own identities. Interestingly, the women that can live on their own, without men, are marginalized characters affected by society.
There are lots of elements in this novel, so you may need to read things twice a few times, but that isn’t a bad thing. Morrison’s poetic prose makes this a story that is worth revisiting, time and time again.
- Three-dimensional characters: Realistic characters that are believably flawed
- Explores important themes: Depicts the effects of oppression and racism on a large scale
- Well written: Complex novel that has lots of interesting layers
- The Novel’s pace starts slow but does speed up around a third of the way through
Sophie’s Choice By William Styron
Sophie’s Choice is known better for its film adaptation, but the book is one of the most significant stories to come out of the 70s. This moving novel depicts a variety of themes, like mental illness, guilt, young masculinity, and post-WWII America.
The story is set in Brooklyn in 1947. It looks at the connection between Stingo, the narrator, and two condemned lovers. One is Nathan, an intelligent, but mistrustful American Jew, and Sophie, a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz.
Stingo learns more about the couple, acting as their friend and companion. He slowly learns about Sophie’s history and the ‘choice’ she was forced to make – which one of her two children will be sent to the gas chambers and which would be granted the chance to live.
Though the book has humorous elements, the last few chapters of the story are very heartbreaking. Sophie’s Choice is hard to put down and has remained a classic many decades later.
- Detailed prose: Lengthy narrative that isn’t hard to follow
- Strong message: Depicts the horrors of prejudice and racism
- Three-dimensional characters: Characters have believably human strengths, flaws, and quirks
- The novel gained criticism for being a Holocaust story that didn’t center on the Jewish experience, as well as for being written by a non-Jewish writer
Woman At Point Zero By Nawal El Saadawi
This feminist story from Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian activist, is arguably one of the ’70s most important stories. The novel looks at a psychiatrist who is researching the inmates inside an Egyptian women’s prison.
She becomes interested in Firdaus, a prisoner that has been sentenced to death for killing a procurer on the streets of Cairo. As the psychiatrist makes her observations, she doesn’t believe that Firdaus is capable of the crime she was convicted of.
She starts to become concerned with Firdaus’ innocence and good nature. The novel goes back in time to tell Firdaus’ story; from her village childhood years to her existence on Cairo’s streets.
Woman at Point Zero is an exploration of female oppression, looking into the consequences of women battling against the system that suppresses them.
- Quick read: Just 160 pages long, an easy story to read
- Complex story: Full of important messages, despite its short length
- Graphic prose: Vivid scenes that stay with the reader
- The novel’s translation style can make it harder to understand
This non-fiction book is an articulate look into the orderly destruction of American Indian civilization in the latter half of the 19th century.
The book’s title refers to the Wounded Knee Massacre, where the US Army killed 300 Lakota people in South Dakota. This slaughter is only one of the harrowing examples Native Americans suffered under White settlers.
The book explores how colonialism affected Native American tribes. It includes a lot of sources, like first-hand accounts, government documents, and memoirs to depict the events as accurately as possible.
A disturbing, but important narrative, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is a must-read that shows how America was really conquered.
- Features a lot of sources: A variety of different sources give a good picture of what history was like
- Stories from several tribes: Shows a variety of perspectives from different Native American tribes
- Reads like a novel: Non-fiction book is easy to read and doesn’t feel like a textbook
- The book doesn’t explore the Native American culture or traditions as much as the historical aspects.
Watership Down By Richard Adams
Though Watership Down was written for middle-grade readers, it is popular with older children and adults alike. It explores a lot of different themes, like life, death, freedom, evil, and hope.
The story follows several rabbits as they flee from human invasion and damage to their land, attempting to find a new home to settle. As they look for a new home, they meet other animals on their way, creating both friendships and enemies.
Each of the rabbits are different characters that all have unique personalities. Though the main theme of the book centers on human cruelty, the dynamics between the group are where the book shines.
Through careful narration, Adams explores the importance of teamwork and friendship when overcoming hardship.
- Multi-layered story: Explores several themes throughout the book
- Poetic narration: Descriptive, vivid style of writing
- Unique perspective: Interesting to view the world from an animal’s point of view
- Features sexist elements, as buck rabbits were displayed as more courageous and intelligent than the doe rabbits
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas By Hunter S Thompson
This intoxicated road trip spectacle was about the 1960s, but it became a hit when it was published in the ’70s. The story was initially met with some negative reviews, but the consensus soon changed to a positive one.
The story follows the travels of journalist Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, his friend and attorney. The two travel to Las Vegas to view the mint 400 motorcycle race. The truth differs, as the story sees the two pursue the American Dream.
Intoxicated and mentally confused, the duo attempt to discover purity in the disorder of Las Vegas. A funny story that is certainly entertaining, Thompson’s novel is a fantastic commentary on materialism and excess.
- Interesting narration: Descriptive style that keeps the reader turning the pages
- Fast-paced: Full of entertaining scenes and events
- Humorous characters: The narrative makes you root for the duo throughout the book
- Though the novel is an ironic work, some readers may think that it glamorizes intoxication
Invisible Cities By Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities was first written in Italian in 1972 but was translated into English two years later, in 1974. The story features the descriptions of 55 cities by Marco Polo, an explorer, to Kublai Khan, an aging emperor.
All of the cities are women’s names and are described in short, prose poems. These verses can be seen as reflections on language, death, memory, time, or the overall human experience.
It’s hard to categorize the book, as it doesn’t feature a distinct plot or incredibly developed characters, though some see the cities themselves as the book’s protagonists. Calvino’s descriptions of cities give us a look into different experiences and perspectives.
- Beautiful prose: English translation vividly depicts cities in a charming, magical manner
- Quick read: Just 176 pages long, easy to read
- Fast pace: Broken up into sections that make the story move quickly
- The book lacks a main plot, which can make it harder to read and get through
Breakfast Of Champions By Kurt Vonnegut
One of Vonnegut’s more significant novels, Breakfast of Champions describes the lives of a duo: Midland citizen and well-known character, Dwyane Hoover, and Kilgore Trout, a published but lesser-known sci-fi writer.
This satirical masterpiece is packed with the author’s typical take on the human experience. The tale is a commentary on humanity’s crucial drawbacks, including rapacity, greed, and a decaying sense of ethics and beliefs.
Well written, the story is an ironic look at the intricacies of human nature, in the context of warfare, politics, racism, and success.
- Tackles deep themes: Looks at important subjects, like race, economics, and justice
- Humorous, entertaining elements: Pessimistic story manages to be humorous at the same time
- Quick read: The narrative is broken up which makes it easier to get through
- The book lacks a distinct plot, which can make it harder to read
The Dispossessed By Ursula K. Le Guin
This science fiction novel won three well-known sci-fi literary awards when it was published, verifying it as one of the greatest works to come out of the 1970s.
The story looks at the intelligent scientist Shevek. In the dystopian environment of Anarres, Shevek is attempting to create an invention to change life as they know it.
He is working on a method of interplanetary messaging. No matter how far apart people are, they can send and receive messages instantaneously.
Green-eyed scientists in Anarres try to thwart Shevek’s progress, so he chooses to travel to Urras, a different planet.
Urras seems like paradise in comparison to Anarres, but when Shevek sets foot on the planet, he becomes a small part of a much larger political agenda.
Like other sci-fi novels of the ’70s, the story features significant themes, including morality, freedom, and humanity itself.
- Multi-layered novel: Sophisticated style that explores many themes
- Complex characters: Memorable and believable characters
- Imaginative scenery: Fascinating depiction of utopia and dystopian worlds
- The lack of pace and unique style of prose may seem cumbersome at first, though the story becomes easier to read a few pages in
Humboldt’s Gift By Saul Bellow
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1976 for its exploration of art, desire, and friendship. The story centers around Charlie Citrine, a man who has a profound love for literature.
Charlie writes to his favorite poet, Von Humboldt Fleisher, which leads to an invitation to visit the poet in New York.
As Charlie arrives in New York, Humboldt has reached his peak of popularity, but he soon is a spectator to the poet’s spiral downward as he loses everything he worked for.
Bellow’s novel is a fantastic look into the creative mind, battling inner demons, and the dangers of being passive instead of embracing life itself.
- Entertaining characters: Funny and peculiar mix of characters translate well on paper
- Well-written prose: Poetic style that is pleasing to read
- Highlights important themes: Explores a range of significant subjects
- The story starts with a slower pace, though it does pick up as you get into the plot
A School For Fools By Sasha Sokolov
This surreal novel is one of the most unusual books to come out of the 1970s. The story centers on a student that attends school for ‘disturbed’ children away from Moscow.
The tale is told by two unreliable narrators, the schizophrenic student, and his secondary personality. The story follows the two as they search for knowledge and self-reflection. Sokolov’s story constantly blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Time is unstable and a person’s sanity is often contested. The prose is moving and gives the novel a dreamlike, melancholy feel.
- Poetic prose: Gives the novel an interesting, dreamlike feel
- Unique perspective: Interesting look into a child’s mind also breaks the fourth wall
- Explores a range of themes: Looks at imagination, propaganda, and critiques of the Soviet regime
- The novel is an English translation of Russian, so it lacks the strength of the story’s original mother tongue
Buying Guide: Things To Consider Before Purchasing Books From The 70s
There are some common themes that you may find in books from the 70s. If you’re not familiar with seventies literature, here are some themes from the decade that you may want to explore further.
Race rights and racism were one of the primary themes seen in 1970s novels.
The growing existence of Black women’s expression in African American writing, political and cultural developments in the 50s and 60s, and the effects of second-wave feminism brought forth several influential novels by Black female writers.
If you would like to read more literature that explores race and racism, there are many novels that you can choose from.
It may help to consider whether you’d prefer to read a classic piece of fiction that is inspired by events at the time, or a narrative nonfiction that accurately depicts racism in the same period.
For instance, if you’d like to read a fictional novel, The Color Purple is a well-known novel that made the author, Alice Walker, a household name.
If you’d prefer to read a nonfiction work, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is an autobiographical piece that depicts racism in the eyes of her younger self
Though books depicting race were controversial at the time, they have remained significant several decades on. 1970s novels are a great place to start educating yourself about race and see how these themes are still relevant today.
Though the NASA Apollo moon mission in 1969 may have fostered new hopes of space travel, it was evident by the seventies that space travel was unlikely.
Space funding disappeared, the Apollo program was restricted, and space travel was reduced to military and commercial satellites. This also affected science fiction novels at the time.
Rather than the possibilities of space, environmentalism, The New Age, and feminism started to affect sci-fi books. Seventies science fiction covered people and their issues, instead of space travels and adventure.
If you’re considering choosing a science fiction book from the 70s, there are two types of science fiction to be aware of: hard and soft.
Hard science fiction novels will concentrate on the connection between the narration and the science or technology depicted in the scene. These writers aim to portray science as accurately as they can.
Chemistry and physics theories will be significant to the tale. For instance, a novel that depicts a thorough interpretation of how a spaceship works, like Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, is an example of hard sci-fi.
Soft science fiction is the opposite of hard sci-fi. Soft sci-fi novels can also include a spaceship, but they won’t go into much detail about how it works, as this knowledge doesn’t affect the narrative.
A great example of seventies soft science fiction is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.
The novel isn’t concerned with portraying science accurately, but it’s a comedy that explores the connection between other interesting characters, making it soft science fiction.
Think about whether hard or soft science fiction is more likely to capture your interest, then choose a novel that is part of that category. This will increase your chances of finding the book engaging instead of boring and tough to read.
The horror genre increased in popularity during the 1960s and continued to in the 1970s.
Splatterpunk style works were notable during this time; a horror subgenre that involved gore, explicit language, and graphic depictions of violence. The term was invented in the ’80s, but this type of fiction began in the ’70s.
These types of novels were popularized by writers like Stephen King, the decade’s most popular horror writer that is incredibly relevant today. If you’re considering trying out a 1970s horror novel for yourself, don’t watch the movie before reading the book.
Several seventies horror novels, like The Exorcist, were made into films. If you watch the movie first, the book’s narration won’t affect you as much. You’ll also know spoilers that can prevent you from enjoying the story.
You should also consider whether you’d prefer to read a graphic tale that’s full of violent scenes, or a descriptive novel that keeps you invested in the story.
Stephen King’s Carrie is a great example of a slasher-type novel, but if you’d prefer something less gory, Anne Rice’s An Interview with the Vampire is a thriller that borders on the edge of fantasy.
The 1970s gave birth to a lot of great contemporary horror novels, but be warned, you may need to keep the lights on when you read!
Those were our pick of the most notable books from the ’70s! Books from the 1970s are full of important themes, so you’re bound to find a story that suits your tastes on our list.
We hope that you enjoy reading some of the stories above and find some new books to add to your shelf!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Was Literature Like In The 70s?
As the 70s came around, the culture of the 60s had given rise to political awareness regarding race, LGBT rights, feminism, and the environment. Many authors wrote works exploring themes around these issues.
What Is A Nickname For The 1970s?
Tom Wolfe wrote the cover story ‘The Me Decade’ for New York Magazine in 1976, dubbing the baby boomers as the most selfish generation in history. The ‘Me Decade’ became a common descriptor for the 1970s.
How Do I Find A Book I Read Years Ago?
If you can recall a word from the title of your book, look it up on sites like LibraryThing or Goodreads. This will show you lists of book titles with that same word. You can also browse lists from other categories, like publication decades or book genres.