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25 Famous Books From The 1950s

Travel back in time with the best books from the 1950s, including bestselling and iconic titles.

With the post-WW2 boom, emergence of the “baby boomer” generation, “Space Race,” Civil Rights Movement, “The Golden Age of Television,” and many new inventions, the 1950s brought political, scientific, economic, and technological changes.

The 1950s were also responsible for the creation of CERN, black box, oral contraceptive pill, NASA, poliovirus vaccine, passenger jet, and super glue.

Books from the ’50s were some of the most controversial of their time, yet are widely read classics for both adults and children today. Many of these 1950s books are utterly iconic.

Not to mention that some of the best books about the 1950s teach us more about the era, whether through their narrative, censorship upon publication, or public reception.

Like the ’60s, books in the 1950s are products of their time – and some are problematic. Read them with awareness and caution.

So, what are the best books from the 1950s to read right now? Below, find ’50s books in all genres, including a few plays. Let’s get started!

*Please note that while all of these books were published in the 1950s, many of the book covers and links are for newer editions.

Read across the decades with these book lists.

Books From The 1950s with black and white image of old car from that time period
Travel back in time with the best books from the 1950s.

Grab your favorite 1950s books:

1. We get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month.
2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.

25 Best Books From The 1950s

By Sheree Strange

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger book cover with sketched horse with red coloring and yellow lettering for title

1. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

One of the most iconic books from the 1950s is undoubtedly J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.

This coming-of-age novel about teenage angst and alienation continues to sell a million copies every year –literally!

Holden Caulfield, the narrator, has become a transgenerational symbol of disillusionment.

In the story, he narrates his lost weekend in New York, proffering his opinion on everything from his peers, to dating, to films, to ducks.

You know it’s good because it’s been subjected to bans and censorship since its release, on the grounds of its “vulgar language,” “undermining of family values,” and “encouragement of rebellion” (among other things).

Discover even more famous books on our 50 States book list.

Read The Catcher In The Rye: Amazon | Goodreads

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury book cover with black match box with red matches

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

“It was a pleasure to burn,” begins Fahrenheit 451, one of the most enduring 1950s books that has scary resonance today.

In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novella, firemen no longer put out fires; rather, they set fire to buildings where books have been discovered.

The world has lost faith in the written word, preferring ubiquitous screens and ear plugs (“sea shells”) – sound familiar at all?

At the heart of the story is Guy Montag, a fireman whose curiosity overcomes him. He does the unthinkable: he saves a book.

And so begins a journey that will unravel Montag’s life, and the world around him.

Read Fahrenheit 451: Amazon | Goodreads

The Fellowship of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien book cover with person in robe with sword and golden ring floating in front

3. The Fellowship of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

J.R.R. Tolkien changed the game with The Fellowship Of The Ring, the first in his epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

This was long before doorstop fantasy books were a dime a dozen. In the context of books from the ‘50s, this was an ambitious undertaking (to say the least!).

The story begins on Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday when Gandalf has to coerce him into bequeathing the mysterious and powerful ring he treasures to his cousin, Frodo.

If you think you “know” the rest of the story because you’ve seen the Peter Jackson films, think again! Tolkien has some surprises in store for you.

Uncover more books adapted into terrific movies.

Read The Fellowship of The Ring: Amazon | Goodreads

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin book cover with black and white image of young child standing near a window

4. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)

Go Tell It On The Mountain isn’t just one of the best 1950s books; it’s widely considered one of the best books of the 20th century.

This semi-autobiographical novel explores the role of the Pentecostal Church in the Black community during the mid-century decades with many anecdotes drawn directly from Baldwin’s own upbringing.

He began work on the manuscript as early as 1938, but it wasn’t until 1953 – when Baldwin was living in Paris, far from the Harlem home he describes in its pages – that it was finally published, to popular and critical acclaim.

Go Tell It On The Mountain continues to resonate with readers, interrogating the role of race and religion in society.

Read Go Tell It On The Mountain: Amazon | Goodreads

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov book cover with person in dress falling through white and gray clouds

5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

One of the most controversial books from the 1950s is also one of the most masterful and acclaimed.

Lolita set the standard for unreliable narrators with the loathsome Humbert Humbert telling his own story of how he kidnapped and abused a 12-year-old girl whom he gave the titular nickname.

It’s stomach-churning stuff, but it’s also beautifully written – all the more amazing for the fact that Russian-American Nabokov wasn’t writing in his native language.

The cultural legacy of this novel cannot be compared, as artists like Lana Del Rey continue to draw on its iconography and academics continue to debate its themes and significance.

Read Lolita: Amazon | Goodreads

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway book cover with person in boat in sun on sea

6. The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

Ernest Hemingway’s final major work before his death, The Old Man And The Sea, ended up being one of the most significant in his ouveur.

For this novella, he won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and it was specifically cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Written with Hemingway’s characteristic brevity, The Old Man And The Sea is short enough to be read in a single afternoon, but it’s rich enough in metaphor and meaning that you’ll be thinking about it for years.

This is one of the books from the ’50s that continues to be analyzed and adored around the world, and will likely be for many decades more.

Read The Old Man And The Sea: Amazon | Goodreads

The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank book cover

7. The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank (1952)

First translated into English in 1952 by B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday

Even though The Diary Of A Young Girl was first written during the Second World War, the first English translation didn’t appear until 1952.

The ten-year interlude between Anne Frank receiving a blank diary for her 13th birthday in 1942 and the English-speaking world becoming acquainted with her story was a time of major social and political upheaval.

Perhaps that’s why the earnest etchings of a Jewish girl in hiding touched such a cord with readers.

Anne’s diary went on to become one of the bestselling books in the 1950s, posthumously making her dream of being a literary sensation come true.

Throughout the decades, The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of the most widely read WWII books in American classrooms.

Read The Diary Of A Young Girl: Amazon | Goodreads

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White book cover with illustrated images of young red haired girl, watching a spider with a pig, sheep and duck

8. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)

Illustrated by Garth Williams

Revisit your childhood and get a heady dose of nostalgia with Charlotte’s Web, one of the most charming children’s books from the 1950s.

It all begins when Fern begs her father not to kill the runt of a litter of piglets. The little piggy becomes her pet, her beloved Wilbur – and his journey is only just beginning.

He later befriends a sentient spider who takes to crafting messages in her web to keep Wilbur from the butcher’s block.

Upon release, reviews called White’s story “magical” and “just about perfect,” a sentiment echoed by generations of young readers in the decades since.

Read Charlotte’s Web: Amazon | Goodreads

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison book cover with illustrated image of person's head with three white columns through it

9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)

In 1953, Ralph Ellison became the first Black man ever to win the U.S. National Book Award For Fiction, for his novel Invisible Man published the previous year.

TIME magazine called it “the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century,” when they named it one of the Top 100 Best English-language Novels (1923-2005).

Ellison used what he called “an experimental attitude” to craft a genre-bending story that addresses race and racial politics in a way few other 1950s books do.

Hulu has been working on adapting Invisible Man since 2017, so you’ll want to read it before the series comes out!

Read Invisible Man: Amazon | Goodreads

On the Road by Jack Kerouac book cover with black and white face on young man on orange background

10. On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

You can’t call yourself a beatnik if you haven’t read On The Road, one of the best books about the 1950s counterculture.

Kerouac famously wrote the entire manuscript in just three weeks, typing on a single giant scroll of tracing paper about 120ft in length.

He called his method “spontaneous prose,” an account written “with the fluidity of jazz.”

The story is a (very) thinly veiled fictional account of his adventures across the United States with his friend and fellow Beat Generation figure Neal Cassady, assigned the names Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty respectively.

For iconic road trip books, On The Road is a confronting, challenging, and powerful read.

Read On The Road: Amazon | Goodreads

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe book cover

11. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)

Chinua Achebe’s debut novel, Things Fall Apart, was also his magnum opus–a milestone in African literature, and one of the best books from the 1950s.

Through the story of a local wrestling champion, Achebe presents a heart-wrenching account of the impact of European colonialism on the people of southeastern Nigeria.

Things Fall Apart was one of the first African novels, written in English, to receive global acclaim. It has gone on to sell over 20 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages.

Achebe is now widely considered one of the most important African novelists, a defining voice in our understanding of African identity and society.

Explore even more books about, from, and set in Nigeria.

Read Things Fall Apart: Amazon | Goodreads

The Crucible by Arthur Miller book cover with back of person's head in a white bonnet

12. The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1953)

If you ever needed proof that human history is all swings and roundabouts, you can find it in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

(Okay, technically it’s a play, but it’s so frequently read and reviewed as a book in and of itself, it should really count as one of the must-read books from the ‘50s.)

Miller used a partly-fictionalized story about the Salem witch trials in the 1690s to craft a careful allegory about the dangers of McCarthyism.

He was so successful in making his point that he was actually questioned by the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to snitch on his friends.

Read The Crucible: Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier book cover with back of woman in long sleeved dress holding an umbrella and walking on green grass with green trees

13. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951)

For too long, Daphne du Maurier’s novels were written off as “popular trash.”

It’s only in recent years that her Gothic mysteries and compelling psychological thrillers have been recognized for the brilliant works of English literature that they are.

My Cousin Rachel is carefully crafted and perfectly paced. It revolves around an orphan, Philip, who is raised to be the heir to his cousin Ambrose’s Cornwall estate.

When Ambrose falls in love, marries, and dies (in rapid succession), Philip is devastated and highly suspicious of the widow.

Did she have a hand in Ambrose’s death? You can see why this was one of the bestselling books in the 1950s!

Read My Cousin Rachel: Amazon | Goodreads

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming book cover with woman in black dress and men at table below playing a card game

14. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)

The man, the myth, the legend – James Bond all began with Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first book about the British secret agent.

It was an instant bestseller in the U.K, selling out of three print runs in its first month on the market, but it bombed in the U.S. (possibly because it was given the aggressive title ‘You Asked For It’ in the American market, and editors changed the spy’s name to Jimmy Bond).

Eventually, Fleming found his audience on both sides of the pond, and now his early Bond stories are remembered as game-changers, the best spy thriller books from the ‘50s.

Read Casino Royale: Amazon | Goodreads

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell book cover with family having a picnic and water behind them

15. My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (1956)

Before there was David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, there was Gerald Durrell.

My Family And Other Animals is the – admittedly over-exaggerated for comedic effect – story of life for the young Durrells on the Greek island of Corfu.

With a cast of eccentric side characters and an impressive collection of pets, there are guaranteed laughs to be had.

In between family foibles, Durrell writes beautifully about the fauna and flora of the island.

So beautifully, in fact, that much of the tourism to the island today can be traced back to this and other 1950s books by Durrell.

Books about Greece and Greek life don’t get any more fun and enjoyable than this.

Explore more great books set on islands.

Read My Family And Other Animals: Amazon | Goodreads

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Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin book cover with image in black and white with table with drinks on it

16. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)

Yes, James Baldwin wrote so many books in the 1950s that he appears on this list twice!

Giovanni’s Room is very different in tone and style from Go Tell It On The Mountain (1953), but it’s equally as brilliant.

The story revolves around David, an American man living in Paris, and his relationships with other men –especially the Italian bartender, Giovanni, who caught his eye in a Parisian gay bar.

This examination of masculinity, sexuality, social isolation, and identity crises was so far ahead of its time that it’s possible we’re only truly starting to appreciate it fully in the present day.

Learn more about Paris with this reading list.

Read Giovanni’s Room: Amazon | Goodreads

Strangers on a train by Patricia Highsmith book cover

17. Strangers On A Train by Patricia Highsmith (1950)

You might have seen the Hitchcock film (1951), but have you read one of the smartest psychological thriller books from the 1950s?

Strangers On A Train has an intriguing premise: two strangers (who meet, you guessed it, on a train) agree to ‘trade’ murders, each removing a human obstacle from the other’s life.

As the two men are not connected in any other way, and neither of them otherwise has any motive to kill their targets, they predict that they will easily escape police detection.

Of course, nothing in a Patricia Highsmith novel is ever that simple. This taut, introspective train thriller will have you on the edge of your seat!

Read Strangers On A Train: Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis book cover with lion in seal on blue background

18. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)

Technically, all seven novels in the Narnia chronicles series were books from the ‘50s – published between 1950 and 1956.

However, the best-known was the first, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

The story revolves around four siblings who are sent to live in the country during the Second World War, where they discover a portal in the back of a cupboard to the land of Narnia.

There are talking lions, mythical creatures, witches, and – most important of all – Turkish Delight.

Revisiting this story as an adult will remind you how brilliant C.S. Lewis was at crafting allegories, and you’ll see the deeper meaning(s) you missed as a kid.

1950s books really don’t get any more iconic than this!

Read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: Amazon | Goodreads

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose book cover with blue starry background

19. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose (1954)

Twelve Angry Men is another play most certainly counts as one of the best books about the 1950s.

The story seems simple enough: a jury retires from a homicide trial to deliberate. Eleven of the twelve ‘men in ties’ push for an immediate verdict of guilty, but one refuses.

One by one, the dissenter persuades other members of the jury (and the reader) to change their vote, ultimately ensuring that an innocent man goes free.

Twelve Angry Men remains popular to this day, with scary new resonance in light of the public failings of the justice system.

Read Twelve Angry Men: Amazon | Goodreads

East Of Eden by John Steinbeck book cover with green trees and blue sky with clouds

20. East Of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)

Sitting down to read East Of Eden is quite an undertaking, but if you’ve got the time and patience, you’ll find it’s one of the most rewarding books from the 1950s.

It’s certainly Steinbeck’s most ambitious novel, and he himself called it his ‘magnum opus’.

He drew his inspiration from the biblical story of Cain and Abel, crafting a story of depravity, guilt, and struggle around two families (the Trasks and the Hamiltons) set primarily in California over the first half of the 20th century.

It’s a pensive and philosophical novel – and depressing, to boot! – but beautifully written.

Read more contemporary books set in CA too!

Read East Of Eden: Amazon | Goodreads

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious book cover with black and white image of congregational church

21. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious (1956)

Perhaps you’re wondering how a 1960s soap opera ended up on a list of the bestselling books in the 1950s…?

Well, Peyton’s Place was actually based on a novel by Grace Metalious, a salacious and scintillating book that topped the New York Times Bestseller List for over a year.

The content of the book was surprisingly ahead of its time.

The story revolves around three women who live in a small, gossipy New England village.

They battle inequity and class privilege in their quest to live their truth, while also navigating adultery, lust, and murder.

This is one you’ll want to read when you’re in the mood for something sinfully delicious.

Read Peyton Place: Amazon | Goodreads

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak book cover with illustrated image of person's face with white color and red top

22. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957)

Translated into English by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The 1950s were a wild time for protest books.

Doctor Zhivago had to be smuggled out of the USSR in order to reach publishers in Italy, as Boris Pasternak was none too popular with the Russian government of the day.

Censors rejected his work on the grounds that he (subtly) criticized Stalinism and the Great Purge.

Thankfully, the manuscript landed in the right hands in Milan, so we all get to enjoy it today.

It’s surely one of the most complex books from the ‘50s with dozens of characters with multiple names playing out an intricate plot.

But it’s also an immensely rewarding read, if only for the struggle it had to go through to get to us.

Read Doctor Zhivago: Amazon | Goodreads

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence book cover with bare back of woman with brunette hair in bun and book title written across her back

23. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1959)

If it weren’t for pearl-clutching censors and puritan scolds, Lady Chatterley’s Lover wouldn’t be one of these 1950s books at all.

The first editions were published in liberal European nations, Italy and France, two full decades before they could be sold elsewhere.

D.H. Lawrence’s story of adultery and desire was subject to one of the most extensive and controversial censorship campaigns of the 20th century.

The matter made it all the way to the courts where the book’s publishers were put on trial for obscenity.

The publisher’s victory paved the way for publication in the U.S. (1959) and the U.K. (1960) and changed the game for all controversial titles that came after.

Essentially, the story follows the relationship between a working-class man and an upper-class woman.

Lady Chatterley (formerly Constance) has been trapped in an emotionless marriage and has an affair with the gamekeeper.

Read Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Amazon | Goodreads

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute book cover with white dark haired woman's neck and partial head turned with pearls on neck

24. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (1950)

If you’re in the mood for nostalgic, romantic books from the 1950s, pick up A Town Like Alice (also called The Legacyin the U.S.).

It’s one of the first examples of WWII historical fiction, written not long after the war ended and based loosely on the real experiences of women and communities during the conflict.

Jean Paget, a British secretary, comes into an unexpected inheritance.

She wants to use her new wealth to build a well for a Malayan village community where she herself was held prisoner during the war.

Jean wants to make it “a town like Alice [Springs],” an Australian region she visited while searching for the man she fell in love with while imprisoned.

Explore even more WW2 books for world travelers.

Read A Town Like Alice: Amazon | Goodreads

The Flower Drum Song by C.Y. Lee book cover with woman with dark hair in long braid and pink dress and cityscape sketched in background

25. The Flower Drum Song by C.Y. Lee (1957)

Although it’s not as widely read as other 1950s books today, The Flower Drum Song was one of the bestselling books in the 1950s.

It’s a story about the Chinatown district of San Francisco, the refugees who have made it their home, and the pressures of assimilation.

Chinese-American writer C.Y. Lee initially had a lot of trouble finding a publisher willing to take it on.

However, an elderly manuscript assessor for Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy (who died shortly after reading the draft) convinced them with a final message he scrawled on the front page: Read This.

The book went on to be adapted for both stage and screen, to great success.

Read The Flower Drum Song: Amazon | Goodreads

Save Your Favorite 1950s Books For Later:

1950s Books Pinterest pin with black and white image of old car from that time period and books from the 50s like Fahrenheit 451, The Fellowship of the ring, Casino Royale, The Crucible, East of Eden, The Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man, The Old Man and The Sea
Did you find new ’50s books to read? Save this list for later, and travel back in time with The Uncorked Librarian.

Grab your favorite books from the 1950s:

1. We get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month.
2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.

Sheree from Keeping Up With The Penguins, short black hair woman holding an orange stripped book, Frankenstein

Thank you to TUL contributor, Sheree from Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sheree (pronouns: she/her) is a writer and book reviewer living on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation (known as Sydney, Australia). She has been reviewing books on her blog, Keeping Up With The Penguins, since 2017. She reads books of all kinds and shares her thoughts on them all across the internet.

What are the best books about the 1950s?

What would you consider to be the top bestselling books in the 1950s? Are there any that we should add to our list?

Plus, what moments were iconic in the ’50s? Are there certain trends you’d love to see make a comeback? Let us know in the comments!

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