The sixties were a time of major social change and upheaval around the globe, but especially in the United States. The decade saw the assassination of multiple political figures, the Civil Rights Movement, man landing on the moon, and war in Vietnam. The economy was booming, and counterculture took root, even in the most out-of-the-way towns in America. If you want to learn more about the tumultuous, exciting decade, then pick up one of these excellent fiction or nonfiction books set in the sixties.
In 1969, seven people were murdered in Los Angeles by a group of people calling themselves the Manson Family. They were followers of Charles Manson, who had somehow convinced them to commit this horrible crime. In this book, reporter Tom O'Neill recounts how he began digging into the crimes only to find puzzling evidence that suggested a cover-up at the highest levels. When he began pursuing this line of inquiry, he made enemies at every turn, suggesting that there is much more to the case that was never uncovered or made public. This book details his research and investigations, and theories of the cover-up.
In this novel, four siblings experience a tumultuous, life-changing summer in 1969. Blair is pregnant with twins and unable to travel to their family's summer home in Nantucket. Her sister Kirby is caught up in the Civil Rights Movement and decides to take a summer job on Martha's Vineyard, and their brother Tiger has been deployed to Vietnam. That leaves the youngest sister, Jessie, to live with her mom and grandmother all summer in Nantucket, which is full of excitement, secrets, and change as Ted Kennedy makes the news and man reaches the moon. This is a novel about a family processing excitement and change at the same time as the nation.
Bridgett M. Davis has written an incredible memoir of her mother, who borrowed $100 in 1958 to open a Numbers racket in her living room in Detroit. Fannie was a granddaughter of slaves, but she became a successful business owner and banker and raised her children to value education and hard work. Her motto was "Dying is easy. Living takes guts." And it took guts to make a living out of a business that was technically illegal, but Davis persevered. This is a remarkable life story that spanned the sixties and beyond.
In this novel, David Bowman hypothesizes that the death of John F. Kennedy is one of the biggest catalysts of change in the modern era–a second Big Bang if you wish. He takes readers on a turbulent (fictionalized) journey of the big events starring famous people leading up to the fateful day that Kennedy was shot. Lucille Ball, Jackie Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Howard Hunt, and Jimi Hendrix are all characters in this energetic novel about a defining period in history.
The sixties were dominated by the space race, and James Donovan charts the exciting, risk-laden course that led from the disastrous Apollo 1 tragedy to the Apollo 11 moon landing, during which Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to set foot on the moon. Donovan breaks up the narrative with first-person accounts of the trials, challenges, and triumphs of the space race, and how over 400,000 people worked together to achieve the impossible.
James Neff is an investigative journalist who has written a well-researched, detailed account of the famous feud between Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa. But this was no ordinary feud; it was a dark vendetta between two powerful men who were both accustomed to getting what they wanted. From Senate hearings to backroom dealings, Neff unveils the dirty fight between the president's brother and powerful union leader who dabbled in organized crime.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's assassination shook the nation in the sixties. In this riveting account of King's final year, Tavis Smiley reveals his struggles in the Civil Rights Movement, correcting many assumptions and false reports that the press made in light of King's untimely death. This book includes interviews and accounts from those closest to King, forcing readers to acknowledge that he wasn't simply a martyr for Civil Rights, he was a relentless activist who achieved a great deal in his final year of life alone, despite tremendous odds.
The Kennedy family achieved great fame even before John F. Kennedy set foot in the White House. In this book, Seymour M. Hersh takes a look at the darker side to the Kennedys, at the entitlement and the money that enabled them to achieve greatness without consequences, and at how JFK's private life began to suffer and unravel in the early sixties, before his assassination. This is an enlightening book about a man trying to hold on to power while making impossible choices.
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Tirzah Price is a writer and contributing editor at Book Riot. Follow her on Twitter @TirzahPrice.