7 Best-Selling Novels of the 1970s That You Need to Read

The 1970s were a golden era for literature, producing works that continue to capture the imaginations of readers today.

This decade saw the rise of novels that explored a wide range of themes, from epic sagas to intimate character studies.

These books not only topped bestseller lists but also became cultural touchstones, influencing both contemporary and future storytelling.

Why were these books so widely read and loved? The answer lies in the intense emotions, rich settings, and unforgettable characters that these stories brought to life.

Each book offered something unique, resonating with readers in powerful ways that made them instant classics.

1) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Published in 1971, The Exorcist became a huge hit very quickly.

The story is about Regan, an eleven-year-old girl who starts showing signs of demonic possession.

Her mother, desperate to save her, turns to two priests for help.

Blatty based the story on a real case of a young boy’s exorcism in the 1940s.

This chilling tale explores themes of faith, evil, and the supernatural.

The novel was a massive success, spending fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

It stayed at number one for seventeen of those weeks.

In 1973, the book was made into a popular movie, which Blatty also wrote the screenplay for.

The film adaptation is considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

The Exorcist continues to impact popular culture, influencing many horror stories and movies.

If you’re into horror, suspense, and supernatural themes, this book is a must-read from the 1970s.

2) Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime, published in 1975, is a fantastic historical novel by E.L. Doctorow.

It takes you on a journey through early 20th-century America, focusing on the years 1902 to 1912.

The story begins in New Rochelle, New York, where you meet an affluent family.

Doctorow’s writing blends real historical figures and fictional characters, giving you a vivid picture of the era.

You get to experience the mingling lives of three distinct groups: a wealthy middle-class family, a group of Jewish immigrants, and an African American pianist.

Doctorow’s method of mixing historical and fictional elements changed the way people thought about historical novels.

Ragtime became very popular and received a lot of praise.

It was even included in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels.

3) Roots by Alex Haley

You might have heard of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” by Alex Haley.

Published in 1976, this novel made a huge impact.

It’s about Kunta Kinte, a young man from the Gambia who gets captured and sold into slavery in America.

The story doesn’t stop with Kunta Kinte.

You get to follow his descendants through several generations.

It offers a deep look into their lives, struggles, and triumphs in the United States.

“Roots” became super popular and even turned into a TV miniseries that grabbed a lot of attention back in the ’70s.

Haley’s work on his family’s history inspired many to look into their own roots.

The novel addresses heavy themes like slavery, identity, and resilience.

It’s not just a story; it’s a piece of history captured in writing.

Alex Haley’s “Roots” remains a significant work from the 1970s, touching many readers with its powerful narrative.

4) The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

You might have heard of “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough.

This novel, published in 1977, is a huge hit from the 70s.

The story takes place mainly on Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in the Australian Outback.

The Cleary family is at the heart of this tale, spanning the years 1915 to 1969.

“The Thorn Birds” is often called a family saga.

It dives into three generations of the Cleary family.

You’ll find themes of dreams, struggles, and forbidden love woven throughout it.

It’s not just popular in Australia; the novel has sold over 33 million copies worldwide.

The book is known for its vibrant storytelling and complex characters.

Reading “The Thorn Birds” gives a deep look into the lives and passions of its characters.

If you enjoy engrossing family tales, this one is a memorable read.

5) Watership Down by Richard Adams

“Watership Down” is an adventure novel by Richard Adams, published in the UK in 1972.

It’s about a group of rabbits who escape their warren to find a new home.

The book takes place in Hampshire, England.

These rabbits aren’t your average bunnies.

They have their own culture, language, proverbs, and myths.

This makes their journey filled with more depth and meaning.

The story started as bedtime tales for Adams’ daughters.

They loved it so much that he decided to turn it into a book.

It quickly became a hit, winning awards and gaining a large readership.

“Watership Down” is praised for its engaging storytelling and imaginative world-building.

It’s often listed among the best fantasy books ever written.

You’ll find that the characters’ challenges and adventures keep you hooked.

The book covers themes like leadership, survival, and friendship, making it loved by both kids and adults.

If you enjoy stories with deep, well-crafted worlds and rich character development, this novel is a must-read.

6) Jaws by Peter Benchley

“Jaws,” written by Peter Benchley, is one of the best-selling novels of the 1970s.

It tells the gripping tale of a great white shark terrorizing a small Long Island town.

Benchley was inspired by stories of fisherman catching massive sharks, and this interest grew into the iconic book.

Published in 1974, “Jaws” captures readers with its suspenseful plot and compelling characters.

The shark in “Jaws” isn’t just a fish—it’s a relentless force.

The novel made a huge cultural impact, raising awareness and fear about sharks.

Its success led to Steven Spielberg’s famous movie adaptation in 1975, making both the book and the film timeless classics.

7) The Godfather by Mario Puzo

You can’t talk about the 1970s without mentioning “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo.

First published in 1969, this crime novel dives into the life of the Corleone family, a powerful Mafia clan in New York City.

The story centers on Vito Corleone, the family patriarch, and his rise to power.

You’ll get drawn into the dark, compelling world of organized crime.

The book also explores the lives of Vito’s children, including Michael, who eventually takes over the family business.

“The Godfather” isn’t just a book; it became a massive cultural phenomenon.

The novel was adapted into three iconic films, starting in 1972, further embedding its place in pop culture.

You might know the name Marlon Brando because he famously portrayed Don Vito Corleone in the first film.

Mario Puzo’s writing is gripping and detailed, making you feel like you’re part of the family.

The novel covers the years 1945 to 1955 but also goes into Vito’s past, giving you a deeper context of his character.

If you enjoy suspense, drama, and complex family dynamics, this book is a must-read. “The Godfather” remains one of the best-selling novels of its time and has left a lasting impact on literature and film.

Literary Trends of the 1970s

The 1970s saw a shift in literature reflecting cultural changes and the influence of historical events.

Writers explored diverse genres, addressing new societal dynamics and global issues.

Cultural Shifts

In the 1970s, literature mirrored the cultural changes of the time.

Women’s liberation gained momentum, influencing many female authors to write about women’s rights and their roles in society.

Books like Fear of Flying by Erica Jong captured these themes.

The counterculture movement, rooted in the 1960s, continued.

Authors experimented with new styles and genres, blending science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Stephen King’s rise to fame began here with works like Carrie and The Shining.

Diversity in voices became more prominent.

Authors from different ethnic backgrounds started to receive attention.

This inclusion brought rich and varied perspectives to the literary landscape.

Impact of Historical Events

The Vietnam War significantly impacted 1970s literature.

Many novels addressed the war’s psychological and social effects.

Books such as The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien delved into soldiers’ experiences and the lasting impact on their lives.

Watergate and political scandals played a role in shaping literature too.

Themes of distrust in government and the search for truth became common.

For example, Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle focused on conspiracy and espionage.

Economic struggles and the oil crisis also featured in novels.

You saw characters grappling with financial hardship and societal changes.

These issues provided a backdrop for stories that reflected the shifting realities of the time.

Iconic Authors of the 1970s

The 1970s introduced readers to some remarkable authors who left lasting impressions with their unique storytelling.

These writers not only emerged with powerful new voices but also created legacies that influenced future generations.

Emerging Voices

The 1970s saw the rise of many new authors who went on to become literary giants. Toni Morrison, for example, published “The Bluest Eye” in 1970.

This novel tackled complex themes of race and identity in America, earning Morrison critical acclaim. Stephen King emerged as a master of horror with his breakout novel, “Carrie” (1974), which introduced readers to his gripping and terrifying style.

Gabriel García Márquez made waves with the English translation of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” in 1970.

His magical realism captivated a global audience and made him an iconic figure in literature. Erica Jong gained attention with “Fear of Flying” (1973), which explored themes of female independence and sexuality, resonating strongly with the feminist movement of the time.

Enduring Legacy

These authors didn’t just make a splash in the 1970s—they left a lasting impact. Toni Morrison continued to build on her early success with later books like “Song of Solomon” (1977), for which she received critical acclaim.

She became a Nobel laureate and remains an influential figure in literature and social commentary.

Stephen King expanded his repertoire with numerous bestsellers, establishing himself as a key figure in horror and suspense fiction.

His books, like “The Shining” (1977) and “It” (1986), have been adapted into iconic films and TV series, cementing his legacy.

Gabriel García Márquez‘s influence on Latin American literature and the magical realism genre is undeniable.

His works continue to be studied and celebrated for their innovation and depth. Erica Jong, though not as frequently remembered as some of her contemporaries, sparked important conversations about women’s rights and freedoms with her candid writing.

These authors from the 1970s set the standard for literary excellence and innovation, making significant contributions not only in their time but for future generations as well.

Leave a Reply