Books to Watch “Mad Men” By

October 13th, 2009

Like millions of other viewers, my wife and I have been enjoying frequent plunges back into the early 1960s as we blast through the first two seasons of A&E’s “Mad Men” on DVD. I was born in 1958 and have remarkably strong memories from that period: the cars, kitchens, and clothes, in particular.

Though I’d hardly recommend a return to the stereotypes and prejudices of that time, I do feel a certain nostalgia for the style and certainty of the time. So I thought I’d take a moment to note a few titles that readers might find interesting if they’re in the mood for taking a deeper plunge back into the days of “Mad Men.”

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'The Hucksters'

The Hucksters, by Frederic Wakeman (1946)

This best-seller from 1946 (OK, I’m stretching the boundaries of the era) was the first “expose” of the twisting and turning of the truth that was advertising back in the days before the FCC found its backbone. Its hero, Vic Norman, was an early anti-hero, refusing to kowtow to his boss while devising new ways to sell soap on the radio–a conforming non-conformist rather like “Mad Men”‘s Don Draper. Now out of print.

Aurora Dawn, by Herman Wouk (1947)

Subtitled, “The True History Of Andrew Reale,” this broadly satirical novel tells the story of an utterly unscrupulous young man who scampers to the top of the corporate ladder in an advertising firm leaving more than a few victims along the way. Wouk always emphasized that he’d actually written his book before Wakeman’s, even though it was published a year later. Still in print.

The Price is Right, by Jerome Weidman (1949)

Cover of early paperback edition of 'The Price is Right'Technically, this is a novel about getting ahead in the newspaper business, but it is set on Madison Avenue. Its hero, Henry Cade, decides that, “… you could no more want a little success than you could want a little love … To want less than everything was to get nothing.” “Mad Men”‘s Peter Campbell appears to share this philosophy.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, by Sloan Wilson (1956)

Probably the best-known novel associated with the white collar WASP culture of the 1950s, the fictional counterpart to William Whyte’s classic, The Organization Man. Tom Rath, the hero, is in public relations rather than advertising, a distinguished war veteran, and faithful to his wife, Betsy. So maybe this isn’t the book to read while watching “Mad Men.”

The Naked Martini, by John Leonard (1963)

This first novel by a man who would come to be considered by some “the best critic in America” was panned by Harrison Salisbury in the New York Times: “… it possesses a certain wry wit, but 255 pages seems a long, long journey with no better company than a young adman, his bottles and his babes.” Sounds like a much more promising candidate in this case, however.

Cover of paperback edition of 'From Those Wonderful Folks'

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, by Jerry Della Femina (1971)

Jerry Della Femina has been called one of the “100 most influential advertising people of the 20th century.” This tongue-in-cheek memoir of some of his wilder adventures during the Mad Men era is full of laugh-out-loud passages. Interviewed recently by USA Today, Della Femina said of the time, “It was a business of drinking. The way we lived really would make the characters in “Mad Men” all look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. We drank and screwed around.”

Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy (1985)

A more restrained but still occasionally outrageous memoir, this one by the most famous Mad Man of his time. A 1962 cover article in Time called Ogilvy a “literary wizard,” though some of his most memorable ads had more to do with visual impact (the Hathaway shirt man’s eye-patch) than his copy.

One Response to “Books to Watch “Mad Men” By”

  1. Christina hendricks Says:

    Hucksters is a great great book, my mum made me read it before she passed away!

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