9 Countercultural Books

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Girl Reading On Turquoise Couch
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The word counterculture generally refers to any movement that strives to achieve ideals counter to those of contemporary society. While counterculture itself is not a genre per se, the concept has intertwined itself into numerous fictional and nonfictional accounts of the 20th century and beyond. From the hippie rebellion of the 1960s to the persistent struggles of minority groups for equality, these books embody counterculture each in their own way, each with their own take on an ideal society.

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

     Hunter S. Thompson talks to reporters as he leaves a courtroom at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen, Colo., Monday, April 10, 1990.

    Hunter S. Thompson
    Hunter S. Thompson, 1990.
    Frank Martin/AP Images

    Similar to Kerouac’s On the Road, Alice Walker, 1992.

Alice Walker
Alice Walker, 1992.
AP Images

Robert A. Heinlein autographs books at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

Heinlein, Robert A.
Robert A. Heinlein autographing books in Kansas City, Missouri, 1976.

James Baldwin

James Baldwin
James Baldwin.
UPI/Bettmann Archive

Ken Kesey, statue in Eugene, Ore.

Kesey, Ken
Ken Kesey, statue in Eugene, Ore.

Betty Friedan, feminist and American  of "The Feminine Mistique"

Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan.
Smithsonian Institution

Widely regarded as the spark behind second-wave feminism in the United States, The Feminine Mystique attacked the 20th-century understanding of a woman’s function in society. Betty Friedan conducted and recorded a plethora of research, eventually publishing the book because no magazine would publish her original article. The nonfiction book introduces the problem that has no name, which is described as the unhappiness felt by the majority of American women in the 20th century. She argues that this feeling was perpetuated by the slow narrowing of the lives of women into solely domestic roles. The following 14 chapters detail her extensive research, explaining in layperson’s terms the function of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Freudian theory, and other complicated psychological agents that affected the widespread feelings of women in the 1950s and onward. She ends by suggesting ways in which America can prevent itself from falling further into this trap.

  • Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman (1971)

    Abbie Hoffman published Steal This Book as a guide to acting against the government. The book is divided into three sections—“Survive!”, “Fight!”, and “Liberate!”—with multiple subchapters. Written in the style of a “how-to” manual for members of the counterculture, Steal This Book is a snapshot of the hippie movement and the ideals it perpetuated. Subsections include information detailing how to successfully grow cannabis, protest, live in a commune, and even shoplift. It was so provocative that Hoffman eventually created his own publishing company, Pirate Editions, in order to sell the book, as other publishers were too afraid to attach their names to it. Though it was scarcely advertised, Steal This Book became very successful and was immortalized by the Woodstock Nation, who adopted Hoffman’s term for America, “Pig Nation,” as their own.

    Hoffman cofounded the Youth International Party—the “Yippies,” a countercultural political party.

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