Photo-illustration: Vulture (books); Courtesy of AMC
In bed with his wife, Mad Men’s Don Draper reads The Best of Everything — Rona Jaffe’s 1958 chick-lit classic about women trying to make it in the office world. Before getting into bed with his Jewish client, he reads Leon Uris’s Exodus. And before he gets into bed with anyone in the second season — literary spoiler alert! — Draper is seen reading Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency. Clearly, Mad Men isn’t just nostalgic for the days when men tossed back Scotch — but for the days when they tossed back Scotch and read books too! What else might be on the Draper’s bookshelf? And what books about guys just like Don Draper might Matthew Weiner and the Mad Men writers have dug into for period detail?
The Hidden Persuaders (1957)
Vance Packard’s hysterical exposé was the Fast Food Nation of its era — an alarmist romp through the “strange and exotic” world of Don Draper’s cronies, from subliminal advertising to the feminization of men’s clothes.
Sounds like Don: “The women are buying a promise,” says one of the book’s ad execs. “The cosmetic manufacturers are not selling lanolin, they are selling hope.”
The Lonely Crowd (1950)
David Riesman’s classic pop-sociology bestseller argued that Americans’ pioneer spirit was being corrupted by postwar softness, while nuclear families crumbled. The result: Men were becoming “other-directed” — driven by communal peer pressure (like advertising) in an aspirational era of conspicuous consumption.
Sounds like Don: “The other-directed person is, in a sense, at home everywhere and nowhere, capable of a rapid if sometimes superficial intimacy with and response to everyone.”
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961)
Daniel Boorstin was pop sociology’s dystopic answer to Andy Warhol, diagnosing a new “age of contrivance” characterized by men like Don Draper who were “programming our experiences.”
Sounds like Don: Like Theodore White’s The Making of the President (1960), the book specifically focuses on the ways admen shaped the jingles, TV ads, and TV debates of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy election, featured heavily in Mad Men.
Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (novel 1955, film 1956)
The title of Sloan Wilson’s male weepie quickly became a pop catchphrase for conformist men, or what Theodore White dubbed the “organization man.”
Sounds like Don: In the 1956 film, Gregory Peck played the role of a PTSD-rattled WWII vet who returns home from brutality of war to the common fear of becoming just another pencil-pushing commuter. When he takes a more demanding PR job at the Manhattan offices of a TV network to support his seemingly perfect family, he’s nearly corrupted by the soul-deadening, square office job.
The Hucksters (1946)
Another ad-centric novel, starring another mysterious adman, Frederick Wakeman’s scabrous take on advertising follows Victor Norman, a Drapery guy who returns home from his gig at the Office of War Information to a firm where his sole job is to keep a client happy with a new radio show.
Sounds like Don: Norman has an affair with a Jewish showgirl, a best friend who loves party girls more than he does, and a spectacular, romantic affair with a woman who forces him to see how unhappy he is. We guess that does sound familiar. —Logan Hill
Check out Vulture’s complete Mad Men coverage:
The SYSW Index: What Makes ‘Mad Men’ a Show You Should Watch?
Jon Hamm of ‘Mad Men’ on the Future of Don Draper
Don Draper’s ‘Mad Men’ Bookshelf
Emily Nussbaum on Pete Campbell and His Poignant Crumminess
Logan Hill on Don Draper, Granite Statue and Train Wreck