The series finale of Mad Men is Sunday, and one of the reasons I'm going to miss the AMC drama is because of how detailed each episode is. From the TV show that a character is watching to the music that plays over the end credits, you know that everything you see and hear before you has a purpose.
That is most definitely the case with the bevy of books that have appeared on screen in Mad Men throughout the series. The show itself has a long list of literary inspiration that includes Jerry Della Femina's From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl and the works of John Cheever.
It's no surprise then that we've often seen Don, Betty and Sally Draper with books in their hands, whether they're classics or classically 1960s, the decade in which the majority of the show takes place. Sometimes a book will be explicitly referred to in the script, other times the camera will linger on a novel on a bookshelf in the Sterling Cooper (or some variation of that name) offices, but whenever there's a literary reference in Mad Men, there's always a special meaning behind it.
As you can see, in case you're not ready to let go of this series just yet (and who is, really?), you can always keep the show's legacy alive by picking up some of the books featured in Mad Men. Many of them are iconic books that you should read anyway just so you can show people how cultured you are. Finding ways to be a better you — or a different person entirely — is very Mad Men after all.
Here are nine books that should be on any Mad Men fan's reading list.
1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (Episode 103: "Marriage of Figaro")
Mad Men begins in the year 1960, just one year after the unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover became available in the United States after being banned for more than 30 years. In this episode, we see the secretaries of Sterling Cooper giddily pass around a copy of the then-scandalous novel about a woman's affair with her husband's gamekeeper, half-worried, half-excited about how it would look to read the book on the train. Beyond the historical significance of Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence's exploration of the relationship between love and sex is a theme often explored in Mad Men as well.
2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Episode 108: "The Hobo Code")
Atlas Shrugged is like a love letter to capitalism, so it's no surprise that it would be featured so prominently on Mad Men, a show filled with individualism and the pursuit of personal satisfaction. This Season 1 episode shows Rand fan Bert Cooper recommending the book to Don, who later uses some of the book's ideals in a pitch to a client. It feels like we've spent the entire series of Mad Men asking ourselves "Who is Don Draper?" too.
3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (Episode 211: "Jet Set")
William Faulkner's most famous novel tells the tale of the Compson family, once prominent in Mississippi society. Mad Men knows a thing or two about dysfunctional families. In fact, The Sound and the Fury shows up during one of Don's affairs in the hands of the woman he just slept with. He uses the book to write down the address of Anna, the original Don Draper's wife, in the book's margins. We can only hope that Don's family life doesn't end up as tragic as that of the Compsons.
4. Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy (Episode 307: "Seven Twenty Three")
If David Ogilvy is the father of modern advertising, his 1963 tell-all is its bible. In the book, Ogilvy details how he created one of the most successful ad agencies in the world, Ogilvy and Mather, preaching the importance of "the Big Idea," results and why you should always use the word "new." As one of Sterling Cooper's competitors, Ogilvy is of course mentioned throughout Mad Men. Reading Confessions of an Advertising Man will help you better understand the struggle of Don and the rest of Sterling Cooper to be simultaneously creative as well as sell.
5. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict (Episode 405: "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword")
The title of this episode of Mad Men comes from the 1946 Ruth Benedict study into post-World War II Japanese culture, and it plays a big role here. In the episode, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce tries to win the Honda account, but Roger Sterling's antics and competition from Cutler Gleason and Chaough seem to extinguish the smell of victory. Don realizes that Honda was never planning on relocating their motorcycle advertising to the U.S., and he uses what he read in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword to take a dig at Cutler Gleason and Chaough and also earn the respect of the Japanese executives. It's one of Don's more impressive moments in Mad Men, and reading The Chrysanthemum and the Sword will make you feel like you have a greater understanding of the world too.
6. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (Episode 508: "Lady Lazarus")
Like a good commuter, we see Pete Campbell reading Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 on the train to Manhattan in this Season 5 episode. The novel chronicles the tale of housewife Oedipa Maas, who finds herself embroiled in what might be a huge conspiracy. The epic journey of the heroine of The Crying of Lot 49 is echoed in this episode in the form of Megan's desire to leave the agency for an acting career and Beth, the wife of Pete's fellow commuter who has an affair with Pete. This quest for independence can also be seen in many of Mad Men's female characters.
7. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (Episodes 601 and 602: "The Doorway")
Season 6 of Mad Men began with Don reading The Inferno, and many have speculated that Don's journey that season mirrored Dante's travels through the nine circles of Hell. Don reads the book on Mad Men while he is vacationing in Hawaii with his second wife Megan, but he actually received the book from his mistress du jour Sylvia. Only the series finale will tell if Don is able to finally climb out of Hell.
8. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (Episode 704: "The Monolith")
Portnoy's Complaint was released in 1969, the same year in which Season 7 of Mad Men starts. Philip Roth's novel is one long psychotherapy session in which Alexander Portnoy explains his frustrations to Dr. Spielvogel. Most of Portnoy's issues stem from his relationships with his mother and other women in his life. Sound familiar?
9. Sterling’s Gold by Roger Sterling
Unlike these other selections, Sterling's Gold wasn't a real book before Mad Men. On the show, we see Roger dictate his autobiography to his secretary Caroline and eventually publish, and you can own a copy IRL. The book is subtitled "Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man," but if you've ever seen how Roger does business on Mad Men, you know that this is some wisdom you should probably take with a grain of salt.