A Book for Every Mad Men Fan

The Man Who Sold America

On Sunday, AMC’s Mad Men returns for the first half of its final season, and like everyone else, we can’t wait to see how it all ends. What year will it be when the show starts? What period-appropriate hairstyle will Peggy adopt next? Will Don finally embrace the leisure suit? These are burning questions, and they need answers.

Somehow, over the past six years, we’ve come to care about these often deeply unlikeable people. The show has done a fabulous job of making them feel fully real, which is why, just in time for the season premiere, I feel comfortable offering the following reading suggestions for every type of Mad Men fan.

For the Don Draper fan:
Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
If you’ve ever wondered what exactly is going through Don’s head in all those inscrutable, lingering close-ups, it’s probably not dissimilar from the stream-of-consciousness thoughts of Bob Slocum, the embittered businessman at the center of Heller’s lesser-known follow-up to Catch-22. The book follows him about his day as he muses on his dissatisfaction with work, his tiresome family life, his sexual escapades. And like Don, near the end Slocum has plenty of reason to start doubting his own sanity. Maybe lay off the noontime highballs, guys.

For the Peggy Olsen fan:
The Engagements, by J. Courtney Sullivan
In the Pantheon of famous taglines, De Beer’s “A Diamond is Forever” slogan looms large. This wide-ranging, ambitious novel is in some ways the story of marriage itself, following various couples who marry in different ways, and for different reasons. But at its heart is the story of Frances Gerety, a not un-Peggy Olsen-like copywriter working thanklessly at an ad agency in the 1940s, and the four little words that changed her life.

For the Pete Campbell fan:
Truth in Advertising, by John Kenney
Look, Pete Campbell is a total turd, a sniveling sad sack who has nothing but contempt for his lovely family and his privileged upbringing. I kind of hate him. Just like I kind of hated Finbar Dolan, the disillusioned ad man at the center of Kenney’s debut novel. Nevertheless, I find both characters fascinating, and I couldn’t read Kenney’s insider account of the modern advertising game fast enough.

For the Joan Holloway fan:
The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker, by Janet Groth
In later seasons, Joan finally started to get some respect around the office (although hardly as much as she deserves), but even when she was “just a secretary,” it was clear to viewers who really ran the show at Sterling-Cooper (hint: it wasn’t one of the guys drunk under his desk at 2 p.m.). Groth’s memoir paints a similar picture of a woman operating in a man’s world, covering for adulterous husbands and dodging passes from her boss, and finding herself in the process.

For the Bert Cooper fan:
The Man Who Sold America, by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank and Arthur W. Schultz
Sure, these days he is best known for napping during meetings, but in his heyday, Bert Cooper was likely not dissimilar from Albert Lasker, one of the fathers of modern advertising and the man responsible for Lucky Strike’s “It’s Toasted” slogan. This biography of the man offers a fascinating peek into a business in transformation.

For the Ken Cosgrove fan:
The Space Merchants, by Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
Kenny drew the ire of his copywriter colleagues when he managed to find a publisher for his collection of sci-fi stories, and it’s not hard to imagine him writing something like this book, which examines a hyper-consumerists future ruled by subversive advertising agencies.

For the Betty Draper fan:
Betty Draper has no fans.

Just kidding.

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
If Betty ever wants to feel better in her lot in life, she’d do well to read Yates’ acidic satire of suburbia in the 1950s. Sure, she has much in common with the protagonist, April Wheeler—both are frustrated mothers who feel stifled by home and their oppressive, philandering husbands—but at least she never winds up…well, no spoilers, but don’t read this one on a gloomy day.

For the Roger Sterling fan:
Sterling’s Gold, by Roger Sterling
Of course.

What are you reading to get you in the mood for Mad Men’s return?