Dot matrix diagrams

Computers are used to identify the organism causing the deaths.

The US military has sent small, unmanned satellites into space, hoping to find weaponizable microorganisms.

After being briefly bumped out of orbit, one of those satellites lands in Piedmont, AZ, pop. 38.

Within minutes all but two of the inhabitants — a baby and an old man — are dead.

A team of medical scientists chosen in advance for their varied expertise, are summoned to a secret subterranean laboratory in the Nevada desert to identify and contain the organism.

They work feverishly, sometimes brilliantly, often stupidly, trying to piece together what the deadly thing is.

Michael Crichton said he deliberately wrote in the “factual, non-fiction writing style of New Yorker profiles.”

Crichton intensifies the sense of reality by referring to scholarly journals, academic conferences, and including copies of documents in the text.

The characters are barely more than CV highlights. What they do is more important than who they are — and even what they do is done inside man-sized, inflatable plastic suits to keep them from contamination.

Crichton’s writing is good. His musings on the hazards that personalities bring to collaborative projects are still worth rereading.

The dot-matrix printed documents, though, are a blurry reminder that Andromeda is approaching its fiftieth birthday.

The Andromeda Strain: A Novel by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. 295 p. 1969 bestseller #5. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Naked woman being filmed in bed

Sex, TV camera and Robbins name dominate cover of The Inheritors.

The Inheritors combines steamy sex with stultifying descriptions of multi-million dollar financial deals.

To make things worse, Harold Robbins’ odd organization makes following the story difficult.

Steve Gaunt and Sam Benjamin are frenemies and business partners. Steve and Sam each have three-track minds: Women, booze, and business.

Needless to say there’s not a lot of character for Robbins to develop.

Robbins opens the novel with a chapter about the morning of a spring day in which Steve and Sam talk about things that mean nothing to readers.

Books one and two relate events of 1955-60 in New York from the viewpoints of Steve and Sam respectively.

Then there’s a chapter about the afternoon of the spring day.

Next books three and four relate events of 1966-65 in Hollywood from the viewpoints of Steve and Sam respectively.

Sam, the homely fat guy, is the more interesting of the two. The suave Steve with his nose in a balance sheet is not stimulating company for any reader.

What little interest there is in the novel is in the cultural history of how television disrupted the film industry, embraced rock music, and metamorphosed into the communications industry.

The Inheritors by Harold Robbins
Pocket Book Edition, 1971. 373 p. paper. 1969 bestseller #4. My grade: C-.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Female gender symbol fills front cover of The Love Machine

The Love Machine is a novel that’s not afraid to be noticed.

The Love Machine has a lot of action, most of which occurs in beds. Nevertheless, it’s a far better novel than I expected from the author of the appalling Valley of the Dolls.

The alpha male in the novel is Robin Stone, who comes out of TV news and pushes his way to temporarily dominate a TV network.

There are lots of women in the novel, Amanda, Maggie, and Judith being the three who lend their names to the novel’s sections.

Amanda, the blonde, dies.

Maggie, the brunette, goes into films.

I don’t remember Judith’s hair color or what happens to her. By the time she appeared, I’d lost what little interest I’d had in Robin’s sex partners.

The most interesting part of the novel is the mystery of why Robin dislikes brunettes.

Under hypnosis, Robin learns he is adopted; his dark-haired German mother was a prostitute who was murdered by a customer.

After his foster mother dies, Robin tries to find his real family, but he can’t find any of her relatives.

Whether Robin sorted out his childhood trauma, readers never learn.

Susann wraps up the novel with the consummate expertise of a writer who won the Best Dressed Woman in Television Award four times.

The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann
Grove Press, 1969. paper. 511 p. 1968 bestseller #3. My grade: C+.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

cover of Godfather shows puppeteer

Manipulating people is what The Godfather does.

As one of the 32 people in America who hadn’t seen the film version of The Godfather, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel is not just another gory Mafia story.

Mario Puzo’s story is solid: It’s packed with more characters than a casting call, each of them interesting variations on familiar gangster-film types. The characters and fast-paced plot never let attention drag.

The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, a well-to-do olive oil importer hoping one of his sons will take over the family business, which is a front for a gambling and extortion empire in New York City.

His eldest, Sonny, is keen on taking over, but too impulsive for the job; second son, Fredo, lacks leadership.

Michael, the youngest son, defied his father by entering the Marine Corps, became a hero, left the military for Dartmouth College, where he met an all-American WASP, whom he wishes to marry.

The outside story is about how Mike becomes head of the business and steps into his father’s role as Don.

The underlying story is about the culture people carry with them, a mindset and values that are resistant to geography and time.

The novel is worth rereading in 2017 for that underlying story alone.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo
G. P. Putnam, 1969. 448 p. 1969 bestseller #2. My grade: A.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni


all-text cover of Portnoy's Complaint

Complaint in plain wrapper.

Alexander Portnoy, Assistant Human Opportunity Commissioner for New York City, is a psychological mess, and it’s all his parent’s fault.

At least that’s what he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel, in Philip Roth’s aptly named Portnoy’s Complaint.

Alex suffers from stereotypes.

He’s the brilliant and personable only son of a New Jersey Jewish couple. Alex’s eighth-grade educated father slaves for a Protestant insurance company, selling life insurance in the black slums. His mother cooks, cleans, kvetches.

Alex grew up being alternately praised to the hilt and told he was a disgrace to his family.

At 33 he’s still unmarried. His professional life is devoted to doing good for others.

His nonprofessional life is devoted to activities discussed primarily in four-letter words.

Alex’s monologue mixes exaggeration with self-deprecation. His occasional flashes of insight are masked with jokes.

He tells his shrink, “I hear myself indulging in the kind of ritualized bellyaching that is just what gives psychoanalytic patients such a bad name with the general public.”

Roth’s novel is genuinely funny, but as he lets Alex makes readers laugh, he makes them see how emotionally frail Alex is.

Roth’s technical skill and his humanity — plus the final punch line — combine to produce a hopeful portrait of a damaged man.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Random House, 1969. 274 p. 1969 bestseller #1 My grade: A


© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni


The 1969 bestseller list includes several titles and novelists that will be instantly recognized by any reader of twentieth century fiction.

The novelist in 10th place for The House on the Strand, Dame Daphne du Maurier, published nine bestsellers between 1930 and 1969, beginning with Rebecca in 1938. That’s almost a bestseller every third year.

1969 marked the first bestselling novel for Michael Crichton, whose later output would make him the first person to have a book, film, and television series simultaneously on the charts.

Here’s the list of 1969’s bestselling novels, with dates my reviews are to be published.

  1. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth [Aug. 8, 2017]
  2. The Godfather by Mario Puzo [Aug. 12, 2017]
  3. The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann [Aug. 15, 2017]
  4. The Inheritors by Harold Robbins [Aug. 19, 2017]
  5. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton [Aug. 22, 2017]
  6. The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace [Aug. 26, 2017]
  7. Naked Came the Stranger by Penelope Ashe [Aug. 29, 2017]
  8. The Promise by Chaim Potok [Sept. 2, 2017]
  9. The Pretenders by Gwen Davis [Sept. 5, 2017]
  10. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier [Sept. 9, 2017]

You’ll get a chance September 12 to tell fellow readers which of the 1969 bestsellers you think are still worth reading in the GreatPenformances reader poll.

On September 16, I’ll wrap up with my choices of the 1969 bestsellers that I think hold the most value for today’s readers.

And  with that I’ll conclude my reviews of the bestselling novels of the first 70 years of the twentieth century.

© Linda Gorton Aragoni

The bestsellers of 1968 are notable for being forgettable.

In some cases, the title elicits an “Oh, yeah, I think I read that,” but the stories behind the titles shriveled into the ether within weeks after I finished reading them.

The few that rise above placebo level are Preserve and Protect by Allen Drury, The Tower of Babel by Morris L. West, and Myra Breckenridge by Gore Vidal.

Preserve and Protect

Preserve and Protect is the last of Allen Drury’s set of six political novels following a group of Washington characters through a series of political crises., the earliest being, Advise and Consent (1959), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960;  A Shade of Difference (1962); and  Capable of Honor (1966).

Capable of Honor, as you know, ends in a cliffhanger.

Drury’s next two novels provided readers with alternative finales.

Come Nineveh, Come Tyre (1973) became a bestseller like the earlier four novels.

The last of the six novels, The Promise of Joy (1975) was the only one of the set that didn’t become a bestseller.

Tower of Babel

West’s Tower of Babel is set just before the outbreak of the Six Day War 51 years ago this past June. The novel delivers its thrills through a tale of spies and espionage.

West didn’t give the spies enough personality to make the thriller part of the story memorable. All that lingers is a bleak sense of military force being used as a political tools.

Myra Breckenridge

Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge is satirical and Myra thoroughly unpleasant. The novel is remembered today for breaking the social taboos around discussions of sex and transgender issues in general.

The story itself is readily forgotten — which may be the best thing to be said for it 51 years after its initial publication.


Our look at bestsellers of 1969 start August 5.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni