12 Works of Literature That Were Featured on Mad Men


Since its start in 2007, AMC’s Mad Men has mentioned, discussed, or alluded to a considerable amount of classic literature, from authors like Dante to Mark Twain to Edward Gibbon. Each mention or allusion serves a purpose within the show’s plotline, working either to explain a character, set a scene, or provide context for decisions made or actions taken. Here are 12 classic works mentioned throughout the first six and a half seasons of Mad Men.

1. 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand

“The Hobo Code,” Season 1, Episode 8
Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957 and set in a dystopian U.S., is the quintessential novel advocating capitalism and capitalist ideals. Bert Cooper, a big fan of Rand and one of the heads of Sterling Cooper, recommends creative director Don Draper read the book. Later, during a pitch to a client, Don appears to have been influenced by the book’s philosophies, saying, "If you don't appreciate my hard work, then I will take it away and we'll see how you do.” Viewers see in Don an egotism reminiscent of Rand’s philosophies throughout the series.

2. 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' by Irving Stone

“Flight 1,” Season 2, Episode 2
A biographical novel of artist Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy was written in 1961 and was sourced almost entirely from Michelangelo's correspondence—495 letters in all. Sterling Cooper secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson’s mother, a devoutly religious woman simultaneously proud of Peggy’s work and concerned with her lack of church attendance, mentions reading a copy of the book from the public library: “I have to renew The Agony and the Ecstasy. It’s taking forever.” In essence, Peggy’s mother is, perhaps unknowingly, exploring the dichotomy of religion in that it can seem both beneficial and like a chore.

3. 'Babylon Revisited and Other Stories' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Three Sundays,” Season 2, Episode 4
Babylon Revisited and Other Stories is a collection of 10 of Fitzgerald’s most popular short stories published between 1920 and 1937. Don’s wife, Betty, carries on a short flirtation with Arthur Case, a younger, engaged man learning to ride at the stables she frequents, and he recommends she read “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” a story about a family who, materialistically, had it all but whose patriarch was never happy (which is reminiscent of Don). Later, Betty is seen reading the collection, which includes the story Arthur recommended.

4. 'The Sound and the Fury' by William Faulkner

“Jet Set,” Season 2, Episode 11
Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, published in 1929, chronicles a dysfunctional Southern family in Mississippi as their reputation is damaged by financial ruin and the questioning of their religion. While Don is in California on business, he meets a young woman named Joy, and after dinner with her friends and spending the night together, Joy is seen reading The Sound and the Fury in bed. When Don asks, “Is it good?,” Joy replies that their sex was good, but that the book was merely OK. Later, Don jots down an address in the margins of the book—he’s going to visit Anna, the original Don Draper’s wife. The allusion to The Sound and the Fury hearkens to Don’s own troubled and fractured family life.

5. 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' by Edward Gibbon

“My Old Kentucky Home,” Season 3, Episode 3
Published in six volumes between 1776 and 1789, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire traces the trajectory of Western civilization. Gene, Betty’s father, moves in with the Drapers as his dementia worsens, and Sally reads Gibbon to him nightly, despite the subject material and structure being perhaps too advanced for a child. This is directly contrasted to Sally’s childish behavior later, when she steals $5 from Grandpa Gene and lies about it.

6. 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' by Mark Twain

“Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency,” Season 3, Episode 6
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in 1876, tells the story of Tom Sawyer, a young boy growing up in the fictional town of Petersburg, Mississippi. Lane Pryce, Sterling Cooper’s chief operating officer fresh in town from a London firm, mentions to Don he has been reading Tom Sawyer. The two are standing in a hospital waiting room after a gory accident with an executive who was poised to replace Lane as COO but now, due to his injury, would not. Lane alludes to Tom’s desire to be present at his own wake when he tells Don, “I feel like I just went to my own funeral. I didn’t like the eulogy.” Essentially, Lane knew the company’s plan was to relocate him, though now he was forced to stay due to the extenuating circumstances—all while knowing his superiors wish he was gone.

7. 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain

“Tomorrowland,” Season 4, Episode 13
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the mid-1880s and is told from the first-person perspective of Huck Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer. It is often considered satire on attitudes like racism, though criticized for its use of racial stereotypes and phraseology. Henry Francis, Betty’s second husband after her divorce from Don, is seen reading it before confronting Betty about her firing Carla, her children’s longtime black nanny.

8. 'Nature' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Other Woman,” Season 5, Episode 11
Nature is an essay written by Emerson in 1836 and is widely considered to be the foundation of transcendentalism, or the idea that God or the Universe explains reality through nature, therefore implying that reality can be understood by the study of nature. During a conversation between Peggy and Ted Chaough, creative director at rival firm Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, where he is trying to woo her into taking a job, he tells her that Emerson said, “You have to be a transparent eyeball. What he meant was, you have to take in the world and pass it through you. I am tired of people who treat this like math.” This is an accurate representation of Ted’s approach to the advertising profession; as the seasons progress, he gets burnt out on the business side and misses being purely creative, leading to a near-breakdown.

9. 'The Inferno' by Dante Alighieri

“The Doorway,” Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2
The Inferno follows Dante’s journey through hell as he is guided by the poet Virgil. Don is seen reading The Inferno while on a beach in Hawaii with his second wife, Megan; the opening lines are narrated: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” The book was a gift from his neighbor, with whom he is having an affair. Though he once told her he wanted to cut the affair off, he continued to see her, proving that he is often unable to navigate back to the light after straying down a dark path.

10. 'Frankenstein' by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

“Field Trip,” Season 7, Episode 3
First published anonymously in 1818, Frankenstein tells the story of scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a “monstrous” yet sentient creature during an experiment. When Betty goes as a chaperone on a field trip with her son Bobby, they are discussing his favorite monsters during the bus ride. He says, “There's basically Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There's also King Kong, too, but he's not really a monster. I like all of them, but I guess Wolf Man's my favorite because he changes into it.” In a way, this discussion of transforming monsters foreshadows Betty’s extreme mood swings regarding her children; for instance, later in the episode, after a fun day exploring farm life as part of the field trip, Betty becomes irrationally angry at Bobby for giving away her packed lunch and lets it ruin their entire day.

11. 'From the Earth to the Moon' by Jules Verne

“The Monolith,” Season 7, Episode 4
From the Earth to the Moon, published in 1865, chronicles several weapons enthusiasts’ attempts to build a cannon that can launch three men into space, with the end goal of a moon landing. When Roger Sterling, one of the heads of Sterling Cooper, attempts to convince his daughter, Margaret, to return home from a hippie commune to her husband and son, they discuss the book as they are laying in a barn with the other commune members looking up at the moon. Margaret says, “I’d like to go to the moon. Don’t you want to go?” Roger replies that yes, of course he wanted to be an astronaut as a boy, and Margaret points out that astronauts didn’t exist during his childhood. He disagrees, citing From the Earth to the Moon, and Margaret reminisces on how he read the novel to her as a child. This conversation illustrates that Margaret feels a freedom in her life to make her dreams a reality, whereas when Roger was growing up, he was not afforded the same opportunities.

12. 'Meditations in an Emergency' by Frank O’Hara

“For Those Who Think Young,” Season 2, Episode 1
Meditations in an Emergency is a collection of poetry published in 1957. Don picks up the book after seeing a man reading it in a bar. After reading it, Don sends a copy to Anna Draper, believing that she’d enjoy it but also in an attempt to share his vulnerabilities with her, because at that time, she was the one other person who knew his secret. At one point in the show, Don narrates a telling excerpt from the poem “Mayakovsky,” helping viewers understand the internal emotional struggles he faces but cannot confront or move past:

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

[h/t NYPL's 'Mad Men' Reading List]

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Star Trek Theme Song Has Lyrics
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Star Trek theme song is familiar to pretty much anyone who lived in the free world (and probably elsewhere, too) in the late 20th century. The tune is played during the show's opening credits; a slightly longer version is played, accompanied by stills from various episodes, during the closing credits. The opening song is preceded by William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) doing his now-legendary monologue recitation, which begins: "Space, the final frontier ..."

The show's familiar melody was written by respected film and TV composer Alexander Courage, who said the Star Trek theme's main inspiration was the Richard Whiting song "Beyond the Blue Horizon." In Courage's contract it was stipulated that, as the composer, he would receive royalties every time the show was aired and the theme song played. If, somehow, Star Trek made it into syndication—which, of course, it ultimately did—Courage stood to make a lot of money. And so did the person who wrote the lyrics.


Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, wrote lyrics to the theme song.

"Beyond the rim of the star-light,
my love is wand'ring in star-flight!"

Why would Roddenberry even bother?

The lyrics were never even meant to be heard on the show, but not because the network (NBC) nixed them. Roddenberry nixed them himself. Roddenberry wanted a piece of the composing profits, so he wrote the hokey lyrics solely to receive a "co-writer" credit.

"I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches."

As one of the composers, Roddenberry received 50 percent of the royalties ... cutting Alexander Courage's share in half. Not surprisingly, Courage was furious about the deal. Though it was legal, he admitted, it was unethical because Roddenberry had contributed nothing to why the music was successful.

Roddenberry was unapologetic. According to Snopes, he once declared, "I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not gonna get it out of the profits of Star Trek."

In 1969, after Star Trek officially got the ax, no one (Courage and Roddenberry included) could possibly have imagined the show's great popularity and staying power.

Courage, who only worked on two shows in Star Trek's opening season because he was busy working on the 1967 Dr. Doolittle movie, vowed he would never return to Star Trek.

He never did.


If you're looking for an offbeat karaoke number, here are Roddenberry's lyrics, as provided by Snopes:

The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.


In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.


Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”


The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.


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