The Best of Everything

I'm a great fan of Mad Men, so when I was sent this book (by a very kind woman at Penguin) and heard it was that programme which was indirectly responsible for it being republished more than 40 years after it first hit bookshelves, I was sold.

Well, almost. The story of six women working in a New York publishing house, it did look at first sight as if it could be the 1950s equivalent of chick lit. But it read like an episode of Mad Men - and that in my book is very high praise indeed...

The book was first published in 1958, but had been out of print until recently when it made a brief cameo appearance in AMC’s hit TV series set around the advertising world of Madison Avenue in 1960s New York.

In one scene, lead character Don Draper, an advertising guru with a shadowy past and a not much more virtuous present, is seen in bed reading it to try to better understand the female psyche.

It has now been republished by Penguin so a whole new generation can enjoy it. I certainly did – it was both fascinating as a glimpse of how different women’s lives were in the 1950s but also how similar.

In many ways, the six main female characters get up to many of the same things as women today, face many of the same problems and to some degree hold not dissimilar attitudes.

It is just that the choices they had (or believed they had) are far different. It is very much assumed, for example, that all the women are only working for as long as it takes them to find a husband. The one character who could be described as career-minded is actually the woman who adopts many of the characteristics of the men.

Some of the book is quite shocking – the overt sexism that the women encounter on a daily basis is outrageous - but it is the conversations between the women themselves that really rang true for me.

I’m not sure whether any of it would have helped Don Draper better understand the other sex, but as a contemporary take on the lives of women a generation and a half ago, it’s both entertaining and enlightening.

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe