The Catcher in the Rye was an instant success and remains recommended reading at many high schools, selling around 250,000 copies a year.
However, the novel was also sharply criticised for its liberal use of swear words and open references to sex, and was banned in some countries.
Mystery surrounded much of the last five decades of Salinger's life.
After being overwhelmed by his new fame, he withdrew from public life, retreating to his house perched on a tree-blanketed hill in the small town of Cornish.
Memoirs written by his daughter and a former lover affirmed that Salinger still wrote, but there has been no sign of any new book despite the entreaties of his legions of fans.
In a rare interview with the Boston Sunday Globe newspaper in 1980, Salinger said: "I love to write, and I assure you I write regularly. But I write for myself and I want to be left absolutely alone to do it."
News in 1997 that his last published work Hapworth 16: 1924, which appeared in the New Yorker magazine, was about to be reissued in hard print sparked excitement in the literary world. But the publication date was frequently postponed, with no reason given.