By the time a student enters college, he or she must have attained a degree of literacy that demonstrates preparation for the rigors of post secondary academic study. One of the markers of this preparation is the list of books that have been read. I have noticed that few undergraduate students are fully prepared for the reading, writing, and critical thinking requirements of their first few years of college work. To help rectify this problem, I offer my list of the books that all Americans should read before entering college. If you are already in college and have not read all of these books, waste no time in getting up to speed.
- Breakthrough Rapid Reading, Peter Kump
- The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E. B. White
- How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster
- Introduction to Logic, Harry J. Gensler
- Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley
- The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States
- The Federalist, Publius (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay)
- On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin
- Wheelock’s Latin, Frederic M. Wheeler and Richard A. Lafleur
- The Illiad and The Odyssey, Homer (Alexander Pope trans.)
- Complete Works of William Shakespeare (The Alexander Text)
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
- Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
- Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
- Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville
- The Book of Virtues, William Bennett
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
- The holy books of the world’s major religions
The first five books absolutely must be read before attending college, as they provide a foundation to reading, writing, and critical thinking that will well serve all students. The other books are in a mild priority order of value to the general studies student who has yet begun the concentration courses. However, regardless of your academic standing, all of these books are of value to the student who seeks to best prepare him or herself for adult citizenship.
I think that without a firm understanding of our nation’s founding and our country’s fundamental literature (yes, I recognize that I have included British and French authors in my list), a student is not prepared to place his or her faculty’s lecture comments and readings into a proper scholarly perspective.
I have included popular novels that have had a broad affect on American literature and culture. It was most difficult for me to pare down my list to fewer than two dozen recommendations, a list that could easily be tackled in less than a year.
Which books do you recommend? I am interested in reading your suggestions.