literature books for college students

Books for College Students: Your Ultimate Summer Reading List

literature books for college students

Among college students who participate in regular reading beyond their coursework, a staggering 90% report experiencing enhanced academic performance and remarkable personal growth. The impact of reading on their success cannot be underestimated. As you embark on your college journey, the books you choose to read can play a pivotal role in shaping your future.

Books for College Students: Short Description

In this article, we have meticulously curated an essential list of books to read in 2023. This collection spans a wide array of subjects and genres, all with the aim of not only bolstering your academic achievements but also nurturing your personal development. Within these pages, you will uncover invaluable insights, profound wisdom, and inspiration to embark on a transformative voyage of learning and self-discovery. So, join us on this literary expedition, and let these books become your steadfast companions in your pursuit of excellence and growth, creating unforgettable memories along the way with your best friend by your side.

Boost Your Reading: Books For College Students 2023

As you navigate the hectic world of higher education, finding time for leisure reading might seem like an elusive dream. But hold on because 2023 holds the promise of turning that dream into a reality. Reading isn't just a pastime; it's a powerful tool that can boost your college experience and personal growth. Beyond the academic rigors, immersing yourself in books can be a stress-relieving escape, a brain-strengthening exercise, and a vocabulary-expanding adventure.

So, let's make this year the turning point! Embrace the wonders of reading and kick-start the new year with a collection of the best books meticulously curated for college students like you. In this guide, our research paper writing service will explore the myriad advantages of reading, unveil our handpicked selection of must-reads, and provide practical tips to carve out time for reading amidst your busy schedule. Get ready to embrace the magic of literature and embark on a transformative journey through the written word in 2023!

The Power of Reading: Unveiling the Top 5 Benefits of Books

Embarking on a literary journey can unlock a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond the pages of a book. Whether you are an avid reader or someone looking to rediscover the joy of reading, the transformative power of books cannot be underestimated.

Books for College Students

  • Cognitive Enhancement : Reading books stimulates the brain, fostering improved cognitive functions such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and enhanced memory retention.
  • Stress Reduction : Delving into the pages of a book provides a tranquil escape from the stresses of daily life, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety levels.
  • Vocabulary Expansion : Regular reading exposes you to a vast array of words and phrases, enriching your vocabulary and enhancing communication skills.
  • Empathy and Emotional Intelligence : Through engaging with diverse characters and narratives, reading fosters empathy and emotional intelligence, enabling a deeper understanding of others' perspectives and emotions.
  • Lifelong Learning : Books are a treasure trove of knowledge, offering an avenue for continuous learning and personal development, even beyond formal education.

Recommended Books for College Students

While we all love a good pride and prejudice book summary , there's so much more to explore in this treasure trove of the summer reading list handpicked for college students. Within these pages, you'll find a captivating blend of savvy tips, inspiring insights, and thought-provoking topics that go beyond classic literature. Whether you're seeking guidance to navigate college life with finesse or eager to foster personal growth and broaden your understanding of the world, these recommended reads are an indispensable addition to your bookshelf.

Books for College Students

‘175+ Things to Do Before You Graduate College’ By Charlotte Lake

'175+ Things to Do Before You Graduate College' by Charlotte Lake is an exciting and comprehensive guidebook tailored for college students seeking to make the most of their academic journey and a fantastic source of graduation speech topics . Packed with a diverse array of activities, this book offers a myriad of inspiring ideas to enrich your college experience. From exploring new hobbies and joining clubs to undertaking internships and studying abroad, the author covers it all. Whether you're looking to create unforgettable memories, build meaningful connections, or develop crucial life skills, this book serves as your ultimate companion, ensuring you make the most of your college years and graduate with a well-rounded perspective and a multitude of experiences to cherish for a lifetime.

‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho

'The Alchemist' takes readers on an enchanting and philosophical journey through the eyes of Santiago, a young Andalusian shepherd who dreams of hidden treasures. Written by renowned author Paulo Coelho, this timeless novel explores the pursuit of one's dreams and the significance of following one's heart. With profound insights on destiny, perseverance, and self-discovery, this captivating tale has inspired millions worldwide and continues to leave a lasting impression on readers, encouraging them to reflect on their own life's purpose and embrace the magic of the journey.

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

'Educated' is a powerful memoir penned by Tara Westover, earning its well-deserved spot among the top 50 books that captivate readers with its extraordinary journey. Recounting her upbringing in isolated rural Idaho, Tara's relentless pursuit of knowledge and academic success defies all odds. Growing up without formal education, she faces numerous challenges, yet her determination leads her to prestigious universities and a transformative education. Through themes of resilience, self-empowerment, and the pursuit of truth, this gripping narrative offers an unforgettable tale of courage and determination, inspiring readers to believe in the transformative power of education and the strength of the human spirit.

‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg

In 'The Power of Habit,' Charles Duhigg unravels the fascinating science behind habits and their impact on our lives, making it an essential addition to any summer reading list. Drawing from cutting-edge research, real-life examples, and engaging stories, Duhigg explores how habits shape our behavior and influence personal and professional success. With practical insights on how to form and change habits, this book empowers readers to take control of their routines and leverage the power of habits to achieve lasting positive change. Whether you want to boost productivity, improve well-being, or enhance personal development, this insightful book offers a compelling guide to understanding and harnessing the power of habit.

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman

In 'Thinking, Fast and Slow,' Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman takes readers on a captivating journey into the two systems that drive human thought: the fast, intuitive, and emotional system and the slow, deliberate, and analytical system. Through decades of research in psychology and behavioral economics, Kahneman illuminates the biases and heuristics that shape our decision-making processes. This thought-provoking book challenges our understanding of human rationality and provides valuable insights into how our minds work. As readers explore the intricacies of human cognition, they gain a deeper understanding of their own thought patterns and acquire the tools to make more informed and rational decisions in all aspects of life.

Books for College Students

‘Atlas of the Heart’ by Brené Brown

In 'Atlas of the Heart,' renowned author and researcher Brené Brown delves into the complexities of emotions and vulnerability, guiding readers on a transformative journey of self-discovery and emotional resilience. With her signature blend of storytelling, research, and empathy, Brown explores the myriad aspects of the human heart—love, belonging, joy, grief, and courage. Through powerful insights and practical tools, she encourages readers to embrace their emotions, cultivate empathy, and build authentic connections with others. This profound exploration of the human experience empowers readers to navigate the ups and downs of life with courage and compassion.

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‘Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?’ By Dr. Julie Smith

In 'Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?' Dr. Julie Smith offers a refreshing and candid perspective on life's crucial lessons and practical advice that many wish they had received earlier, making it a highly recommended book for college students. Drawing from her professional expertise and personal experiences, Dr. Smith shares insights on self-awareness, relationships, career, and personal growth. With wit and wisdom, she provides practical guidance to help readers navigate life's challenges, make informed decisions, and cultivate a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This empowering book serves as a compass for young adults and beyond, guiding them toward a more meaningful and intentional life.

To get a glimpse of the valuable insights within, here's a brief book review example : 'Dr. Julie Smith's 'Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?' offers a treasure trove of wisdom for anyone seeking a fulfilling and purpose-driven life. With humor and heartfelt anecdotes, the author imparts valuable life lessons that resonate with readers of all ages. This book is a must-read for those embarking on their journey of self-discovery and personal growth.'

‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear

In 'Atomic Habits,' James Clear presents a groundbreaking guide to understanding the power of small habits and their transformative impact on personal and professional success, making it one of the best books to read for students. This exceptional book has sold millions of copies worldwide, captivating readers with its powerful insights and practical approach. By drawing on the principles of neuroscience and behavioral psychology, Clear explains how tiny changes in behavior can lead to remarkable outcomes over time. This young man offers a practical framework for building and breaking habits, making it easier for readers to adopt positive behaviors and eliminate negative ones. With actionable strategies and real-life examples, this book empowers college students to create a solid foundation of habits that propel them toward their goals and aspirations.

‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown

'Essentialism' by Greg McKeown is a powerful manifesto for simplifying life and focusing on what truly matters, and it's a must-read for college kids seeking clarity amidst the chaos. Emphasizing the importance of saying 'no' to non-essential distractions, McKeown encourages readers to prioritize their time and energy on activities that align with their core values and long-term objectives. By eliminating the clutter and noise that often inundate our lives, readers can free themselves from the trap of busyness and gain greater clarity in their decision-making. This book serves as a guide to unlocking a life of purpose, fulfillment, and greater impact.

‘Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World’ By Cal Newport

In 'Digital Minimalism,' Cal Newport explores the concept of digital decluttering and advocates for a more intentional and mindful approach to technology use, making it one of the must-read books for college students. Drawing on research and case studies, Newport highlights the adverse effects of constant digital distraction on mental health and productivity. He offers a compelling argument for regaining control over our digital lives by cultivating habits that prioritize meaningful and focused engagement while reducing mindless scrolling and digital noise. This book provides practical strategies to build a healthier relationship with technology, allowing college students to reclaim their time, attention, and overall sense of presence in an increasingly noisy world.

In the ever-changing landscape of college life, books remain steadfast companions, offering keys to unlock the doors of academic triumph and personal enlightenment. So, my dear college student, embrace the wisdom, inspiration, and knowledge within these essential reads, for as Mark Twain once said, 'The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.' So, let these books to read in 2023 be your guides to a fulfilling and successful college experience. And if you ever need help on how to write a reflection paper , you can always hire a college essay writer . Happy reading and thriving!

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50 Essential Books for College Students in 2020

College has several purposes and aspects. During the college years, one undertakes study and preparation for a life and career after college. We forge new friendships, discover and establish our own beliefs and values as well as become exposed to a broader universe of intellectual and cultural history. Often this takes the form of competing ideas. However, the college experience isn’t limited to study and society.

There are practical considerations as well that often dictate the success of college itself. Basic questions arise.  Where should I go to college? What should I study? Once I’ve chosen and been accepted into a college, how am I going to keep up with the rigors of study? How am I going to afford college?

This list is divided into four basic sections that touch upon the many issues that college students face. The following will provide the student with some tips on where to look for answers to the many practical questions he or she faces.

  • The first section of this list provides some essential books that will help resolve the practical basics of college life.
  • The second section includes titles on religion, philosophy, society, and economics.
  • The third lists key works in science and mathematics. The final section provides titles of great works of literature.
  • The final list emphasizes literature because often literature touches upon several if not all of the issues so central to human life and experience.

Furthermore, works of literature do not require more specialized training and knowledge that many of the other genres do. This makes literature more universally accessible and meaningful to more people from any walk of life.


12 Easy Tests to Discover Which Programs are Best

Fiske Guide to Colleges (2016 ed.)

Pay for College Without Going Broke, 2015 Edition

How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

The Elements of Style

The Idea of a University

Nicomachean Ethics

Wealth of Nations

The Federalist Papers

Democracy in America

A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

The Communist Manifesto

The Oregon Trail

Up From Slavery: An Autobiography

Civilization and Its Discontents

Homage to Catalonia

The Abolition of Man

The Gulag Archipelago: (1918-1956)

On the Origin of Species

Principia Mathematica

A Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Iliad  & Odyssey

Theban Trilogy

The Divine Comedy

Canterbury Tales

The Works of Shakespeare

Don Quixote

Pride and Prejudice

David Copperfield

Moby-Dick or The Whale

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Crime and Punishment

War and Peace

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Lord of the Rings

Immortal Poems of the English Language

Invisible Man

Fahrenheit 451

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The Master and Margarita

The Complete Stories

Harry Potter

  • Choosing a College, Paying for College, Surviving in College and Thriving in the Classroom

College Major Quizzes:

Brian J. Liptak (2011)

College requires great financial and time investment. In order to most efficiently reach one’s educational and career goals, it’s good at the beginning to have an idea of what one is going to study in college. Liptak’s book provides an easy and convenient way through 12 tests to discover where one’s interests and talents are and what college majors best match up with these. College Major Quizzes or a similar book is a must for prospective and early college students, seeking to determine what course or courses of study they should major in.

literature books for college students

Edward Fiske

Knowing the options for college is essential to choosing the right one for you. Fiske provides potential students with key information on 322 of the best colleges, “featuring… ratings, tips from current students, and tools for broadening and narrowing” one’s search. If one is looking for a more complete list, The Complete Book of Colleges (2016 Edition) lists over 1, 500 colleges.

Kalman Chany

If one is going to be successful throughout college and after finishing, one has to manage the costs. Chany’s book provides tips on calculating costs, understanding financial aid, and how to compare different offers, make plans based upon one’s state of life, money-saving, and the application process. With a foreword by former president Bill Clinton, Pay for College without Going Broke provides essential information on how to make it through college with limited funds.

Cal Newport (2006)

The transition from high school to college means a major increase in course work and the time needed to complete it. Balancing academics, work, play, and social life can be like navigating a minefield for college students. Newport offers real-life strategies that allow one to be academically successful and at the same time avoid becoming a hermit. How to Become a Straight-A Student or another book of the same kind is essential for any college student seeking academic success.

William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White (1999 4th ed.)

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is (or should be) beside any student writer (and proficient, too!). In 2011 Time named this little instruction book on writing good prose one the most influential books of the 20th century. Originally composed in 1918 by Cornell University, professor of English, William Strunk, the book was later to become virtually a household name among writers. The Elements rise in notoriety came largely because of E.B. White’s (of Charlotte’s Web fame), a former student of Strunk’s, publicizing, and revisions to the original guide. Now in its 4th edition (1999), Strunk and White’s emphasis on concision and clarity in word choice and phrasing remains an indispensable and accessible manual that will be of immense benefit to any college or university student taking up a pen.

John Henry Newman (1852)

More widely known for his theological writings and as the 19th century’s most famous convert from the Anglican to the Roman Catholic Church, Newman was also a highly educated person and a brilliant educational theorist. The Idea of a University is the result of Newman’s commission by the Roman Catholic Bishops of England to found a Catholic University in Ireland. Although this venture was ultimately unsuccessful, the vision for a university education sketched in The Idea of a University has a perennial value and can serve as both points of contrast and inspiration for modern-day university education.

For Newman the university’s end was located in the raising of the student to a higher form of life, a life of the mind that engages its topics in a holistic manner, not seeking to exploit or dominate, but rather to receive and assimilate and thereby to master. Also, the university, unlike the academy, trade school, or seminary, was not primarily to equip for a function or to primarily convey knowledge. Rather, The Idea of a University presents a vision of university education in the context of the total person in society. Newman’s view is intended to elevate the person in terms of his or her freedom and inherent nobility and to set a standard for high ideals of civic and intellectual life that would also be pursued in and through university education.

Newman’s The I dea of a University presents a vision of higher education that in many ways is at odds with modern college and university life. Although certainly not perfect in its total vision or in its parts, The Idea of a University presents a deeply learned, sophisticated, and noble vision of the academic excellence that can serve as a point of comparison and contrast for current college students and their academic goals.

Religion, Philosophy, Science and Economics

So much history, philosophy, religion, law, and culture is related to the Bible. Broken into two main sections and containing 66  books (or 73 books if you’re Catholic), the Bible contains a wealth of literary genres, including history, poetry, wisdom writings, and prophetic writings. The Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament recounts how the Jewish people understood God’s plan for them and for all humanity. The New Testament tells of the life of Jesus Christ and the early beginning of Christianity. Because of the immense influence, the Bible has had throughout history in shaping the worldview of so many, all college students should become familiar with its message and structure.

Aristotle (350 B.C.)

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is the first extended and systematic philosophical treatment of nature, principles, and ends of human beings in society. Though written over 2,000 years ago, Ethics still has much to contribute to our understanding of the purpose of human activity within a community. Aristotle, instead of beginning with religious or other preconceptions, starts with observing actual human behaviors and human moral and social traditions. From this body of observation, Aristotle draws general conclusions about the relationship between individuals with society and the purpose or end of society itself. Aristotle discovers that happiness is the goal of human action, and provides very helpful ways of understanding, even for today, just what happiness is and how it might be pursued in a just manner for the common good of society.

Adam Smith (1776)

literature books for college students

The Scottish economic theorist, Adam Smith’s magnum opus , Wealth of Nations seems to be the 1st sustained theoretical consideration of economics as a proper discipline. Smith gives great attention to a general view of human nature as such and within the context of society. Wealth of Nations is filled with facts and tables, which provide Smith’s account with a great deal of evidence in favor of his arguments. Central to Smith’s theory is the division of labor, the creation of surpluses, which, in turn, allows for further investment and greater economic efficiency. Smith emphasizes the notion that the economy is intrinsically self-regulating, which has been the object of criticism. Along with The Communist Manifesto , Wealth of Nations remains one of the most influential economic treatises ever written and stands as a foundation for the rise of capitalism.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (1788)

The Federalist Papers is a collection of political tracts written to argue for and explain the U.S. Constitution. As the earliest treatise on the Constitution and because it was written by three of key framers, The Federalist Papers provides the clearest presentation of the original intent and meaning of the U.S. Constitution, which stands at the basis of the American social and political structure. Among several key topics discussed by Hamilton, Madison and Jay are representative government, the separation of powers, the notion of legal and political checks and balances, and the nature of representative government.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1835, 1840)

Democracy in America , originally written in French and entitled  De La Démocratie en Amérique , was the result of De Tocqueville’s commission by French authorities to come to America to study American prisons. For De Tocqueville, official business served as the excuse to observe American society as a whole. Democracy in America provides an early analysis of the development and structure of American, specifically the United States, society, and government out of the medieval European models. De Tocqueville’s primary interest is to consider and explain how and why democracy succeeded in America. A secondary interest was how to apply the positive developments found in American representative democracy to De Tocqueville’s native France.

While remaining very positive about the status and prospects for the American democratic system, especially the greater equality, education, and opportunity found in America as opposed to Europe, De Tocqueville also discerned certain trends that would have negative effects down the road. De Tocqueville was very concerned that American democracy through common opinion and peer pressure could result in a kind of soft despotism. If this route was averted De Tocqueville believed that a similar tyranny could be imposed by sheer majority apart from constitutional and moral considerations. Although De Tocqueville praises the American system for its clearer distinction between government and religion, he also warns that democracy cannot be maintained if morality fails and morality requires faith.

Frederick Douglass (1845)

After Frederick Douglass, born a slave, had escaped from his masters to the North, he became a brilliant social reformer. Not limited to fighting in speech and writing, his masterful oratory and incisive prose caused many who heard him speak or read his writings to accuse him of being a fraud, that is, of never having been a slave at all. In order to prove his origins, he wrote three autobiographies. A Narrative in the Live of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is the shortest of the three, earliest written, just seven years after his gaining freedom, and the best of the three autobiographies. Douglass’ narrative recounts his life from his youth through to his escape, marriage, and the beginnings of his life as a social activist.

Douglass provides vivid and heartrending accounts of his separation from family, beatings, and the general rule of fear and cruelty that characterized the behaviors of slaveholders. Douglass’ autobiography became a pivotal text in the abolitionist movement, and A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave the most important work of whom many consider the best African American writer of the 19th century. Douglass, through telling the tale of his own life, tells us where America has been and is necessary reading.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848)

The Communist Manifesto is one of the most influential political works ever composed, serving as the intellectual and economic foundation of the social and political counterparts to capitalism. Marx and Engels developed their theory of communism out of a keen criticism of industrial capitalism that both propped up and fostered, in their minds, the class struggle. Naturally, the disagreements Marx and Engels had with capitalism had to do with what they perceived as an unjust disparity in the distribution of the means of production. This inequality rendered the distinction of classes and the rule by a single class, with bourgeois middlemen, that controlled the means of production.

The Manifesto’s economic focus, according to critics, does not do full justice to the entire range of human aspiration and activity. However, it’s hard to argue that Marx and Engels failed to provide a powerful critique of the abuses that ensue if capital and the means of production aren’t equitably distributed. Much of the history of the 20th century concerned the clash between the economic principles enunciated by Marx and Engels and the capitalism of the West.

Francis Parkman (1849)

literature books for college students

Though plenty of histories have been written about the Oregon Trail, the path that marked out the new territories in the U.S., Francis Parkman’s book is truly original. In 1846, Parkman himself traveled on the Oregon Trail. Having just graduated from Harvard Law School, he wanted to visit one of the Indian villages to see first hand what was left of the native population in its original habitat. Parkman was not only a historian and adventurer but also a well-known horticulturist, artist, and poet. His diverse and unique abilities allowed him to paint an evocative picture of the beautiful and difficult journey that shaped the future of America. The effect of his work on the American people included even the president, Theodore Roosevelt, who dedicated his own four-volume history of the frontier to Parkman.

Booker T. Washington (1901)

Considered by some of the most important works of non-fiction written in the 20th century, Booker T. Washington’s, Up From Slavery recounts the events of Washington’s life. It begins with his childhood as a slave during the Civil War, moves through his entrance and completion of university to his social efforts to help provide other African Americans with education in both academics and trade. In many ways Up From Slavery is an apology (a defense): that is Washington attempts to justify to the white majority that black people can enter into a generally white culture, be educated, and contribute to that culture. Some criticized both Washington’s assumptions, which seemed to presuppose a superiority of white culture and methods concerning the place of blacks in American culture.

While critiques of this nature have validity, Up From Slavery also documents the positive effect Washington’s efforts had in empowering black people and improving aspects of their lives. In sum, as a work by a black man about his own experience and life’s work, written during a time of great social and political change, Up From Slavery is an essential book for appreciating the plight of African Americans and the need for the later Civil Rights Movement.

Sigmund Freud (1930)

Civilization and Its Discontents is one of Sigmund Freud’s most highly regarded works. Freud, if not the most important, is certainly the best-known psychoanalyst of the 20th century. Written in the wake of World War I, Civilization and Its Discontents is an exploration of the fundamental strain between the individual person and society. Freud sought to ground and explain human behavior in instinctive desires, motivated and sustained by pleasure. This more “naturalistic” approach might be usefully contrasted with the “supernaturalist” approach that C.S. Lewis presents in his Abolition of Man (also in this list). Freud’s thesis is that individuals seek the freedom to realize their instinctive desires, pertaining especially to sexual gratification. However, the individual’s freedom, if left unchecked, results in manifold forms of violence that harm society. Thus, societies enact legislation that curtails humanity’s instinctive drives for pleasure.

As a means to justify civil laws, which limit individual freedom, Freud argues that religion–namely an authoritative father figure–acts as a, so to speak, domesticating force, helping to curb harmful pursuits of freedom. Civilization and Its Discontents is pivotal and essential for college students seeking insight into the development of social and moral thought and practice in the latter 20th century.

George Orwell (1938)

Homage to Catalonia is the collection of George Orwell’s (famous for 1984 and Animal Farm ) memoirs of his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was in Spain in 1936 and 1937 and served in the Anti-Stalinist Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification until he was shot through the throat and forced to leave military service. Orwell returned to England in 1938 and within nine months completed his Homage . A British edition was published in 1938, but the American edition did not appear until 1952. Orwell’s skill as a writer and his scrupulous commitment to convey the truth of the War as he experienced it makes the Homage a unique 20th-century war chronicle. Many consider it to be the single best book written on the Spanish Civil War. It serves as essential reading for coming to grips with the history of the 20th century’s major political struggles and key developments in Spain and all of Europe.

C.S. Lewis (1943)

Presented in 1942 as a series of three lectures, the resulting book, The Abolition of Man , may be the most important presentation of traditional morals penned in the 20th century. Regardless of where one comes down on questions pertaining to the meaning of life, human nature, education, social order and morality, Lewis captures the essence of the conservative tradition and offers vigorous rebuttal and argumentation. Prompted by the 1939 publication of The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing by Alex King and Martin Ketley, which was to be used as a text in British schools, Lewis took exception to what he saw as a work of philosophical anthropology masquerading as a grammar textbook. Lewis thought that King and Ketley’s view that value and meaning are the results of subjective desires imposed by individuals upon what they experience, reduced human persons to split existence between science and sentiment.

Lewis argues that something unique about human beings allows them to access universal and objective truth and to act from the heart in accordance with this truth. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Lewis’ arguments, it is undeniable that his Abolition of Man deals with themes of great import, and any college student who seeks to critically engage the central topics, still debated, couldn’t do better than study Lewis’s essay.

Whitaker Chambers (1952)

Witness is an autobiographical work, recounting Chambers’ involvement with the Soviets as a spy in the 1930s and 1940s as well as his subsequent conversion to Christianity and to a certain vision of the American social and political order. Chambers, an extremely talented writer, provides a striking narrative of the workings and ideology of communism. Witness is also a plea on Chambers’ part for Americans to reject the materialism that was in common with Soviet Communism, which he saw taking root, in the United States in the wake of the Second World War and President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal”.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Chambers’ post-spy religious and social convictions, his masterfully written history of espionage and intrigue is a key source of inside information about the workings of the United States and Soviet Russia during the 1930s and 1940s, a time of intense animosity and competition for world stature between the two nations. An interesting aside is that former President Ronald Reagan credits Witness for his own movement away from “New Deal” Democrats to that of a conservative Republican.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973)

The Gulag Archipelago is a massive three-volume work, recounting the history and conditions of the Soviet forced labor camps, which were established for any person deemed to be dissident from the Soviet state or ideology. Solzhenitsyn, whose One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is also on this list, was likely the most important literary figure that helped cause the break down of the Soviet regime. In the  Gulag, Solzhenitsyn gives a fuller picture of the horrific outworking of de-humanization in the name of political authority that disallows critique and independent thought.   At the minimum, an acquaintance with the Gulag is essential to gaining a grasp on the history of the 20th century’s struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union as well as insight into dangers that may still be lurking.

Science and Mathematics

Charles Darwin (1859)

Easily the most influential 19th-century work of science, Darwin’s, On the Origin of Species , was the first widely accepted explanation of the origin and variety of plants and animals. Seeking to explain nature’s diversity through means other than an appeal to religious faith and God’s direct creation, Darwin developed his hypothesis of “natural selection” and supplied examples of what he discerned in nature to verify his insights. The basic thesis of “natural selection”, which includes the commonly known idea of “survival of the fittest”, remains to this day, with clarifications, the guiding light of the biological sciences.

Although a work of science, Darwin did not write exclusively for other scientists. On the contrary, Darwin had the intelligent general reader in mind as well. This served to render his theory more broadly accessible, allowing his epoch changing theory to enter more easily into the broader social, not just scientific, consciousness. On the Origin of Species is one of the central works of modern science and is a must-read for college students in coming to understand the origins and development of modern biological science.

Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell (1927 2nd edition)

literature books for college students

A seminal mathematical treatise by two of the foremost mathematicians and philosophers of the early 20th century, the Principia Mathematica sought to establish through a set of axioms and rules of logical inference a system of logic from which all mathematical statements could be derived. This work may likely be beyond the grasp of many college students. The combined effort of Russell and Whitehead was ultimately unsuccessful, but it, nevertheless, contributed greatly to the development of mathematical logic in the 20th century. For this reason, the Principia Mathematica  is included in this list.

Students need to be aware of Russell and Whitehead’s achievement and its importance in the history of ideas. The argument presented in the Principia Mathematica was finally refuted by Kurt Gödel through his “incompleteness theorem”, which demonstrated that no system of mathematics or logic could contain the foundational principles of that same system, but rather required principles that derived from outside the given system and were unproven from within the same system.

James D. Watson (1968)

The Double Helix is the (at times self-aggrandizing) autobiographical account of the scientist who at the age of only 24 in 1953 made one the most important discoveries in the history of science: the structure of DNA. Not without controversy in terms of the personal slant Watson provides, the book in 1998 was named the 7th most important work of non-fiction of the 20th century.

Re-telling the history of Watson’s and Crick’s race to discovery ahead of several other researchers makes for compelling reading. However, the importance of the subject matter and its implications for science and medicine make Double Helix an essential book for any college student. Watson managed to write an autobiography–rare for a scientist–that recounts the progress of a monumental scientific discovery while keeping the non-scientist’s attention riveted to the book: a rare accomplishment.

Thomas S. Kuhn (1970 2nd edition)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is both a ground-breaking and, perhaps, ground-shifting work in the philosophy of science. Scientists prior to Kuhn had often been unaware of that fact that the presuppositions of their theories were not proven from within a given theory itself, but rather accepted for the sake of that theory. Moreover, scientists, prior to Kuhn often also failed to see the limits of their own theories and the intellectual categories and concepts needed to use their theories in scientific research. Kuhn discusses this aspect of science under the term paradigm . Where scientists, in general, thought their paradigms were objective, sufficiently complete and reflective of the world, Kuhn showed through his analysis of scientific discoveries that paradigms were artificial constructs developed and employed for certain predetermined ends.

These ends were always, however, within the constraints of the paradigm and in a real sense predetermined. Kuhn develops his critique on the basis of the way in which new scientific discoveries are actually made. Instead of an existing scientific paradigm simply producing all kinds of discoveries, Kuhn noticed that some discoveries actually go against or are anomalous within a given paradigm. When this occurs a sort of cognitive dissonance ensues and the anomalous evidence is actually resisted and/or ignored. Resistance usually continues until the anomalies become so numerous that they cannot reasonably be ignored by the persons who are doing the science. It’s interesting to notice that it is persons who recognize that the evidence cannot be ignored. It is not the paradigm. When this happens scientists have to construct a new paradigm or way to approach the initially anomalous evidence that provides an explanation for the evidence that fits the evidence into the larger scientific picture. This is called a “paradigm shift or change” or “scientific revolution”.

The upshot of Kuhn’s important work is essentially two-fold. The first is that human persons transcend science and scientific paradigms and must make judgments about evidence in relation to the larger body of scientific knowledge. The second is that science stands under similar constraints as every other area of human knowledge. That is, science is incomplete and no scientific theory or paradigm can give or provide access to the final word on any given topic. Scientific knowledge ultimately emerges through human insight and discovery.

Homer (c. 8th Century B.C.)

As the first of its kind, Homer’s epic poems, Iliad  and Odyssey , are essential for understanding the development of literary and intellectual culture in later Europe and America. Thought to be the oldest Western literary work and set during the period of the Trojan War (1260-1180 B.C.), the Iliad tells of the conflict between King Agamemnon and the story’s hero, Achilles. The Odyssey tells of the great journey of Odysseus in the years following the fall of Troy. Not only a gripping duo of tales recounting deeds of great valor, travel, civic life, love, intrigue, war, and tragedy, Homer’s two epics also serve as a link between the ancient past and recorded history. The great Greek philosopher, Plato, called Homer the “first teacher”. For college students to understand the teaching they receive, it’s important that they become acquainted with the historical roots of teaching and literacy itself.

Sophocles (429B.C.-441B.C.)

The Theban Trilogy (also known as the Oedipus Cycle ) was written by the great Greek playwright, Sophocles, and comprises three parts, which were first performed as separate plays over a twelve-year period. In what might the most first and still most uncommon murder mystery, the Theban Trilogy provides a profound discussion of the interplay between free will and fate, birth, destiny and personal choice. The plots of the trilogy and the overall story arc are marvelously constructed. Set within a world wherein heroic epic and myth set the environment, Sophocles provides his readers with a brilliant portrayal of the path of self-discovery within the contexts of family history and obligations and civic status, duty, and disobedience. As a brilliant work of fiction and social commentary as well as having a seminal place in the history of world literature and Western culture, the Theban Trilogy is essential reading for college students.

Virgil (c. 29-19 B.C.)

Aeneid is an epic poem, telling of the legendary hero of the Trojan War, Aeneas, who goes to Italy where he is reputed to have become the forefather of the Roman people. Although there is disagreement about what most likely were Virgil’s motives for composing the poem, it is clear that Virgil is continuing in the general vein of Homer. Virgil chooses Aeneas as his hero, a figure who appeared in the Iliad and about whom legends circulated in Italy and Greece. In a certain sense, the Aeneid draws together the many legends of the exploits of Aeneas and presents an overall narrative. The Aeneid is a key literary work and contains the seeds for later great works of literature, including Dante’s Divine Comedy. Aeneid treats many perennial themes such as piety, divine providence, fate, propaganda. These issues remain points of interest for any college student.

Old English Literature (8th-11th Century)

Beowulf is the oldest surviving long poem in English. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet and even the century in which it is written can not be pinned down. The poem is set in Scandinavia. The hero, Beowulf, comes to the aid of a Germanic tribe and its king, Hrothgar. The kingdom is being harassed by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf defeats Grendel he must also defeat Grendel’s mother, who attempts to revenge her son. After becoming King, Beowulf eventually dies, 50 years later, from his battle with a dragon.

Though the story is obviously mythical, true history is mixed in. Therefore it is a very important historical source as well. Most scholars believe that King Hrothgar and his people were based on a real 6th century people in Scandinavia and that the battles and halls represented real places. An excellent translation of this age-old classic, by the linguist J.R.R. Tolkien, was recently published.

Dante Alighieri (1320)

The Divine Comedy  is considered the greatest single work of literature of the middle ages. A poem comprising three parts, “Inferno”, “Purgatory” and “Paradise”, The Divine Comedy presents an artistic vision of the journey of the soul through life and death.  The term, c omedy , as used in the title of Dante’s masterpiece, does not have the same connotations as it does today. Rather than referring to something funny or humorous, comedy in the case of The Divine Comedy means that the story has a positive or happy ending, as opposed to the tragedy which refers to the sense of loss and failure to achieve a good end.

Filled with allusions and characters from classical literature, mythology, 14th-century Italian politics, theology and Dante’s own life, The Divine Comedy is an overwhelming display of erudition that can baffle today’s reader. However, the poem’s plot, the beauty of language, and many, many memorable scenes and characters repay the reader’s efforts. The Divine Comedy is a window into the medieval soul, albeit a very gifted soul, that remains essential reading for any college student.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1380-1400)

Next to Dante’s Divine Comedy , the Canterbury Tales , perhaps, is the most impressive and massive literary undertaking of the Middle Ages. Left incomplete at Chaucer’s death in 1400, The Canterbury Tales tells of the adventures of pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett. En route to the shrine, the pilgrims strike up a competition over who could tell the best story with the prize being a cooked meal at an inn.

Chaucer introduced 30 pilgrims with the original intent of having each pilgrim present two stories. Only 24 stories were written, falling far short of Chaucer’s intention. However, even in its incomplete form, the Tales runs to 17,000 lines. The Canterbury Tales are remarkable and essential reading for many reasons. The first is that they are marvelously entertaining. Chaucer through his different pilgrims is able to descend to the base and bawdy, always suffused with genuine humor, and through other pilgrims treat of very lofty topics.

The vast majority are written in exquisite verse and some in prose. Chaucer presents in his pilgrims a wide and authentic cross-section of medieval English culture, beliefs, and values. All this Chaucer accomplished using English at a time when French, Italian, and Latin were the languages of literature. Through this Chaucer rendered English a legitimate language for literature and scholarship, paving the way for later vernacular works, most notably Shakespeare’s writings and the Authorized Version of the Bible.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

With very little dispute William Shakespeare is the most important, next to the Authorized Version of the Bible, literary influence in the English language. He has shaped English phraseology, coined new expressions and words like no other author. Shakespeare’s estimated working vocabulary based upon his plays is a staggering 20,000 words. The next closest is John Milton, author of Paradise Lost , seems to have employed around 13,000 words. Although his terminological toolbox was very full, Shakespeare’s language was very accessible and never highfalutin for his readers.

Shakespeare, though composing some of the most beautiful English the world has ever heard, was always a popular writer. Shakespeare composed 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 lengthy narrative poems. Rather than attempt to pick out the greatest of Shakespeare, one should acquire all of Shakespeare’s works of poetry and plays. Many fine editions of Shakespeare’s collected works are available: the Riverside and Arden editions are commonly thought the most useful for students. Viewing Shakespeare’s plays is also a must to get the full experience of his dramatic and linguistic brilliance.

Miguel de Cervantes (1605, vol. 1; 1615, vol. 2)

Don Quixote is an extremely influential book upon Western culture. It has been referred to as the most important novel in Western literature. Though this claim would be hard to prove, it is definitely one of the most important, partly because it is considered to be the first modern novel. Don Quixote, as a hero, is generally ridiculous, but a closer look reveals true chivalry, rare honesty, and admirable courage. As these traits are revealed only through a highly “quixotic” outlook, the book is peppered with humorous moments that are all lost on the hero. Originally written in Spanish, it is still by far the most famous Spanish novel and is often required reading for Literature and for Spanish Degrees. The case could easily be made that as an influence on all writing styles and novels, it would positively educate any college student.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(1808, Part I; 1832, Part II)

Goethe’s Faust is a re-telling of a classic tale of a person’s search for knowledge at all costs. In the first and arguably more important part of Goethe’s story the protagonist, Faust, is the man of science who seeks to penetrate into not only the secrets of nature but also into the knowledge of the transcendent. Because science and its methods do not open the way into hidden and transcendent knowledge, Faust turns to magic.

Through Faust’s desire for knowledge at any cost and his turn to occult channels, he encounters a personality on the other side of science and magic that wants to strike a deal with him. The demon Mephistopheles offers Faust knowledge in exchange for Faust’s soul. The drama of Faust then plays out in terms of Faust’s response to this offer and its effects upon those close to Faust. Goethe’s re-telling is of unique fascination and importance because Goethe himself was a man of science and at the same time drawn to mysticism.

Although written in the early 19th century, Faust resonates with present-day themes and concerns, touching upon the meaning and role of science in the life of individuals and society. Just what is the purpose of knowledge? Can science provide an adequate answer to humanity’s deepest questions? Just what are legitimate scientific pursuits and means of gaining knowledge? Faust is a must-read for those embarking upon the life of the mind and higher studies.

Jane Austen (1813)

Pride and Prejudice, a 19th-century novel, still remains one of the most loved books of the English speaking world. Marriage is definitely a theme in all of Miss Austen’s works, but other themes are prevalent as well. Though sometimes criticized for dealing almost exclusively with the upper class, Jane Austen deals with the different levels of the upper class in a subtle, informative, and concise way. The different strata of social class is a recurring theme and usually the origin for much of the drama and misunderstanding in the book.

Wealth and class are both themes in Pride and Prejudice. The more prevalent theme, though, is knowledge of oneself which is arguably the most important aspect of a human’s journey through life. As the main characters work their way through the various defects of Pride and Prejudice, they come to a deeper understanding of their relationship to others and the truth.

Charles Dickens (1849-50)

Charles Dickens is essential reading, and David Copperfield may be his most enjoyable and representative novel. Partially autobiographical, Dickens presents in his hero, David Copperfield, a coming of age story, presenting classic themes of self-identity, romance, love, disappointment, loss, sacrifice, philanthropy, intrigue, betrayal, and comedy. Dickens considered David Copperfield the favorite of his own works.

Like the other novels of Dickens, David Copperfield is set within 19th century England and is loaded with characters all of whom portray Dickens’ paradoxical genius for maintaining realism in and through seeming caricatures. Micawber, for example, is one of the greatest comic creations in all of literature. The villain, who we won’t give away, is also one of the great creations of literature.

Although a massive work of over 800 pages, David Copperfield repays the investment of time needed to get through the book, with a complex, compelling, and highly enjoyable story, that tells us about ourselves and the goodness of friendship, family, and seeking the good of others.

Herman Melville (1851)

Considered by many the greatest American novel, Moby-Dick touches upon profound topics. Weaving in themes from the Bible and Shakespeare, Melville addresses, among others, the topics of class, social status, good and evil, providence, revenge, and the existence of God. Situated within a story of 19th-century whaling, Moby-Dick tells the story of a Whaler captain’s obsession for revenge against a fabled white whale, called Moby-Dick, who had earlier caused an injury to the captain.

As a novel, Moby-Dick marvelously portrays the sea-faring life as it was lived. Because of this, the novel has at times a slow pace, punctuated by scenes of sudden and intense action: waiting and then the sudden hunt. The novel was first published in England (October 1851) and then a month later in America (November 1851). Although now widely known as the “great American novel”, Moby-Dick sold only about 3200 copies during Melville’s lifetime. In terms of its literary, historical, and thematic value, Moby-Dick is essential reading for college students.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

As a young woman Stowe was prompted to write  Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a result of her acquaintance runaway slaves and the surrounding context of the reforms enacted as a result of the 1850 “Fugitive Slave Act”, which abolished the slave trade, actually placed more stringent obligations of citizens and law enforcement assistance in the re-capture of fugitive slaves. Upon seeing the inhumane and grave injustice of this legislation, as well as the concrete plight of fugitive slaves, their degradation, the break up of families, and many other horrors, Stowe composed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an explicitly anti-slavery piece of literature.

Although Stowe maintained and fostered many stereotypes common to the era, her motives were based upon her understanding of Christianity, which affirmed the equality of all people and their common dignity. Next to the Bible Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the best-selling book of the 19th-century and served a pioneering critique of American views of race, slavery, and equality.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)

Dostoevsky’s work, Crime and Punishment, explores the troubled psychology of a murderer. When reading the book, one stands in the shoes of the murderer, lives through every feeling of guilt, denial, shame, and fear with him. This gives the reader an understanding of what crime can do the mind of an ordinary and normally law-abiding human being. The murderer, Raskolnikov, believes he can justify the murder, and attempts to do so, but finds himself unable to defend himself against his own conscience.

Though he believed himself to be an extraordinary individual and therefore able to take justice into his own hands, he finds through his guilt and mental instability that he was wrong and confesses his murder to the police. The book also deals with some of the social evils of the time such as drunkenness and poverty which are not limited to the time and place of Dostoevsky. The book is a wonderful learning experience for any college student.

Leo Tolstoy (1869)

Alongside Anna Karenina , Tolstoy’s War and Peace stands as both his greatest writing as well as one the most important and loved works of literature in the world. A massive work, War and Peace is one the longest novels ever written. Set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, Tolstoy’s masterpiece recounts the history and aftereffects of Napoleon’s invasion of pre-Reform and pre-Communist Russia through his depiction of the lives of several Russian Aristocratic families.

Known for its realism, War and Peace is not a typical novel. In fact, against many literary critics, Tolstoy himself refused to consider War and Peace a novel, thinking of it instead as a work of fictionalized history. This method, Tolstoy believed, got closer to the truth, and he was careful to be faithful to the primary historical sources and testimony available to him.

The result is a masterful work of literature that brings to life a now long past vision of both Russian and European society, coming through the Enlightenment and into the modern age. C.S. Lewis once called War and Peace his favorite novel, reporting to have read it a dozen times. Lewis is not alone in his love for the novel, and any college or university student would do well to become acquainted with War and Peace.

Willa Cather (1927)

Cather’s fictionalized telling of a Roman Catholic bishop’s and priest’s efforts to establish a diocese in the American Southwest’s New Mexico Territory is widely recognized as one of the greatest English language novels of the 20th century as well as one of the greatest Western novels ever written. Set in the middle of the 19th century, Death Comes for the Archbishop treats the interaction of European settlers and missionaries and religious authorities over the questions of westward expansion and the West’s native Hopi and Navajo peoples.

While Cather seems to question the practicality of attempting to overlay Catholicism on top of the native cultures, she portrays the interaction between the Hopi and Navajo peoples and the missionaries in a very sympathetic manner and is not pedantic. Cather’s depictions of the New Mexico landscape and the cliff-dwelling Hopi are stunningly beautiful. Death Comes for the Archbishop is a profound and beautiful treatment of a region and time key to understanding the development of American culture, making it an essential book for any college student.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1937-1949)

The Lord of the Rings is a massive work, a marvel of imagination and creativity. Published in 3 volumes and set against the backdrop of an elaborate pre-history, linguistics, and mythology, J.R.R. Tolkien’s great fantasy work tells the story of the victory over unbridled lust for power and domination through faithful friendship, self-sacrifice, perseverance, and unexpected turns.

Beyond being an immensely enjoyable story in itself, shaping the imaginations of millions of readers, The Lord of the Rings almost by itself established the burgeoning genre of fantasy literature. Though long in coming, the academic world is beginning to take The Lord of the Rings seriously, and many colleges and universities either include it in reading lists or offer courses on Tolkien. As a work of fantasy fiction that has affected generations of readers and as a work that has spawned an entire field of fiction writing, The Lord of the Rings is a must-read for college students.

Edited by Oscar Williams (1952)

A well-rounded college student needs exposure to the heights of poetic expression. Poetry strains the limits of language and reveals the depths of the human soul. The (almost) pocket-sized Immortal Poems of the English Language , short of acquiring a library of hundreds of volumes, which no dorm room could house, is the best one-stop work for the best of English language poetry. With 447  poems from over 150 British and American poets, ranging from Chaucer in the 14th century to Dylan Thomas in the 20th and selections from virtually every major poet in between, Williams editorship brings to hand the development of culture, themes and values embodied and expressed in immortal poetry.

Ralph Ellison (1952)

Winner of the 1953 National Book Award, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man presents a fictional account of the life of an African American man and the effects of racial prejudice. The title of the book speaks not to literal invisibility. Rather, the invisibility Ellison, a black man himself, speaks of is the invisibility of being ignored. Within the general thematic of racist stereotypes and prejudice, Invisible Man discusses many central issues relating to the place of African Americans in society. Ellison builds upon the likes of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, treating topics such as Marxist political theory, black identity, and the relationship between individuals and society. As a brilliant literary precursor to the later Civil Rights Movement, Invisible Man should be read by every college student.

Ray Bradbury (1953)

An American novel, set in a future American Midwest, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a tale of the effects of government-imposed censorship and the resulting dearth in ideas and innovations as well as freedom itself. The title is based upon the supposed auto-ignition temperature of paper and tells of a time when “firemen” didn’t put out fires, but actually set fire to books banned by civil authorities.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the tale of one such “fireman”, who through reading a certain banned book along with the influence of the story’s heroine, begins to question imposed censorship and its social ramifications. Although a fairly light read in itself, Bradbury, like De Tocqueville and others, describes the dangers of blind conformism to unquestioned assumptions and peer pressure that allows for the rise of either or both soft despotism and outright tyranny. A very entertaining read, Fahrenheit 451 is an important book for awakening the mind to the dangers of blind faith… even in what is taught by college and university professors.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962)

Though the current generation of college students may be very aware of the oppression people suffered in the USSR, this was not always the case. Solzhenitsyn, after being imprisoned himself from the years 1945-1953, was the first to publicly expose the atrocities that were being committed under Stalin. In fact, the Russian writer, Vitaly Korotich, goes so far as to say, “The Soviet Union was destroyed by information – and this wave started from Solzhenitsyn’s One Day “.

The book is a detailed account of just one day in the life of a man who has been sentenced to 10 years in a hard labor camp. Though truly horrific, the novel causes the reader to feel every detail of what makes the camp so unbearable to live in day after day. If he is lucky enough to live. In a society that mostly enjoys comfort and ease, this book will remind current college students of what happens to a culture that denies people the freedom that we have always fostered in our country. It will also give them deep insight into the recent history of Russia.

Frank Herbert (1965)

A work of science fiction published in 1965 by Frank Herbert, who would go on to write five more novels in a series, Dune may be the gold standard of the genre in terms of its coherent creative vision, breadth of characters and ethnic diversity as well as the profound presentations of philosophical, religious and scientific questions. Set in the far future in a world where interplanetary travel and settlement has occurred, Dune’s focus is upon the desert planet Arrakis (hence Dune ) and competing families, who form an imperium, struggling for control over the planet and its resources.

Unlike other science fiction novels, Dune does not emphasize robots and computers. Dune , rather, looks at a world through the lenses of philosophy, religion, social organization, and perhaps, uniquely at the time, ecology. Written upon a grand scale that evokes wonder, Dune treats some of the most important themes and questions humankind has ever raised. However, the subtlety and presentation of real personalities and issues that parallel our own, along with a foreshadowing of potential outcomes, makes Dune an essential book every college student should read.

Shusaku Endo (1966)

Shusaku Endo’s Silence , considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, is a story of the conflict of faith and love within a broader conflict of cultures. Set in 17th century Japan, Silence tells the story of Jesuit missionaries to Japan. Centered upon a young Jesuit’s commission to travel to Japan in order to seek out a fellow Jesuit who apparently had apostatized for the sake of preventing the torture and execution of Japanese Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”), who continued to practice Christianity despite its being illegal.

Presenting a fascinating account of 17th century Japanese culture, Endo’s work touches upon the flip side of fidelity and commitment to vows and obligations. Silence through its characters asks its readers whether faithfulness to one’s convictions can come into conflict with the good intentions of those convictions. If this is possible, what does this mean when there is an apparent dilemma between the love of God and neighbor and one’s faith. Endo presents a poignant picture of the suffering, fidelity, and love of persons caught up in a whirlwind of civil laws and social mores, straining to hear the voice of God. Whether one is religious or not, Silence will challenge and provoke its readers to better know themselves and the true motivations of their actions.

Mikhail Bulgokov (1967)

This Russian novel could be considered a retelling of the Faust myth in the context of Soviet Russia in the form of incisive satire. The Master and Margarita is considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th century. From the perspective of the atheistic Soviet setting, Bulgakov’s use of the Devil as the central character is quite shocking in itself. Not only is the supernatural a key theme in the novel, just what is going on is not always clear. This is because the action in The Master and Margarita alternates between two different settings. The first is 1930s Russia where the Devil and an entourage interacts and disrupts the lives and activities of the Russian literary elite. The second setting is 1st century Jerusalem and the interaction between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

An irony of the story is that the Devil and his personification of evil is present and active among atheists who don’t believe in any spiritual reality. A second irony is that the portrayal of Jesus is presented from the perspective of Satan, who has his own spin on the Christian story. In sum, The Master and Margarita is an original, thought-provoking and highly entertaining portrayal of evil, atheism, magic, truth, deception, and human love caught up in a swirl of uncertainty.

Flannery O’Connor (published 1972)

Southern Gothic writer, Flannery O’Connor, only lived to the age of 39, dying in 1964. However, in her short life, she left an unrivaled collection of short stories as well as two full-length novels. In this collection of her stories, the reader will find a subtle and penetrating mind, discoursing in colorful characters upon ethics, race, religion, and culture.

O’Connor’s plotting and prose are universally recognized as rivaling the very best of English literature. Within the stories themselves, O’Connor’s unique mastermind manifests itself. O’Connor was a female writer of Southern literature, a convert to Roman Catholicism, and someone who had lifelong struggles with Lupus, which eventually took her life. From this mixture of social, health, and religious contexts, coupled with native genius, O’Connor was the consummate comic author, imbued with hope.

However, her humor and hope were always shockingly presented through the surprises of human frailty and selfishness. O’Connor’s brilliant stories are like no other, and their combination of hopeful optimism in the midst of horrific shock sets the human experience in new and very unexpected lights.

J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)

Like The Lord of the Rings , the Harry Potter saga is not a single book, but rather a series of 7 books. Harry Potter is also a story written for children and teens that seemingly has little to do with “great literature”. On the contrary, while it’s still an open question whether the story of the “boy who lived” will come to be included in the canon of ‘great literature’, Harry Potter has been the most widely read and most widely influential book of a generation, and has been gaining more and more attention in colleges and universities.

In the course of describing the psychological and personal development and growth of the hero of the story, which takes place in an imaginative alternate world of magic, witchcraft, and wizardry, Harry Potter  takes on major ethical, social, and economic themes. If sacrificial love is the central theme of the series, this theme weaves its way into questions on race, slavery, finance, and politics.

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Daniel Boone Regional Library

Books for the College Bound - Literature & Language Arts

literature books for college students

The 12 Best Books for College Students to Read in 2023

portrait of Kim-Ling Sun

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Preparing yourself for the future can be daunting. In a 2020 College Pulse survey , nearly 40% of graduating college seniors felt unprepared for their careers and life after college.

Whether you want a break from required reading or advice on how to succeed personally and professionally, the following books offer ways to help you navigate these paths. From practical guides, to novels, to memoirs, these 12 best books for college students can help you through your higher ed years and beyond.

$ = Under $10 | $$ = $10-$25 | $$$ = $26-$50

1. The List That Changed My Life

By olivia beirne.

literature books for college students

This witty and uplifting 2022 novel follows Georgia, a couch potato who never takes risks. After doctors diagnose her sister with multiple sclerosis, Georgia finds herself thrown far outside her comfort zone while she helps her sister complete her "Before I Turn 30" bucket list.

Balancing a serious topic with irreverent humor, "The List That Changed My Life" will inspire you to make your own bucket list and, more importantly, seize the day.

2. 175+ Things to Do Before You Graduate College

By charlotte lake.

literature books for college students

Author Charlotte Lake's unique tips can help make your college years truly memorable.

In this book, you'll learn how to get the most out of your college experience and balance work and play . The short sections walk you through common topics like dorm life, campus activities , exploring your college town, academics, personal growth, and living your senior year to the fullest.

3. The Greatest College Health Guide You Never Knew You Needed

By jill and dave henry.

literature books for college students

Brought to you by high school coaches Jill and Dave Henry, this award-winning book should be at every college student's side. "The Greatest College Health Guide" helps you manage your physical and mental health .

With engaging graphics, this quick read equips you with the tools needed to live your best life in college and form healthy habits.

4. The People We Keep

By allison larkin.

literature books for college students

Book Riot praised "The People We Keep" as one of the best books of 2021. This inspirational novel follows protagonist April Sawicki as she moves from life in a motorless motorhome to life on the road in a "borrowed" car. Landing in Ithaca, April meets people who feel like home to her — something she's never felt before — and documents her experiences in song.

College students may easily relate to April's experience being out in the world on her own as she forges her identity.

5. Life Beyond College: Everything They Didn't Teach You About Your First 10 Years After Graduation

By kevin p. coyne.

literature books for college students

Written by business professional and senior teaching professor Kevin P. Coyne, "Life Beyond College" (2020) helps students understand what to expect in life after graduation. In this book, Coyne explores real-life issues you may face once you move on from college life.

Many graduates feel unprepared for the financial, legal, and personal issues they may face after college. This book provides practical advice to help you succeed and avoid the early mistakes recent grads often make.

6. Educated

By tara westover.

literature books for college students

In this bestselling memoir, author Tara Westover takes you on her journey from living with survivalist parents in Idaho to finding a home in higher education. Her quest for knowledge transforms her socially and academically, inspiring those who may struggle with similar obstacles that often seem insurmountable.

"Educated" (2018) embodies grit and is a testament to how you can push forward to achieve your dream.

7. Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

By brené brown.

literature books for college students

Written by New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown, "Atlas of the Heart" (2021) walks you through understanding emotions and how to make connections with others . Brown provides the language and tools for developing strong interpersonal relationships — something all students should have so they can forge meaningful relationships in college.

Learning to connect with others is also an invaluable skill when interviewing for jobs and applying for internships .

8. The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us

By paul tough.

literature books for college students

A New York Times Book Review editor's choice, "The Years That Matter Most" (2019) navigates the highs and lows of higher education, from choosing to go to college to how to complete your degree.

The book also challenges college's accessibility and affordability and contains relatable anecdotal stories to inspire social change.

9. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

By dr. julie smith.

literature books for college students

Readers agree that psychologist Dr. Julie Smith's international bestseller is a must-have for college students. "Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?" (2022) teaches you how to find motivation, grow confidence, cope with disappointment, and build your grit.

Full of practical solutions, this book can help you develop the self-confidence and resilience you need to survive the ups and downs of college.

10. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

By david epstein.

literature books for college students

In this New York Times bestseller, author David Epstein challenges the current philosophy that everyone should be hyper-focused on their studies, skills, and field of study. His research found that top performers, athletes, and even Nobel laureates all began as generalists.

According to Epstein, success from specialization is the exception, not the rule. "Range" (2021) highlights the creativity and agility of generalists, who often enjoy more long-term success in their endeavors than specialists.

11. Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

By nir eyal.

literature books for college students

Do you have difficulty concentrating in our ever-changing world? Then you'll likely love this book. In "Indistractible" (2020), bestselling author and behavioral design expert Nir Eyal exposes the reasons behind our distractibility and how swearing off technology altogether doesn't work.

The book goes over a four-step, research-backed model readers can use to successfully detangle themselves from constant distractions and to increase meaningful productivity.

12. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

By cal newport.

literature books for college students

In "Digital Minimalism" (2019), bestselling author Cal Newport proposes a solution to finding peace in our postmodern, fast-paced world. The book discusses how technology has infiltrated much of our everyday culture. And while it's led to progress, it also comes at a cost: peace.

College students in particular may find this book helpful in rethinking their relationship with social media and technology while reading Newport's 30-day "digital declutter."

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10 Best English Literature Books to Read in 2023


Literature possesses an extraordinary ability to shape our perceptions of the world and captivate us with timeless stories that transcend generations. The realm of English literature, with its treasure trove of classics and contemporary masterpieces, beckons to be explored by those seeking inspiration and a deeper understanding of the written word. If you possess a passion for delving into the depths of literary brilliance, consider Oxford Summer School. Embark on a transformative journey through our English literature summer school, where you will have the opportunity to explore a curated selection of classic books that have made a significant impact on the literary landscape.


Please note that the following list of books is recommended reading to broaden your knowledge and deepen your appreciation of English literature. While some of these books may be included in the Oxford Summer School curriculum, the specific content of the summer school can vary. If you wish to study these subjects with us, you can apply to our English literature summer school.

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1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticising anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
  • Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby has long been considered a classic novel to read and often ranks among the top pieces of fiction of all time.
  • Discussion: What themes and symbols in "The Great Gatsby" resonate with you in today's world?

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

  • "Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes."
  • Set in London in the late 19th Century, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an important examination of class, perspective, and the purpose of art – which was a noticeable talking point for society at the time.
  • Discussion: How does the theme of art and its consequences relate to modern society's obsession with image and appearance?

3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

  • "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger."
  • It would be impossible not to include Wuthering Heights on a list of must-read books for English Literature students. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have already studied or at least heard of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as it’s a popular text selected for those studying English Literature at GCSE and A-Level.
  • Discussion: How do the themes of love and revenge in "Wuthering Heights" resonate with contemporary society?

4. 1984, by George Orwell

  • "Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it."
  • No matter who you ask, 1984 will always rank as one of the best books for English Literature students to read during their studies. Exploring themes of totalitarianism, dictatorship, and mass media control, it offers plenty of interesting themes for discussion and debate. Published in 1949, this dystopian novel follows the life of Winston Smith – a low-ranking member of ‘the Party,’ a new societal group overlooked by the ruler ‘Big Brother.’
  • Discussion: How do the themes of surveillance and control in "1984" relate to contemporary issues of privacy and freedom?

5. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

  • "Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape."
  • As one of the greatest coming-of-age stories ever told, Charles D Great Expectations had to be the one novel of his included on our list of classic books to read, thanks to its wit, carefully crafted language, and unique tales.
  • Discussion: How does Pip's journey of self-discovery in "Great Expectations" mirror the challenges young people face in finding their identity today?

6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

  • "Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything."
  • The Kite Runner is one of the newest on our list of best books for English Literature students, but it’s still considered one of the greatest classic novels.
  • Discussion: How does "The Kite Runner" shed light on the impact of cultural and political upheaval on individuals and communities, both in the past and present?

7. Emma, by Jane Austen

  • "Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be."
  • For those who have never read a Jane Austen novel before, Emma is the perfect start – a funny, romantic, and easy-to-read novel. Set in the early 19th Century, the novel centres on Emma Woodhouse, a precocious young woman whose misplaced confidence in her ability to matchmake others leads to several romantic misadventures of her own.
  • Discussion: In what ways do the social dynamics and matchmaking endeavours in "Emma" still resonate with modern relationships and societal expectations?

8. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

  • "The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time."
  • In particular, his collection of books, The Lord of the Rings, is his best-known collection of work. Not read the series? Then you must have almost certainly seen or at least heard about the epic three-part movie adaptation of the original books written by Tolkien. However, as great as movies are, they’re often never as well-received as the original book.
  • Discussion: How does Tolkien's world-building in "The Lord of the Rings" inspire aspiring writers and creators today?

9. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

  • "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
  • Set in the 1930s in the small and sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by Scout Finch, a six-year-old tomboy who lives with her ten-year-old brother, Jem, her father Atticus – who is a lawyer in the local community.
  • Discussion: How does the exploration of empathy and understanding in "To Kill a Mockingbird" relate to the contemporary issues of prejudice and social justice?

10. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

  • "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though."
  • This coming-of-age tale is a classic book to read, and one which has been featured on many UK GCSE and A-Level syllabi. Written by J.D. Salinger in 1950, the novel – which is set in the same decade follows the life of Holden Caulfield, who we don’t learn much about other than that he is undergoing some mental health treatment in a hospital, which we are quickly shied away from as he recounts a previous tale
  • Discussion: How does Holden's journey of self-discovery in "The Catcher in the Rye" resonate with the challenges faced by adolescents in the modern world?

Oxford Summer School invites you to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of English literature. In this blog post, we present a meticulously curated list of 10 classic books that will ignite your imagination and deepen your understanding of the written word. From F. Scott Fitzgerald's timeless masterpiece, "The Great Gatsby," to J. R. R. Tolkien's epic "The Lord of the Rings," these literary works will transport you to different eras and immerse you in diverse themes. Through our English literature summer school, you will have the opportunity to analyse and discuss these influential texts, gaining valuable insights into the power of storytelling. Join us on this literary odyssey and embark on a transformative journey that will shape your appreciation for the written word. Who knows, you might just discover a newfound passion for English literature and create memories that will last a lifetime.

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Ignite your passion for English literature at Oxford Summer Courses. Immerse yourself in classic books like "The Great Gatsby" and "The Lord of the Rings" to deepen your understanding of storytelling.

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10 Books to Read Before College

From gripping memoirs to page-turning novels, these books can make good summer reading for incoming college students.

Teenage girl reading on hammock

(Getty Images)

What incoming college students are reading this summer

The summer between graduating from high school and heading off to college can be a great time to relax with a good book before starting the next chapter. In fact, some colleges ask incoming students to do exactly that, assigning the same book across the entire university or within individual majors. Often known as common reading programs, these assigned works are regularly used in freshman -level classes and offer students a chance to come together for an in-depth discussion on a shared text. While some colleges mandate this reading, others merely provide suggestions for students.

Looking for a good book? Check out these selections from university reading programs. These books, some of which are New York Times bestsellers, deal with weighty issues such as political divides, human rights, acceptance of differences and environmental issues.

literature books for college students

All We Can Save

"All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis," curated by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson, is a collection of essays, poetry and art by diverse female artists that addresses climate change. Staking the claim that female voices are often not heard in the conversation, the book highlights dozens of those voices. It's the book of choice for the common reading experience for first-year students at Binghamton University in New York for the 2023-2024 academic year.

literature books for college students

Be Different

"Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's & My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families and Teachers," by New York Times bestselling author John Elder Robison, offers a vulnerable look at the author's childhood and young adult years as someone navigating life with autism spectrum disorder. Robison shares his personal stories and lessons he's learned as a way to advocate for neurodivergent and autistic individuals or anyone who feels different. "Be Different" is the common read for incoming students at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

literature books for college students

Braiding Sweetgrass

"Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants" is a collection of essays by Robin Wall Kimmerer that explores the theme of relationships within nature, coupling the author's scientific understanding as a botanist with her outlook as an Indigenous woman. The New York Times bestseller is part of the common reading experience for incoming students at Washington State University for the 2023-2024 year. It was the first book to be used for two years in a row at WSU, and Wall Kimmerer gave a virtual lecture to students and faculty in February 2023. The book is also part of the common reading experience for students at Marist College in New York.

literature books for college students

Brown Girls

"Brown Girls," a debut novel by Daphne Palasi Andeades, follows the lives of several immigrant girls who grow up in Queens, New York, and attempt to make sense of the American culture that surrounds them. In this coming-of-age novel, the girls vow to remain friends for life, but as they get older and life pulls them in different directions, tensions form among them. The story depicts the transition from childhood to adulthood, and explores themes of female friendship and of women of color attempting to find where they fit in with society. All students participating in the first-year seminar at City University New York—Baruch College read "Brown Girls" as part of a common reading experience.

literature books for college students

I Never Thought of It That Way

"I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times," by Mónica Guzmán, examines potential causes for increases in polarizing political discussions in recent years. A journalist and advocate for depolarization, Guzmán suggests using curiosity to learn and understand different perspectives rather than living in an echo chamber. With the hope of opening students to diverse perspectives and commentary on relevant social issues, Elon University in North Carolina assigned "I Never Thought of It That Way" to all first-year students for the 2023-2024 academic year.

literature books for college students

Made in China

At 15 years old, Anna Qu reported her parents to the Office of Family and Child Services for what she said were years of neglect and abuse due to forced labor in a Queens, New York, sweatshop and tough conditions at home. At one point, her parents decided to send her to China in hopes of teaching her a lesson. Now estranged from her parents for nearly 20 years, she requests the OFCS report and realizes some key details are wrong. In her adult life working to forge a career of her own, she reflects on what she believes is a false narrative and reconsiders what she believed to be true about her life. In "Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor," she unpacks her feelings of abandonment and her experiences with abuse while asking questions about trauma, family dynamics and the meaning of work. It is the assigned common reading book for first-year students at Florida International University .

literature books for college students

Now Is Not the Time to Panic

"Now Is Not the Time to Panic," by New York Times bestselling author Kevin Wilson, follows two teenagers, Frankie Budge and Zeke, who bond over their creative interests and perceived social status as outcasts in Coalfield, Tennessee. The two anonymously create a poster together with a provocative phrase on it that gets reprinted and posted everywhere, sending the town into panic. Years later, Frankie gets a call from a journalist wanting to investigate the Coalfield Panic. This coming-of-age novel is the common read for all incoming students at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee for the 2023-2024 academic year.

literature books for college students

Parable of the Sower

"Parable of the Sower" is a speculative fiction novel set in the early to mid-2020s that follows the life of Lauren Olamina, a 15-year-old California girl who suffers from hyperempathy, where she intensely feels the emotions of those around her. Often compared to other dystopian stories like "1984" and "The Handmaid's Tale," this 1993 novel by Octavia Butler has become particularly relevant in recent years. Water shortages in California, global climate change, economic crises and social chaos permeate the world within these pages, but those in Olamina's wealthy gated community carry on unaware of the perils around them. A New York Times bestseller, the book has been assigned as the campus-wide common reading choice for students at the University of Kansas for the 2023-2024 academic year.

literature books for college students

The Movement Made Us

Journalist David Dennis, Jr., wrote "The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Song, and the Legacy of a Freedom Ride" with contributions from his father, activist David Dennis, Sr. Told through the lens of both the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the modern Black Lives Matter movement, this memoir offers insight into the experiences of those fighting on the front lines for civil rights. "The Movement Made Us" has been chosen for the common reading program at Davidson College in North Carolina.

literature books for college students

The Nature Fix

"The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative" by Florence Williams investigates the personal health benefits of spending time in nature. A contributing editor for Outside Magazine, Williams says she wrote the book to show how "being in nature actually makes us more human" and can inspire happiness and creativity. Surrounded by the Palouse, a picturesque geographic region in the northwestern part of the U.S., and mountains in the distance, the University of Idaho chose the book for its 2023-2024 universitywide common reading experience.

young woman choosing book in bookstore

Summer reads for incoming college students

  • "All We Can Save" by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson
  • "Be Different" by John Elder Robison
  • "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • "Brown Girls" by Daphne Palasi Andeades
  • "I Never Thought of It That Way" by Monica Guzman
  • "Made in China" by Amelia Pang
  • "Now Is Not the Time to Panic" by Kevin Wilson
  • "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler
  • "The Movement Made Us" by David Dennis, Jr.
  • "The Nature Fix" by Florence Williams

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  • Main content

26 spectacular books that made it onto college summer reading lists this year at universities around the country

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

  • Many colleges release summer reading lists for incoming students.
  • We compiled some of the best books from university reading lists in 2021.
  • Included on the list: " Caste ," " The Alchemist ," " The Vanishing Half ," and more.

Insider Today

Every summer, universities around the country release their recommended summer books and reading lists for incoming students. 

This year, schools like Columbia , Duke , UC Berkeley , NYU , Northwestern , and more shared their 2021 reading lists online. They included books like " Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent ," " The Vanishing Half ," " The Alchemist ," " The Nickel Boys ," " Think Again ," and more.

Read below to see some of the best books to have made it on reading lists this year. 

Copy provided by Amazon and edited lightly for length.

"Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent" by Isabel Wilkerson

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of California, Berkeley ; The University of Maryland

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.

Using riveting stories about people — including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball's Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others — she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day.

"The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Bryn Mawr College ; The University of St. Thomas

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.

Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

literature books for college students

Read by students at: New York University

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings ― asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass ― offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices.

In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Northwestern University 

System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. You can read Insider's review of this book here.

"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coehlo

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of California, Berkeley ;  Bryn Mawr College

Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different — and far more satisfying — than he ever imagined.

Santiago's journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.

"Somebody's Daughter" by Ashley C. Ford

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Boston University

Through poverty, adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley Ford wishes she could turn to her father for hope and encouragement. There are just a few problems: he's in prison, and she doesn't know what he did to end up there. She doesn't know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men.

In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates. When the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley desperately searches for meaning in the chaos. Then, her grandmother reveals the truth about her father's incarceration...and Ashley's entire world is turned upside down.

"Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know" by Adam Grant

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of Maryland

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is an expert on opening other people's minds — and our own. As Wharton's top-rated professor and the bestselling author of "Originals" and "Give and Take," he makes it one of his guiding principles to argue like he's right but listen like he's wrong. With bold ideas and rigorous evidence, he investigates how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.

You'll learn how an international debate champion wins arguments, a Black musician persuades white supremacists to abandon hate, a vaccine whisperer convinces concerned parents to immunize their children, and Adam has coaxed Yankees fans to root for the Red Sox.

"Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Duke University

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. With empathy and piercing social commentary, "Such a Fun Age" explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone "family," and the complicated reality of being a grown-up.

"Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Smith College

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet — sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors — doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.

As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through...

"The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Siena College

When Elwood Curtis, a Black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood's only salvation is his friendship with fellow "delinquent" Turner, which deepens despite Turner's conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, "The Nickel Boys" is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers and "should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation's best" (" Entertainment Weekly" ).

"The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice" by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of Kentucky

In 2014, northeastern Syria might have been the last place you would expect to find a revolution centered on women's rights. But that year, an all-female militia faced off against ISIS in a little town few had ever heard of: Kobani. By then, the Islamic State had swept across vast swaths of the country, taking town after town and spreading terror as the civil war burned all around it. From that unlikely showdown in Kobani emerged a fighting force that would wage war against ISIS across northern Syria alongside the United States. In the process, these women would spread their own political vision, determined to make women's equality a reality by fighting — house by house, street by street, city by city — the men who bought and sold women.

Based on years of on-the-ground reporting, "The Daughters of Kobani" is the unforgettable story of the women of the Kurdish militia that improbably became part of the world's best hope for stopping ISIS in Syria.

"When the Emperor Was Divine" by Julie Otsuka

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Augustana College

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans, they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism.

"Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships, and Motherhood Among Black Women" by Mignon R. Moore

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Columbia University

Mignon R. Moore brings to light the family life of a group that has been largely invisible — gay women of color — in a book that challenges long-standing ideas about racial identity, family formation, and motherhood.

Drawing from interviews and surveys of one hundred black gay women in New York City, "Invisible Families" explores the ways that race and class have influenced how these women understand their sexual orientation, find partners, and form families. In particular, the study looks at the ways in which the past experiences of women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s shape their thinking, and have structured their lives in communities that are not always accepting of their openly gay status.

"The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of California, Berkeley

Widely heralded as a "masterful" ("Washington Post") and "essential" ("Slate") history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein's "The Color of Law" offers "the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation" (William Julius Wilson).

Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods.

A groundbreaking, "virtually indispensable" study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history ("Chicago Daily Observer"), "The Color of Law" forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past.

"Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Seton Hall University

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.

One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

"The Death of Vivek Oji" by Akwaeke Emezi

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of St. Thomas

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son's body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family's struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings.

As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek's closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens — and Osita struggles to understand Vivek's escalating crisis — the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.

"The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race" by Walter Isaacson

literature books for college students

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled "The Double Helix" on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn't become scientists, she decided she would.

Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book's author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned ​ a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.

"The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Bryn Mawr College

Drawing on his 25 years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns.

In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you're ready to trade in anger for understanding, read "The Righteous Mind."

"The Undocumented Americans" by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

literature books for college students

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she'd tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. 

So she wrote her immigration lawyer's phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants — and to find the hidden key to her own.

"Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles" by Rivvy Neshama

literature books for college students

On a dark winter night with little to do, Rivvy Neshama took a "Find Your Highest Purpose" quiz. And the funny thing was, she found it: to live a sacred life. Problem was, she didn't know how. 

But she set out to learn. And in the weeks and months that followed, she began to remember and encounter all the people and experiences featured in this book — from her father's jokes to her mother's prayers, from Billie in Harlem to a stranger in Salzburg, and from warm tortillas to the humble oatmeal. Each became a story, like a recipe passed down, beginning with her mother and her simple toast to life.

"The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" by Julia Cameron

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Spelman College

Since its first publication, "The Artist's Way" phenomena has inspired the genius of Elizabeth Gilbert and millions of readers to embark on a creative journey and find a deeper connection to process and purpose. Julia Cameron's novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery.

The program begins with Cameron's most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a "Creative Cluster" of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors.

"The Water Dancer" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

literature books for college students

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her — but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he's ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia's proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he's enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram's resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

"The Feeling Economy: How Artificial Intelligence is Creating the Era of Empathy" by Roland T. Rust and Ming-Hui Huang

literature books for college students

As machines are trained to "think," many tasks that previously required human intelligence are becoming automated through artificial intelligence. However, it is more difficult to automate emotional intelligence, and this is where the human worker's competitive advantage over machines currently lies. 

The book argues that AI is rapidly assuming a larger share of thinking tasks, leaving human intelligence to focus on feeling. The result is the "Feeling Economy," in which both employees and consumers emphasize feeling to an unprecedented extent, with thinking tasks largely delegated to AI. The book shows both theoretical and empirical evidence that this shift is well underway. Further, it explores the effect of the Feeling Economy on our everyday lives in the areas such as shopping, politics, and education. Specifically, it argues that in this new economy, through empathy and people skills, women may gain an unprecedented degree of power and influence.

"Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity" by Walter Scheidel

literature books for college students

Read by students at: Northwestern University

The fall of the Roman Empire has long been considered one of the greatest disasters in history. But in this groundbreaking book, Walter Scheidel argues that Rome's dramatic collapse was actually the best thing that ever happened, clearing the path for Europe's economic rise and the creation of the modern age. Ranging across the entire premodern world, "Escape from Rome" offers new answers to some of the biggest questions in history: Why did the Roman Empire appear? Why did nothing like it ever return to Europe? And, above all, why did Europeans come to dominate the world?

In an absorbing narrative that begins with ancient Rome but stretches far beyond it, from Byzantium to China and from Genghis Khan to Napoleon, Scheidel shows how the demise of Rome and the enduring failure of empire-building on European soil launched an economic transformation that changed the continent and ultimately the world.

"The Book of Longings" by Sue Monk Kidd

literature books for college students

In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.

Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas.  When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.

"This I Believe: Life Lessons" edited by Dan Gediman, John Gregors, and Mary Jo Gediman

literature books for college students

Read by students at: The University of Louisiana, Monroe

Based on the NPR series of the same name, "This I Believe" features eighty Americans ― from the famous to the unknown ― completing the thought that the book's title begins. Each piece compels readers to rethink not only how they have arrived at their own personal beliefs but also the extent to which they share them with others.

The result is a stirring and provocative trip inside the minds and hearts of a diverse group of people whose beliefs ― and the incredibly varied ways in which they choose to express them ― reveal the American spirit at its best.

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literature books for college students


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