100 Books to Read Before …

Here at the Literary Workshop blog, I write many woodworking posts without mentioning literature. This time I want to write about literature without mentioning woodworking.

These are 100 (+1) books that you and I should read before we die, because they just might change the way we live or think. Or maybe because they already have without our knowing it. They were compiled with the generous (and occasionally contentious) help of many of my friends and colleagues. I don’t intend to slight any book by leaving it off the list. This is merely a place to start for people who want to continue educating themselves.

I envisioned our readership as mostly college-educated Americans, with perhaps a few self-educated readers, and readers from other Anglophone regions. I had some guidelines for selection: [a]it must be a whole book, not a selection or excerpt (I made an exception for Aquinas); [b]it must be available in English; [c]it must be very important, ground-breaking, or influential in the shaping of culture(s), though it need not be widely-known. A series may count as a single book. I omit juvenile literature (with the exception of the Narnia chronicles), and I prefer old books to new books.

  1. The Bible (King James Version recommended)
  2. Gilgamesh, Anonymous
  3. Analects, by Confucius
  4. The Iliad, by Homer
  5. The Odyssey, by Homer
  6. The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
  7. Aesop’s Fables
  8. Oedipus, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus, by Sophocles
  9. The Orestia, by Aeschylus
  10. The Republic, by Plato
  11. The Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle
  12. Histories of Herodotus
  13. Hortensius, by Cicero
  14. The Aeneid, by Virgil
  15. The Metamorphoses, by Ovid
  16. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
  17. The Confessions of St. Augustine
  18. The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius
  19. On Loving God, by Bernard of Clairvaux
  20. The Mind’s Road to God, by Bonaventure
  21. Didascalicon, by Hugh of St. Victor
  22. The Summa Theologica (selections are okay), by Aquinas
  23. Beowulf, Anonymous
  24. The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
  25. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the Pearl Poet
  26. The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous
  27. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
  28. The Fairie Queen, by Edmund Spencer
  29. The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
  30. Utopia, by Thomas More
  31. Four Great Tragedies (Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, & Lear), by Shakespeare
  32. Henriad Tetrology (Richard II, 1-2 Henry IV, & Henry V), by Shakespeare
  33. Four Great Comedies (Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night, & The Tempest), by Shakespeare
  34. Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin
  35. The Temple, by George Herbert
  36. Paradise Lost, by John Milton
  37. Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
  38. Tartuffe, by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere
  39. Groundwork of a Metaphysic of Morals, by Immanuel Kant
  40. Pensees, by Blaise Pascal
  41. Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
  42. Essay on Man, by Alexander Pope
  43. Candide, by Voltaire
  44. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
  45. The Federalist Papers, by various authors
  46. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution
  47. The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
  48. Lyrical Ballads (2nd ed.), by Wordsworth and Coleridge
  49. Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft
  50. A Practical View of Christianity, by William Wilberforce
  51. Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  52. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  53. Grimm’s Fairy Tales
  54. Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
  55. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  56. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  57. Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
  58. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
  59. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  60. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  61. Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope
  62. Narrative of the Life of Fred D., an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass
  63. In Memoriam, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  64. The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
  65. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, by Edgar Allan Poe
  66. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
  67. Unspoken Sermons, by George MacDonald
  68. The Idea of a University, by John Henry Newman
  69. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fydor Dostoyevsky
  70. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  71. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  72. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  73. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
  74. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  75. Genealogy of Morals, by Friedrich Nietzsche
  76. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles
  77. The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov
  78. Rerum Novarum, by Pope Leo XIII
  79. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  80. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
  81. Howards End, by E.M. Forster
  82. Civilization and Its Discontents, by Sigmund Freud
  83. Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton
  84. Fear and Trembling, by Soren Kierkegaard
  85. Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot
  86. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  87. The Plague, by Albert Camus
  88. Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
  89. Deus Caritas Est, by Pope John Paul II
  90. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
  91. Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller
  92. The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  93. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis
  94. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  95. 1984, by George Orwell
  96. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  97. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  98. Silence, by Endo Shusaku
  99. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  100. Complete Short Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
  101. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson

How many have you read so far? Which ones would you like to read next?