100 ESSENTIAL READS FOR THE LIFELONG LEARNER
Looking for your next great read? Putting together a summer wish-list? Need a new (old) book for your students? How about finding something to fill the time while we’re all stuck inside?
The folks at online schools.org have put together their list of “100 Essential Reads for the Life Long Learner”. It has since been removed from their site, but in this list you will find everything from the classics, to books on any subject, including math and science, history, literature, biographies, and contemporary fiction. See how many you can already check off your list and then add some new books to your “to-read” list. Each title has a short annotation and the list is divided by subject for easy browsing.
Of course, these “best of” type lists are completely subjective, and you might not agree with what’s been included. What do you think is a glaring omission or which title might you swap out from the list?
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic is read by many a high schooler for good reason as it offers an excellent character study to help the reader explore morality, ethics, and society.
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Huxley’s dystopian novel takes the reader to a futuristic society where humanity has taken a back seat to technology.
3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This story of friendship and the struggle to survive is touching and intensely beautiful.
4. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Check out Orwell’s famous allegory of the Russian Revolution that can teach something to all readers about society and politics.
5. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt on the fringe of society.
6. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut’s novel provides a vehicle of hope through the traffic of war and insanity.
7. Native Son by Richard Wright. Get lost in the excellent writing and character development of this story, but don’t overlook the powerful statement Wright makes about the results of a society that devalues humanity.
8. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. Perhaps this Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s most developed work, this short read delves inside the mind of a man in the midst of mid-life crisis as he struggles with himself.
9. Howards End by E.M. Forester. Explore class and society in this powerful novel set in early twentieth century England.
10. The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway. Read Hemingway’s account of the emasculating effects of war and women in this popular classic.
11. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This classic has interesting effects on the reader, usually based on the reader’s age and current state of mind. No doubt there is something in this book that details the confusion of adolescence with which most can relate.
12. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Marlow’s journey down the river and into the heart of a native Africa is but a metaphor for the even darker journey of self-exploration he makes.
13. The Call of the Wild by Jack London. If you haven’t already read London’s description of survival of the fittest from the dog’s perspective, then add this one to your list of must-reads.
14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Lee’s popular classic explores racism, justice, family ties, and more in a story that is difficult to forget.
15. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Examine issues of equality and justice in America through the eyes of the Joad family in the Great Depression.
From test pilots to boxers to the Civil Rights movement, these classic non-fiction books have maintained their popularity for good reason.
16. Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s account of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963 serves as an important reminder of how much progress has been made and how much more work there is to accomplish.
17. Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein. Read essays written by Einstein on a broad range of subjects from science to human rights.
18. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Orwell recounts his service in the Spanish Civil War and his escape from the country afterwards as he narrowly escapes arrest as an enemy to the state.
19. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. Those interested in Balkan history will want to tackle this massive, 1000-page classic.
20. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. The American space race didn’t start in the 1960’s, but many years earlier with the test pilots in the jet program, and Wolfe takes readers through it all up to the space race of the 1960s.
21. Working by Studs Terkel. Terkel is arguably the king of documenting oral history from Americans in the early 20th century. This book captures the voices of American workers from all walks of life who describe what they do all day and how they feel about it.
22. In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams. Williams paints his own version of historical figures throughout American history in the essays contained in this classic.
23. Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. This book recounts the battles over water rights in the American West and is a must-read for anyone interested in conservation, politics, or having water to drink.
24. The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow. Learn about the history of JP Morgan and his banking business as it began and evolved up to the 1990s.
25. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Study the nature of Mother Nature herself in this classic by Annie Dillard.
26. The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling. Liebling details the world of boxing in its heyday to life.
27. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross. While not technically a classic, this book by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross is sure to be one. Ross covers composers of the 20th century, including their biographies, the music, and the social context for it all.
These books are some of the most powerful of more recent literature written.
28. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. This allegorical story follows Indian independence and the events leading up to it via the life of Saleem Sinai. The huge cast of characters, history of India, and religious mythology make this book a rich and engrossing read.
29. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. The title character of this novel will be difficult to erase from your heart after finishing this hilarious and poignant novel.
30. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Follow this family as they leave the comfort of their southern home to spread Christianity to one corner of Africa, then watch as the heart of Africa takes over the lives of each of the individual family members in their own unique ways.
31. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Atwood’s futuristic look at society and what it does to women is a cautionary tale that should not be missed.
32. Beloved by Toni Morrison. The ghosts of the past haunt this enchanting novel of slavery and freedom.
33. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The incredible character development carries this book that engages the reader in Cal’s life as both a girl and a boy, and the family history that unwittingly delivered Cal to such an unusual place.
34. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This easy-to-read tale is a deceptively simple account of one man’s struggle to survive.
35. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This fictional account of a platoon in Vietnam is based on Tim O’Brien’s experience in the war himself and explores the fear and courage that are necessary to bring one through to the other side.
36. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Through letters, the reader learns of Celie’s difficult life as a black woman in the south and her transformation as she discovers her inner strength.
Autobiographies and Memoirs
From Tobias Wolff’s struggles as a young black man in the south to Vladimir Nabokov’s childhood in pre-Revolutionary Russia, learn first-hand what it was like to live in a different place and a different era.
37. Black Boy by Richard Wright. Wright’s description of life as a black man in the south is both painful and beautifully written–and definitely worth reading.
38. The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain. Read about the amazing life of this American legend through his own eyes.
39. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov details his idyllic childhood in Russia, then immigrating to America at the age of 18 as a result of the Russian Revolution in his brilliantly written autobiography.
40. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X. Alex Haley and Malcolm X do a remarkable job conveying the many experiences and transformations experienced by Malcolm X on his journey to overcoming racial barriers.
41. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. This popular memoir details life in colonial Africa as Dinesen embraces Nairobi and the people who live there.
42. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Learn about Stein and her life as an ex-pat in Paris through the frame of a biography of her partner, Alice Toklas.
43. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Wolff recounts his life as a boy and teen struggling with his identity as he lives with his divorced mother and her second husband in the 1950’s.
44. Autobiographies by W.B. Yeats. Yeats’ account of his life as a poet and playwright in Ireland up to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Learn about such famous people as Florence Nightingale and Thomas Jefferson with these biographies.
45. Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith. Read this classic biography of the astonishing woman who was Florence Nightingale.
46. Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate. Bate takes readers beyond what is known publicly about Johnson and delves deep within the man in this outstanding biography.
47. The Age of Jackson by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. This biography looks at both the president and the politics surrounding his administration.
48. Jefferson and His Time by Dumas Malone. This six-volume biography is likely just for those obsessed with Thomas Jefferson, but it is the pinnacle of information on this amazing man.
49. James Joyce by Richard Ellmann. Considered one of the best biographies on Joyce, the writings of Ellmann capture the true nature of the man.
50. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Learn about Roosevelt’s early years with this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.
51. Vermeer by Lawrence Gowing. This much-beloved biography informs about the life of this famous painter and also contains plenty of reproductions of Vermeer’s art.
52. Up From History by Robert J. Norrell. This account of Booker T. Washington’s life as a slave to a soft-spoken, educated advocate for civil rights is an informative read that reminds Americans of the beginnings of the modern day fight for civil rights.
Read these books and step into a different culture or sometimes, a truly unique perspective of a familiar world.
53. The Assault by Harry Mulisch. In Nazi-occupied Holland, a young boy witnesses terrible tragedy. Follow the boy as he grows into a man and must come to terms with what happened while he learns truths about humanity with which all readers can identify.
54. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgokov. This novel is steeped in magical realism, but below the fanciful stories of a magical cat and the devil himself, this book explores power, corruption, good and evil, and human frailty.
55. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundara. The history of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia is as much a character of this novel as the bumbling people who struggle to find their way amidst personal insecurities.
56. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Murakami’s unusual style of writing carries readers on a wild ride as a man looks for his missing cat in the midst of his personal crisis.
57. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The main character, Okonkwo, grapples with preserving his cultural history in the face of Western domination in this tragically beautiful novel.
58. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Recounting the history of a village through the Buendia family, Marquez’s lyrical writing and magical realism create a funny, yet hauntingly beautiful read.
59. Hunger by Knut Hamsun. Feel the hunger of the starving young artist in Hamsun’s novel that is a classic from this Norwegian author.
60. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba’s unabashed embracing of life parallels that of the stoic narrator as this novel explores the dual nature of humanity and the repercussions of both approaches to life.
61. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Discover how to find the beauty in life no matter what your experience as you follow the life of a young shepherd who gains so much from his journey of life.
62. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The tale of a young Brahmin’s spiritual journey throughout his life is told in this popular novel.
63. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Love and loyalty in the time of the Russian Revolution are the driving force behind this classic novel.
These books are some of the most famous and widely read history books around
64. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. This autobiography that isn’t really an autobiography excellently captures the feel of the American history throughout the 19th century and into the 20th as told through the eyes of Henry Adams.
65. The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner’s classic work explores the idea of American uniqueness being shaped by the specific ordeals confronted by the settlers along the frontier.
66. The Civil War by Shelby Foote. This three-volume set describes the Civil War in easy-to-read language that captures the reader’s imagination.
67. The Second World War by Winston Churchill. Churchill’s account of WWII is beautifully recreated in this six-volume account.
68. The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward. Take a hard look at the history of segregation, segregation myths, and more in this book that helped spark the Civil Rights movement.
69. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Learn about the unique time in the early 20th century that saw four countries working diligently to design an atomic bomb and the motivation behind this work.
70. A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee. Considered one of the most comprehensive and complete pieces of scholarship written and includes 10 volumes covering the rise and fall of virtually every civilization known.
71. The Great Bridge by David McCullough. This book tells the story behind building the Brooklyn Bridge by one of the great modern-day historians.
72. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War by Edmund Wilson. Read 16 essays each providing a unique perspective to the Civil War.
73. The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell. Fussell uses this book, which includes literature mostly from WWI, but from other wars as well, as a testament to what warfare does to those involved in it.
74. The Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson. McPherson’s book details the events that lead up to the Civil War and delves clearly into details of the actual war that can often seem confusing when written by other hands.
75. The Contours of American History by William Appleman Williams. This book has been used in college classes throughout the years as a text to illustrate the economic systems of America throughout history. While sometimes controversial, this book remains widely read and discussed.
Justice, economics, and capitalism are just a few of the topics in these books.
76. The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith. This book, written in 1958, provides a remarkably timely look at American economics and the American way of life.
77. The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper. Popper’s famous work discusses the role of the individual as separate from the state, while also tackling Marxism, despite his belief that Marx’s intentions were good.
78. A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Rawls has updated his classic text from 1971 and continues to promote his theories on justice and fairness in a democratic society.
79. The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter. While Hofstadter’s book sometimes comes with harsh criticism, it also serves as an important reminder that citizens should not blindly follow long-held beliefs or reputations without questioning why.
80. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph A. Schumpeter. Schumpeter’s economic theories continue to arise in current analysis. Find out the basis of his beliefs in his landmark book.
81. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney. This classic explores the interconnectedness of religion and capitalism within society and includes historical support for the theory.
Language Arts and Literary Theory
From awesome reference books to books that can take your study of literature to the next level, check out these books about the English language.
82. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White. Strunk originally wrote this rule book of grammatical style in 1919, and in 1959, White revised what has become an icon of the American written language.
83. The American Language by H. L. Mencken. Mencken was an early advocate for “American” as a language and style to be recognized as the powerful world force it has become.
84. The Mirror and the Lamp by Meyer Howard Abrams. This classic text of literary scholarship examines the role of the Romantic era on literature and the arts.
85. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Woolf discusses the historical differences between men and women writers and how these differences come down to the availability of freedom and money that men have in plenty compared to women.
86. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J.A. Cuddon. This classic text is an awesome reference book that every English language student should own.
87. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Jonathan Culler. Arranged by theme, this book covers the different types of literary criticism and the people behind each.
88. Literary Theory: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton. Eagleton’s easy-to-read book has shown up in graduate classes around the country as well as on the shelves of just about anyone interested in learning about literary theory.
89. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory by Peter Barry. Barry’s engaging text covers the basic principles of literary theory for beginners.
90. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by Vincent B. Leitch. This book offers comprehensive coverage of literary theory from the classical era to current schools of thought.
Science, Math, and Social Sciences
Find classics alongside more modern works from the fields of science, math, and the social sciences in this list.
91. Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton. Written while Cambridge was closed due to the plague, Newton penned his famous thoughts on gravity, mechanics, calculus, and light and color.
92. The Art of the Soluble by Peter B. Medawar. Medawar’s book of essays explores the role of scientists in the world of science.
93. Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman. This science classic presents six of Feynman’s lectures that explain the basics of physics from his perspective of understanding science in the context of history.
94. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Carson’s powerful writing on the topic of environmental justice creates a book that will make the reader think seriously about humanity’s relationship to the Earth.
95. The Ants by Bert Hoelldobler and Edward O. Wilson. Written by two of the leading authorities on ants, this book covers it all, is well written, and even won a Nobel Prize.
96. A Mathematician’s Apology by G. H. Hardy. Those with a love of mathematics will appreciate this work that extols the beauty of math beyond the expected.
97. The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates. This book provides a look at the art of creating memory that was so important in days past.
98. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. Freud included the basics of his theories on psychoanalysis in this landmark work that is still read worldwide.
99. Pioneers of Psychology by Raymond E. Fancher. This fascinating book explores the beginning of psychology by exploring such thinkers as Descartes, Kant, Skinner, and more.
100. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Psychology student or not, this book will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the curious way the mind works–and how it does not work. Several of the most bizarre cases are detailed here.