Ten Books Every Student Should Read in College
The editors of HUMAN EVENTS asked a panel of 28 distinguished scholars and university professors to serve as judges in developing a list of Ten Books Every Student Should Read in College.
To derive the list, each scholar first nominated titles. When all the nominations were collected-they amounted to more than 100 titles-HUMAN EVENTS then sent a ballot to the scholars asking each to list his or her Top Ten selections. A book was awarded ten points for receiving a No. 1 rating, 9 points for receiving a No. 2 rating, and so on. The ten books with the highest aggregate ratings made the list.
Interestingly enough, the No. 1 book our judges decided every college student should read is a volume that has been virtually banned in public schools by the United States Supreme Court.
#1 The Bible
c. 1446 B.C. to c. A.D. 95
The Bible, the central work of Western Civilization, defines the relationship between God and man, and forms the foundation of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet, today it is virtually banned in Americas public primary and secondary schools-meaning many American students may not encounter the most important book of all time in a classroom setting until they reach college.
#2 The Federalist Papers
Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
October 1787 to May 1788
Written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist Papers first appeared in several New York state newspapers as a series of 85 essays published under the nom de plume “Publius” from the fall of 1787 to the spring of 1788.
The purpose of The Federalist Papers was to garner support for the newly created Constitution. At the time the states were bound together under the Articles of Confederation, but the weakness of the Articles necessitated the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Once the Constitution was drafted, nine states were required to ratify it, so Hamilton, Jay, and Madison took up the effort to persuade skeptics. Because Hamilton and Madison were both members of the Constitutional Convention, their writings are instructive in divining the original intent of those who drafted the Constitution.
According to the Library of Congress, the first bound edition of The Federalist Papers was published in 1788 with revisions and corrections by Hamilton. A bound edition with revisions and corrections by Madison published in 1818 was the first to identify the authors of each essay.
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#3 Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville
A left-leaning Frenchman who visited America in 1831, de Tocqueville produced an incisive portrait of American political and social life in the early 19th Century. He praised the democratic ideals and private virtues of the American people but warned against what he saw as the tyrannical tendency of public opinion. Visiting during the heyday of slavery, de Tocqueville foresaw the troubles racial questions would pose for the country. He also was early in observing that judicial power had a tendency to usurp the political in the United States. He also wrote of the difficulties inherent in the egalitarian sentiment then gaining strength in America. “However energetically society in general may strive to make all the citizens equal and alike, the personal pride of each individual will always make him try to escape from the common level, and he will form some inequality somewhere to his own profit,” he said.
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#4 The Divine Comedy
One of the most frequently cited poems of all time, this epic allegory is an amalgam of Dantes views of science, theology, astronomy, and philosophy. In it Dante recounts his imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, during which he realizes his hatred for his sin and becomes a changed man by the grace of God.
The work contains three sections-“Inferno,” “Purgatorio,” and “Paradiso.” In “Inferno,” Dante journeys through Hell, led by the soul of the Roman poet Virgil. He describes Hell as a funnel-shaped pit divided into nine circles, each one a place for those people guilty of a particular sin, with suffering increasing as he descends to the bottom where Satan himself dwells.
In “Purgatorio,” Dante travels with Virgil up the Mount of Purgatory. Ten terraces make up the Mount and the process of purification for its occupants is arduous as they climb from terrace to terrace. When Dante and Virgil pass the final terrace, they glimpse Paradise where Beatrice, Dantes first love, awaits and Virgil is forced to depart.
In “Paradiso,” Beatrice guides Dante through the various levels of Paradise. At the highest level, Empyrean, where God, Mary, and many of the angels and saints abide, Dante views the light of God, which leaves him speechless and changed.
#5 The Republic
c. 360 B.C.
The Republic is likely the most important work of the most important and influential philosopher who ever lived. The writings of Plato, a disciple of Socrates in ancient Athens, provide the foundation of abstract thought for all of Western Civilization, and The Republic contains expositions of various theories of justice, the state and society, and the soul. Is justice a matter of being helpful to those who help you and harmful to those who harm you? Or is it simply the “interest of the stronger,” defined by those who govern the rest of us, as post-modern leftists would have it? How should society be organized? How is the human soul structured? How may we arrive at truth? The first author in history to deal with such questions in systematic rational argument, Plato contrasts the ideal society with reality in a way later echoed in the City of God (No. 7) by St. Augustine-who explored his own soul in his Confessions (No. 9). Plato describes the first totalitarian utopia as part of his argument, the first of many thinkers to do so. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought.”
#6 The Politics
Fourth Century, B.C.
Aristotle, the most famous student of Plato, is one of the few men who managed to be highly appreciated both in his own time (he was hired to tutor Alexander the Great) and by posterity. His philosophy continues to form the backbone of Western thought. Much of his writing was lost for centuries, but its recovery helped Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th Century, and later political philosophers, develop the concept of natural law that became central to the Anglo-American understanding of just and limited government. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson cited Aristotle as an inspiration for the Declaration of Independence.
In the Politics, Aristotle examines the formation and composition of civil society more simply and effectively than perhaps anyone since. Beginning with a complete accounting of the elements in the basic unit of society-the oikos or family home-the philosopher expands outward to discuss the larger unit of human existence, the city-state-or polis-in the same terms.
#7 (tie) Nicomachaean Ethics
Fourth Century, B.C.
The Ethics is a collection of notes from Aristotles lectures, taken by his student Nicomachus. The Ethics elegant inductive arguments, developed hundreds of years before the Christian era, proved that man can indeed understand the basic concepts of good and evil without the aid of Divine Revelation-a fact that many leftists are unwilling to accept in their quest to destroy respect for objective rules of right and wrong.
Unlike todays secularists, Aristotle saw clearly that all human beings have a built-in need to pursue happiness through behaving properly. Aristotle analyzes why not all human actions lead to happiness, and reveals how a mans daily choices between good and evil result in the habits of virtue or vice. Virtuous action, he concludes, makes men happy, whereas vice does not.
#7 (tie) City of God
St. Augustine of Hippo
The City of God ranks as historys most influential writing by a theologian. Augustine, the cultured bishop of an ancient Roman city in North Africa, created a philosophy of history that answered the argument of pagans who blamed the decline of Rome on the rise of Christianity. (Rome had first been sacked in 410.) Augustine explained human history in terms of Divine Providence and asserted that the Church would bring human history to its final consummation. At that consummation, the two “cities” that remained intermingled on Earth-the pure, virtuous city of God and the sinful, flawed city of man-would be separated into two. Augustine argued that the sinful practices of the pagan Romans helped prompt God to allow the Eternal Citys capture by barbarians. Augustine firmly implants teleology-the Aristotelian idea that all things have an ultimate purpose-into history just as previous Christian thinkers had adopted teleology to explain Gods plan for individual human beings. For Augustine, all of human history points toward a divine purpose.
St. Augustine of Hippo
c. A.D. 400
The Confessions is Augustines spiritual autobiography. Addressed to God, the book bares the authors soul. Here Augustine explains the history of his life in terms of Divine Providence, much as in the City of God he explained the history of Rome. He owns up to the sins that pulled him away from faith despite the exertions of his intensely devout mother, St. Monica. In the course of describing both his exterior and interior life, Augustine reiterates the Christian philosophy of the human person expounded by St. Paul in his epistles. He describes the interplay among passion, will, and reason and attempts to explain why men do evil when they know better.
#10 Reflections on the Revolution in France
An Irish-born British politician of the late 18th Century, who was popular in America because of his opposition to taxing the colonies, Burke holds a prominent place in the history of English-speaking conservatives. Indeed, in The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk singled him out as the first modern conservative intellectual.
Burkes early and energetic disapproval of the French Revolution proved prophetic in light of the Reign of Terror that followed. A champion of the inherent wisdom of long-settled traditions, Burke argued that by violently ripping up their nations institutions root and branch, the French had assured themselves years of chaos.
If changes had to be made in France, he argued, could not the tried-and-true be kept and only the bad discarded? “Is it, then, true,” he asked, “that the French government was such as to be incapable or undeserving of reform, so that it was of absolute necessity that the whole fabric should be at once pulled down and the area cleared for the erection of a theoretic, experimental edifice in its place?”