Freshman (or any student’s) recommended reading list

Recommended reading material

Recommended reading material (Photo by Liam Quin)

Expand your mind, they tell you in college. Well, reading books is one of the best ways. Colleges often suggest a summer reading list, as well as books required of all freshmen entering in the fall. Now that you’re back at college for the semester, take a look at these contemporary and classic books, history and philosophy books and fun and poignant books to get you back in the academic mood.

Colleges assign one book to freshmen

It is becoming common for colleges to assign a single book they want all freshman to read before they start classes. “Colleges say that having everyone read a book together gives new students a shared experience and oftentimes opens them up to a world distinct from their own,” said Peter Jacobs in his August 20, 2013 article, “This is what incoming freshmen at top colleges are reading before they get to campus” for Business Insider.

For instance, Princeton University required The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Explaining the choice, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said: “My favorite books are ones that provoke me both to question my own assumptions about the world and to disagree from time to time with the author. I like books that make bold arguments and ignite conversations!” reported Jacobs.

Recommended reading list

The list of great books of literature is very long and highly debated, but here is a recommended reading list with a variety of books.

No list would be complete without The Odyssey by Homer. Read this 3,000-year-old poem “not only because knowing the story is academically useful, but because reading (and loving) The Odyssey is a rite of passage sort of akin to going off to college,” said Katy Waldman at in “I’m a freshman. What’s the one book I must read?” September 6, 2013. Waldman recommended the Fagles translation.

  • Prefer something a little more recent? Try The Body by Stephen King. “King’s adventure story veils a deeper message about our childhood homes and childhood friendships. His take on nostalgia and growing up is sure to comfort anyone leaving home for the first time,” a Huffington Post contributor recommended in “10 books every college freshman should read,” August 20, 2013.

Other recommendations include:

  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – A chronicle of Twain’s journey through New York, Marseilles, Venice, Constantinople, Damascus and Bethlehem complete with observations on art, culture and human nature.
  • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay – How the founding fathers viewed liberty, the role of government, the Constitution and politics in early America.
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli – Sixteenth century commentary on politics, manipulation, power and human nature that is still relevant today.
  • College, What It Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco – Describes the benefits of a core liberal arts curriculum on students.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac – The experience of two men in the 1950s traveling the open road experiencing Americana.
  • Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals – The story of the Little Rock Nine black students integrated into an all white high school in Arkansas 1957.
  • This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman – A collection of essays from luminaries like Gloria Steinem, Helen Keller, John Updike and Jackie Robinson, as well as ordinary people.
  • The Good Soldier by David Finkel – A critique of the Iraq War surge and its affects on soldiers by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Finkel.
  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka – A novel set in California after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that follows the internment of Japanese-American citizens.
  • The Prophet by Khalil Gibran – A collection of philosophical essays on religion, spirituality, inspiration and love by Lebanese-American artist, poet and writer Gibran.
  • The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – A short story collection about Indians and Indian Americans exploring culture shock, family, love and relationships.
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – An unsettling short novel about the agoraphobic Merricat Blackwood and the terrible things people can do to each other, stranger than Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery.”
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman – A novel combining mythology and commentary on American culture, with characters based on old gods such as Odin and Anubis as well as new gods Technical Boy and Media.
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – An exploration of the cultural reasons for eating animals that offers a guide to the moral decision of whether to be vegetarian or carnivore.

What was your favorite required reading book that helped you prepare for college?

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