Library of Congress's 88 Books that Shaped America.
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Did any of these books shape you, personally? How so?
What books would you add to the list?
Are any of these over-rated and not worthy of the list?
Here is the LOC's website for this list:
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 1884
Alcoholics Anonymous by anonymous 1939
American Cookery by Amelia Simmons 1796
The American Woman's Home by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe 1869
And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts 1987
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand 1957
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley 1965
Beloved by Toni Morrison 1987
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown 1970
The Call of the Wild by Jack London 1903
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss 1957
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 1961
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 1951
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White 1952
Common Sense by Thomas Paine 1776
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock 1946
Cosmos by Carl Sagan 1980
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible by anonymous 1788
The Double Helix by James D. Watson 1968
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams 1907
Experiments and Observations on Electricity by Benjamin Franklin 1751
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 1953
Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger 1914
The Federalist by anonymous 1787
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan 1963
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin 1963
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway 1940
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 1936
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown 1947
A Grammatical Institute of the English Language Noah Webster 1783
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 1939
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925
Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford 1901
The History of Standard Oil by Ida Tarbell 1904
History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis 1814
How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis 1890
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie 1936
Howl by Allen Ginsberg 1956
The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill 1946
Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures by Federal Writers' Project 1937
In Cold Blood Truman Capote by 1966
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison by 1952
Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer 1931
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair 1906
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman 1855
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving 1820
Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Louisa May Alcott 1868
Mark, the Match Boy Horatio Alger Jr. by 1869
McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic Primer by William Holmes McGuffey 1836
Moby-Dick; or The Whale by Herman Melville 1851
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass 1845
Native Son by Richard Wright 1940
New England Primer by anonymous 1803
New Hampshire by Robert Frost 1923
On the Road by Jack Kerouac 1957
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Book Collective 1971
Our Town: A Play by Thornton Wilder 1938
Peter Parley's Universal History by Samuel Goodrich 1837
Poems by Emily Dickinson 1890
Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin 1758
Pragmatism by William James 1907
The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. by Benjamin Franklin 1793
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane 1895
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett 1929
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey 1912
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1850
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey 1948
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson 1962
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 1962
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois 1903
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner 1929
Spring and All by William Carlos Williams 1923
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert E. Heinlein 1961
A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks 1945
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams 1947
A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles 1789
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs 1914
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 1937
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 1960
A Treasury of American Folklore by Benjamin A. Botkin 1944
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 1943
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852
Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader 1965
Walden; or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau 1854
The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes 1925
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 1963
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum 1900
The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez 2002
I'm not American, but
Cosmos by Carl Sagan 1980
was very important to me.
As for recommendations, I'd add the Bible.
The Baby Book by Benajamin Spock certainly shaped me. My mother read it and raised me by it.
It was laying around the house during all my childhood even though I didn't read it.
I do remember people in my conservative little church being highly critical of it since they believed that the bible was good enough to raise a child. They would have nothing of that new-fangled psychology!
I finally read it when I had my own child. I expected to be critical of it, too, but I was mostly favorably impressed.
Good point about the bible. Whether people read it or not, it certainly has shaped America.
I don't think it's too early to add Harry Potter. It think it shaped a whole generation.
Scanning the list, it seems like they are all American. Am I wrong?
I might add "None Dare Call It Treason" by John Stormer.
I think you can track much of modern conservatism back to this book. And maybe even a little of the Truther and the Occupy movements, too.
I found 6 that gave me pause.
Reading To Kill a Mockingbird in the 60s gave this small town Nebraska girl a small insight into racial problems I didn't have any way of comprehending before.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn gave me an affinity to Francie that made me seem a part of a larger world than I knew. How could someone so far away in place and time understand how I felt?
Jo March (Little Women) was smart, awkward, not so pretty, bookish, anti-girly...all things I could identify with and she helped me feel more comfortable in my skin. If people could love Jo, different as she was, perhaps they could love me.
In Cold Blood showed me the anatomy of a crime and the utter ordinariness of both victims and perpetrators. The victims were just people like me, and the murderers were not slavering hideous monsters but luckless clueless dummies with a cruel streak.
I read The Jungle several times, trying to understand the hopelessness and corruption of the story's environment. (I'm afraid I glossed over the socialist rhetoric of the last part of the book. Boring. Skipped it.) (I was 16.)
I love Our Town to this very day, and have read it many times. In addition, I managed to teach this play to several years of speech students. I love the characters, the stripped to the bone staging, the broken fourth wall. I love the idea of the priceless value of the ordinary. That the every day pieces of our lives are so much more important than the milestones and Special Occasions. I'll keep reading this one for years to come.
Atlas Shrugged shaped me because a high school history teacher had us read in order to spark good discussions about the role of government in society, and those discussions were certainly heated!
Catch 22 shaped me because it helped me develop a love of black humor and satire.
Fahrenheit 451 shaped me when he had to read it for the same teacher that had us read Atlas Shrugged. As an adult, I agree with the principles behind it a lot more than I agree with Atlas.
For Whom the Bell Tolls is my favorite novel by my favorite author.
The Great Gatsby was my favorite novel that I had to read for an English teacher in high school, and I still love Fitzgerald.
I read Invisible Man for fun in college, and I found it very moving.
I wrote a research paper in college arguing that the sexual revolution came as a result of World War II rather than the invention of the birth control pill. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was cited as some of my research.
I have read many of the others that no doubt had some effect on me, but my wife is yelling at me to take out the trash so I'm trying to keep this brief.
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible by anonymous 1788 I never heard of it, not that I think that disqualifies it.
Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures by Federal Writers' Project 1937 Is this on the list to commemorate the entire Federal Writers' Project or is there something special about it?
No Sinclair Lewis? Maybe he gets no respect now but in the 1920s and 30s he was the man. Main Street, Arrowsmith, any of a half dozen of his titles could be on the list.
Interesting list. They say they picked books by American writers, which presumably accounts for the absence of the Bible and Harry Potter (even if the authors of both later moved to the US).
The premise of "shaping America" probably made them a bit over-cautious in picking books written in the last thirty or forty years: to someone looking at the list in 2050, Dancer from the dance or the novels of Edmund White might seem as trivial and irrelevant as a biography of Steve Jobs. But it would be nice to think that they wouldn't.
An unusual list. There's a lot that I would remove and a lot that I would add. As such lists go, this one I'd place near the bottom.
It's an interesting list, and there are a lot of astute choices on it, but I think that -- as a whole -- it's shaped more by literary aspiration and less by historical and literary reality than it might ideally be.
It's easy enough to make the case that the likes of The Feminine Mystique or Silent Spring or Unsafe at Any Speed or Sexual Behavior in the Human Male influenced American lives, individually or collectively. It's relatively easy to make the case, too, for fiction like Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird or Little Women, which people routinely cite as a formative influence on their character. But . . . how do you make the case for the influence of The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, Moby-Dick, or The Sound and the Fury? Great works of American literature? Sure. Major influences on American life? Meh.
If I were editing the list, I'd give serious thought to dropping some of those titles, but adding:
The Elements of Style -- the most influential book on writing ever written
The Power of Positive Thinking -- hugely influential in its day
The Man Nobody Knows -- ditto
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People -- ditto
What Color Is Your Parachute -- ditto
What to Expect When You're Expecting -- the "Dr. Spock" of its era
The Crucible -- 95% of what most Americans "know" about the Salem witch trials
Inherit the Wind -- ditto, for the Scopes Trial
A Night to Remember -- ditto, for the Titanic (other than the bits about Jack & Rose)
The Civil War: A Narrative History -- through Ken Burns' film, 95% of . . . you get the idea
The Greatest Generation -- the wellspring of a decade of WWII hagiography
God and Man At Yale -- conservative thought is oddly absent from the list; this would help
Conscience of a Conservative --and this
Free to Choose -- and this
Six Crises -- and this
(obviously, there are other possibilities here)
The Passing of the Great Race -- misguided influential ideas are still influential (alas) . . .
Scientific Creationism -- ditto
Of Pandas and People -- ditto
Masters of Deceit -- ditto
And how the heck did they miss:
The Boy Scout Handbook
Lots of great selections there; have read many and would like to read many more.
Sinclair Lewis? Edgar Allan Poe? Robert L. Stevenson?
In Cold Blood very much affected me, too. As a rather sheltered boy, it made me realise there are some truly evil people in the world. But they are not one-dimensional.
It didn't make make me a cynic, though. I still think most people are good. Just not all.
Catch 22 has never allowed me to idealise WWII as the "good war."
The Great Gatsby gave me a look into world I will never be a part of. After reading it, I went an bought a boxed set of Fitzgerald but I never liked any of this other books as much as Gatsby.
And of course Hemmingway. Weird omission.
I wonder if authors who have a body of work, rather than a single book, got excluded?
This two books jumped out at me as well.
I think pictures by Dorthea Lange or Ansel Adams seem more influential than a book on Idaho I've never heard about.
Nice list! I would certainly agree with your about the Crucible.
The self-help books you listed certainly have influenced a lot of people.
I LOVED the Boy Scout Handbooks. I poured over that thing. Also, later in life, The Whole Earth Catalog?
I remember seeing The Whole Earth Catalogue in everybody's house for awhile. It seems to be very influential in the modern green/vegetarian/alternative lifestyle movement.
How about Read with Dick and Jane
Millions of us learned to read from that book. In a weird way, it defined mainstream American culture (for better and worse!) in the minds of American children.
Edgar Allan Poe for sure.
Seems like a glaring omission. Poe shaped not only horror literature but the whole world view that genre spawned.
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