Written By Franklin V on Monday, April 25, 2011 | 8:21 AM
100 Essential Reads for the Lifelong Learner
Whether you are just starting out in college or are a more experience learner with years under your belt, there is always more knowledge waiting to be discovered. One great way to do that is to read. This list provides 100 books to expand your knowledge and help you keep learning. From literature to non-fiction to history to biographies to science and the social sciences, there are books in this list to help you keep learning for life. Fiction Classics Whether you’ve read these classics or not, they are all worth a second (or third) look.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Non-Fiction Classics From test pilots to boxers to the Civil Rights movement, these classic non-fiction books have maintained their popularity for good reason.
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.
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.
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.
Recent Literature These books are some of the most powerful of more recent literature written.
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 the huge cast of characters, history of India, and religious mythology make this book a rich and engrossing read.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Black Boy by Richard Wright. Write’s description of life as a black man in the south is both painful and beautifully written–and definitely worth reading.
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov details his idyllic childhood in Russia, then emigrating to America at the age of 18 as a result of the Russian Revolution in his brilliantly written autobiography.
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.
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 the modern day fight for civil rights.
World Literature Read these books and step into a different culture or sometimes, a truly unique perspective of a familiar world.
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.
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.
Hunger by Knut Hamsun. Feel the hunger of the starving young artist in Hamsun’s novel that is a classic from this Norwegian author.
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.
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.
History These books are some of the most famous and widely read history books around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.