Books we should have read

What books do you think absolutely must be read, preferably before graduating from High School, or at least college… or before death?

Maybe I can eventually turn this into a POLL. 

I will start with some books as they occur to me. 

Some authors obviously could have more than one book.  After all, what are you going to say about Charles Dickens or Jane Austen?  I sometimes just pick a representative book.  You can argue for a different one, of course.  I sometimes list more than one work of an an author, especially if they are not really books.

Here goes…

The Bible
William Shakespeare – Just Read Everything
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
Plato, The Republic
Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
USA – Founding Documents
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Cervantes, Don Quixote
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
St. Augustine, Confessions
George Orwell, 1984
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Thucydides, The Peloponesian War
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Herodotus, History
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Virgil, Aeneid
Aeschylus, The Oresteia
Friedrich von Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind
The Cloud of Unknowing
Euripides, Medea; Trojan Women, Bacchae
Sophocles: Oedipus trilogy
Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
St. Benedict, Rule
Pope John Paul II, Salvifici doloris; Veritatis splendor, Centessimus Annus, Evangelium vitae
G.B. Shaw, Pygmalion
Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia
William Bennett, America: The Last Best Hope I & II
Descartes, Discourse on Method
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
St. Therese, Story of a Soul
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
James Joyce, Ulysses
J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis
T.S. Eliot, Complete Poems and Plays
Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Geoge Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest
Aristotle, Categories; Nicomachean Ethics
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Blaise Pascal, Pensees

You may have your own suggestions.

I am not talking about books you like.  I really like Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, but I don’t think they are at the level of books which everyone should have read.

I mean books you should read… essential books you should know.


Giuseppe Maria Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard
A. Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi
W. Whitman, Leaves of Grass
V. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Marx, Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto
Freud, On the Interpretation of Dreams.
Darwin, On the Evolution of Specie
John Donne
John Keats
E.M. Remarque, All’s Quiet On the Western Front
E. Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
E. Bronte, Wuthering Heights
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. supertradmom says:

    Democracy in America, de Tocqueville, The Federalist Papers, The Anti-Federalist Papers, Cicero’s Selected Works, especially On Friendship, and perhaps, the excellent books by Warren Carroll on the Russian Revolution and The Founding of Christendom series. I could name many more….

  2. Sid Cundiff says:

    With respect to aesthetic literature: The Five Cradle Documents of the Occident (have shaped the way we think about the world):
    1. The Bible
    2. Homer The Iliad and The Odyssey
    3. Virgil, The Aeneid
    4. Dante, The Divine Comedy
    5. Shakespeare, Hamlet, King Lear, et al.

  3. Father of Three says:

    Some sort of Catechism, whether of Trent or the new one should be included. Also:

    St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion
    St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
    James Stenson, Father Family Protector (not because it is a classic, but because most people never learned these basic parenting truths from their own parents).
    Eusebius, Church History

  4. Dan says:


    I simply insist that you and your readers read The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by Giussepe Tomasi di Lampedusa. A sicilian prince himself, Lampedusa masterfully recreates the lives of his ancestors during the risorgimento.

    Stunning, profound prose (and that’s in the Colquhoun translation)- “if we want everything to stay the same, things will have to change – I envy Italian readers.

    Perhaps the greatest novel of the 20th Century. [Great suggestion! I have read Il Gattopardo in the original and translation. Excellent. A stunning reflection on the changes of our times, the differences of generations, the secular state versus the religious state. There are stunning images in the book still clear in my head. One of the quotes really stuck with me over the years. Tancredi says to his father, “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è, bisogna che tutto cambi!” How appropriate for the Church, but properly understood! Great suggestion.]

  5. Baron Korf says:

    Dante – Divine Comedy
    Frank Herbert – Dune

  6. Bo says:

    Thank you for including Bernanos…

  7. Amanda says:

    There are plenty on this list that I would NOT have put in my top 100, but Fr. McCloskey (Opus Dei) made a list of his “top 100”

  8. Ken says:

    Good list. I’d add Right From the Beginning by Patrick J. Buchanan.

  9. Amanda: Interesting! But I don’t think we have to limit ourselves to “Catholic” books.

  10. Marie says:

    Lord of the World, Benson
    The Communist Manifesto, Marx
    Brideshead Revisited
    Screwtape Letters
    A Man for All Seasons
    Endurance, Worsley or Lansing (or another of the books about Ernest Shackleton)
    The Spiritual Life, Tanquery
    This Tremendous Lover, Boylan

  11. Tzard says:

    G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”, “The Everlasting Man”, and “The Ballad of the White Horse”.

  12. TM says:

    my additions:

    The Aeneid by Virgil
    Mary Shelley Frankenstein
    Miltons Paradise Lost
    Imitations of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
    something from the Bronte ladies

  13. Remember: ESSENTIAL books.. not just books you really like.

  14. Christina says:

    I would add The Man Who was Thursday to Tzard’s post. Brilliant!
    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
    The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand

    And while all of T.S. Eliot’s works are good, “The Wasteland” is definitely the essential work. No piece of literature is more bizarrely comforting to me…except perhaps the book of Lamentations…

  15. Bruce says:

    Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain & The Abolition of Man By C.S. Lewis

  16. Latter-day Guy says:

    Great list! I would add:

    -Beowulf (preferably in the Seamus Heaney translation)

    And I ditto
    -Brideshead Revisited

  17. Julie says:

    I would respectfully submit The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni–the greatest European historical novel of all time. [Good one.]

  18. lavatea says:

    No C S Lewis? [Which Lewis and why? Make your case!]

  19. Bruce says:

    Also The Serville State by HILAIRE BELLOC

  20. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.

    I have read this book three times – at different periods of my life. Once as a teenager; once in my 30’s, I think; and the last time, probably in my 50’s. Each time I gleaned something different from reading it. Maybe it’s time to read it again!

  21. Vincent says:

    I would add some more Plato — at least the Phaedo.
    Utopia by Thomas More
    Sophocles — the Oedipus cycle
    Dostoevsky — The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment
    Tolstoy — War and Peace
    Gilson — Spirit of Medieval Philosophy (excellent way to get a rudimentary understanding of the medieval period)
    Rousseau — Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On the Social Contract
    Descartes — Meditations on First Philosophy
    Unamuno — Tragic Sense of Life
    Steinbeck — East of Eden
    Nietzche — On the Genealogy of Morality
    T. H. White — The Once and Future King
    Kant — Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics
    Hobbes — Leviathan
    Romano Armerio — Iota Unum
    Teresa de Avila — Autobiography, The Mansions
    Burke — Reflections on the Revolution in France
    St. John of the Cross — Everything
    Rilke — Letters to a Young Poet
    Aristotle — De Anima
    Juan Luis Vives — De Anima et Vita

    Just some thoughts!

  22. Son of Trypho says:

    Huxley, Brave New World – might give you an idea of where the US is heading…

  23. Collegeville reject says:

    SOPHIA HOUSE – O’brien
    UNGODLY RAGE – Steichen
    Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir

  24. Remember: ESSENTIAL Books.. not just books you like.

    And if they are already listed….

    And if you think a suggested book doesn’t deserve to be listed, … state your case!

  25. CatholicGandhian says:

    The Story of My Experiments with Truth
    – Mahatma Gandhi

  26. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Optime Z.,

    Brideshead Revisited.

    Plato’s Republic is seriously overrated. Timaeus is much more interesting and much greater in influence on Western thought. [You make a good point. Perhaps both? Most people really ought to know Republic, after all.]

  27. Jackie says:

    The Great Divorce
    The Diary of Ann Franks

    I have to say I have been neglecting my reading. I think I will go buy some of these classics that I havent read yet

  28. Dominus Vobiscum says:

    The curriculum at Thomas Aquinas College, and the rest of the Great Books.

  29. Simeon says:

    All Glorious Within & Father Malachy’s Miracle – Bruce Marshall

  30. carl says:

    I would add JPII’s Love and Responsibility.

    And I’m sorry, but what’s so great about To Kill a Mockingbird? I never got it. [Again… I didn’t say you had to like it. But it is essential to know the book… and it takes no time to read it.]

  31. Father of Three says:

    I need to add two to my list:

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy (I cannot believe this wasn’t on your list Father)
    Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

    [I cannot tell you how much that phrase “I can’t believe this wasn’t on your list” irritates me in this particular entry. LOTS of books merit being on the list.]

  32. Bill in Texas says:

    An excellent list. A young person who had read these by 18 would have an excellent preparation.

    My only suggestions would be to add the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

    For cultural perspective, 100 Years of Solitude.

    A good anthology would include The Practical Cogitator by Charles P. Curtis, Jr. and Ferris Greenslet (probably no longer in print, but should be available).

    Anything else I might add would reflect the interest I had as a young person in history, naval warfare, and the classics. Not many kids would want to slog through Thucydides or Cicero.

  33. ed says:

    Night, by Elie Wiesel. Not that I am particularly a huge fan of his, but it is a powerful, moving book which shows the depths to which mankind can sink, and what results from there. It also ends with one of the most chilling passages in modern literature.

  34. Nomilk says:

    J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

  35. Chris Da Catholic says:

    How could the list be missing Vergilius’ The Aeneid and Dante’s Divine Comedy? Arguably the latter is the finest Italian poet in history, and Vergil is undoubtedly the most influential and important Roman poet of antiquity!!!

    I would include Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as well, the greatest epic of the 20th Century in my opinion. If anyone wants to contest Tolkien’s place on the list, I’m willing to duke it out with you, last man standing will decide the outcome. >:-( [ummm… they are on my list…]

  36. cordelia says:

    wow, this list looks like our Catholic Homeschool High School Co-Op reading list… i guess we’re doing ok.

  37. Bruce says:

    The 2 essential holocaust books which I think everyone should read are:

    If This Is a Man (United States title Survival in Auschwitz) by Primo Levi

    Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl [Yah.. perhaps this…]

  38. Amy in NJ says:

    Night is an excellent choice. I think that for quintessential American poetry, one must also include Leaves of Grass. [Good one.] Whitman is not only a great American poet, writing during an American “crucible moment”, but he invented the box score. :)

  39. Matthew Kennel says:

    I would definitely list the Brothers Karamazov for Dostoevsky rather than Crime and Punishment, if I just had to pick one. Its treatment of the problem of evil and its penetrating portrayal of both atheism and theism both are masterful. Moreover, it has better pacing and a more compelling and mysterious plotline than Crime and Punishment. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Crime and Punishment is a masterpiece (and, for that matter, I would add The Idiot), but I simply think that the Brothers Karamazov is, artistically, one of the best books ever written.

  40. Soli Deo Gloria says:

    Liber Gomorrhianus by one of our Doctors of the Church Saint Peter Damian

  41. Jack says:

    St Augastine – Against the Teachings of the New Accadamy

    How no one has mentioned summa contra gentiles by St Thomas astounds me, also there is a little known book by a Nun (Sister Miriam Joseph C.S.C called ” The Trivium The liberal arts of logic, grammer and Rhetoric – enhanced both my writing and my faith.

  42. Kevin says:

    James Boswell, Life of Johnson
    Whittaker Chambers, Witness
    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy
    Aleksandr Pushkin, Eugene Onegin
    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
    Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Poems and Stories
    Beowulf [I think one can argue for this. Several people mentioned it and I almost put it on mine.]
    Alexandre Dumas Pere, The Count of Monte Cristo
    Emily Bronte

  43. Michael says:

    The City of Joy – Dominique Lapierre
    The Soul of a New Machine – Tracy Kidder

  44. Frances says:

    Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

    Island of the World by Michael O’Brien

  45. shadrach says:

    ‘L’essais’/ ‘The essays’ by Montaigne

    Either ‘L’education sentimentale’ or ‘Madame Bovary’ by Flaubert. Preferably both.

    ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ by St Exupéry (originally ‘Terre des hommes’) which is a sublimely beautiful book.

    Benvenuto Cellini ‘My Life’.

    The complete works of Oscar Wilde.

    ‘L’homme revolté’/ ‘The rebel’ by Albert Camus,

    Waugh ‘A Handful of Dust’

    ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ by Hannah Arendt

    ‘The Radetzsky March’ by Joseph Roth

    I’d add ‘Dubliners’ by Joyce to ‘Ulysses’. Both are essential.

    ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ by Proust, especially ‘La Fugitive’ or ‘Albertine disparue’

    And the sine qua non…

    Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’.

  46. bear-i-tone says:

    I have a few, but I would especially include:

    Ovid, the Metamorphoses. The influence of this book on all the following Western Literature cannot be overstated. [Good one.]

    Plutarch: Lives. Pick a few.

    A few other influential books which will probably get me flamed are:

    Marx, Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto
    Freud, On the Interpretation of Dreams.
    Darwin, On the Evolution of Species [All of these really screwed up the world. They should be known.]

    You asked for essential books, not just works we like. These are essential for understanding the twentieth century. Even if one disagrees with them, it’s still good to know them. As Sun Tzu said: Know thy enemy, know thyself. Which reminds me:

    Sun Tzu, Art of War

  47. little gal says:

    IMO, different authors are good for developing different skills or insights. Dickens teaches about suffering; Shakespeare about human character; Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Sherlock Holmes teaches about reasoning (deductive, inductive); Hemingway’s characters appear to be in some type of struggle–aren’t we all? Aside from these better known authors, one of my favorite books with a Catholic focus is the Vicar of Christ by Walter E. Murphy.

  48. Karen Russell says:

    For most of us who are not American citizens and who live outside the boundaries of your country, I question whether the US Founding Documents are “essential”.

  49. Bruce says:

    Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

  50. What make a book essential?

  51. Joe M. says:

    Others by JPII – Fides et ratio and Theology of the Body

    also, The Order of Things by Fr. James Schall

  52. Gloria says:

    Some of the ones added I also would choose.

    G. Greene, The Heart of the Matter
    Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter
    Steinbeck, Cannery Row
    How about Piers Plowman and Everyman?
    Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (and anything else)
    Longfellow’s Hiawatha
    Evangeline (and anything else)
    There are too many poets from John Donne to ……

  53. JaneC says:

    I’ll put in my vote for some already mentioned in the comments: Communist Manifesto, Beowulf, Divine Comedy (at least the Inferno), Brideshead Revisited, Phaedo (and Euthyphro, Apology and Crito, ideally), and the Aeneid. Something by Poe.

    Two I haven’t seen mentioned yet:
    Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
    Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture

    I suppose that Josef Pieper is slightly more obscure than many of the authors under discussion here, but I think he is important, and that “Leisure, the Basis of Culture” is an incredibly clear iteration of the reasons why a Catholic (or anyone else) should study the liberal arts–i.e., why read all these books in the first place, besides just pure enjoyment.

    Also, some kind of collection of classical myths? I teach music history, and there are many works based on myths (Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Schubert’s Ganymede, etc.), and it is irritating to have to spend class time going over the plot rather than discussing the music or historical context. The students from Asia get a pass, but there’s no reason for students from Western cultures not to know some basic Greek mythology before college.

  54. Karl Loog says:

    The greatest works of Latin literature should definitely be read by every educated Catholic, preferably in original. These works represent some of the noblest expressions in the Church’s mother tongue.
    Virgil’s Aenead
    Ovid’s Metamorphoses
    Horace’s Odes etc.
    Cicero’s philosophical works
    Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita
    Caesar’s Gallic Wars

  55. jon says:

    How about three more?

    One political:

    “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” by Edmund Burke

    One spiritual:

    “The Lord,” by Father Romano Guardini

    And absolutely everything written by Charles Dickens.

  56. Indelible Inkstain says:

    Georgics by Virgil
    Walden by Thoreau
    Satires of Circumstance by Hardy

  57. Lee says:

    Well, almost all these books are out of reach for the grade school and early high school student, who you will remember reached the age of reason by age 7. Isn’t it ESSENTIAL that his time not be wasted, that his intellect and imagination be formed up along the best possible lines?

    So, enlarging the list down into this age bracket, I would include

    The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis ( read and repeat from age six)
    Sigurd and His Brave Companions by Sigrid Undset (age 10-12)
    The Tom Playfair Series by Fr Finn ( age 9-12)
    The Cure D’Ars by Trochu (age 10-12)
    The Life of St. Catherine of Siena by Bl Raymond of Capua
    Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (late high school)
    The Master of Hestvikken by Sigrid Undset (late high school)

    Since people have the most liesure in these years, typically, it seems to me that this list especially ought to be enlarged and refined to fill up these years with as much truth and beauty as possible.

  58. Indelible Inkstain says:

    [I knew I was missing one but it is too vital to miss…]

    Chuang Tzu [hmmm… I almost posted Dream of Red Mansion and Tang dynasty poetry.]

  59. Anon. says:

    William Faulkner-Absalom, Absalom!(greatest American novel)
    Thomas Fleming’s The Morality of Everyday Life: great critique of liberalism
    Michael Oakeshott- Rationalism in Politics
    Boethius-Consolation of Philosophy(how is this not on the list)
    Edmund Burke- Reflections on the Revolution in Franc

    also a vote for The Brothers Karamazov and how are no other papal Documents on the list(Rerum Novarum, Syllabus of Errors, etc)
    a vote against To Kill a Mockingbird which is not on the same level as several other books listed(and the title is stupid)

  60. Manuel says:

    I agree, the Aeneid (in fact all of Virgil) should be up there as well as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Cicero’s philosophical writings and Horace. I would also add Meditations by M. Aurelius. All these had a great impact on the early Church and the medieval mind.
    From the moderns I would have to add Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and if your going to have Chesterton you have to add Archbishop Sheen (any book by him, though I know he was more famous as a preacher)

  61. Girgadis says:

    Francois Fenelon – The Royal Way of the Cross
    Chaim Potok – The Chosen
    The Poetry of Emily Dickinson
    Herman Hesse – Damien
    Eugene O’Neill Long Day’s Journey Into Night

    and, at the risk of eternal damnation….

    Jean Paul Satre No Exit

  62. Ed Casey says:

    The Didache
    Paradise Lost – Milton
    Walden and Civil Disobedience – Thoreau (not my fave but is important)
    Leaves of Grass – Whitman
    The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Coleridge
    Confessions – Rousseau
    Faust – Goethe
    The Stranger and The Plague – Camus
    Collected works of Dr Seuss
    Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
    Documents of Vatican II (I’m just saying – an argument can be made)

  63. Edward Martin says:

    I remember at around age 30 I made a similar list of books I must read. Sixteen years and three children later I think I have less than 1/2 dozen under my belt…

  64. London Calling says:

    A fine list, except for Ayn Rand, who writes tedious tripe. No CS Lewis, please!

    I would add Newman\’s Apologia.

  65. The novel “Quo Vadis” I believe is a classic

  66. Ann says:

    I would suggest:
    Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words by Rod Bennett
    The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

    in their very different ways two of the greatest arguments for the truth of the Catholic Church ever written.

  67. Perhaps I missed them, but I’m surprised you of all people, Father, did not add Confucius’ ”Analects” or Lao Tzu’s ”Tao Te Ching”

    Shusako Endo’s ”Silence” should also be on any Catholic reading list. Although “disturbing” in many ways, it is thought provocative.

  68. Girgadis says:

    typo Sartre

    And I would add Mount Allegro – Jerre Mangione

  69. Christabel says:

    If this is a list of “essential” rather than “preferred” reading then surely the Koran must be included?

  70. Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia says:

    If it were me, I would remove:

    Catcher in the Rye
    Atlas Shrugged [You are saying people don’t need to know these books? I didn’t ask if you liked them. Should you know them?]

    “Tedious tripe” indeed for the latter, and empty codswallop for the former.

    I would also add:
    Chesterton- Orthodoxy (all of Chesterton is really essential)
    Belloc- The Servile State
    Waugh- Brideshead Revisited [This is getting a lot of traction.]
    Bronte- Wuthering Heights. [Bronte is coming up once in a while]

  71. Jesse says:

    Your list could use a little more comedy than Shakespeare. And Cantebury Tales, whose importance is more scholarly than literary, could be substituted with Bocaccio’s Decameron, which is more artistic and wittier. And don’t forget the one and only Aristophanes (I’m thinking the Acharnians and the Clouds). Even a play or two by Moliere. That should make the air a little lighter.

  72. Biff says:

    Libido Dominandi and The Revolutionary Spirit by E. Michael Jones

  73. Brian says:

    Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J. (everyone needs to understand the simple spirituality of knowing and doing God’s Will as expressed in the duties, works, joys, and sufferings of the present moment)

  74. meg says:

    I agree with Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia. Catcher in the Rye and Atlas Shrugged should go. I would add Brideshead Revisited.

  75. CB says:

    Well, I wouldn’t add Catcher in the Rye or Catch-22. I started Salinger’s book and didn’t get very far into it because of (I don’t remember exactly, but it was one of these things) the cursing, swearing or vulgarities. As for Heller’s book, I found it to be very anti-woman. In one scene someone rapes the cleaning woman and then makes it look like she commited suicide so he wouldn’t be caught. In another scene, a character fondly reminisces about holding a high school girl hostage in his frat house while everybody takes turns sleeping with her. They told her that if she didn’t allow this they would tell her parents that she was willingly sleeping with them. I was repulsed by the positive way these things were presented and between that and the way the story (or lack of) was written didn’t make it worth reading. [Again.. we are not looking for books people like.]

  76. DMWallace says:

    Plato, Gorgias
    Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life
    Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov [More so than Crime and Punishment?]
    Augustine, Confessions
    Anonymous, Way of the Pilgrim

  77. St. Thomas More, Utopia
    St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue
    St. Athanasius the Great, The Life of St. Antony
    St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
    St. Thomas More, Utopia
    Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
    Willa Cather, My Antonia
    Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier
    Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur
    The Arabian Nights
    Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
    T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
    C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    I listed those books that made a profound impact on me. When I
    studied Renaissance literature many moons ago, Castiglione
    taught me how to behave like a perfect gentleman. [Good criteria.]

    St. Thomas More’s Utopia is essential reading for how to view a “perfect” society. If you know the story behind it, it can be a rollicking ride. [Now I would be tempted to add Erasmus, Praise of Folly!]

  78. CB says:

    Oh, I wanted to add that both my complaints make me sound like a Puritan, but I really am not. I loved Brideshead Revisited and don’t have a problem with Chaucer’s Miller’s tale, even though I know people who morally object to both of them.

  79. Joe says:

    for stylistic reasons I would remove Moby Dick (does anyone actually read every paragraph?).
    While I could agree that it is important to know about Freud, Nietszche, Marx, etc, to understand the 20th century, and Descartes, Hobbes, Mill, and even Pascal for modernity, I would suggest a quick trip to Wikipedia rather than reading them.
    And I would only suggest the Bible if it were part of a program of study that includes the Catechism: otherwise (to paraphrase Acts 8:31) “how can they understand, unless someone guides them?”
    Definitely The Divine Comedy, which has a lot of Thomas.

  80. Philoctetes says:

    What? Nothing by Stan Lee???

  81. Ed says:

    My additions:
    Umberto Eco, Name of the Rose [A post-modern crowbar…]
    Joseph Cd. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity

    The former is a brilliant story of multiple plot lines that involve not only mystery (in the Holmesian tradition) but also philosophy (the driving plot focuses on one of Aristotle’s “lost works”), theology, history, politics, and even differences between licit Catholic religious orders. The latter is a profound study of the Apostles’ Creed, examining the Christian belief in God by both stating Church teaching and examining heretical claims to show how they ultimately fail.

    Finally, as a high school English teacher, I’d like to support Catcher in the Rye and comment on Catch-22. The latter is a post-modern satire, not anti-woman. We’re meant to be disgusted by the men’s actions. We do not read that book; however, we do read the former. Many of my students appreciate it not for the vulgarity but because they can identify with Caulfield, a boy who wants to help others but doesn’t know how to help himself, a boy whose own parents have given up on him. The book actualy causes growth and thought. It IS essential.

  82. Noel says:

    With The Old Breed – Eugene Sledge
    The Face of Battle – John Keegan
    Bruce Catton’s Civil War Trilogy

  83. shadrach says:

    More suggestions,

    ‘The Decameron’ should be added, yes.

    Kurt Vonnegut ‘Slaughterhouse Five’

    Primo Levi ‘If this is a man’

    Short stories by Kelman, Maupassant and Chekhov.

    Swift ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

    Carroll ‘Alice in Wonderland’ [I thought about this and the Swift. ]

    Carroll ‘Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there’

    ‘Nonsense Verse’ by Edward Lear

    Grahame ‘Wind in the Willows’

    Herbert McCabe ‘God Matters’

    Kierkegaard ‘Either/Or’

    Lots of Nietzsche, but especially ‘The Genealogy of Morals’

    I’d replace ‘Catcher in the Rye’ with ‘Franny and Zooey’

    I’d remove Ayn Rand, too: I’m sure she’s impressive if you read her when young and beginning to gather concepts, but she’s not indispensable at all. A bit third rate.

    Perhaps Shelby Foote’s ‘The Civil War’?

    And I’d add

    Ratzinger ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, not out of loyalty (although I am, of course, passionately loyal to him), but because I think everyone should read it. It will last. It really will.

  84. shadrach says:

    Moby Dick must stay. Indeed I’d add Melville’s ‘Bartleby’ and ‘Billy Budd’.

    The idea of Wikipedia being enough to comment intelligently on Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, Hobbes, Pascal or the rest is not viable, indeed it is deeply disturbing; in any case, many philosophers are great great stylists and are worth reading for that reason as well.

  85. Girgadis says:

    Just curious if the folks who would remove Catcher in the Rye for reasons other than vulgarity can expound – and one more I might add is F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

  86. Good stuff here. I would quibble with some of the individual works chosen to be the essential work of certain authors but I could write a novel doing just that so I’ll refrain! :-) The list has plenty of fiction. For non-fiction I would add:

    “The Double Helix” by James Watson
    “The Origins of Totalitarianism” by Hannah Arendt
    “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” by John Maynard Keynes
    “Pilgrims in their Own Land” by Martin Marty
    “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer [I thought about this one also.]
    “The Great Terror” by Robert Conquest
    “The Liberal Imagination” by Lionel Trilling
    “Disreali” by Robert Blake
    “The Civil War” by Shelby Foote
    Robert Caro’s Lyndon B. Johnson Trilogy
    “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century” by Greil Marcus

  87. ChadS says:

    I would like to add another Robert Heinlein to the list “Stranger in a Strange Land.” [You know… this is actually the one I had in mind for Heinlein. I will revise.]

    I was also thinking perhaps Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars.” Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” [This occurred to me.]

    I think you should read the “Communist Manifesto” too instead of a Wikipedia article. First of all the “Manifesto” isn’t too long and the writing style is pretty manageable to get through. Plus, just for knowledge Marx’ ideas influenced many, many people within this last century and it would be good to understand them whether you like them or not.


  88. shadrach says:

    Oh, and the reason why ‘Moby Dick’ should stay is because the main factor that can make it daunting is merely Ishmael’s voice, but once the mind’s ear gets attuned to his slangy tones and his wry comedy then the scintillating pacing of the novel hits the reader. Sure, there are ironic stylistic devices -encycopaedia-type entries, and anatomies of whales and whaling – but all of it adds up to a picture of each man’s labour to cling on to the world, to find a foothold before he is cast into the deep. Worth persisting with and. if put to one side in the past, worth returning to as often as it takes. Like Proust, it makes sense when the time is right… And that time is different in each person’s life.

  89. Son of Trypho says:

    Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – again, another warning of a future where this sort of speculation wouldn’t even occur. [I included Heinlein to remind people of important science fiction. I was wondering about Azimov, Foundation, or Clarke, 2001.]

  90. Erin says:

    Just remember that The Decameron is for grown-ups. I stumbled on it when I was 12, and wasn’t that an education.

    Don’t forget poets! Both Brownings, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Byron and Pope, John Donne, Keats, [Donne, Keats… Shelly?] Tennyson and Wordsworth. Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kublai Kahn. Dante’s Divine Comedy for afters once you’ve finished the Aenid.

  91. Andrew T says:

    I’m really surprised there’s no Chesterton on the list. Like some others have mentioned, I really think Orthodoxy deserves to be included.

    Also, I read 100 Year of Solitude about 4 1/2 years ago (for a high school English class) and I didn’t think it was anything special. Actually, the main things I remember from it are lots of incest and lust. Maybe I’d appreciate it more if I read it now, but I don’t know.

  92. Tina says:

    I would suggest B. F. Skinner’s Walden 2. In fact, read it right when you are reading A Brave New World. See if it doesn’t creep you out.

    I respectfully believe Billy Budd by Mehville should not be on the list. At all. And then some. Of course I could be biased after spending 8 weeks discussing this short story in class. I still have nightmares.

    Did anyone suggest Candidea by Voltaire or Emily by Rousseau…oddly enough my class read those in the same semester as Billy Budd. I wish I could remember the connection.

    Another set if you were interested in the role of wealth and poverty would be
    Tobacco Road by Steinbeck [More so than Grapes of Wrath?]
    Billy, the Life of a BootBlack paired with its parody, A Cool Million.

    The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry? is good too.

    I just got a book called “Book Smart” that lists about 100 (think 144) books to read in a year to be considered well read.


  93. Charlie says:

    The Brothers Karamazov rather than Crime and Punishment; definitely. It’s the most inspiring, though provoking piece of literature I’ve ever read. Granted, I’m only 18 – but it’s amazing.

  94. Winfield says:

    Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood. Her novel about the madness that accompanies the rejection of the Incarnation by a formerly Christ-centered culture dramatizes modern gnosticism’s debasement of our religious yearnings.

  95. JimC says:

    Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata. Every Catholic male 15 and older should read it.

  96. Um, you have Nietzsche, Shaw, and Rand, but no CHESTERTON or BELLOC?

    WTF? [Settle down and make contributions. Throw rocks and you will be gone.]

  97. Florentius says:

    Father Z:

    Catcher in the Rye? Seriously? When was the last time you read that particular bit of dreck? I managed to make it through high school without touching it, then read it as an adult. In my opinion, it is an awful piece of post-modern garbage that NO Catholic young person should read, let alone be forced to read in Catholic schools. [So. You don’t like the book. I get it. I think people should know it.]

    Over all, WAY too much 20th century fluff on that list. If you feel compelled to include something from the 20th century, How about Chesterton’s The Man who Was Thursday, C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength or The Last Battle (truly a prophetic work). Or, to go even more modern, Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata.

    I also think Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita and the Histories of Procopius of Caesarea should be on the list. [Really?]

    And as long as The Prince is on there, so should Machievelli’s Commentaries on Livy. [His commentaries on Livy are essential? I’d like to know why you think that.]

  98. The Astronomer says:

    Anything by my late friend, the Reverend Doctor Malachi Martin.

  99. Tina says:

    What about Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle [I thought about that one also.]

    Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter

    Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
    AH! Now I remember. I read as a freshman in high school. The Most Dangerous Game.

  100. Tina says:

    Thomas Kuhn – The Structure of Scienitific Revolutions.

  101. Indelible Inkstain says:

    … on the premise of fighting to the death for the retention of Moby Dick, I will take the opportunity to add…

    Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling

  102. RBrown says:

    With respect to aesthetic literature: The Five Cradle Documents of the Occident (have shaped the way we think about the world):
    1. The Bible
    2. Homer The Iliad and The Odyssey
    3. Virgil, The Aeneid
    4. Dante, The Divine Comedy
    5. Shakespeare, Hamlet, King Lear, et al.
    Comment by Sid Cundiff

    Any list without Chaucer in the top 5 is incomplete.

  103. RBrown says:

    The Brothers Karamazov rather than Crime and Punishment; definitely. It’s the most inspiring, though provoking piece of literature I’ve ever read. Granted, I’m only 18 – but it’s amazing.
    Comment by Charlie

    IMHO, the Brothers isn’t even close to being as good as C&P.

  104. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Here are several more:

    Aeschylus – Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides
    Aquinas – Division and Method of the Sciences, On Being and Essence, On Kingship, Summa Theologiae
    Apollonius – On Conic Sections
    Aristotle – Metaphysics, Physics, Poetics, Politics, Posterior Analytics, Prior Analytics, Rhetoric
    Augustine – City of God
    Bacon – The Great Instauration, Novum Organum
    Descartes – Geometry, Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
    Euclid – Elements [Probably good to have seen.]
    Fabre – Souvenirs Entomologiques
    Feuerbach – Essence of Christianity
    Freud – General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
    Hume – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
    Kierkegaard – Philosophical Fragments
    Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Second Essay on Civil Government
    Machiavelli – Discourses
    Marx – Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, German Ideology
    Mill – Utilitarianism
    Nietzsche – Use and Abuse of History
    Plato – Ion, Gorgias, Meno, Phaedrus, Protagoras, Symposium
    Ptolemy – Almagest
    Swift – Gulliver’s Travels
    Tacitus – Annals

  105. Florentius says:

    Having read down the comments, I agree 100% about including The Brothers K (or the Idiot) instead of Crime and Punishment.

    The Aeneid and the Divine Comedy need to be on the list as well. [Ummm …. they are.]

    The Jewish Antiquities and Jewish Wars of Josephus should probably be on there as well, as well as Eusebius’s History of the Church.

    I think such a list should be heavy on the history because way too many people have no idea where they came from and thus throw away their patrimony like yesterday’s garbage.

    OK, I’m done now. :-)

  106. Thomas in W.Va. says:

    Glad to see ‘To Kill a Mockingbird” on the list.

    How about:

    1. “History of the Church,” by Eusebius

    2. “Against All Heresies” by St. Ireneaus

    3. Anything by Detrich Von Hildebrand

  107. RBrown says:

    I read Catcher in the Rye when I was 15. It was fine, but certainly not great literature. Too much anchored in a time and place.

    A copy of Catch 22 went around the barracks when I was in the Army. We all agreed that it captured the highly structured ridiculousness that is often found in the military.

  108. shadrach says:

    How could I forget:

    Jerome K. Jerome, ‘Three Men in a Boat’

  109. RBrown says:

    Amanda: Interesting! But I don’t think we have to limit ourselves to “Catholic” books.
    Comment by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

    Great literature is always catholic but not necessarily Catholic. [Your point is good. That is why I put “Catholic” in ” “.]

  110. LH says:

    I am impressed by your list, Father! It overlaps quite a bit with mine. I was particularly pleased to see Gabriel Garcia Marquez on there. [I almost picked Love in the Time of Cholera.]

    I would perhaps change Heinlein’s entry to Starship Troopers, which is a good story and an interesting meditation on the intersection of military and government which is perhaps relevant to our times. [hmmm]
    I might also change Hemmingway’s entry to “A Moveable Feast”, which IMO is a better window into his mind and times than any of his fiction.
    I would also second adding Paradise Lost, if only for my affection for it.
    And I would second Eusebius’ History of the Church.
    And respectfully submit Walker Percy’s “Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book”.
    I would also voice the opinion that it is really not necessary to read ALL of Shakespeare. [I suppose one could argue that Titus Andronicus is bad enough to skip, but then one should read it so that you know how Shakespeare screwed up.]

    It is also interesting to muse on how quickly Catcher in the Rye divides Catholics. I know many who can’t stand to read a word of it, while I find it to be one of the most touching books I’ve read. [Which division suggests that people should know it.]

  111. Collegeville reject says:

    I noted that one person mentioned the Bible. Which Bible? (Or is that a complete different topic?)

  112. Girgadis says:


    I so agree with you on Catcher in the Rye – that’s why I asked what the objections aside from vulgarity are.

  113. Son of Trypho says:

    Orwell, 1984 – Obama’s 2nd term… (too negative?)

  114. Derik says:

    er… umm.. The list is great, but a geek like me would like to add science books. For example, Elementary algebra: embracing the first principles of the science? by Charles Davies

  115. Corey F. says:

    Random additions:

    Plato– Phaedo, Apology, Crito, Ion, Phaedrus, Symposium
    Dante– The Divine Comedy, Vita Nuova
    St. T. Aquinas– Selections from the Summa
    E. Spenser– The Faerie Queen
    St. T. More– Utopia
    D. Erasmus– The Praise of Folly
    J. Milton– Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, Comus, the Sonnets
    G. Herbert– Collected Poems
    A. Pope– The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad
    J. Swift– Gulliver’s Travels
    I. Kant– Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals
    J. Dryden– Absalom and Achitophel
    E. Burke– Reflections on the Revolution in France
    S. Johnson– Selections from the Dictionary, selections from The Rambler
    J. Conrad– Lord Jim [More than Heart of Darkness?]
    E. Bronte– Wuthering Heights
    S. Kierkegaard– Fear and Trembling
    G.M. Hopkins– Collected Poems [He came to mind.]
    J. Joyce– Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    E.M. Forster– Howard’s End
    V. Woolf– To the Lighthouse
    E. Waugh– Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust
    T.S. Eliot– Four Quartets, The Waste Land, “Ash Wednesday”
    W. Faulkner– The Sound and the Fury, Go Down, Moses
    F. O’Connor– Collected Stories, Wise Blood
    A. Tate– Collected Poems, especially “Ode to the Confederate Dead”
    A. Lytle– Collected Poems
    R. Penn Warren– All the King’s Men
    C. Brooks and R. Warren– The Well-Wrought Urn
    W. Percy– The Moviegoer
    J. Agee– A Death in the Family
    E. Welty– Collected Stories, The Optimist’s Daughter
    G. Greene– The Power and the Glory
    C. McCarthy– All the Pretty Horses

    Although it’s already been said, Salinger and Rand have no place on that otherwise stellar list. Catcher in the Rye is overrated, and Rand’s fiction has no literary merit whatsoever. Neither is, I feel, essential to living a learned and well-read life. Oh well, I’m certain the same could be said of some of my choices.

  116. Jayna says:

    Along the same lines as Catcher in the Rye, I would suggest Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I read that book in tenth grade and it hit me in ways I’m still trying to understand.

    Has anyone mentioned Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics or Politics yet? Michel Foucault’s Discipline & Punish is considered a classic in some circles. Or how about Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness? Albert Camus’ The Stranger is a must. Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, namely Slaughterhouse-Five. Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. And finally, I know it’s not high literature, but it is a classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    And when you say USA – Founding Documents are you including the Federalist Papers?

  117. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Bhagavad Gita [And the Koran?]

  118. Bos Mutissimus says:

    Leftism Revisited by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
    Modern Times (Revised edition) by Paul Johnson
    Love and Responsibility by HH John Paul the Great
    Rasselas by Samuel Johnson
    Creed or Chaos by Dorothy Sayers
    Peasant of the Garonne by Jacques Maritain

  119. Joe says:

    Shakespeare (plays) should be seen, not read. [Or perhaps read aloud in a group?]

  120. Steven says:

    If it seems to steep to attack the Gulag Archipelago may I suggest someone at least pick it up and read the chapter The Ascent. I doubt many 20th century writers could match it for profundity.

  121. mysticalrose says:

    Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain preferably in the german; Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov; Virginia Woolf’s Into the LIghthouse, St. Thomas’ Summa, Unset’s Kristinlavransdatter; Augustine’s Confessions; Aristotle’s Metaphysics and the De Anima, St. Benedict’s Rule, St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium; St. John of the Cross (everything), St. Teresa’s Interior Castle, and JPII’s Fides et Ratio.

  122. Greg the Beachcomber says:

    Tina-Tobacco Road is Erskine Caldwell, not Steinbeck; perhaps you meant Cannery Row, a very funny but short work. I’d go with East of Eden, it being both more substantial and (at least in Steinbeck’s opinion) his best work.

    Add my vote to dumping Catcher in the Rye, at least until an “interactive” version is released where I can reach in and slap Holden Caulfield every time he opens his whiny yap. [ROFL!]

  123. lavatea says:

    Fr. Z, in regards to my case for C S Lewis…I have no case. I’ve only read a few of the Narnia books, and I don’t think I would consider them essential. I merely questioned his absence because I know he has a lot of non-fiction Christian books that I have not gotten around to reading, and I thought the consensus out there was that they were essential.

    As for those of you who think Ayn Rand is tripe, what if we substituted a lesser known work of hers, We The Living?

    And thank you, Tina, for mentioning Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

  124. Everyday Catholic says:

    I second “War and Peace” by Tolstoy, which someone above added, as well as “The Consolations of Philosophy” by Boethius. [The Consolation has come up a few times. Perhaps… perhaps indeed…]

    As for those who want to exclude “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I would definitely keep it. What fascinated me was how Harper Lee was able to revert to a child’s view of things and describe everything from that point of view. Also, there are several levels to that story: besides the obvious plot about discrimination, there is the family of Atticus, and finally the neighborhood–with Boo. A real slice of rural American life pre-WWII.

  125. Greg the Beachcomber says:

    It may not be essential, but Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand makes me laugh every time I read it. The lack of comedy had been lamented… [The play occured to me. And I also put The Miser on the list, and Voltaire’s Candide.]

  126. Geoff Jones says:

    i’ll have to cast another vote for JPII’s Fides et Ratio. An absolute essential for any learned catholic

  127. lavatea says:

    Jayna, I’d agree with adding Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Every time I read it I get something new from it. In fact, it’s been a while since I re-read it. I need to dig out my well-worn copy.

  128. Fr. Ramil E. Fajardo says:

    For what its worth, here are my thoughts on essential reading:

    a. THE DOCUMENTS OF VATICAN II – I have the hardcover edition published by the Daughters of St. Paul in 1966, as well as more readily available Austin Flannery and Walter Abbot (The Abbott and the edition edited by Gregory Baum, OSA include the opening speech of John XXIII, an important addition);

    b. THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST (Henri Daniel-Rops) in 10 Volumes
    1. The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs
    2. The Church in the Dark Ages
    3. Cathedral and Crusade
    4. The Protestant Reformation
    5. The Catholic Reformation
    6. The Church in the Seventeenth Century
    7. The Church in the Eighteenth Century
    8. The Church in an Age of Revolution
    9. A Fight for God
    10. Our Brothers in Christ

    c. CATHOLICS by Brian Moore – written in 1972, a small novel of the future when, after Vatican IV and the Catholic Church and Buddhism are involved in ecumenical talks, a lonely monastery in Ireland is offering the old Latin Mass, with pilgrims streaming to Ireland from all around the world; Fr. Kinsella has been sent by his superiors in Rome to suppress the Mass and adhere to Vatican IV, force the abbot to obey. If the superiors say that the bread and wine are just symbols, does he dare teach that they are truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself, and disobey? Does he dare obey and institute mass facing the people and general confession? Or does he disobey? Read a review of the book: It was also a movie starring Martin Sheen.

    d. A HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE ON THE COMPARITIVE METHOD by Sir Banister Fletcher: I sat for hours reading this book when I was in grade school and high school, fascinated by the floor plans, drawings, renderings and photographs.

    e. THE GUNS OF AUGUST by Barbara Tuchman: I believe WWI was the unraveling of Western society, the culmination of a long peace, technological/scientific advancements with no place to experiment, imperial ambitions and moral decadence. How a world went from floor length dresses and high collars of 1914 to the flimsy, diaphanous flappers, the predecessors of the 1960s mini dresses. Our world today is seeing how the ferment begun in the Enlightenment has come to its frution by the explosion of 1914.

    f. POLITICS AMONG NATIONS – THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER AND PEACE by Hans J. Morgenthau: a great book I read in high school about International Law, International Morality, Diplomacy and Power Politics.

    g. THE SPIRIT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT – Seeking the Face of God by Robert Louis Wilken: the earliest Christian intellectual and spiritual traditions were not about inventing a world of ideas, but were about winning the hearts of men and women to change their lives (from the dust jacket);

    h. I was unable to decide which one was ‘essential’ so I list all three:
    1- THE HISTORY OF THE BYZANTINE STATE by George Ostrogorsky
    2- The HISTORY OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE (342-1453) by Alexander A. Vasiliev
    3- BYZANTIUM by John Julius Norwich (Vol 1. The Early Centuries, Vol. 2 The Apogee, Vol. 3 The Decline and Fall)

  129. Jimbo says:

    I see some great suggestions here, but the work has already been done for you. Read Dr. John Senior’s “The Death of Christian Culture” and his list of the 1,000 good books that are requirements for understanding the Great Books.

    The 1,000 good books begin with fairy tales [interesting… I am reminded of Michael O’Brian’s ideas about children’s literature… This sort of thing forms the archetypes in the kid’s mind about good and evil.] and ends with Hawthorne and Twain (examples). All it is, is a list of time tested children’s literature. If you didn’t read these books and have them read to you when you were growing up, you missed out. Just like you missed out if you didn’t jump in creeks and tell ghost stories around a camp fire in the woods, or ride your bike down a steep hill, or climb so high into a tree that the branches were the diameter of pencils.

    The Great Books themselves are available from Britannica (Great Books of the Western World) always available on eBay for a fraction of the cost new. The Great Books series also includes study guides, pocket digests, and supplementary reading (Gateway to the Great Books) etc.

    Add in the requisite essential Catholic reading on top of these…and you might consider yourself educated.

  130. Michael says:

    Re 100 Years of Solitude (which I have not read), from Wikipedia:

    However, García Márquez himself does not completely understand the success of this particular book: “Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.”

    And re Death of a Salesman, wasn’t that book considered obscene? I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it, but if it actually is obscene, should it be on the list? [Interesting question. Read it and let us know. Or watch it. There is a good version with Dustin Hoffman.]

  131. Elizabeth T. says:

    Carry On, Jeeves by the brilliantly hilarious P.G. Wodehouse!

  132. Amy says:

    I think this list should definitely include works of G.K. Chesterton, fiction and non-fiction. Probably Manalive and The Everlasting Man or Orthodoxy.

    But I think everyone should read Anne Carroll’s “Finding Christ in the World” before they graduate highschool. Highly, highly recommended.

  133. Steven says:

    You may all think I\’m crazy with what I\’ll suggest. Nothing against the fine books everyone has listed. But the books that stuck with me are the short story The Man Who Planted Trees(time perseverance and faith work miracles), Flowers for Algernon(that a persons value isn’t money power or intelligence), Siddhartha (which I think you have to read at that age of adolescence when your trying to find yourself) Slaughterhouse 5(it taught me no government of men is the answer to life), and The Whole Earth Catalog [hmmmm] in the 80\’s which gives you resources on how to build or make nearly anything.

  134. PriestOnTheMystery says:

    “Pascendi Dominici Gregis” (On Modernism), “Lamentabili” (Syllabus of Errors) by St. Pius X,
    “Aeterne Patris”, “Rerum Novarum”, Pope Leo XIII

    More of the Fathers please. “Ignorance of the Fathers is ignorance of Scripture”, Pope Leo XIII

    The Catena Aurea: compilation of the Fathers by St. Thomas Aquinas, if you read one book about scripture …
    St. Augustine’s anti-pelagian tracts on predestination: “On Nature and Grace”, etc. (“Christ did not die in vain!”)
    St. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Oration 29: The 3rd Theological Oration: On the Son”
    St. Ignatius of Antioch’s, “Letters”

    Many of the most influentual works are on mathematics or science.

    Newton’s “Principia Mathematica”
    Einstein’s “Special and General Theory of Relativity”
    (Talk about thought that changed the world.)

    The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre by J. Henri Fabre

    “Privileged Planet”, by Guillerno Gonzalez: see modern astronomy, geology, biology, chemistry in a purposeful Catholic way, if anyone knows a better work on this subject, I would like to know.

  135. Ruben says:

    Life of Christ – Fulton Sheen
    The World’s First Love – Fulton Sheen
    Transformation in Christ – Dietrich von Hildebrand
    Trojan horse in the City of God – Dietrich von Hildebrand
    The Jesuits – Malachi Martin

  136. Jillian says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, I always love getting new reading suggestions from you. And I was relieved that I’ve already read 40 of your listed books… [Well done!] I’ll get started on the others right away.

    I’m not sure if I would include it on a list of “essentials” but I think CS Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces” is his best work. [Lewis has stirred debate.]

  137. Bos Mutissimus says:

    A Grammar of Assent by Venerable John Henry Newman
    A Spiritual Aeneid by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox
    The Four Cardinal Virtues by Josef Pieper
    Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found by Rev. James V. Schall, S. J.
    Politics and the English Language (essay) by George Orwell
    Social Ethics by Johannes Messner

  138. Peggy says:

    I’m no literary giant. I have not read a large number of the books on any of these lists. I’m going to throw out this suggestion as I see some others have noted some non-fiction, history books, as well as some philosophical books on 20th totalitarianism/communism. If we really want to see the consequences and real sufferings of the people living under godless communism, read Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag”. The human suffering, murder, the moral bankruptcy of Soviet society are rarely mentioned and considered insignificant to the genocide of the Jews and other undesirable groups by the Nazi regime. I was struck, in reading “Gulag” that people sent to the work camps did ANYTHING and EVERYTHING, without moral bounds, to stay alive, to get food, whatever basic they needed. Killed, raped, stole, abused, you name it. And it was brutal. There was little compassion among inmates at these prisons, toward one another. The guards of such “work camps” were without mercy. I think today’s post-Soviet generation is still suffering the “hangover” from those decades. We need to know what life was like for the targeted citizen, dissident under a totalitarian regime.

    I see others have suggested Solzhentisin’s (spelling?) “Gulag Archipeligo,” which would probably suffice as well for the purpose I suggested. [In a sense, that is why I put it on the list. I almost put Mao’s Little Red Book on as well… to point at how badly man can go wrong.]

  139. shadrach says:


    All human life is in great literature, and encounters with human life involve becoming acquainted with the ‘foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart’. Our saviour sat with prostitutes and Catholics should read about humanity and its foibles with hearts full of humility and charity.

    Might as well not watch ‘Casablanca’ because Ilsa and RIck had an affair in Paris.

    PS. However, books that try to make a virtue of being ‘obscene’ are merely ridiculous and date horribly, for example, the oeuvre of Henry Miller, or Anais Nin.

  140. Tina says:

    Greg, I meant Tobacco Road by Caskell. Sorry about that.

    As for the Catcher in the Rye, sometimes you read things not because you like them but because everyone else has read them and it enables you to carry on a conversation. [Right.] For example, I can’t stand Austin. I have read Austin and could discuss Austin, but don’t expect me to pick up Austin or any of that type of author voluntarily. [Do you mean Jane Austen?]

    I’d go with Siddharta too. I’ve noticed the list is biased towards Western thought. I wish I knew more Eastern writers to include. [And yet you mention a bias toward Western thought? o{]:¬) ]

    What about the Once and Future King? [Fun!]

  141. Jim says:

    i need help buying some books. What missal should I buy?

  142. Sangre Azul says:

    Summa Theologiae – Saint Thomas Aquinas
    Story of Christ – Giovanni Papini

  143. Austin says:

    Gerusalemme Liberata — Torquato Tasso.
    Small Is Beautiful – E.F. Schumacher.
    True Grit — Charles Portis.
    The Time Before You Die — Lucy Beckett.


  144. JL says:

    I second Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos–that book needs to be better known. And I add
    Oscar Wilde–The Picture of Dorian Gray
    St. Faustina’s Diary
    T. S. Eliot–Murder in the Cathedral

  145. Rose says:

    Not sure if these are essential or favourites- and not sure I am qualified to judge anyway, but here’s my additions:

    Introduction to Christianity. Deceptively simple and modest book, its readability gives it a great impact.
    Dream of the Red Chamber (in its original language if you can). In a genre of its own, perahps uniquely Chinese. [It sure is. I almost put it on the list. But it is sooo haaard.]
    T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets.

    I think everyone should read this book.

  146. Geoffrey says:

    I don’t believe much none in all this fancy book-learnin’… ;-)

    Seriously I would add “Revolution and Counter-Revolution” by Plinio Correa de Oliveira. [The TFP fellow, right?]

  147. Oh, yes, The Guns of August!!! The first paragraph of this book by Barbara Tuchman is the most beautiful and important one I have ever read. [Tuchman pops up more than once.]

  148. trespinos says:

    Another vote for The Brothers Karamazov, Romano Guardini’s The Lord, and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

    Another vote to remove anything by Ayn Rand. I venture to say every page of her nonsense read by the unsuspecting causes the loss of ten thousand brain cells. Seriously. [That’s a no vote. So… you don’t think people today need to know what the book is all about.]

  149. lavatea says:

    I forgot about Siddhartha. Excellent book, IMO.

    I’m not sure a slog through Once and Future King would be considered essential.

    What about Ray Bradbury? I personally feel Fahrenheit 451 is overrated, but Dandelion Wine is a worthy choice I think. [You might think the one is better than the other. But isn’t 451 a bit more influential?]

  150. CJKpi says:

    What about “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton? [Several people agree. Why do you think it should be on the list?]

  151. lavatea says:

    RE: Fahrenheit 451 being more influential…

    It probably is in the sense that is more widely read, but to me it’s just one more future-gone-awry books, of which there are plenty.

  152. Janet says:

    I make no claims to be intellectual enough to ever read all these books. I’ve read just over 1/3 of them, and of the ones I’ve read, I’d question what is truly essential about anything by Heinlein and Ayn Rand.
    I’d also question why nothing by St. Thomas Aquinas is on the list (or maybe I just overlooked it.)

    Another question: Fr. Z, could you tell me what “essential” means to you? What prompts that question is a vague memory of Aquinas near the end of his life saying that all he’d written was as worthless as “straw” compared to what he’d come to understand during a mystical experience during prayer. So, my question is: what is truly essential, when you get right down to it?
    (not trying to be perverse… just a sincere question from someone whose mind runs in much simpler paths in this life, and who will likely never read Plato’s Republic.)

  153. paternoster says:

    Fr. I’m beginning to think you may not yet have had the pleasure of reading The Brothers Karamazov. It is by far and away the best of Dostoevsky’s work.

    James Joyce – (something at least, I would suggest a portrait of the artist as a young man)
    Flannery O’Conner – Wise blood (probably the best Catholic fiction out of the U.S in the 20th cent. and well regarded outside the Communion of Saints. essential read.)
    Goethe – Sorrows of young Werther
    Kierkegaard – Fear and Trembling
    Robert Graves – I, Claudius
    Leo Tolstoy – War + Peace

    Since we are including Philosophical texts, I think a few others worth mention:

    Plato – Symposium, Phaedo
    Aristotle – Physics, Metaphysics (in addition to Nic. Ethics)
    Plotinus – Enneads (esp. XII)
    Epictetus – Handbook
    Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
    Boethius – Consolation of Philosophy (mentioned a few times, I think it’s worthy of the list)
    St. Augustine – De Civitas Dei (in addition to Confessions)
    Hume – Treatise on Human Nature
    Kant – Critique of Pure Reason (good luck!)
    Wittgenstein – Philosophical Investigations

    and many others that I suppose could not be justified as essential..

  154. paternoster says:

    edit: missed Ulysses, my apologies!

  155. adrian says:

    Euclid, The Elements (Only behind the Bible in printed editions)

  156. Bob says:

    Dear Fr. Z. & friends.

    My four “greatest” novels of the Western world are: Les Misérables (uncut), The Brothers Karamazov, Kristin Lavransdatter, and Studs Lonigan. Each is from a different culture (French, Russian, Norwegian, Irish) but all deal deeply with the human soul.

    I read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land when it first came out (his kids’ books were very good) and my first reaction was that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John “did it better.” I would not include that book, nor Glory Road, nor Time Enough for Love.

    To be positive again: I think Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died is the best single book ever written on the subject. I bought my first copy when it came out in paperback about 1957, and have tried to read it every Lent. It gets me closer to the Cross, along with the old St. Alphonsus Liguori Way of the Cross.

    Anything by Chesterton. Lewis’ space trilogy. It was Lewis and Chesterton who showed me when I was about 19 or 20 that it was possible, reasonable, and admirable to believe as an adult what I had been taught as a child from the Baltimore Catechism in the 1950s.

    Ronald Knox. Christopher Dawson.

    Amen amen to The Gulag Archipelago. I have read all three volumes three times. Also amen to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and a mention of The Proud Tower.

    I have over 200 nonfiction books about WW II. Recommended memoirs: To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy, Those Devils in Baggy Pants by Ross Carter, The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer, The Making of a Soldier by James Jones. Reporting: Ernie Pyle, his books really put you there.

    Finally, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson, and The Discarded Image by C. S. Lewis.

    If you suffer from insomnia, read Statistical Theory and Methodology in Science and Engineering.

    Thank you!

  157. Tina says:

    See I like Jane Austen so much I misspell her name.

    I wish I knew more books from the East, Fr. Z, but all I can think of is the Good Earth by Pearl Buck, which I don’t recall her being Eastern.

    I’m still going with Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It talks about paradigm shifts and is frequently mentioned in philosphy of science courses.

    I think everyone nails the most essential books. There is a lack of psychology and education tomes. Actually, read things by John Dewey. I’ve read Experience and Education, and parts of Democracy and Education and The School and Society. I’d recommend Dewey to see how education could be. Also, there is something to be said for paragraph long sentences. If we want to look at education I’d also look at Skinner, Piaget, and Viagotsky. They really form the basis for the many schools of thought in education. I’d also look at How People Learn: Brain, Mind and Experienc. (Best yet it is free are Dewey’s works if you look in the right spots.)
    Also Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paul Friere is big hit with some educators, especially those in social justice.

  158. Connor says:

    These lists are seriously lacking on the classics of the east. Can’t believe no ones mentioned:

    -The BahagavadGita

  159. Bob says:

    Hi, again,

    My goodness, I forgot The City of God. Finished it about a week ago, took me a month. Wonderful.

  160. Jason Keener says:

    Nine Essential Books:

    1. “Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel On Prayer” by Father Thomas Dubay because it is simply the best book on prayer around. Nothing is more important in a person’s life than cultivating a deep love affair with God. This book shows you how.

    2. “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and R.K. Tacelli because every person should be able to defend the reasonableness and truth of the Christian Faith.

    3. “The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics” by Norris Clarke because every well-rounded person should have at least a basic understanding of the principles of reality.

    4. “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton because no education is complete without the common sense and wisdom of Chesterton.

    5. The “Baltimore Catechism” because it offers a clear and concise outline of the Faith given to us by God’s Son. Also, the Baltimore Catechism gives the finest answer to life’s greatest question: “Why did God make me?” Answer: “God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this life so as to be happy with Him forever in the next.” AMEN! IS THERE ANY KNOWLEDGE MORE SIMPLE AND PRECIOUS THAN THAT? HOW MANY TODAY WANDER AROUND IN COMPLETE DARKNESS THINKING THEIR LIFE HAS NO RHYME OR REASON?

    6. “The Order of Things” by Father James Schall just because Father Schall is great, and every person should be afforded the opportunity to realize that human beings can discover a beauty and unity in God and in His creation. Modern thinkers would have us believe reality is just an illusion or some meaningless random chain of events. Bunk! Shame on modern thinkers and philosophers who mislead the youth into thinking that life has no order, meaning, or purpose.

    7. The “Charles Bargue Et Jean-Leon Gerome: Drawing Course” because it is one of the finest classical drawing courses ever printed. What would life be without art?

    8. “Calculus Made Easy” by Silvanus P. Thompson and Martin Gardner because this book is a classic that explains the beauty, elegance, and power of mathematics.

    9. The “Liber Usualis” because no education is complete without knowledge of great music. Gregorian chant obviously has a huge place in the history of western music and in the Liturgy of the Catholic Church.

  161. Connor says:

    These lists are seriously lacking on the classics of the east. Can’t believe no one’s mentioned: [That “I can’t believe” phrase is starting to annoy me….]

    -The Bahagavad Gita
    -The Lotus Sutra
    -The Analects of Confucius
    -Tao Te Ching
    -The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
    -The I Ching
    -The Dhammapada
    -The Upanishads
    -The Adi Granth

    Don\’t surround yourself with yourself. [I wonder if these are essential for Westerners… maybe they are… dunno…]

    More western:

    -Huck Finn (Mark Twain)
    -The Philisophical Dictionary & Candide (Voltaire)
    -The Illustrated A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking)
    -For Whom The Bell Tolls (Hemmingway)
    -Slaughterhouse 5 (Vonnegut)
    -The Epistles of Ignatius
    -The Heart of the Matter (Graham Greene)
    -Childhoods End (Arthur C. Clarke)
    -The Gods Themselves (Asimov)
    -Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
    -I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Girard)

  162. Alice says:

    Don’t waste your time with Ulysses, so not worth it!
    It’s just a diatribe of angst and seriously depressing, if you can even make out the story in between. Stick with The Waste Lands

  163. Danny says:

    The Sinner’s Guide by Venerable Louis of Granada. Such a clear and profound lesson in the evil of sin and vice, and the fruit and joy of virtue. According to Saint Teresa of Avila, this book was responsible for converting 1,000,000 souls.

    Thanks be to God always

  164. Latter-day Guy says:

    I might add Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. It’s a WWI book that has been quite influential. It is also one of the most horrifying works dealing with war I have ever read. It might be worth including just for that reason, as it demonstrates the cost of conflict so well.

  165. Keith Rickert, Jr. says:

    Another vote for Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton.

  166. Margaret says:

    Some of you may laugh, but what about the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder? They give a fantastic picture of pioneer life and the American spirit. It also may help some understand better the ‘American dream’. They give fantastic real examples of fortitude, diligence, generosity and personal responsibility….some things which many Americans sadly know nothing about these days.

  167. GNW_Paul says:

    Good list, many good suggested additions – I would say it is very ambitious with even the original list to have them all read in High School. I read much of them in college. Since so much has been listed – I think I\’d like to make more general comments on the list and the comments rather that focus on my additions.

    First I am amazed that Flannery 0\’Conner took so long to come up and was mentioned so rarely. And only one person mentioned a work by Willa Cather? Only two requests for Hawthorne?

    Second: Short stories? The list and comments are very focused on longer works and short stories are form that should not be neglected.

    Third: I see too little modern non-fiction and biography. Although i agree with the emphasis on the classical, I believe the 20th century should not be neglected. It is probably harder to agree on the list of books, but Truman, FDR, Vietnam, MLK, the civil rights movement, Roe v Wade, Reagan, Eisenhower, Nixon, Wall Street,…..Einstein, Bohl, Feinman,

    One Firm Suggestion I would make is Richard Rhodes \”The Making of the Atomic Bomb\”

    That\’s all that is on my mind now

    Great List


  168. livingintheshadowlands says:

    Anticipate Every Goodbye,by Jean Sullivan,French priest novelist.

  169. Tennyson’s Idylls of the King
    Faith of the Early Fathers Vol I
    The Catechism of the Council of Trent
    Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince

    Pope Saint Pius X- Pray For Us!
    Saint Michael the Archangel – Defend Us!
    Sacred Heart of Jesus – Make our hearts like Your Heart!

  170. Bogna says:

    Why “the everlasting man”? The best apologetic book ever. Made my atheist friend think. He switched his position from “all religion is bulshit” to “catholicism is the only worldview that is logical and consistent.”

  171. Jennifer says:

    St. Augustine’s Confessions, published by Oxford for English and if at all possible the original language.

  172. Jennifer says:

    I posted before I got to say why the clarification on St. Augustine… though my ability to read Latin is limited, the pieces I have translated in class have made me incredibly happy, and I find it so more beautiful and deep in meaning than some of the copies that float around and have awkward phrasing and the like.

  173. gengulphus says:

    Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
    Spencer: The Fairy Queen
    Smollet: Humphrey Clinker

  174. Andrew says:

    Thomas Kempis – The Imitation of Christ.

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent.

    Bp. Bernard Tissier de Mallerais; Marcel Lefebvre (The Biography of).

  175. PaulJason says:

    The Holy Bible

    To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemmingway

    The Razor’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham

    My Prayer Book – Father F.X. Lasance

    Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

    The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It – John Seymour

    Frankenstein – Mary Shelly

    The Holy Eucharist – St. Alphonsus De Lugori

    Drawing of the Right Side of the Brain – Betty Edwards

    Trout Bum – John Gierach

    Political Systems of Highland Burma – Edmund Leach

    Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemmingway

    I know this list seems like an odd combination, and it is, but everyone of these taught have something about life, and how to view it. The fiction books listed are all adventure, tragedy, and comedy all in one. The non-fiction books range from religious text which have keep me alight during my darkest hours to books which taught me both how to draw again, why you fish, and how to live away from the constraints of modern “necessities”, but still understand how to reasonably live within modern “wants”. The one I will point out is Political Systems of Highland Burma by Edmund Leach, of all the books I listed this is the one most of you have never heard of. If you have never read an anthropological monograph (yes this is a monograph and not ethnography) then read this one.

  176. Mark S says:

    I know that this sounds like a really sour note on such an interesting topic… but weren’t some of the books on the list originally on the Index of Forbidden Books while it was still in existence? I’m thinking particlularly of works by Nietzsche, Marx, Engels plus a few others… I’m fairly sure that at some stage, some of these works were considered damaging to the Faith, even though the Index doesn’t exist any more, is it still considered inadvisable to read these? Can they be considered a “must read” book if, it the eyes of the Church, they are/were considered damaging to the faith or morals?

  177. ed says:

    @Mark S

    They are important because they helped shape the world we now live in. Although no one really espouses direct Marx or straight Nietzche anymore, all of modern thought bears their influence.

    For that matter, I think Kant’s “Critique of Practical Reason” is important for much the same reasons.

  178. Snowowl123 says:

    Although I never had the opportunity to read these books, here are some suggestions:

    Untopia: by St. Thomas More

    Complete Stories and Poems: Edgar Allan Poe

    The Poetry of Robert Frost: Robert Frost

  179. ed says:

    Also, perhaps John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”

  180. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Seconding Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. What happens when men do nothing when confronted with evil.

    Gibbons – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
    Solzhenitsyn – A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. A good replacement for the much longer Gulag
    St Aquinas – Anything
    Bagehot – On the English Constitution to replace the USA Founding Documents for those of us not fortunate enough to be born in the USA.

  181. Alan F. says:

    Pope St. Pius X: Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

  182. georgeaquinas says:

    I don’t think these have been suggested:

    Things Fall Apart by Achebe—the essential work of modern African lit

    The Quest for the Holy Grail–not only is it a great tale, but it also provides a perfect window and the mindset of the age

  183. Nathan says:

    I’d like to add my two cents worth for Chesterton. “The Everlasting Man” smashes the assumptions of both Cartesian positivitsm and Hegelian didacticsm that have so troubled us in the 20th century. Chesterton is a curmudgeon, but he clearly brings the false underpinnings of so much of our current muddled thought into the bright light of logic and reason.

    I’d choose “The Everlasting Man” over “Orthodoxy” by a whisker becuase the former should really get the reader thinking about what is modern intellecutal dogma and its implications for life. “Orthodoxy” is much more of a personal journey of thought, although I’ve met more than one person who found it life-changing.

    If you had not already added Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” to the list, I would have recommeded it along with Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” Both are fine accounts of the human cost of warfare–Crane (IMO) is a little contrived by the naturalistic style he employs, but easier to read than Remarque.

    What do you think about Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth?” For a layman, one could argue it was essential reading because it clearly and eloquently makes the Holy Father’s case that the underlying problem with religion and the modern world is Christological, in terms much easier to understand than some of his more purely theological work.

    In Christ,

  184. Snowowl123 says:

    I forgot to state my reasons for the books I listed above.

    Utopia, written in the 16th Century has passed the test of time it is still read today, almost 500 years after it was written.

    Edgar Allan Poe is one of the greatest authors in American Literature.

    Robert Frost has written the most beautiful poems.

  185. Jimbo says:

    C.S. Lewis is getting mixed reviews here. He has written some notable books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is interesting but not essential. I would put his works second tier…as works that will shape your mind to be able to comprehend higher concepts. I’m thinking specifically his space trilogy for children (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength), The Great Divorce, and A Grief Observed. The space trilogy is much better than the Narnia Chronicles, IMO. Lewis broke no new ground with Narnia. Read as children they’re entertaining. Read as an adult, there are too many distracting “quirks” that pull you away from enjoyment.

  186. Kat says:

    St. Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul

  187. thomas says:

    Thinking about listings of “essential” books benefits from having a definite limit as to the number of books, a bakers dozen say.

  188. Erin says:

    If you’re going to use Heinlein as an SF essential, I recommend reading “Have Spacesuit- Will Travel”, “Starship Troopers”, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, and “The Number of the Beast”, in that order and as close together as possible. Best example of the slippery slope out there, IMHO.

    A sadly neglected author is Cordwainer Smith. I think his SF short stories are an absolute must to anyone with a love of language and myth. Start with “Scanners Live in Vain”.

    Hey! Baen has a bunch of them for free:

    You can’t do better than free :) [Interesting. But how are these essential?]

  189. Dominic H says:

    Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov [More so than Crime and Punishment?]

    Definitely more so. Because it takes some of the ideas explored in C&P (the right of the “superman” to step over all moral boundaries: the impact of nihilistic and atheistic philosophy, and the consequences of such teachings on an uneducated and simple man – Smerdyakov; and presents them alongside an alternative – the purity of Alyosha; and also because it, through the portrait of passionate Dmitri, is a more effective and comprehensive and thorough “novel of conversion” that C&P.

    Now imagine what it would have been like had Dostoyevsky lived to complete it (by writing the intended second volume)

    (I think I rate The Devils/The Possessed more highly than I do C&P too, as a portrait of nihilist fanatical terrorist cells; something that is of pertinence to our age and place). But all three of them are fantastic books.

    I second Kristin Lavransdottir, too.

    And Bernanos. Oh yes. Diary of a Country Priest? Well, a great work for sure (and the film also , very much so). But, for its complexities and incoherencies and obscurities, I wonder if “Monsieur Ouine” [aka “The Open Mind” in a not entirely satisfactory translation into English]might not be, in some ways, a more essential read: another portrait of a nihilistic, post-christian society in a villlage that has given into debauchery and sensuality and become mad in consequence. Although the portraits of family life (especially of the Countess’s) and of difficulties in maintaining faith, dryness when trying to pray, and the immutability of grace…maybe do, perhaps, make the Diary more essential, after all.

    The Everlasting Man by Chesterton (I think in some ways Heretics is superior to Orthodoxy, but probably the most convincing argument of them all): for its sweeping vision and portrayal of the impact of Christ upon the world before and since. Perhaps also Europe and The Faith (or the Great Heresies) by Belloc…?

    Moscow Stations by Venedikt Erofeev (Yerofeyev) (aka “Moscow Circles”; “Moscow to the End of the Line”: seemingly a slight work, but in reality nothing of the sort: a diary of an alcoholic on a train: Something likeDante’s Inferno transposed to Brezhnev-era Russia (that was passed around for hand to hand for two decades before it was allowed to be publishe) . Depths of references to the Bible (both testaments), and classics of both Western and Russian literature.

    But all in all: your first list is quite superb. Quite a few I still have to read though…

  190. Stephany says:

    I am only eighteen and have read fewer of these books than I would have liked but here are some that have not really been said that I think should be added.

    Henryk Sienkiewicz – all his books especially his Polish triology more than Quo Vadis. These books have all of life, every sin and every virtue, along with unforgetable story line and plot. These books and its discussions on loyalty, government, and honor will always be with me.

    Hillarie Belloc – I have read less of his work than I would like but what I read has always stuck with me. Especially his essay on Ursury, the devestating effects of this practice are currently wreking our economy.

    A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century by Oliver Van DeMille – This is the best book on education out there it should definatly be read by everyone.

    Blakthorne – Western Law. We should have an understanding of the basis of law in our society. This book was very influential to the working of law especially in Europe and America.

    Fr. Laux – His High school religion course. Ok, ok this sounds strange but this is the whole wisdom of the church in an easy to read format.

    Finally, two books that may seem strange. King of the Golden City and The Little Apostle on Crutches. Not well know outside of some Catholic Homeschool circles but these two books have such basic truths that I find I returen to again and angain in my life.

    I would put in my vote for Plato, Chesterton, Father the Family Provider, Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, at least The Last Battle and Screwtape Letters. Screwtape Letters because one should always know how the enemy thinks and works.

  191. Neal says:

    I think “Christ, the Life of the Soul” and “Christ in His Mysteries” by Dom Marmion deserve a place on this list. I’ve never understood why they are not more widely read, but I hope that his canonization (d.v.) will change that.

    Also, “Morte d’Urban” by J.F. Powers is a wonderful Catholic novel. For lighter works, “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole and “Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh are great. And any list including science fiction should have “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov and “A Canticle for Liebowitz” by Walter Miller.

  192. thomas says:

    Here’s my own baker’s dozen (re a posting above)

    First the REAL essentials:

    * Bible, Revised Standard Version
    * Roman Catholic Daily Missal
    * The Liturgy of the Hours
    * Gregorian Missal; Solesmes
    * The Confessions; Saint Augustine
    * Dante’s Paradise; Anthony Esolen
    * Eight Dramas; William Shakespeare

    Then, diverse modern stuff:

    * Atheist Delusions; David Bentley Hart
    * Complete English Poems; John Donne
    * The Road to Serfdom; Friedrich Hayek
    * Aquinas on Friendship; Daniel Schwartz
    * Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, V. II
    * Compendium to the Catholic Catechism

    When making such lists, I think one has to include some that may well not be essential classics at some future time; otherwise, the “essential list” is unbalanced and overrich, causing heartburn.

  193. RBrown says:

    I see some great suggestions here, but the work has already been done for you. Read Dr. John Senior’s “The Death of Christian Culture” and his list of the 1,000 good books that are requirements for understanding the Great Books.
    Comment by Jimbo

    I am overjoyed to be able to write about my Baptismal sponsor, mentor, and friend. A talented man with broad knowledge, Senior was educated at Columbia in the Great Books, studying under Mark Van Doren. The first day of his class would habitually be spent looking for a larger classroom–10 would enroll and 40 would show up for the lecture. Finally, the administration got the message, and the assigned classroom would be larger than the enrollment justified.

    What can you say about a man who was once one of top authorities in the US on Chaucer AND French Symbolist literature (e.g., Baudelaire, Mallarme’, and Rimbaud) who decided to take a job at the Univ of Wyoming because he had always wanted to own a ranch?

    A few of us were given the opportunity to study under both Senior and Foster (Latin). They were two extraordinarily gifted teachers but much different in their approach.

    BTW, are you any relation to Big Daddy Don Garlits?

  194. Phil Onochie says:

    Dear Father,

    A humble request:

    If you see it fit, could you highlight or underline the books that “screwed up the world” to distinguish them from the others that didn’t?

    I am not as smart as I would like and need to know which books fall where. Well, besides the bible that is :)


    [Try this.]

  195. “[Settle down and make contributions. Throw rocks and you will be gone.]”

    Fair enough. I guess you could make the argument that Shaw and Nietzsche belong on the list. Shaw was a gifted dramatist and a good storyteller, despite being wrong on just about everything. He and Chesterton were close friends despite their differences. And it was only because Chesterton was familiar with Nietzsche’s work that he saw Nazism for what it was early on, when nearly everyone else praised it as the wave of the future.

    But Rand? Ayn Rand exists for only one purpose: to demonstrate how gullible conservatives can be. They will praise any author to the high heavens so long as she is anti-Communist, no matter how awful she is otherwise, and despite the fact that she denies even the high heavens. All you need to know about Ayn Rand is what Whittaker Chambers wrote about her in his review of Atlas Shrugged in National Review (and yes, Chambers’ Witness belongs on your list). Read Chambers’ review and you never need to waste time on a single word by Ayn Rand. She never spoke to Buckley again after that review appeared — a fact for which he was eternally grateful. The review is available online if you Google it.

    So what of Chesterton and Belloc (and, father, I still can’t believe you included nothing by either)? By Chesterton, I would pick The Everlasting Man for nonfiction and The Man Who Was Thursday for fiction. Some people have mentioned Orthodoxy, but as someone suggested above, it is TEM that really has profound effects on atheists. Most famous atheist to be converted by TEM: C.S. Lewis.

    By Hilaire Belloc, for fiction I would pick The Four Men. It is probably the best meditation on friendship in all literature. Plus it includes the wonderful “Song of the Pelagian Heresy” and “The Sailor’s Christmas Carol” (May all my enemies go to hell! Noel! Noel! Noel!). For nonfiction, I recommend Belloc’s The Battleground. It was out of print for decades but was just re-issued by Ignatius Press last fall. Belloc scholars call it is best work, putting it before even The Four Men and The Path to Rome.

  196. Eric Sliva says:

    What book to read that I recommend?
    Myles Connolly, “Mr. Blue”
    A modern-day Saint Francis character. A must read!

    God Bless!

    ps. I ask for your prayers in helping me persevere in persuing a religious vocation with the Benedictines.

  197. Maureen says:

    I read a lot of classics as a kid, but didn’t really appreciate most of them. I mean, I literally could not see any humor in Jane Austen back when I was in high school. I thought St. Augustine’s Confessions were a semi-interesting autobiography and conversion story, but nothing special. (And that book I was forced to read for school twice.) I still can’t really see Moby Dick as anything but a great technothriller and buddy story. Philosophy was entirely boring to me until the advent of audiobooks, and I really don’t see how I stayed awake through any Socratic dialogues back when I was forced to read them instead of hear them.

    I was a well-read kid who certainly didn’t lack reading comprehension skills; I simply lacked the background to see the truth and depth of most classics. Poetry I understood. I loved the Bible. Shakespeare has something even for second graders, and I read Lord of the Rings in third grade. Dr. Johnson is a lot of fun in small doses for just about anyone, and Chesterton I wish I’d known much earlier than college. But some of the classics? They made no impression.

    So I think these things should be available to kids in libraries, at home, or computers, but for the most part I think it’s kinda useless to assign kids to read a great many of the classics at a young age. Of course, there’s a great deal of pleasure in continuing to learn throughout life, so it’s not a bad thing to take the classics back from kiddyland and undergrads and let adults read them again.

  198. Sean Caron says:

    Hey! Where is Don Camillo?

    Father I’m disappointed!

    Yes it is light-hearted, but there are some real truths in those stories, and a light-hearted approach might be just the ticket for the coming days.

    I also second (for the fourth or fifth time) “Brideshead Revisited”, and I am also a fan of “The Seven Storey Mountain”

  199. bernadette says:

    Song of Bernadette by Victor Frankl. Spiritually powerful true story.

  200. Cortney says:


    “Songs of Innocence and Experience” by Willam Blake

    Almost any collection of poems by Israeli poet, now deceased, Yehuda Amichai (whose vision, in the midst of war and division, was always on the interaction of human souls)

    The complete works of Emily Dickinson (if Whitman is the father of modern poetry, she is the mother)

    “Harmonium,” by Wallace Stevens, especially the poem “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” for the beauty and music of the poem and for the poet’s commentary on beauty and spirit, and in that same collection, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” for a chance to contemplate the poet’s (and one’s own) view of life and afterlife.

  201. Dr. Eric says:

    “Textbook of Medical Physiology” by Guyton and Hall

    “Anatomy of the Human Body” by Henry Gray. I think they made this into a prime time soap opera about fornicating physicians.

    Even if one doesn’t understand most of the information, these are essential in at least having an idea of what is going on in one’s body.

  202. The Confessions, St. Augustine

  203. Elastico says:

    A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller. Science fiction after an apocalyptic event. Insight in the struggles between good and evil and church and state. Has a theme of the cyclical nature of history.

  204. Andreas says:

    I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve put together a list of “must-read” books. Now, that I’m getting older Seneca’s advice on reading seems opportune:

    Distringit librorum multitudo; itaque cum legere non possis quantum habueris, satis est habere quantum legas. ‘Sed modo’ inquis ‘hunc librum evolvere volo, modo illum.’ Fastidientis stomachi est multa degustare; quae ubi varia sunt et diversa, inquinant non alunt. Probatos itaque semper lege, et si quando ad alios deverti libuerit, ad priores redi. […] et cum multa percurreris, unum excerpe quod illo die concoquas. Hoc ipse quoque facio; ex pluribus quae legi aliquid apprehendo.

    (A multitude of books scatters the brain; therefore since you can’t read as many as you have, it’s enough to have as many as you’ll read. “But now” you say “I’d like to read this book, now that one”. It messes up your stomach to taste many foods. Read therefore approved authors, and if at times you choose to try others, return to the previous ones {…} and after having read much, choose something to be the menu of that day. That’s what I also do, from many I’ve read I pick something.)

    For me, if time is short, I don’t know what’s better then the Vulgate: after all it is “Dei Verbum”.

  205. Nomilk says:

    Still no Newman? No Essay on Development? No Apologia? No Idea of a University? No Grammar of Assent?

  206. Reverend and Dear Father,

    I have very much enjoyed reading your list and the suggestions of others.

    I have been thrown a little by the lack of criteria, however: is the list of “must read” or merely of those titles that may be read with great profit? If the former, then by when must they be read, and by whom? I very much enjoy Il gattopardo, as well, though I think an Englishman or an American could consider himself an educated man even if he hasn’t read it. An Italian should not be allowed out of terzo liceo without having read it at least once.

    Finally, a question: do you include the Federalist papers in the documents American foundation? If not, this one omission is very grave, indeed. [I do include them, of of course.]


  207. make that documents OF American foundation, or simply, American founding documents.

  208. Bill in Texas says:

    Karen, the Declaration and the Constitution may not be “essential” for those who live outside the US, but they are very bit as profound and influential as anything else on the list. [Given what the USA is in the world, perhaps they are essential to everyone everywhere. … We should include Magna Carta in that grouping.] The Declaration of Independence, in particular, sums up some of the best thought in the Western world about freedom, liberty, and just government. Both documents have served as models for many other nations. I think they would be well worth the reading by any young person, anywhere, old enough to handle the language in them. And they are certainly essential for American students, who sadly don’t know much about either anymore, or so it seems.

    You don’t have to read anything from among the books and documents proposed. I love my country, and feel no reluctance in proposing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States as essential reading for young citizens (and future leaders) of the world.

  209. Bill in Texas says:

    Chris Altieri — I thought about suggesting the Federalist Papers, along with a number of other documents and writings, especially those of John Locke. But where would I stop? There are so many great texts from that period. If the Federalist Papers were added, I think it would be perfectly appropriate. And Locke too.

  210. Laura Lowder says:

    Wow! Would anyone in their right minds think Catholics are narrow-minded after perusing such a list?

    Father Z is right. There are some books/works on his list that are horrible books – Catcher in the Rye, for instance (I also disliked Plato’s Republic; do not refer to me as a “platonic friend” if you have any respect for me at all) – but it’s important for understanding our culture and for making a difference therein that we are acquainted with them.

    And if you compare this list to the standard high school curriculum, you’ll also become a strong advocate for home schooling and classical education.

  211. Maureen says:

    I would like to second the suggestions about studying mythology. Anybody who doesn’t know the major mythologies is going to miss out on references — and on a lot of info about human nature. Also, it’s probably just as well if kids read mythology _before_ puberty; you’re more likely to shelve it alongside fairy tales and less likely to go all neo-pagan gaga about it. Of course, I don’t think every kid will or should go from watching the Isis/Shazam Hour to begging her parents for a de-accessioned library copy of Larousse’s Mythology (which is a lot wimpier in recent editions, btw). But it didn’t do me any harm, and has paid off often over the years. [Part of my point in starting this discussion.]Mythology is also potentially a good segue into studying other people’s religions, and for pointing out Christianity’s specialness. (Which leads us back to The Everlasting Man and C.S. Lewis too.)

    However, Larousse and Bulfinch and all the others are just summaries and indexes. The real Metamorphosis is a great work of poetry, whereas Hamilton’s summary of it is not. Apollonios of Rhodes’ Argonautica is a lot more fun and beauty than a dry summary of the Argonaut legends drawn from several sources. Don’t miss out. Read the real thing.

    Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji. Not for kids, but definitely an important read. Like Boethius and other rightminded authors, she integrates poetry and prose to tell her story with great grace. It’s also a real window into a totally alien, medieval Japanese society and the way culture can trap people as well as enhance life. There’s a certain amount of subtle condemnation of that society’s license, hypocrisy, and greed, but there’s also a great deal which the author seems to regard with approval — itself a lesson. Not something you read all at once, as it’s a giant book.

    Sei Shonagon was an acquaintance but not friend of Murasaki, and it’s equally instructive to read her tart and graceful little Pillow Book. She was a great blogger, born before her time.

  212. David says:

    I would add The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

    Glad to see 1984 on the list. I read it again last year and was struck by its continuing relevance. I ordered Brave New Word yesterday (along with Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described – thanks for the tip Father Z), as I could not remember having ever read it.

    I have to concur with those who have recommended The Spirit of the Liturgy. Given the weight of the subject matter, it is a very easy work to read and understand. I benefitted greatly from reading it. It is a little book that leaves you with a desire to study the subject matter in greater depth (hence the order of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described). Very strong and clarifying statements concerning the importance, history and meaning of many of the elements of the Liturgy (such as the meaning and importance of silence during the Mass, the “cosmic” nature of the Mass, the meanings behind the different postures during prayer, etc.). And, also, some very clear and unambiguous explanations for why things like dance have no place within the Liturgy.

  213. Matt says:

    No Chesterton!!! I would think Orthodoxy is a must read.

    “In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell.” -G.K. Chesterton

  214. Eric says:

    Euripides, Antigone (performed more than other classical works)
    Plutarch, Parallel Lives (huge influence on the Founding Fathers, not just the stories but also Plutarch’s moral interpretation)
    Cicero, On Duties (used to be a staple of Jesuit education back in the day)
    John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (again, essential background for the Founding Fathers)
    Sir Thomas Mallory, Le Morte de Arthur (go to the source for The Once and Future King)
    Bl. Jacobus Voragine, Golden Legend (the medieval sourcebook on lives of the saints)
    St. Athanasius, Life of Antony (the roots of Western monastic aestheticism)
    Thomas of Celano, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis (learn humility from the master)

  215. Memphis Aggie says:

    What a great list definately enjoyed the comments.

    I’d add:

    Winston Churchills
    “The Second World War”
    Nothing like getting it from the source.


    Autobiography of Malcolm X
    by Alex Haley

    Not always pleasant but it does illuminate

  216. RBrown says:

    Song of Bernadette by Victor Frankl. Spiritually powerful true story.
    Comment by bernadette

    Don’t you mean Franz Werfel?

    Victor Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist of the Existential School of Therapy.

  217. Did Euclid make the list anywhere?


    Dear Bill in Texas,

    I am operating under the assumption that we are proposing candidates for a sort of “Canon” by which to measure liberal education.

    I would have to put Publius in my canon, and could easily justify leaving out of the canon such truly magnificent texts as Adams’ Discourses on Davila, or his Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America, or Benjamin Rush’s Diseases of the Mind or Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia or…or…or…

    As long as we’re just naming really great books, let these be further of my contributions to this compilation.

  218. Steve says:

    Aesop’s Fables
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales

    The Way of a Pilgrim

  219. Blue Shoe says:

    I’ll be impressed if you’re still reading all the comments and get down this far, but I suggest:

    Dumas – Either the Count of Monte Cristo or Three Musketeers; they’re both worth reading
    C.S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia are classic, widely-known, and allegorical, and his more
    scholarly works are superb (what I’ve read, anyway)…I recommend The Problem of
    Pain, because he quite eloquently deals with a subject that everyone struggles
    with at some point.
    Asimov – Foundation [Yah… I thought about that one.]
    Pearl Buck – The Good Earth

  220. Megan says:

    Albert Camus, The Stranger
    C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man; Miracles; The Problem of Pain; The Four Loves
    William Kirk Kilpatrick, Psychological Seduction
    Aristotle, Metaphysics; De Anima
    Ludger Holscher, The Reality of the Mind
    Plato, Symposium
    G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man; Heretics; The Ballad of the White Horse

    Lots of great books…lots unmentioned

  221. Megan says:

    OH. Also, C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm; Mere Christianity

  222. Cristiano says:

    you bring back memories. I was impressed when you added “I Promessi Sposi” to your list. I went back to being in public middle school in Italy, and my teacher of Italian literature was a priest, Don Colella. I remember how he forced us to memorize this passage about the plague in Milan and about this woman carrying her dead daughter Cecilia whose white little hand was hanging from the side. More than thirty five years have passed but I still remember it as it were yesterday. Thank you for the flash back and especially thanks to Don Colella for making my life difficult, now I understand! May God bless his soul.

    [That section on the plague in Milan.. oh my… very powerful. Every once in a while there are sections in books that strike you with such force that you never forget them.]

  223. laminustacitus says:

    Must reads:
    Ludwig von Mises: “Human Action” (A treatise that will expand your knowledge by leaps and bounds of not only how the economy, and society functions, but it also destroys the national sacred lies current economics, and social theory is based on. Quite honestly, any social theorist must read this book!)

    Ludwig von Mises: “Theory and History” (Another by von Mises, this book is about the epistemological foundations of the social sciences, and it also unravels the fallacies like Marxism and positivism. Again, it will change the way you think about society.)

    Murray N. Rothbard: “Man, Economy, and State” (This is a book designed to make the economics of “Human Action” ever more precise, and sounds. Economics is ubiquitous, and therefore man must come to understand it as best as possible)

    Emmanuel Kant: “Critique of Pure Reason” (One of the most important pieces of philosophy in history, and it reinforces the fact humanity must be humble in its utilization of reason, and that reason cannot discover everything.)

    Hans-Hermann Hoppe: “Democracy the God that Failed” (The modern era has far too much trust in the capabilities of democracy, this book uncovers how democracy is just as evil as every other form of government, and may even be worse. In fact, Hoppe goes as far as to suggest that it is monarchy that is the government that will most respect man’s rights, and especially man’s property.)

    I would personally eliminate Marx, and Engels from the must-read list, they’re doctrines have been exploded beyond all recognition, and its time that we let them die the quiet death that they owe human knowledge. Plus, both “Theory and History”, and “Human Action” above will displays the errors in the doctrines to the point there’s no point of actually reading them.

    As far as all those attacking the existence of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand on the must-read list, actually read the book instead of relying on the National Review take a small theme of the book, that being atheism, and turn it into the entire point of the book. “Atlas Shrugged” message is primarily that of how a laissez-faire economy is that which facilitates the dignity, and the creativity of man. Plus, just because its a must-read doesn’t read one must agree with it. [Right.]

  224. Londiniensis says:

    Lots of excellent suggestions on the main list and all the posts but for me one thing missing:

    Dante’s Divine Comedy is too totemic, influential, profound, beautiful and memorable not to make it. [ummm…. it is on the list, isn’t it? I have spent years studying it and talking about its importance. It is one of the top 5, wouldn’t you say?]

    In the Dostoevsky debate I’m definitely in the Brothers Karamazov camp. It’s scope and sweep surpass Crime and Punishment.

    Now, Science Fiction is not in the essential league, but if any is proposed, then for sheer imagination Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End (despite its anti-Christian overtones) or The City and the Stars, and, in preference to Heinlein, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. [Good point.] Also The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin, Ender’s Gane by Orson Scott Card, and (nasty but compelling) William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Not forgetting Mary Shelley’s seminal Frankenstein.

  225. Londiniensis says:

    How could I have missed from the SF sub-list Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. Disturbing and profound.

  226. marnie says:

    I’m glad to see 100 years of solitude. My second GGM choice is Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

    I’ll add my two Spanish favorites (other than the mystics)
    La celestina (great example of transition between medieval and renaissance literature)
    Don Quixote de la Mancha (with out Cervantes {and Shakespeare} where would western literature be?)

  227. Londiniensis says:

    If you’re going to include the rather eccentric Ayn Rand’s rather eccentric Atlas Shrugged, then better and more satisfying novels of size and sweep with philosophical and/or sociological overtones are Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain and Émile Zola’s Germinal. Neither is top ten material, but both beat Ayn Rand into a cocked hat. [I think we can admit they are better books. But this isn’t just about which books are the better books.]

  228. Kimberly says:

    The Converstion of Ratisbonne
    THE MASS – A Study of the Roman Liturgy – Fortescve

  229. Franzjosf says:

    1. I would argue for Dickens’s David Copperfield, rather than Great Expectations. Especially for a teen reader. Copperfield was Dickens’s favorite, and it captures the imagination of young readers better.

    2. Something from Balzac’s Human Comedy. Absolute brilliant at exploring the strengths and weaknesses of individual characters. Maybe Old Goriot.

    3. Yes, C. S. Lewis is controversial for a Catholic list. [Perhaps, but that is not what we are working on here! o{]:¬) ] But, the man was far-seeing. For that reason, I would recommend The Abolition of Man. (Not a theological work.) Written as three lectures in the 40’s, it proved to be prophetic in spotting the beginnings of anti-Western values being pushed upon Western children through text books. It explains much of what we see around us today. It is clear and concise.

  230. mbd says:

    An excellent list. I might suggest Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France – a withering critique of the modern ideological state at its inception. Burke’s rhetorical style at its best is unmatched in English political discourse – one can pull memorable phrases from every page. His admonition that one should “approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude’ is at odds with the arrogance of the modern mind which accepts no bounds in the reordering and remodeling of political structures and, indeed, of societal structures in general.

  231. bernadette says:

    RBrown, Yes I meant Franz Werfel. Have cobwebs for brains this morning.

  232. Romulus says:

    If we are going to require classical mythology (and I think we must), the two indispensable works are Ovid’s Metamorphoses (already mentioned) and Hesiod’s Theogony.

    I see no mention of Henry Adams’s Mont St. Michel and Chartres, which certainly opened my eyes to the mediaeval world.

    Flannery O’Connor’s collected letters, The Habit of Being, are a masterpiece of artistic and spiritual wisdom.

    To the Waugh canon, I insist be added his great trilogy Sword of Honour.

    I must agree with those arguing that Catcher in the Rye is not first rank literature, notwithstanding how it may have affected one in high school. Same goes for To Kill a Mockingbird. Ayn Rand’s radical insistence on self-help strikes me as incompatible (and even hostile) to Christianity.

  233. Londiniensis says:

    We’re probably too near the 20th Century to pick “canonical” books, but, apart from those listed above, the following were/are also important:
    Luigi Piramdello – Plays, Federico Garcia Lorca – Blood Wedding, House of Bernarda Alba, Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past (no, I haven’t read it!), Jean Cocteau – Plays, Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea, Roads to Freedom, Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex, Albert Camus – The Outsider, The Plague, The Fall, The Rebel, Charles Péguy – The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Yeats – Poems, Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure, Graham Greene – The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock, Rilke – Poetry, W H Auden – Poetry, Wedekind – Lulu, Hermann Hesse – The Glass Bead Game, Durrenmatt – The Visit of the Old Lady.

  234. Patrick says:

    I think Edgar Allan Poe belongs on the list. At least the Raven and some of his short stories like Usher.

  235. Londiniensis says:

    I didn’t include any Americans in my “where are they” list above, but even a limey like me can see that there are thing missing (I mean, if the list is to include secon-division writers like Heller).

    It amuses me that no-one has suggested James Joyce, [ummmm…. I did… ] and no, I’m not going to either, much to the disgust of the Eng.Lit. establishment.

  236. Cassandra says:

    Fr Zuhlsdorf, your approach on this subject is highly imprudent. [HUH? It’s. Just. A. List. A list to provoke thought and discussion. Imprudent? piffle]

    While some books may be influential, they may also be dangerous to one’s faith (or even a proper knowledge). You are putting a list out there without any prudent consideration to the capability of individuals to handle the subject matter appropriately. In fact, given that many dissidents are rather bright people and sometimes well-educated, you can’t just advance your argument “So… you don’t think people today need to know what the book is all about.” To what end, if it may undermine one’s own faith and thinking?

    The Church had a forbidden list for a reason. Even St. Thomas warns against trying to study over one’s head. This certainly goes against modern egalitarianism, but the idea that any given set of ideas can be tackled by anyone (or even most people) is just plain wrong and a disservice to the sheep.

  237. Londiniensis says:

    Sorry for typos above: things missing, second-division

  238. Patrick says:

    Also, how about Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations?

    And William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

    Thoreau and Emerson too.

    And William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

    There can be a case made, I think, for Joseph Campbell too.

  239. Londiniensis says:

    Cassandra was never heeded but always right. There is, of course, a strong argument for not giving children edged tools, but the sort of people who read this blog should be able to handle La Nausée without rushing out to commit suicide or Das Kapital without blowing up Wall Street. [Whew!] The evening news and popular culture bring us “liberal-relativistic” slanted opinions insiduously masquerading as fact every day, yet we survive with faith and reason more-or-less intact. No, read Karl Marx, but read Karl Popper as well.

  240. shadrach says:


    If laissez faire economics breeds human dignity then Charles Dickens must have been high when he made up all the details about grinding poverty and the shame it brings in its wake in his excellent oeuvre. (As an aside, the Irish were particularly fortunate to be subjected to laissez-faire economic orthodoxies during the potato famine; millions of them worked their way towards a point when they ceased to be any burden on the state whatsoever.)

    I think ‘Bleak House’ [I thought for a long time about putting that on my original list, but in the end just chose one Dickens… though with a caveat… “How do you chose one Dickens book?”] or ‘Little Dorrit’ should be on the list, and Rand, for her failures in imagination depicting humanity should be consigned to the interesting but non-essential list.

    I still feel strongly that Flaubert should be on the list, because no writer has a better grasp of the painful ironies of human life and human vanity. He is savage, because he is so perceptive.

  241. Bruce says:


    Just thought I would let you know that it was BECAUSE OF the gaps in modern & post modern fiction and non-fiction that led me to investigate the Truth of the Church. God works in mysterious ways!

    Mat 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find

  242. meg says:

    “…yet we survive with faith and reason more-or-less intact.” Do we all, really?

    Cassandra has a point – it is suggested in the original post that this list be read preferably before graduation from high school (18 years of age give or take). Since most of the readers of this blog are many years over 18 the idea would seem to be to have our children/students etc. read the list.

  243. David Charkowsky says:

    I want to add volume to the tiny voice seeking recgonition for classics of the East. Struggling to get into the Eastern mind through its writing was one of the most challenging, rewarding, and cherished projects of my life.

    Musashi — Book of Five Rings
    Patanjali — Yoga Sutras
    Chao-Chou — Collected Sayings
    Lao Tzu — Tao Te Ching

  244. Jason Keener says:

    This is a great topic, Father Z. [People have interesting angles, no?]

    I listed some of my essential books above, but I just wanted to add a few other ideas.

    I don’t think all of the Great Books listed in this thread should be a part of a high school or even undergraduate college curriculum. First, time in high school and college is limited. Second, young people often don’t have the intellectual capacity or life experience to appreciate or discern what is actually true or false in some of the Great Books. I’d be concerned that young people would not be able to discern what is false in the Koran, in Hegel, in Marx, and in Kant, for example. Time in school spent on Greek Mythology might be better spent on studying something like the proofs for the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ, which I doubt few young Christians today could explain. In the long run, how does a semester in high school spent on Greek Mythology benefit a high school student who can make no defense of Christianity or who knows little about logic, argumentation, or metaphysics?

    St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that education is more about learning the truth about how things really are than just a collection of men’s various thoughts on different things. It’s a big mistake to put the cart before the horse in education. Yes, students can learn some things about logic, argumentation, and metaphysics by reading and discussing Greek Mythology or any Great Book, but students will usually walk away from the experience with only a disjointed and confused picture of reality.

    It is probably a better idea to have high school and undergraduate students focus on books that give a clear and systematic presentation of the rules of argumentation, logic, the natural moral law, metaphysics, and Christian apologetics, etc. With a solid grounding in the rules and principles of reality under the belt, young people will then have the tools to spend a lifetime reading all of the Great Books.

    Happy Reading!

  245. Helen Donnelly says:

    How about anything by Fulton Sheen! [How about it? What and why?]

  246. laminustacitus says:

    What you are implying is that books neither you, nor the Church agree with must be hidden from view, that each individual should not be given a choice over whether to read them or not. It is an intellectual sleight of hand not to include the books that may be deemed heretical, yet are still of great value to the sum of human knowledge, in a list that seeks to gather the must-reads. One does not need to perfectly agree with the authors one reads, but by reading them you are enriching your own intelligence because you will know the questions that they bring to the table, and their own points against you. A great book is one that provokes thought, and it need to be correct.

    That is a very good reason why Ayn Rand is far better than Dickens! But I strongly suggest that you read authors like Hoppe, Mises, and Rothbard if you are going to read novelists like Dickens who had no problem condemning the Industrial Revolution for creating poverty, despite the fact that it is because of that very same phenomenon that man no longer must live out his life is dreadful poverty, that parents must no longer worry about whether a newborn will survive until adulthood, that diseases like smallpox, influenza, and typhus no longer devastate entire populations.
    “(As an aside, the Irish were particularly fortunate to be subjected to laissez-faire economic orthodoxies during the potato famine; millions of them worked their way towards a point when they ceased to be any burden on the state whatsoever.)”
    You have no conception then of what “laissez-faire economic orthodoxies” are then! The Irish were second-class citizens whose native land had been conquered by a foreign nation with the majority of the land held by that conquerer. Another factor to be considered with Ireland’s Great Famine is that, because the Irish owned a small fraction of all total land yet still had to feed themselves, they turned to farming JUST the potato because it enabled, in the good times, the Irish to at least eek out an existence. However, once the potato blight came, this practice fell to pieces. How can this possible be called a laissez-faire example when there was clearly government intervention utilized to redistribute the resources in Ireland (e.g. the land) away from the natives, and to English landlords?

    As far as putting “Wealth of Nations” on the list, Adam Smith is a less-than competent economist, and all that he did in that book was rehash what the Physiocrats, like Turgot, had said while adding in English fallacies like the labor theory of value. However, a treatise on economics is a must for this list Fr. Z!! Not only is economics a must for the comprehension of any social theory, but it is also everywhere! Ergo, I reinforce the addition of Ludwig von Mises’ “Human Action” to the list.

  247. Londiniensis says:

    EEEEEEEK! Dante and Joyce on the list all along. Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first strike mad – and whom they wish to strike mad, they first strike blind. Sorry Father!

  248. Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein should most definitely be on the list. I would also add Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest or perhaps The Picture of Dorian Gray.

  249. Daphne says:

    Pilgrim’s Progress! So many of the images in this book have made it into popular language, and inspired the writing of other books.

  250. As most of my predecessors have posted most of the books I would add to the list, I would just add this one:

    Of Time, Work and Leisure, by Sebastian DeGrazia.

    While it is written from a more secular basis than Pieper’s Leisure, The Basis of Culture, it gives a very informative presentation of leisure in past ages, and our present one.

  251. Christabel says:

    I already used one vote for the Koran on the basis that it is probably essential for us to read and know it in order to understand the world we live in today.

    May I have another vote? – this time for The Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope. [Great book! fun!] I would say that his ability to portray human nature in all its aspects has bever been bettered. An added bonus is that his descriptions of the machinations of church politics appear remarkably contemporary!

  252. AEM says:

    We are forgetting about the science books. How about Newton’s Principia, or Einstein’s Relativity? Wittgenstein’s Tractatus? Euclid’s Elements? Russell’s and Frege’s Principia Mathematica? I would also add G.H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology

    [I can see Euclid…]

  253. Girgadis says:

    Here is another I forgot that I don’t see on anyone else’s list yet (and probablyl for good reason that I’m about to discover) D.H Lawrence Sons and Lovers. Spent considerable time with this one in college when it was assigned reading.

  254. Federico says:

    Petrarca: Il Canzoniere.

    I second Boccaccio: Decameron.

  255. Till We Have Faces.

    You also need Malory or Cretien de Troyes or some other Medieval romance or lyric poetry from the Troubadours. Maybe the Romance of the Rose. Yes, Dante is important, but so is the whole troubadour tradition.

  256. trespinos says:

    In my earlier post, I forgot to list Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country.

  257. mbd says:

    I would suggest adding the works of two men who were, perhaps, the greatest exponents of classical political philosophy in the twentieth century – and without having familiarity with their writings, one cannot properly understand the works of such writers already listed as Hobbes and Machiavelli, not to mention Locke and Rousseau – Leo Strauss (Natural Right and History, or, perhaps, Thoughts on Machiavelli) and Eric Voegelin (New Science of Politics – Voegelin’s great work, of course, is his monumental Order and History, but its five volumes might overtax most students).

  258. Peggy says:

    Milton Friedman: “Capitalism and Freedom”

    Is Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” too trivialized as a result of the pop-culture interest in it, ie, not really important, despite its examination of a culture that dies and tries to rebuild itself anew?

  259. Mary Margaret says:

    Bulfinch’s Mythology
    Issac Asimov’s Foundation series (IMO, much better than Heinlein)
    Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (really, the whole trilogy)

  260. Nate says:

    With all due respect Father,

    I disagree with you when you include J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” in some of the books you SHOULD read through high school and college. There is no purpose to this novel, and is entirely perverted throughout the entire novel. Not only are most of the themes objectionable(being sex, masturbation, drinking, and all of the swearing (gd’s throughout!)), but also the the messages potrayed in it.

    You surely can’t recommend a book with such themes as these listed above. I curently just read this book for my tenth grade english class, and I found it entirely repulsive, and perverted.

    On a completly literary view of the book, there is no point in it. I know not all books need to have a “lesson” or writing such as that, but why would one include “CITR” with other GREAT works such as Plato’s “Republic” or “The Confessions?” All CITR seems to be is an emotionally disturbed 17 year old boy’s diary. How is this a “great” piece of literature? Being 15 has been hard enough without reading such drivel.

  261. Hugh says:

    “Theology and Sanity” by Frank Sheed. Can’t think of a better book to inculcate a Catholic way of thinking. I try to reread it every couple of years.

  262. Corleone says:

    Father I would humbly add “The Deliverance of Sister Cecila”. If you have never heard about it, it is a true account of a Slovakian nun during the time of the Communist takeover and subsequent repression. It was given to me by my grandmother (buon anima) when I was in my teens, and I recal her saying to me, “I believe the same has been done to us in the church today. We just haven’t realized it yet.”

  263. Andreas says:


    I am with you. A lot of garbage gets passed on under the guise of “literature”. And just beacause something is glorified by the world, it’s not a guarantee of quality.

  264. RBrown says:

    It amuses me that no-one has suggested James Joyce, [ummmm…. I did… ] and no, I’m not going to either, much to the disgust of the Eng.Lit. establishment.
    Comment by Londiniensis

    I have over 50 credit hours of university English literature and never read Joyce. Further, I never heard a prof recommend him.

    Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Donne, Jonson, Hardy, Dickens, Austen, Blake, Byron, The Gawain Poet, Browning, Fielding, Swift, Dr Johnson among others.

    But no Joyce.

    As a matter of fact, Dr. Senior once said that he knew a lot of people who talked about Joyce, but he knew no one who had ever read an entire book by Joyce.

  265. RBrown says:

    I once mentioned War and Peace (which I had read) to one of my mentors at the Angelicum, P. Lagutaine. His reply was that it’s a lot like that American book Gone With The Wind.

  266. shadrach says:

    Hello RBrown,

    Meet someone who’s read Joyce multiple times (minus Finnegans Wake) all the way through. He’s great. Start with ‘Dubliners’ and ‘Portrait’ and then go through ‘Ulysses’. The same characters pop up again and again, until you get to know them and love them: Martin Cunningham, Kernan, Crofton, Bantam Lyons, Fr Conmee. Joyce loved humanity and understood it very well.

    Nate, if you think ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is a blast, just wait til you try life.

    Laminus, I’ve never seen anyone casuistically hammer unwieldy historical facts into a theoretical straitjacket quite as shamelessly as you have over the Irish famine. Theory kills, agonizingly.

    I’m still promoting Flaubert.

  267. Thomas says:

    My apologies if I missed this book in this Leviathan of a thread, but what about:

    GOD & MAN AT YALE by William F. Buckley, Jr.

    At least for an American audience (and I think it has far broader relevance to Western Civilization in general) it was a landmark debut for a man who shaped conservatism in the States.

    And on a side note, for what it’s worth, when choosing a Mark Twain book the author himself thought his best was JOAN OF ARC.

  268. Frances says:

    The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton

  269. Londiniensis says:

    Another few suggestions for the top 100 – all important, etc and immensely readable – definitely ones for the “canon”:
    Giorgio Vasari – Lives of the Artists
    Xenophon – The Persian Expedition
    Jorge Luis Borges – Fictions
    Helen Waddell – Lyrics from the Chinese
    The Song of Roland
    Ernst Gombrich – The Story of Art

    And other, slighter, pleasures – highly polished gems that are never going to make the “canonical” lists but nonetheless persistently haunt the memory, such as:
    Georges Perec – The Winter Journey
    M.R. James – Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
    Alain-Fournier – Le Grand Meaulnes
    Vita Sackville-West – The Heir
    George MacDonald – At the Back of the North Wind
    H. Rider Haggard – King Solomon’s Mines
    Sir Walter Scott – Ivanhoe
    Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca
    C.S. Lewis – The Ransom trilogy
    Andrew Lang – The “Fairy” Books
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – Fairy Tales
    Hans Christian Andersen – Fairy Tales
    G.K. Chesterton – The Father Brown Stories

    And in the unforgettable pleasures category I wholeheartedly support one of the commenters above:
    Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows

  270. Christina says:

    Another one that I’d add would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby if only for his beautiful narrative style. People should know when books are written like that; and it’s among the most highly acclaimed American novels.

    Also, although I’ve never read Wise Blood, I have to put a note in for Flannery O’Connor. Her short stories are absolutely brilliant and excellent examples of literature that is highly Catholic in nature without being overtly Catholic with regards to plot.

  271. John says:

    Fr. Z,

    I love this post. I haven’t had a chance to read all the entries but I think Romano Amerio’s Iota Unum is essential. His method of using official and quasi-offical pronouncements to deconstruct and analyze what happened after the council is excellent. It is a sober, and sometimes very sad account; but necessary for anyone seeking to understand what has happened the past 45 years in the Church.

    What do you think?

  272. Londiniensis says:

    One of the above commenters suggested Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. For the way that it became a deeply seminal and symbolic work, and also for its extraordinary merits per se, I would rather put forward his Bronze Horseman.

  273. Londiniensis says:

    Another rich vein untapped:
    Christopher Marlowe – Doctor Faustus
    John Webster – The Duchess of Malfi
    Thomas Middleton and William Rowley – The Changeling
    Henrik Ibsen – Hedda Gabler
    Anton Chekhov – The Cherry Orchard
    August Strindberg – The Ghost Sonata
    Jean Racine – Andromaque
    Pierre Corneille – Le Cid
    Tennessee Williams – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
    Edward Albee – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    Friedrich Schiller – Don Carlos
    Hugo von Hofmannsthal – libretto for Der Rosenkavalier

    All can make good cases for first-division status, but perhaps Chekhov and Ibsen best capture the human condition, closely followed by Tennessee Williams. Webster undoubtedly makes the most visceral impact, and Strindberg is the most challenging and disturbing.

  274. Rouxfus says:

    St. John’s College at Annapolis and Santa Fe list the curriculum of books read in their course of study for a degree. It it looks like a wonderfully grounding curriculum in the liberal arts, and the intellectual cornerstones of Western Civilization, which span all the major branches of knowledge and art:

    Academic Program

    The Reading List

    The reading list that serves as the core of the St. John’s College curriculum had its beginnings at Columbia College, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Virginia. Since 1937, the list of books has been under continued review at St. John’s College. The distribution of the books over the four years is significant. Something over 2,000 years of intellectual history form the background of the first two years; about 300 years of history form the background for almost twice as many authors in the last two years.

    The first year is devoted to Greek authors and their pioneering understanding of the liberal arts; the second year contains books from the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods; the third year has books of the 17th and 18th centuries, most of which were written in modern languages; the fourth year brings the reading into the 19th and 20th centuries.
    The chronological order in which the books are read is primarily a matter of convenience and intelligibility; it does not imply a historical approach to the subject matter. The St. John’s curriculum seeks to convey to students an understanding of the fundamental problems that human beings have to face today and at all times. It invites them to reflect both on their continuities and their discontinuities.


    HOMER: Iliad, Odyssey
    AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
    SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax
    THUCYDIDES: Peloponnesian War
    EURIPIDES: Hippolytus, Bacchae
    HERODOTUS: Histories
    PLATO: Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theatetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
    ARISTOTLE: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
    EUCLID: Elements
    LUCRETIUS: On the Nature of Things
    PLUTARCH: Lycurgus, Solon
    NICOMACHUS: Arithmetic
    LAVOISIER: Elements of Chemistry
    HARVEY: Motion of the Heart and Blood
    Essays by: Archimedes, Fahrenheit, Avogadro, Dalton, Cannizzaro, Virchow, Mariotte, Driesch, Gay-Lussac, Spemann, Stears, J.J. Thompson, Mendeleyev, Berthollet, J.L. Proust


    THE BIBLE: New Testament
    ARISTOTLE: De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories
    APOLLONIUS: Conics
    VIRGIL: Aeneid
    PLUTARCH: “Caesar,” “Cato the Younger,” “Antony,” “Brutus”
    EPICTETUS: Discourses, Manual
    TACITUS: Annals
    PTOLEMY: Almagest
    PLOTINUS: The Enneads
    AUGUSTINE: Confessions
    MAIMONIDES: Guide for the Perplexed
    ST. ANSELM: Proslogium
    AQUINAS: Summa Theologica
    DANTE: Divine Comedy
    CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales
    MACHIAVELLI: The Prince, Discourses
    KEPLER: Epitome IV
    RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel
    PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli
    MONTAIGNE: Essays
    VIETE: Introduction to the Analytical Art
    BACON: Novum Organum
    SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets
    POEMS BY: Marvell, Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
    DESCARTES: Geometry, Discourse on Method
    PASCAL: Generation of Conic Sections
    BACH: St. Matthew Passion, Inventions
    HAYDN: Quartets
    MOZART: Operas
    BEETHOVEN: Third Symphony
    SCHUBERT: Songs
    STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms


    CERVANTES: Don Quixote
    GALILEO: Two New Sciences
    HOBBES: Leviathan
    DESCARTES: Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
    MILTON: Paradise Lost
    LA FONTAINE: Fables
    PASCAL: Pensees
    HUYGENS: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
    ELIOT: Middlemarch
    SPINOZA: Theological-Political Treatise
    LOCKE: Second Treatise of Government
    RACINE: Phaedre
    NEWTON: Principia Mathematica
    KEPLER: Epitome IV
    LEIBNIZ: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay On Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
    SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels
    HUME: Treatise of Human Nature
    ROUSSEAU: Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality
    MOLIERE: Le Misanthrope
    ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations
    KANT: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
    MOZART: Don Giovanni
    JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice
    DEDEKIND: “Essay on the Theory of Numbers”
    “Articles of Confederation,” “Declaration of Independence,” “Constitution of the United States of America”
    TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    WORDSWORTH: The Two Part Prelude of 1799
    Essays by: Young, Taylor, Euler, D. Bernoulli, Orsted, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell


    Supreme Court opinions
    GOETHE: Faust
    DARWIN: Origin of Species
    HEGEL: Phenomenology of Mind, “Logic” (from the Encyclopedia)
    LOBACHEVSKY: Theory of Parallels
    TOCQUEVILLE: Democracy in America
    LINCOLN: Selected Speeches
    FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Selected Speeches
    KIERKEGAARD: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
    WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
    MARX: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
    DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov
    TOLSTOY: War and Peace
    MELVILLE: Benito Cereno
    O’CONNOR: Selected Stories
    WILLIAM JAMES; Psychology, Briefer Course
    NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil
    FREUD: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
    BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: Selected Writings
    DUBOIS: The Souls of Black Folk
    HUSSERL: Crisis of the European Sciences
    HEIDEGGER: Basic Writings
    EINSTEIN: Selected papers
    CONRAD: Heart of Darkness
    FAULKNER: Go Down Moses
    FLAUBERT: Un Coeur Simple
    WOOLF: Mrs. Dalloway
    Poems by: Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Valery, Rimbaud
    Essays by: Faraday, J.J. Thomson, Millikan, Minkowski, Rutherford, Davisson, Schrodinger, Bohr, Maxwell, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Mendel, Boveri, Sutton, Morgan, Beadle & Tatum, Sussman, Watson & Crick, Jacob & Monod, Hardy

  275. Maximilian Nightingale says:

    Though I like Crime and Punishment better, I think The Brothers Karamazov must be on that list. As for Plato, there are at least four that come before the Republic: Euthyphro, Apologia, Crito, Phaedo (these all concern the trial and death of Socrates but also are representative of his teaching). As for Orwell, I think Animal Farm deserves the pick at least as much as 1984 for denouncing animals through the ancient form of the fable.

    A fun list! I’ll have to read more of these at Thomas Aquinas College over the next four years.

  276. Maximilian Nightingale says:

    I’m also going to second whoever suggested the Bhagavad Gita. The Ramayana is one of my favorite stories but it is 8 times as long as the Iliad. The Mahabharata is 20 times the length of the Iliad, but the Bhagavad Gita is a short portion of it that is a good representation of the Indian canon.

  277. ssoldie says:

    Wow! I am a little late with my opinon,I am assuming this is a Catholic school, as what books I think are essential,are books that will help one live and learn a more spiritually good life.
    My Catholic Faith, Louis Morrow
    33 Doctors of the Catholic Church,Rengers
    St Edmund Campion, Waugh
    A Man Born Again,Beahn
    Right and Reason,Fogathey
    Catechism of the Council Of Trent
    Apostle of Common Sense,Ahlquist
    Footsteps In A Darkened Forest, Sheen
    A Doctor At Calvary,Barbet
    Abortating America,Nathanson
    The Life And Religion Of Mohammed,Menezes
    The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, Sander
    Triumph,Crocker III
    and if you want some really fun reading, I enjoy, Wm. Biersach’s books, The Endless Knot, The Darkness DiD Not,The Search for St Valeria, Out Of The Depths,While The Eyes Of The Great Are Elsewhere. For what it’s worth, thats my opinion.

  278. Joe says:

    I think Cassandra brings up a good point, and I am somewhat surprised that most people ignore it in presenting some books. St Paul wrote “all things are lawful to me but not all things are expedient” (I Cor 10:13) It isn’t just a matter of an Index, but the early Fathers of the undivided Church had great concerns about the effect that the images of art could have on the mind. Christians were not allowed to attend theatre and having participated as an actor was an impediment to ordination. A Christian’s list will include books that edify and build up for his final end, and will not include things that do not do so.

    I still defend the idea of something like Wikipedia for many philosophers. Having read the ones I mentioned in my earlier post, I am aware of their historical significance, and I still think that what you could read on one page might not satisfy the professional but will do quite well for the average intelligent person.

  279. Paul the Other says:

    I can only sadly conclude that I’m not nearly as well read as I thought I was.

  280. peregrinus says:

    May I suggest starting with “The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan” by the late Fr.John Hardon, SJ and go from there.

  281. Jason says:

    Hamlet. This seems to be the most alluded to Shakespearean plays, so I should read it to know why so many authors allude to it.

    Also, the Bible is a must read, even for non-Christian students. It is probably THE most alluded to book in Western literature.

  282. bernadette says:

    Corleone, I am glad you mentioned The Deliverance of Sister Cecilia. I read it in the 6th grade, I think in 1959. It had a huge influence on my conversion to Catholicism.

  283. Amanda says:

    It seems to me that if the typical secular high school student read even some of the canons/decrees of the Council of Trent, it would give a much better historical understanding of that time period.

    Again, Catholic, but Cassian’s Conferences

    How about Profiles in Courage by JFK?

    I felt at least reasonably well-read for a girl in her 20s until I read this list!

  284. Anon. says:

    A vote against Profiles in Courage because it was ghost written.

    I still don\’t understand how you can have put on a book like To Kill a Mockingbird and not have a single work by William Faulkner. For instance in Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner exposes how Puritanism corrupts society by its attempt to impose an idealistic rigid order on society. Thomas Sutpen\’s Puritanical design proves to be his own downfall.

  285. Amy D says:

    Many of the western things I would have mentioned have already been covered. Instead I will go look to the east.

    Basho- Any poems
    Dogen – “Instructions for the Cook”

  286. Kimberly says:

    Fr.Z, I know you said you “mean books you should read… essential books you should know.” But I guess we all have different ways of finding the meaning of life, but I have to agree with ssoldie about those last few books she mentions by Wm. Biersach , The Endless Knot, The Darkness DiD Not,The Search for St Valeria, Out Of The Depths. Even though they are written in a contemporary, novel form I have learned more about the traditional Church then all others. Plus, I got one heck of a good laugh! It was an essential combination for me.

  287. Federico says:

    another one came to mind.

    Pirandello: Il fu Mattia Pascal

  288. Miriam says:

    Father Z,

    Thanks for an incredible list! I’ve read some of the books mentioned, and now want to read a whole lot more. . . “quot libros, quam tempus breve” . . .

    My modest additions:

    The Son of Man, by Francois Mauriac (translated by Bernard Murchland), for the last paragraph of the first chapter, which hit me like a freight train when I first read it — it has to do with the Holy Eucharist.

    Pardon and Peace, by Alfred Wilson, C.P., which deals with the sacrament of confession thoroughly.

    Brother Petroc’s Return, by S.M.C., which deals with the differences between pre- and post-Reformation Catholicism, as seen through the eyes of the Benedictine order.

    The Dark Wheel, also by S.M.C., which deals with a religiously indifferent man facing death who is plunged into a “fantastic” journey into a truly “Catholic” world and is finally converted.

    In solitary witness: the life and death of Franz Jagerstatter, “the remarkable story of [one man], an Austrian peasant who refused to fight in Hitler’s was because he believed that the Nazi movement was anti-Christian.” (from the blurb on the dust jacket). He was beheaded and has been beatified.

    If one reads Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”, I suggest following immediately with “The Pilgrim’s Regress” by C.S. Lewis, “the first book written after his conversion” (from the blurb on the dust jacket).

    With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me, both by Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, about his time spent in Russia. The former is more straight autobiography; the latter shines a light on the whys and hows of Fr. Ciszek’s ability to retain his faith. It’s wonderful spiritual encouragement.

    Out of all the dozens if not hundreds of books on abortion, three in particular:

    Rachel Weeping and Other Essays on Abortion, by James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C., which provides, among other things, solid philosophical reasons against abortion;

    Aborted Women, Silent No More: Twenty women share their personal journeys from the tragedy of abortion to restored wholeness, by David C. Reardon, which was (to my knowledge) the first (major) book to directly address the stories of women who have had abortions; and

    Give Us Love, Not Abortions: the voices of sexual assault victims and their children, edited by David C. Reardon and Julie Makimaa, which, as the title says, gives voice to a particular group of women (victims of sexual assault who became pregnant as a result of that assault) whose testimony makes it crystal clear that abortion in these circumstances is NEVER the answer.

    The Hammer of God, by Bo Giertz, which is a novel about three Swedish pastors faced with dissent in the ranks and how they deal with it — contains useful lessons, in my estimation, for Catholics as well.

    Sister Teresia & The Spirit, by Father Fractious, which is a spoof/satire on the state of (some) modern-day women’s religious orders, in which Sister Teresia’s order goes from being “Catholic” to destroying itself from within. A cautionary tale, to be sure (and loads of fun)!

    For children:

    the Redwall series by Brian Jacques; the high adventure, the courtesy, the struggles between good and evil, the fabulous food, and the fact that the Redwall “abbey” is obviously (?) based on Catholic orders make it edifying reading (and for adults, too!).

    The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key, in which a boy from another planet, so far advanced from ours that they have no war, no money, and plenty of serenity and kindness, finds himself on Earth, and what happens to the family which shelters him (contains evidently Catholic themes).

    Mister God, this is Anna, by Fynn, which is a view of life from a child’s (Anna’s) eyes, as seen through a young adult’s (Fynn’s) eyes; contains some fascinating answers to some of life’s big questions.

    A Retreat With St. Ignatius, by Geoffrey Bliss, SJ (re-printed by Sophia Press under the title “My Path to Heaven: A young person’s guide to the Faith”), which is a retreat for children based on the 30-day Ignatian retreat. Superb for home-schoolers and for adults who are luke-warm and want to recharge (that was me, the first time I used this book for a private retreat).

    And finally, as far as books go, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, by Alice Hegan Rice. The first copyright is 1901. When my mother saw the cover of the book (I found it in an antique shop), she said, “Ah, Mrs. Wiggs!” as if Mrs. Wiggs were a good friend of hers. A few moments later my father saw the cover of the book, and said, “AH! Mrs. Wiggs!!” as if she were a great friend of his!! It’s a classic example of how the poor can exhibit incredible amounts of generosity and charity, even in the face of grinding poverty.

    Short stories have been mentioned a few times. I’ve read hundreds of short stories, and there is one that I place at the very top of the list, unquestionably: “Leaf by Niggle”, written by J. R. R. Tolkien. I consider it to be the finest short story ever, and (as a bonus) it can be said to have a distinctly Catholic theme (but I’m not going to give it away!).

    I can’t help but second the people who have already suggested Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly, Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed, and At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. Those books come highly recommended!

  289. From what I’ve seen, we’re missing the most significant poet of the 20th Century.

    The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats.

    It vexes me that Catcher In the Rye is on the list; I’m vexed. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be on the list because…that’s like saying we shouldn’t understand people who are all about felt banners. They vex me too, but I can’t just wish them away.

  290. Londiniensis says:

    Der Tommissar, I love Yeats, and did propose him in one of my (many) posts up-thread, but would suggest that the 20th Century laurel crown goes to T S Eliot.

    I also know what you mean about Catcher In the Rye, but if something should be thrown off Father Z’s original list I’d rather throw out Catch-22 on the grounds of triviality, to be replaced by Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik.

  291. PaulJason says:


    I sent an email titled “Books we should have read” with a recommendation to add to the list. After sending it realized the forward I sent was written by a Catholic convert; Dr. E. F. Schumacher the author of another great book called “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”, I would suggest this one also.

  292. pearl says:

    Keys To This Blood – Fr. Malachi Martin
    Hostage To The Devil – Fr. Malachi Martin
    Flowers For Algernon – Daniel Keyes
    The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations Vol I-IV – Anne Catherine Emmerich
    The Pearl – John Steinbeck
    Bus 9 To Paradise – C.S. Lewis

  293. Henry Edwards says:

    I always run the other way when I see a your-favorite-whatever thread like this.

    But I just noticed the name of Malachi Martin under “Recent Comments”, and was surprised when a word search revealed that in 292 posts his “Windswept House” has not been mentioned. Pure fiction, of course, but does anyone who’s read it know of a book in which it’s harder to stop turning the pages.

  294. Londiniensis says:

    I can’t allow the Malachi Martin recommendations to stand unchallenged. I don’t object to him because he is a Jeffrey Archerish bad writer – after all there are some excruciatingly bad writers, such as for example H.P. Lovecraft, who nonetheless have redeeming features, in Lovecraft’s case a fertile imagination and excellent scene and mood setting. No, I would challenge Malachi Martin because he has unwittingly or wittingly provided an “alternative history” for a certain type of conspiracy theory nut who takes his fictions as veiled allusions to real happenings – “after all he was a Vatican insider”.

    If you want literary supernatural frissons, go to real writers like Charles Williams, Algernon Blackwood and M.R. James.

    Oh, and a few additions to my list of little “polished gems”:
    E.M. Forster – The Celestial Omnibus
    Leo Tolstoy – What Men Live By
    Rudyard Kipling – The Just So Stories
    Anthony Trollope – The Warden

  295. Christopher says:

    Here’s another voice added to the lobby for the classics of the East. I know the “can’t believe” locution is annoying but to someone who is trying to have a global, rather than a parochial view of the human condition it really did raise an eyebrow to see absolutely nothing included from outside the West, especially in light of the presence of several books which may very well be deservedly forgotten within the next couple of generations. (Catcher in the Rye? Catch-22? Will we really care about these books a hundred years from now?)

    Not to put a huge list of the Chinese classics here, but at the very least the Analects of Confucius, or even the Four Books of which it is one (along with Mencius, Great Learning, and Doctrine of the Mean–the whole thing is quite brief actually–) needs to be on any such list. You mention the founding documents of a young country; these are the founding documents of a two-thousand-five-hundred-year-old civilization that spans a continent. Add the Three Kingdoms, and probably the Tao Te Ching as a minimum. But if only one representative work is wanted, it should surely be the Analects!

    The real question is what this list is supposed to represent. If it is specifically designed for an American consciousness than the fairly generous representation of American books (Twain, Harper Lee….) is reasonable. If it is endeavoring to be global in its scope than these books are frankly not nearly as important as any number of other works that are not on the list. I’m not being anti-American here at all; I love my country; but I’m trying to see our literary productions from an impartial “global” view, not from of a view that says “this is important to us because it’s our culture.”

    I think Great Expectations and David Copperfield both need to be on the list. Easch is indispensible, as is a great deal of Trollope, although I for one would find it very difficult to choose a handful of Trollope to put on it.

    Yes, Brothers K ahead of C&P.

    Yes, the non-fiction of C. S. Lewis. Why not all? It’s not so very much–the entire non-fiction (excluding, say, the Oxford History of English Literature) could probably fit in one volume.

    Poetry of Pope, and Yeats, definitely.

  296. Christopher says:

    Let me put the above a slightly different way. To have included the U.S. founding documents but omitted Confucius was surprising but not bizarre. To have omitted Confucius but included Catch-22 was both very bizarre and very surprising.

  297. Miriam says:

    Pearl — Bus 9 to Paradise was written, not by C.S. Lewis, but by Leo Buscaglia.

    An additional comment on the subject of this thread: along the lines of “Leaf by Niggle” under short stories, I humbly submit that there are only a handful of individual poems that top the list of “should-be-reads”:

    1. “To a waterfowl” by William Cullen Bryant, because of the hope and trust it speaks of;
    2. “Iam Hiems Transiit” by S.M.C. (found in “Brother Petroc’s Return”; because of the simple beauty of the entire salvation story, in 24 lines);
    3. “Limbo” by Sister Mary Ada (found in “The Mary Book”, assembled by F.J. Sheed — a fabulous poem to be read after the Easter Vigil, which speaks of the reactions of the souls in “limbo” at the time of Christ’s descent into hell after His death).

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