88 Books that Shaped America

88 Books that Shaped America - Library of Congress

Last month, a fascinating exhibit opened at the Library of Congress. It identified and celebrated 88 different books which had “shaped America”, even changing the lives of many Americans. The list is available online, along with a thoughtful explanation for each of the selections. And best of all, 61 of the books are available in Amazon’s Kindle Store — and most of them are free!

I really enjoyed reading their descriptions of each book and the ways they’d impacted America. ” Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, for example, is described as “The first science fiction novel to become a bestseller,” and they note that it’s now considered a science fiction classic. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is included as “The defining novel of the 1950s Beat Generation (which Kerouac named)…,” a book which “influenced artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Hunter S. Thompson…” There’s even three books on their list which are older than America itself — two influential books by Benjamin Franklin from the mid-1700s, and Thomas Paine’s revolutionary tract, Common Sense

If your favorite book isn’t on the list, it might be later. The Library of Congress is asking the public to nominate other books to be included on the list, and to share their stories about how they’ve been changed by the influential books that they’ve read. “This list is a starting point…” announced James H. Billington, the official Librarian of the U.S. Congress. “[T]he list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.”

He added a hope that Americans would read these books and have conversations about them. Sure enough, soon blogs around the web were weighing in with their thoughts. One CNN blogger called it “admirably inclusive… The Library of Congress list also includes lowbrow literature alongside the serious novels you might find in the ‘Harvard Classics’ anthology, most notably children’s books from The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon to Little Women and Where the Wild Things Are. And someone calling themself “The Delaware Libertarian” complained that they’d left out what are also some of my favorite books, including Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and the wonderful USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos.

But maybe that’s the ultimate way to celebrate America: By recognizing that everyone has their own story — their own personal memories of books that had changed their life. I remember being inspired to drive across America after reading On the Road – but I also know that there’s many more books which have probably touched their readers in equally powerful ways. Benjamin Franklin himself formed the first public library in America, specifically because he believed that simply having books available could improve the lives of the people around him. He’d be honored that three of his books made it onto this list, but he’d probably be even more proud to know that more than 250 years later, Americans are still reading books — and celebrating them.


Below is the complete list from the Library of Congress of
88 Books that Shaped America

Library of Congress

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)

Alcoholics Anonymous by anonymous (1939)

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796)

The American Woman’s Home by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869)

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts (1987)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)

The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (1946)

Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1980)

A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible by anonymous (1788)

The Double Helix by James D. Watson (1968)

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (1907)

Experiments and Observations on Electricity by Benjamin Franklin (1751)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger (1914)

The Federalist by anonymous (1787)

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963)

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947)

A Grammatical Institute of the English Language by Noah Webster (1783)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford (1901)

The History of Standard Oil by Ida Tarbell (1904)

History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis (1814)

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1956)

The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill (1946)

Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures by Federal Writers’ Project (1937)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)

Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer (1931)

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)

Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

Mark, the Match Boy by Horatio Alger Jr. (1869)

McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer by William Holmes McGuffey (1836)

Moby-Dick; or The Whale by Herman Melville (1851)

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)

Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

New England Primer by anonymous (1803)

New Hampshire by Robert Frost (1923)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971)

Our Town: A Play by Thornton Wilder (1938)

Peter Parley’s Universal History by Samuel Goodrich (1837)

Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890)

Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin (1758)

Pragmatism by William James (1907)

The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. by Benjamin Franklin (1793)

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (1912)

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey (1948)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (1923)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert E. Heinlein (1961)

A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks (1945)

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947)

A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles (1789)

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

A Treasury of American Folklore by Benjamin A. Botkin (1944)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965)

Walden; or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau (1854)

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes (1925)

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez (2002)

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