88 books that shaped America, at the Library of Congress


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The Library of Congress has selected 88 books that shaped America, all by American authors. The first was published in 1751, and the most recent in 2002. Each author is represented only once, with one exception: Benjamin Franklin, who landed three books on the list. Apparently the listmakers at the Library of Congress think quite a lot of the founding father.

‘This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books -- although many of them fit that description. Rather, the 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,’ Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a release. ‘We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world.’


The list includes poetry, novels, nonfiction, plays, a polemic, books of science and grammar, cookbooks and children’s books. The list includes 26 books published since 1950, 35 published from 1900 to 1950, 15 published from 1850 to 1900, six published from 1800 to 1850 and nine published before 1800.

For those who can get to Washington, the Library of Congress has the books on exhibit through Sept. 29. Those who can’t get there to see the books in person are welcome to take the Library of Congress’ online survey, which asks readers which of the big list of books they think are most significant.

After the jump, the 88 books that shaped America from the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress’ list of 88 books that shaped America, sorted by title:

‘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/ thought to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (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)

I noticed it’s a little thin on books about the cultural changes of the 1960s, but that can be rectified; the survey asks for suggestions for future lists.


What Bill Clinton was reading during the summer of 2009

An American writes: Amy Tan


Americans read: John Irving

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Images: book covers from the collection at the Library of Congress.