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Classic Books for College Students

The exploration of literary works can significantly contribute to one's college education. Regardless of what a student's interests are, he or she has numerous genres to choose from. Courtesy of ebook readers, even the thickest books can easily be carried in a handbag or backpack. This helps students with limited time take advantage of stolen moments to read on the bus, between classes, or before bed. Even beyond college, it pays to be well-read. Any of the number of great literary works, either classic or modern, fiction or nonfiction, can keep either student or non-student entertained.


  • The Iliad by Homer: The Iliad is an epic Greek poem that takes place during the Trojan War. The story takes place during the last year of the war.
  • Oedipus Rex by Sophocles: A Greek tragedy that is also known as Oedipus the King. It has been described as the purest of tragedies and tells the story of a man who unknowingly fulfills his tragic destiny while attempting to avoid it.
  • Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon epic poem written by an anonymous poet. It is about the Geatish hero Beowulf who battles the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother and a dragon.
  • The Odyssey by Homer: An epic that tells the story of Odysseus following the fall of Troy. The story centers around his journey home.
  • Oresteia by Aeschylus: An ancient trilogy of Greek tragedies. They are about the conclusion of the curse upon the House of Atreus.
  • The Republic by Plato: A work about rights and justice. It uses the Socratic Method as a means of involving the reader and keeping them engaged.


  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift:A story in which a writer travels to various locations around the world. During his travels he meets giants and people no more than 6 inches tall. The story satirizes human nature.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Story of an ex-student by the name of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov who plans to kill a pawnbroker.
  • 1984 by George Orwell: A book that is both political and science fiction. It was originally written in 1949 and tells the story of government surveillance and control.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: A story that was originally published during the Spanish Golden Age. It tells the story of Alonso Quijano who attempts to revive chivalry as a result of books that he has read.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: The well-known story about a scientist who created an artificial human being that was considered a monster.
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera: A novel that takes place in Czechoslovakia in the late 60s and early 70s. It tells the story of a surgeon, his wife, his lover, and university professor.
  • Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: A novel based in Monterey's Cannery Row during the Great Depression.


  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: A satire about the experiences of a soldier named Billy Pilgrim during World War II.
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: A Great Depression-era novel chronicling the migration of a poor farming family from drought-stricken Oklahoma to California.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker: The story of a black woman's struggle against racism in society and domestic abuse at home.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: A novel about the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on a soldier in World War I.
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: A first-person dystopian novel set in futuristic England about a sadistic young boy who is imprisoned and cured of his violent tendencies. It is a story that denounces government and proclaims the sanctity of free will.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison: The story of a home and family haunted by a daughter that was killed to spare her from slavery.
  • Native Son by Richard Wright: A best-selling novel about a poor African-American young man who gets caught up in downward spiral that leads to murder and ultimately the death penalty.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: The coming-of-age story of an orphan girl who grows up to confront the issues of religion, social class, gender roles, and morality.

Biography History and Social Theory

Philosophy and Religion

  • The Bible: A collection of religious books that form the basis of Judaism and Christianity.
  • The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama: A philosophical book that proposes that happiness is more the result of one's state of mind than anything else.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: A novel that formed part of the basis of the Objectivist philosophy.
  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James: A collection of William James' views regarding natural theology.
  • The Golden Bough by James George Frazer: A book that tries to explain the relationship between religion and mythology, and its transition toward the age of scientific discovery and thought.
  • Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre: A book that attempts to prove the existence of free will.

Drama and Poetry

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: A Shakespearean tragedy about Hamlet, a prince of Denmark. As one of Shakespeare's longest plays, Hamlet tells the story of the prince's revenge on his uncle for killing his father, King Hamlet.
  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams: A play that closely follows the life of Tennessee Williams and is thought to be autobiographical.
  • Faust by Johann von Goethe: Faust is seen as one of Germany's greatest literary works. It is a tragedy that has two parts.
  • Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht: An anti-war themed play that is considered one of greatest of the 20th century.
  • A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen: A play that consists of three acts and criticizes what was considered normal for marriages of the time.
  • The Misanthrope by Moliere: A comedy that was written in the 17th century that makes fun of the French aristocracy and points out human flaws.

Science and Mathematics

  • Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: Scientific literature about evolutionary biology. It was the first to discuss natural selection.
  • A River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins: A book based on the theory that all modern species have a common ancestor.
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time is an attempt to explain cosmology in a way that common people can understand.
  • Principia Mathematica by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russe: A landmark book proving the relationship between math and logic.
  • The Double Helix by James D. Watson: The first person account of the discovery of the double helix.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond: A book that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. It proposes a theory why Eurasians have conquered other people around the world.
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson: A book that is believed to be one of the primary causes of the environmental movement by putting a spotlight on issues such as pesticides. It was published in 1962.


  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu: A book of military strategies by the Chinese general Sun Tzu.
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White: A writing guide for the American English language. A valuable reference guide for students.
  • Civilization on its Discontents by Sigmund Freud: A work that examines the meaning of civilization. The book covers many theories.
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: A book that seeks to explain the nature of social epidemics.