Stacks of books.

Hillsdale’s List of Top Ten Books You’ve Got to Read

Alumnus David Graber, ’14, nominated the College via Facebook to list our picks for the top ten most influential books, so we asked professors from around campus for recommendations. The hardest part of creating this list was narrowing it down to just ten books! Without further ado, here is Hillsdale’s list of ten most influential books, and why you’ve got to read them.

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1. Aristotle’s Ethics

“The Nichomachean Ethics offers a theory of the moral life which is richer and corresponds better to human experience than the competing modern theories such as utilitarianism, particularly associated with John Stewart Mill, deontology, which is primarily associated with Emmanuel Kant, and emotivism, associated with Friedrich Nietzsche.”

– Dr. Nathan Schlueter, Professor of Philosophy

2. Plato’s Republic

“The Republic is one of the greatest books ever written on subjects of how to live one’s life and whether there is a standard of reason in nature. It is a fundamental work of Western philosophy. Everyone needs to ponder the life and death of Socrates, and The Republic is a great starting point for that purpose. Of course, the only reason to read a great book is because it has something important to say to you. Otherwise, such a project is merely antiquarian.”

– Dr. Mickey Craig, Professor of Politics

3. Euclid’s Elements

“While Euclid is neither the first nor the last word in geometry, his Elements eclipses all that came before it and serves as the basis for all work that followed. Euclid’s masterpiece, for that is what it is, presents not only the facts of mathematics but also our way of knowing them. Consequently, Euclid’s Elements reaches beyond the boundaries of geometry and mathematics and serves as the example of careful, deductive reasoning from first principles to all those who would practice such in philosophy and science for over 2000 years.”

– Dr. David Murphy, Professor of Mathematics

4. Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty

“The Constitution of Liberty is Hayek’s positive case for liberty (following his critique of socialism in The Road To Serfdom) founded primarily on his recognition of the inherently heavily constrained nature of human knowledge. Hayek explains how through voluntary cooperation we can achieve widespread spontaneous order far more complex than an order consciously designed by government planners, and one much more capable of creating wealth. A tour-de-force of free-market-based social science.”

– Dr. Ivan Pongracic, Professor of Economics

5. The Federalist Papers

“In recommending The Federalist, I will defer to no less an authority than the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in a 1788 letter to James Madison that The Federalist was ‘the best commentary on the principles of government that ever was written.'”

– Dr. Ronald J. Pestritto, Professor of Politics

6. Homer’s Odyssey

“Homer’s Odyssey is the fountainhead for much of Western reflection on wandering and coming home, in cultural milieux both ‘high’ and ‘pop’–from Vergil’s Aeneid to Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” from “The Odyssey” of Symphony X to the Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Indeed, it is impossible to write about these themes in the Western literary tradition without working in Homer’s shadow and making use of the imaginative furniture, as it were, that he has bequeathed to us. Homer’s Muse once sang of the ‘man of many turns’; and she sings still. ”

– Dr. Eric Hutchinson, Professor of Classics

7. Augustine’s Confessions

“St. Augustine’s Confessions (c. 397 AD) is commonly known as the first autobiography in Western literature, yet it is so much more than an account of one man’s past. Instead, The Confessions is best understood as an extended, eloquent prayer: as the author addresses God from the depths of his soul, the reader is privileged to listen in, witnessing an act of devotion. At the time of writing, St. Augustine was a middle-aged man with a turbulent past who’d been recently ordained a bishop, and he implores the Lord to help him understand his own unexpected life story, acknowledging that its meaning remains mysterious until illuminated by the light of grace. Thus, as he ‘confesses’ his sins and remembers his slow and painstaking conversion, Augustine simultaneously pours out his gratitude in a hymn of praise, ‘confessing’ his faith and dependence on God’s mercy: ‘You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.’”

– Dr. Lorraine Eadie, Professor of English

8. Shakespeare’s King Lear

“A tragedy of passion, plotting, and terrible pride, King Lear inspires wonder over questions close to Shakespeare’s heart and mind: What is the relationship between love and reason, between prudence and charity, in human life? Are they enemies? What kind of education does humanity need to avoid tragedy and to turn in a happier direction? How does our human nature relate to the ‘mystery of things,’ to the divine? Shakespeare’s King Lear commands our attention — and educates on these subjects — like no other play.”

– Dr. Stephen Smith, Professor of English

9. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

“In his notes for Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky writes: ‘Man is not born for happiness. Man earns his happiness, and always by suffering.’ In his harrowing depiction of Raskolnikov’s egoistic and murderous philosophy, eventually overcome and transformed by Sonya’s wisdom of love, we witness Dostoevsky’s poetic mastery of human psychology. Brilliant.”

– Dr. Justin Jackson, Professor of English

10. C. S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man

“Russell Kirk named The Abolition of Man as the first book to be read by a young person seeking to understand himself and the world (Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge was the second). After dozens of encounters with The Abolition of Man, what emerges for this reader as its primary contribution is the teaching that ‘man’ is the creature that is able and willing to live in accordance with principle, coupled with the forceful reminder that this capacity is always in jeopardy and therefore the disappearance of ‘man’ remains a permanent danger. Only constant vigilance in the form of careful education of the young shields us from the darkest fate. Faith is indispensable, but so too is the hard and necessary work, through careful initiation of those who follow us, of preserving the inestimable legacy of the past, the most vital element of which is ‘man’ itself.”

– Dr. Jon Fennell, Professor of Education