Which books MPR listeners and readers think are good preparation for college


Here’s Part I of a list of books recommended by readers, listeners and our on-air guests during our Midmorning segment on books that students should read before college — not for their academic knowledge, but for the way they’ll shape students’ minds.

You can read the entire discussion here.

And before we get to the suggestions, here’s a list of suggestions by the College Board and another list by the Young Adult Library Services Organization.

I’ve added readers’ comments about the books when they’ve made them:

  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. “An alternative history that raises critical questions.”
  • The Nature of College: How a New Understanding of Campus Life Can Change the World by James J. Farrell (Milkweed Editions). “Farrell is a professor at St. Olaf College and teaches Campus Ecology. Additionally, he speaks to colleges across the nation about ‘greening’ college culture and the moral ecology of everyday life. Engaging in a deep yet funny and richly entertaining study of ‘campus ecology,’ The Nature of College explores a day in the life of the average student and discovers resources for a sustainable future.”
  • Essence of Decision by Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow. “Great historical perspective on the Cuban missile crisis, far too many people enter college never thinking about the why and how of modern history and this is a great account.”
  • Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. “It’s a great work to start thinking about those in America who are sold short by our system of education and our economy, a great reality check about the work to be done.”
  • Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
  • All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. “A searing reminder from the past, perhaps being repeated today in new ways.”
  • Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn. “Blew my mind. Such a broad perspective on our civilization. Stirring and comforting at once.” … “It was huge for me and many of the people I connected with in college.”
  • Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. “It helps you understand and prepares your mindset for jobs, business, wages and profits.”
  • Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac. “It instilled in me a sense of freedom to experience and discover, which is an important attitude as you start college, decide your major, and ultimately begin to explore where you want the rest of your life to take you.”
  • The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  “Myriad gems of wisdom. Best read on Capitalism and relationship between government and business and what happens when society’s entrepreneur’s quit.” … “Sweeping. Engaging. Certain parallels to current events.”
  • The Sea-Wolf by Jack London
  • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “No student should leave high school, or enter life, without at least some familiarity with the legend of Faust and the awareness that, no matter who we are, or how we live, we are given chances to make Faustian bargains.”
  • Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg “Themes include the narrowmindedness in academia, that humans arent different from the rest of creation, and how animal intelligence is broad and nuanced.”
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. “Learned a lot about corporations, greed and the struggle of lower and middle classes.”
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. “It’s vile, it’s whimsical. It’s fascinating.”
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. “Very dark, but excellent parable about a not-so-fantastic world and the dangers that we live with every day that could turn into that dystopia, particularly from the perspective of a female protaganist.”
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.  “It gave me the raw ingredients for critical thinking about my own culture and assumptions and helped me to understand the importance of spiritual health–two central themes for me through college.”
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X. “It will help a student believe that he/she can overcome perceived limitations.”
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. “A timeless classic that conveys human emotions … love, revenge, adventure, suspense unlike any other book.”
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. “It gets to the confusion and messiness of figuring out identity as young person — trying to understand and separate from family identity, relationships, the effects of bringing one’s true self out into the world….”
  • The Dialogues of Plato (esp Aristophanes’ dialogue on love). “Stuck with me thru life. Reminds us at all stages of the importance of love.”
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
  •  Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. “It led to my becoming a conscientious objector back in college in the 60’s. He tries to find out what the essence of life is.”
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee”It shows how college professors deal with their own skeletons and issues.”
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. “While perhaps more a ‘coming of age’ book for high schoolers, it’s great for anticipating the new-found independence that college brings (definitely more emotional than intellectual). My favorite section describes the main character learning how to ‘feel infinite.’ I bought it for so many friends before we headed off to different universities.”
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. “Not feeling like picking one major is going to dictate our future, but there is exciting new knowledge at every corner.”
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Note: I’ve posted Part II of this list here.