The Autodidact’s Reading List
This draft of a reading list is offered in the hope that it will help families, schools, and people of all ages to read some of the really valuable books in the American, British, European, and classical traditions. In general, works have been chosen for both their merit and for the wholesome influence on the development of our civilization. Not every important book has been included: Some works of undoubted merit have been omitted because they grate upon the sensibilities of most Christians; others because they were too difficult or demanding; others simply because I forgot to include them.
In its current state, the List is far too heavy on fiction and does not include enough history, biography, and poetry. This imbalance is partly due to reading habits of Americans and will be remedied in time. In the Primary and Elementary categories, I have included books that I either enjoyed as a child or that my own children enjoyed. In general, I have tried to stay away from most of the professional children's literature that librarians and elementary school teachers push on young readers. Much of this stuff is based on the misconception that children can only enjoy reading about children much like themselves. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and no attitude could be less helpful than one that imprisons a child in the sordid realities of the 21st century. This is an area where I know that I can benefit from the suggestions made by readers and parents.
The age levels assigned are somewhat arbitrary. Many adults enjoy reading fables and fairy tales, and, indeed, many fairytales were written originally with adults in mind. Children develop at different rates, and what may seem difficult to one twelve year old might be easy for another child of nine. The symbol (+) beside a title indicates a work either more appropriate to the upper levels of the age level or one that is also appropriate for higher levels. In a few places (m) has been used to suggest that the book contains mature themes without anything explicit or indecent.
These lists, which have been prepared for The Rockford Institute, are very much a work in progress. Please feel free to suggest additions and deletions. For foreign works and collections I plan to add details on translations and additions. We at the Institute are happy to share these lists with our friends and with people and organizations that can use them. We do, however, reserve all rights. If you wish to distribute them, please e-mail your request.
(This section includes books to be read to young children)
D'Aulaire: Book of Greek Myths, Norse Myths, etc.+
Hilaire Belloc: The Bad Child's Book of Beasts+
Jean & L. de Brunhof: The Story of Babar, etc.
Tomie dePaola: Big Anthony and the Magic Ring, etc.
Clifton Fadiman, ed.: The World Treasury of Children's Literature (2 vols.)
Howard Garis: Uncle Wiggly and His Friends
Georgiana: Dr. Goat
Joan Hubbard: The Boss of the Barnyard
Hugh Lofting: Dr. Doolittle, etc.
Robert McCloskey: Make Way for Ducklings
Mother Goose Rhymes
Beatrix Pottter: Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Fierce Bad Rabbit, Tailor of Gloucester, etc.
E.B. White: Stuart Little, The Trumpeter Swan, etc.
Elementary and Middle School (Ages 7-13)
Richard Adams: Watership Down+
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women, etc.+
Natalie Babbitt: Tuck Everlasting
Sir James M. Barrie: Peter Pan
Hillaire Belloc: Cautionary Tales for Children+
William Blake: Songs of Innocence+
Robert Browning: The Pied Piper of Hamelin+
Frances H. Burnett: The Secret Garden, etc.
Thornton Burgess: Bowser the Hound, Old Granny Fox, etc.
Richard Henry Dana: Two Years Before the Mast
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol+
Edward Eager: Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, etc.
Walter Farley: The Black Stallion, etc.
Joel Chandler Harris: Uncle Remus
Charles & Mary Lamb: Tales from Shakespeare
Andrew Lang: Blue Fairy Book, etc.+
C.S. Lewis: Chronicles of Narnia+
Charles Perrault: Fairy Tales
Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland
Carlo Collodi: Pinocchio+ (unabridged and unDisneyfied)
J. H. Fabre: The Mason Bees, etc.
C.S. Forster: Captain Horatio Hornblower etc.
Kenneth Graham: The Wind in the Willows
Zane Grey: The Riders of the Purple Sage
H. Rider Haggard: King Solomon's Mines, She,+ etc.
Bret Harte: Collected Stories+
Marguerite Henry: Misty of Chincoteague
G.A. Henty: With Lee in Virginia, Wulf the Saxon, etc.
Thomas Hughes: Tom Brown's School Days, etc.
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth, The Dot and the Line
Charles Kingsley: Hereward the Wake+
Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book, Kim, Puck of Pook's Hill, Ballads and Poems, etc.
Jack London: The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf
Andrew Lang: Tales of King Arthur and the Round Table
George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin, etc.
L.M. Montgomery: Ann of Green Gables
Sterling North: Rascal
Baroness Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernell
George Orwell: Animal Farm+
Gene Stratton Porter: Girl of the Limberlost
Eleanor H. Porter: Polyanna
Marjorie K, Rawlings: The Yearling
Alice C.H. Rice: Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch
Carol Ryrie: Caddie Woodlawn
Anna Sewell: Black Beauty
Johanna Spyri: Heidi
Robert L. Stevenson: Treasure Island+, Kidnapped+, David Balfour+
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels+
Booth Tarkington: Penrod, Penrod and Sam+
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit
Mark Twain: Tom Sawyer+, Pudd'nhead Wilson+, Short Stories+
Jules Verne: Around the World in Eighty Days, etc.+
Kate D. Wiggin: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Laura Ingalls Wilder: Little House on the Prairie, etc.+
Johan Wyss: The Swiss Family Robinson
Growing Up (14+)
Anthology of British Ballad ("Barbara Allen", "Sir Patric Spense", "Chevy Chase", "Edward", "Twa Corbies," etc)
Joseph Addison: Selected Essays
Felicity Allen: Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, etc.
Anglo-Saxon Poets: Beowulf, The Seafarer, The Wanderer, Battle of Maldon
R.D. Blackmoor: Lorna Doon
George Borrow: Lavengro, The Romany Rye
Ray Bradbury: Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
John Bunyan: The Pilgrim's Progress
G.K. Chesterton: Father Brown stories, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone, The Woman in White, etc.
Donald Davidson: Lee in the Mountains
Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers, etc.
Willa Cather: Death Comes for the Archbishop, etc.
Winston Churchill: History of the English Speaking Peoples (3 vols.)
Cicero: On Friendship, On Duties
Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, etc.
James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans, Satanstoe
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
Charles Dickens: Great Expectations, Bleak House, David Copperfield
Conan Doyle: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, etc.
Euripides: Hecuba, Medea, The Trojan Women, Hippolytus
William Faulkner: The Unvanquished
Shelby Foote: The Civil War: A Narrative
Douglas S. Freeman: Robert E. Lee
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of Seven Gables, Short Stories
Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey
Washington Irving: "Rip van Winkle," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," etc.
Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Selected Essays
Madison Jones: Nashville 1864
C.S. Lewis: The Abolition of Man, The Space Trilogy
Livy: History of Rome (especially books I-X)
Andrew Lytle: Bedford Forrest and his Critter Company
Ole Rölvaag: Giants in the Earth, Peder Victorious, etc.
Francis Palgrave: The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics, The Anglo-Saxons
Francis Parkman: The Oregon Trail
Edgar Allen Poe: Tales and Poems
Charles Portis: True Grit
Eugene Manlove Rhodes: Paso Por Aqui
Walter Scott, I: Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Guy Mannering, The Bride of Lamermoor, The Lay of the Last Minstrel
William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Macbeth, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Richard III
William Gilmore Simms: Yemassee, Katharine Walton
Sophocles: Antigone, Philoctetes
R.L. Stevenson: Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
Booth Tarkington: The Magnificent Ambersons, The Turmoil, Alice Adams, Seventeen
Robert Lewis Taylor: The Travels of Jamie McPheeters (m)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Idylls of the King
William Makepiece Thackeray: Henry Esmond, Pendennis, Vanity Fair
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
Anthony Trollope: The Barsetshire Novels (The Warden, Barchester Towers, etc.)
Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn+
H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Time Machine
Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, etc.
Owen Wister: The Virginian
Lifetime Reading List for Grownup Readers
I Greek and Latin Classics
Few if any literary masterpieces in any language have been well translated and almost none successfully. When in doubt, the Penguins--especially older versions--are usually readable, and so are the bilingual Loeb editions. There are many online resources as well, to which I shall be drawing attention as time goes by.
The Homeric Epics: Iliad, Odyssey, Homeric Hymns.
There is no such thing as a really good translation of Greek poetry. Good poets like Chapman have done both epics, and Alexander Pope's Iliad is a masterpiece of 18th century verse, worth reading for many reasons, but as Richard Bentley observed to him, "Very pretty, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer." Samuel Butler's prose versions are readable, and so is T.E. Lawrence's novelistic Odyssey. Lang Leaf & Myres is still a classic for it accuracy. I find Richmond Lattimore unreadably pretentious, and Robert Fitzgerald much too pretty and ennervated.
Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days
Essential works for understanding Greek religion and how the Greek mind worked.
A disgruntled aristocrat shares his dissatisfactions with the collapse of standards--a dreamwork, if understood, for all reactionaries, filled with the platitudes of everyday Greek thought.
II Medieval Classics