Books That Shaped America

The Library of Congress has compiled a list of books that has shaped our nation to celebrate its National Book Festival. As stated in the press release, "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," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "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."

If you ask me I think that's pretty admirable. I've copied the list below straight from The Library of Congress.Do you have any favorites on this list? Would you add or remove anything? I know the list specifies books that shapes America, but I can't help but think there are a few authors missing. No Poe? Vonnegut? Updike? Cather?

Experiments and Observations on ElectricityBenjamin Franklin1751
Poor Richard Improved and The Way to WealthBenjamin Franklin1758
Common SenseThomas Paine1776
A Grammatical Institute of the English LanguageNoah Webster1783
The Federalistanonymous1787
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bibleanonymous1788
A Survey of the Roads of the United States of AmericaChristopher Colles1789
The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.Benjamin Franklin1793
American CookeryAmelia Simmons1796
New England Primeranonymous1803
History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and ClarkMeriwether Lewis1814
The Legend of Sleepy HollowWashington Irving1820
McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic PrimerWilliam Holmes McGuffey1836
Peter Parley's Universal HistorySamuel Goodrich1837
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassFrederick Douglass1845
The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne1850
Moby-Dick; or The WhaleHerman Melville1851
Uncle Tom's CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe1852
Walden; or Life in the WoodsHenry David Thoreau1854
Leaves of GrassWalt Whitman1855
Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and AmyLouisa May Alcott1868
The American Woman's HomeCatharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe1869
Mark, the Match BoyHoratio Alger Jr.1869
Adventures of Huckleberry FinnMark Twain1884
How the Other Half LivesJacob Riis1890
PoemsEmily Dickinson1890
The Red Badge of CourageStephen Crane1895
The Wonderful Wizard of OzL. Frank Baum1900
Harriet, the Moses of Her PeopleSarah H. Bradford1901
The Call of the WildJack London1903
The Souls of Black FolkW.E.B. Du Bois1903
The History of Standard OilIda Tarbell1904
The JungleUpton Sinclair1906
The Education of Henry AdamsHenry Adams1907
PragmatismWilliam James1907
Riders of the Purple SageZane Grey1912
Family LimitationMargaret Sanger1914
Tarzan of the ApesEdgar Rice Burroughs1914
New HampshireRobert Frost1923
Spring and AllWilliam Carlos Williams1923
The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald1925
The Weary BluesLangston Hughes1925
Red HarvestDashiell Hammett1929
The Sound and the FuryWilliam Faulkner1929
Joy of CookingIrma Rombauer1931
Gone With the WindMargaret Mitchell1936
How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale Carnegie1936
Idaho: A Guide in Word and PicturesFederal Writers' Project1937
Their Eyes Were Watching GodZora Neale Hurston1937
Our Town: A PlayThornton Wilder1938
Alcoholics Anonymousanonymous1939
The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck1939
For Whom the Bell TollsErnest Hemingway1940
Native SonRichard Wright1940
A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith1943
A Treasury of American FolkloreBenjamin A. Botkin1944
A Street in BronzevilleGwendolyn Brooks1945
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child CareBenjamin Spock1946
The Iceman ComethEugene O'Neill1946
Goodnight MoonMargaret Wise Brown1947
A Streetcar Named DesireTennessee Williams1947
Sexual Behavior in the Human MaleAlfred C. Kinsey1948
The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger1951
Charlotte's WebE.B. White1952
Invisible ManRalph Ellison1952
Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury1953
HowlAllen Ginsberg1956
Atlas ShruggedAyn Rand1957
The Cat in the HatDr. Seuss1957
On the RoadJack Kerouac1957
To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee1960
Catch-22Joseph Heller1961
Stranger in a Strange LandRobert A. Heinlein1961
Silent SpringRachel Carson1962
The Snowy DayEzra Jack Keats1962
The Feminine MystiqueBetty Friedan1963
The Fire Next TimeJames Baldwin1963
Where the Wild Things AreMaurice Sendak1963
The Autobiography of Malcolm XMalcolm X and Alex Haley1965
Unsafe at Any SpeedRalph Nader1965
In Cold BloodTruman Capote1966
The Double HelixJames D. Watson1968
Bury My Heart at Wounded KneeDee Brown1970
Our Bodies, OurselvesBoston Women's Health Book Collective1971
CosmosCarl Sagan1980
And the Band Played OnRandy Shilts1987
BelovedToni Morrison1987
The Words of Cesar ChavezCesar Chavez2002


  1. I like the idea of this list. There are several titles that I'll admit I don't much about. It's an impressive list and I'm realizing I need to make more time for classics. I tend to shy away from them unless I'm participating in a challenge. It seems like the perfect starting point.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I don't know much about some of them either - mostly the older ones. As far as classics go, I feel like they seem like they are more work than they really are. I try to read a classic every 5 books or so and when I'm approaching it I kind of dread it but then I find on average I enjoy them more than half the contemporary fiction I read. Does that make any sense? That occurred to me in June when I put together my "best of the year so far" list and a good amount of them were classics.

  2. I saw the exhibit last weekend at the Library of Congress. It is worth checking out if you are in the area. Several of the people listed and their books my students are required to know for their history exam.

    1. Very cool. Unfortunately I'm not in that area, though if I were I'd certainly check it out!

  3. I love that Charlotte's Web made it.

  4. I teach American Literature, so I was really curious about this list. I'd definitely say there are some texts I'd include, but they got the W.E.B. Dubois and the Ralph Ellison on there, and those were my two biggies in terms of more contemporary lit.

    It's really interesting to think about how these texts have informed or molded America, both as a country and as an ideal, which is something we discuss quite a bit in class. We have this ideal, but the reality is that the ideal is something constantly out of reach, and much of American lit really reflects that. Thanks for posting! I may even do a side-by-side comparison of my American Lit syllabus and this list just to see.

  5. Oh my... I love so so so many of those books! I can't really think of anything else I would have included, although maybe Poe should have been on there... I dunno. Love book lists though!

  6. What an interesting list, much more diverse than these lists usually are. More women, more people of color. Love that the cook books made the list, but it makes sense. Also am happy to see Rachel Carson is here. Would like to see more poetry.
    Maybe I'll add a few of these to my reading list. thanks for posting.

  7. Interesting only a few from the past forty years... Maybe that's because not enough time has elapsed and the jury's still out(?)

  8. It's funny, I hadn't started reading the list and I thought, "Books that have influenced American lives? The Joy of Cooking should be on the list." I didn't actually expect to see it on there! Pretty cool. I love that there are so many kids' books on it, too.