Reading Lists

This article got me thinking, because it’s not something I’ve been involved with since the kids finished homeschooling (if such a thing ever happens) and went off to college.  Go ahead and read the thing first, as it sets the stage for what follows.

I’ve often been asked what books I steered my own kids towards during their schooling, so here’s the group from which I drew.  They are the books that every child should have read before age 18, in alphabetical order by category*.  It’s very biased towards Western Civilization, for obvious reasons, and is by no means comprehensive, but enough to provide a good foundation.  (The Son&Heir, for example, was so taken by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca  that he ended up reading everything she ever wrote.  Whatever they find interesting, let them run with it.)

Kim’s Recommended Reading List For Homeschoolers

1984 —  George Orwell
Animal Farm —  George Orwell
Of Civil Government — John Locke
On Liberty — John Stuart Mill
Our Enemy, The State — Albert Jay Nock
The Prince — Niccolo Machiavelli

Basic Economics — Charles Sowell
The Wealth of Nations — Adam Smith

From Dawn To Decadence — Jacques Barzun (this book is required reading; it can serve as a general history work and in a pinch, can be the only  history book read before college)
Heroes — Paul Johnson (biographies)
A History Of The American People — Paul Johnson
A History Of The Jews — Paul Johnson
The Iliad, The Odyssey — Homer
The Proud Tower — Barbara Tuchman
United States Declaration of Independence (together with the Articles of Confederation; United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers)

Military History:
Carnage And Culture — Victor Davis Hanson
The First World War — Martin Gilbert (or John Keegan)
A History Of Warfare — John Keegan
The Second World War — John Keegan
A War Like No Other — Victor Davis Hanson

The Bible
The Book of Journeyman — Albert Jay Nock
Confessions — St. Augustine
Essays Moral and Political — David Hume
Intellectuals — Paul Johnson
Meditations — Marcus Aurelius
Memoirs of a Superfluous Man — Albert Jay Nock
The Republic — Plato
Summa Theologica — St. Thomas Aquinas

Plays (Shakespeare):
Julius Caesar
King Lear
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Richard III
Romeo & Juliet
(Shakespeare’s major History Plays — Henry IV etc. — require a concurrent English history lesson, otherwise the characters are meaningless and the dialogue almost incomprehensible.)

Plays (Other):
Billy Liar — Keith Waterhouse (the novel is good too, but the play is the thing)
Faust — Goethe
The Importance of Being Earnest — Oscar Wilde
Lysistrata — Aristophanes
‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore — John Ford
Waiting For Godot — Samuel Becket

Poetry:  (all their works, with recommendations)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson — The Eagle,  Charge Of The Light Brigade
Matthew Arnold — Dover Beach
Rupert Brook — The Soldier
Samuel Taylor Coleridge — The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner
John Donne — The Good Morrow and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
John Keats — Ode To A Nightingale
Rudyard Kipling — The Gods Of The Copybook Headings
Richard Lovelace — To Althea, From Prison
Shakespeare — all the Sonnets (as many as can be digested)
Percy Shelley — Ozymandias
Walt Whitman — Leaves of Grass
William Wordsworth — Tintern Abbey, The Solitary Reaper

Long Fiction:
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Mark Twain
Alice In Wonderland — Lewis Carroll
The Grapes of Wrath — John Steinbeck
The American — Henry James
Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
As I Lay Dying — William Faulkner
Fahrenheit 451 — Ray Bradbury
A Handful of Dust — Evelyn Waugh
The Chronicles of Narnia — C.S. Lewis
The Count Of Monte Cristo — Alexandre Dumas
Don Quixote — Cervantes
A Farewell To Arms — Ernest Hemingway
Emma — Jane Austen
To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee
The Invisible Man — H.G. Wells
Zorba the Greek — Nikos Kazantzakis
Gulliver’s Travels — Jonathan Swift
The Mayor Of Casterbridge — Thomas Hardy
The Sound and the Fury — William Faulkner
Fathers and Sons — Ivan Turgenev
Stranger in a Strange Land — Robert A. Heinlein
Les Misérables — Victor Hugo
Carry On, Jeeves — P. G. Wodehouse
Lord Of The Flies — William Golding
Crime and Punishment — Feodor Dostoyevsky
Madame Bovary — Gustave Flaubert
The Harry Potter Stories — J.K Rowling
Women In Love — D.H. Lawrence
The Complete Sherlock Holmes — Arthur Conan Doyle
Catch-22 — Joseph Heller
The Portrait Of A Lady — Henry James
The Wind In The Willows — Kenneth Grahame
Rebecca — Daphne du Maurier
Robinson Crusoe — Daniel Defoe
Sons And Lovers — D.H. Lawrence
Uhuru — Robert Ruark

Short Fiction (Authors, with recommendations):
Daphne du Maurier (The Birds, Don’t Look Now)
Ernest Hemingway (The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Killers)
Edgar Allan Poe (The Pit And The Pendulum)
Herman Melville (Bartleby the Scrivener)
Ambrose Bierce (An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge)
Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book)
Flannery O’Connor (A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Good Country People)
Guy de Maupassant (Boule de Suif, The Necklace)
James Thurber (The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, The Unicorn in the Garden)
O. Henry (The Gift Of The Magi, The Cop And The Anthem)
Raymond Carver (Where I’m Calling From, Little Things)
Saki (Sredni Vashtar, The East Wing)
William Faulkner (Mountain Victory, A Rose For Emily)

Ars Amatoria — Ovid
Delta Of Venus — Anaïs Nin
Lady Chatterley’s Lover — D.H. Lawrence
Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure (or Fanny Hill) — John Cleland
The School of Whoredom — Pietro Aretino

*Please note that your opinions may vary — and indeed they should — depending on what direction you’re setting your kids along.  (For example:  if your bent is more to the religious, then obviously the Bible and / or St. Augustine will require more time and dedication, and so on.)


  1. I would have them read Kapital as well on the grounds of “know your enemy”. Plus anybody but a complete pedant would be bored to tears. Very few of the Marxists running around today have actually read the stuff. This is best done bookended by a couple of Solzhenitsyn books. Even if you don’t want to do Marx, still do Solzhenitsyn.

    1. I tried reading that.

      They should have, to quote Douglas Adams “left every page after the third one blank to save printing costs”.

      No one should be forced or expected to read it.

  2. Good reading lists, when looking at the titles of the 1908 reading list one thought came to mind, by the 8th grade the kids who were not interested in school, challenged or just dumb had most likely dropped out of school and they were working full time jobs, on farms, factories and other types of commerce. The ability to stay in school required caring parents and dedication on the part of the student. Behavior was expected and discipline was administered when students acted out, screw up kid and you could go make your way selling newspapers on the street.

  3. Under the heading Politics even more than History, I’d encourage readable translations of Xenophon, Tacitus, and Procopius. The doubledealing, backbiting, and shortsighted bad behavior in Anabasis, the Annals, and the Secret Histories (not least from the authors themselves) make a lot of today’s shenanigans seem like Been There, Done That.

  4. Two books I would add:

    Under Economics:
    “The Creature From Jekyll Island”
    (It’s about the creation and functioning of the Fed); and

    Under History/Politics:
    “Blacklisted By History”
    (the true, heavily documented story of Joseph McCarthy)

  5. I’d throw in some Heinline and Asimov (and some other SciFi) – I read all they wrote and learned a lot.

  6. ….the list is a lengthy guide to picking up where I left off.
    List also put a new face to a favored quote of John Keegan; “If we are to survive, we must unlearn the habits we taught ourselves”. Procrastination being but one of my habits!

    1. I noticed that, too. I consider “Lord of the Rings” to be one of the greatest works of literature in the English language.

      1. Agreed. Masterful stuff.

        I discovered Tolkien as a teen when the movies came out, and that led to binging the LOTR, wanting more and finding the Silmarillion, and only then polishing off The Hobbit in a couple of sittings.

        And with the movies, Howard Shore’s score was an early gateway drug for getting a teen interested in classical music.

  7. Something by Jean Shepard is worth a young minds attention. Plus I consider quite a number of pre-war movies worthy of being on any education list. Marx brothers required !

  8. I am surprised Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island) isn’t on the list.

  9. I’m missing Virgil and Plinius the younger here.
    And Multatuli (but then again, I doubt the classic Dutch writers be known in the Anglosphere).

  10. The Hornblower Novels by CS Forester. I discovered them when I was in junior high (before we had middle schools). I read them for the battle scenes at that age and then read them again about every ten years for their discussion of leadership and responsibility.

    1. Hornblower is excellent for a study in leadership. For pure literary value, Patrick O’Brien was more skilled.

  11. Hmm…

    I’d add some others.

    “Politics” by Aristotle. The Greeks tried EVERYTHING. And Aristotle presents the total lessons learned.
    “Starship Troopers”, by Heinlein. This may have been sold as a novel, but it’s really a political treatise on duty and the nature of patriotism.

    Yes, I know it’s big. But there is no substitute for Will and Ariel Durant’s 14-Volume History of Western Civilization. It’s a tour de force.

    Military History:
    “On War” by Clausewitz. Get the Michael Howard/Peter Paret translation (the others are junk). Read Books 1, 2, and 8, and the commentaries. You may leave the rest.
    “Some Principles of Maritime Strategy” by Sir Julian Corbett. This is the master-work on naval strategy.
    “Fleet Tactics” by Wayne Hughes. This is a much briefer work on tactics, but it puts a whole lot of the last century’s sea warfare in perspective.
    Bonus points for David Chandler’s “Campaigns of Napoleon”. This is the best one-volume work on the subject.

    “Lord of the Rings” by Tolkien
    “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Niven and Pournelle.
    I’d substitute “The Three Musketeers” for “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “Citizen of the Galaxy” for “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

  12. What I’d add:

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The whole “Incerto” series. For the mathematically inclined, add the Technical Incerto.
    Friedrich Hayek – The Road to Serfdom

    Military History/Philosophy:
    Carl von Clausewitz – On War
    Sun Tze – The Art of War

    Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith – The Dictator’s Handbook

    Karl Popper – The Open Society and Its Enemies

    Friedrich Durrenmatt – Romulus the Great

    Franz Kafka – The Trial

    Short Fiction:
    Friedrich Durrenmatt – The Judge and His Hangman

  13. Under fiction, Silent Ship Silent Sea and Deathwatch by Robb White. Young adult novels but still good stories.

  14. You recommend Plato’s Republic? I cannot agree. There are far better philospohy tracts. Then again, I read it in the original Greek.

    I will recommend two works of fiction: CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and Ursula Le Guin’s short story, Those Who Walk Away from Omelas,

  15. Thank you, Kim, for sharing your reading list with us. This will keep me busy for the next few years.

    I wish every high school student were required to take a full year of classic literature. This is doubly important for the boys — most classic literature deals with how men organize themselves into a society and how they relate to each other. I can’t see (most but not all) girls going beyond a slight intellectual curiosity of Epictetus, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Tacitus, the Old Testament, et alia.

    Through six years of two universities turning me into an electrical engineer techno-droid, the one class that made a real difference in my life was History 101, the Roots of Modern Europe. The professor was the son of Greek immigrant to the US, and he loved history and ancient literature. Often he would show up unannounced to the associated reading lab, take over from the graduate teaching assistant, and engage us in conversation about what we had read that week. It is from him that I developed a love for ancient literature, and for that I am grateful.

  16. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest tossing some of Terry Pratchett’s stuff into the fiction list. Pratchett’s works, while less original, have a surprising amount of perception of the reality of things; I suspect he may have held fairly libertarian viewpoints, albeit privately.

    Of course, my personal favorites are the Night’s Watch series (starting with Guards! Guards!), as well as Hogfather.

  17. Those were jolly good lists and I’ve ordered quite a few of those I haven’t read.
    I’m never too old to learn.

  18. My additions:

    Politics: Take Back Your Government (Robert A Heinlein)
    Black Rednecks and White LIberals (Thomas Sowell)

    Economics: Eat the Rich(P.J. ORourke)

    History: I’m going to go full nationalist on this and go with Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas (James Haley)

    Short Fiction: David Drake (Hammer’s Slammers series)
    Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Skull, A Scanner Darkly)

  19. I have a copy but no time to read it; probably going to be a retirement book in a few years:
    “The Gulag Archipelago” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

    I’d also add “Barrack Room Ballads” by Kipling, and also “Kim”, though I found it less enjoyable than the Jungle Book. My Dad had complete sets of Kipling from the pre WW1 time when one of the major publishers used the swastika as a trademark. I must have read the Jungle Books a dozen times.

    I’ve read Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” dozens of times since I was a kid. I recommended it to two of my nephews who were getting into science fiction and got good responses back from both. Made me want to be a (small-l) libertarian, though age and experience have into a very small ‘l’…

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