Note from Katie: This list of the five books you should read before college builds on two previous lists: one from me which you can find here and another list by former philosophy major and frequent contributor to My College Advice: Miles Raymer. Professor X has more than 20 years of science teaching experience at the University of Oregon, and has previously written contributed an article entitled "The Transition From High School to College" on this site.You might also enjoy "Reading for Fun as a College Student." Enjoy!
THOUGHTS From Professor X on the previous recommended reading lists
The two previous posts by Katie and Myles Raymer both tout the book, Guns, Germs and Steel as a must read. I strongly differ on this one and in fact have developed a brand new course to refute most of the claims in Guns, Germs and Steel about cultural collapse in favor of a scenario in which large scale natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanoes, ice age megaflood melt waters,) coming at inopportune times are the initial threat multiplier that leads to the economic, religious and social collapse of cultures. Google on "Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis" and/or "Toba Catastrophe Theory" (which might have wiped out most homo sapiens) to get an idea of what these events may have looked like. In addition, the science community for the last 5-8 years has provided substantial proof that the Mayan collapse was the result of 4 20-30 year droughts over a 150-year period.
Now if you are interested in the big question: "Why have white Christian values come to dominate a planet that once was composed of just a bunch of indigenous local tribes?" - Then I strongly recommend the book Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness by Frederick Turner.
And now for my own recommendations... You can be sure that any Professor X-generated list will be eclectic and this list is no different. But it attempts to build just a bit on the previous themes:
The 5 Books to Read Before College, According to Professor X
1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The best book that teaches about the range of potential in human character - it is simultaneously epic and intimate. This read also requires you to pay attention to a very complex story that is all tied together in the end - a perfect synthesis. Normally now deemed too complex a read for high school, I read it in high school and look where it got me.
2. Anthem by Ayn Rand
Brave New World also seems popular here. I think the theme is good and important to think about but disagree that BNW captures a vision of a dismal future that works for all generations. The basic message by Huxley, that the futuristic World State is now devoid of all emotion, love, art, and human individuality, because that gets in the way of social stability, may be dealt with better and in more accessible forms by other works (e.g. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury or Player Piano by Vonnegut, or even the strange short story Iron Heel by Jack London). For a darker and deeper version of Brave New World, I recommend Ayn Rand's Anthem.
3. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
On this human nature thing, yes, On Human Nature by E.O Wilson (as recommended by Miles Raymer) is a fine read. But consider this view of human nature:
"There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused, and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp, and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis. My punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing."
Is this from some deep dark novel of despair about the human condition? No, its lines in the move American Psycho ... and what is the origin of the thoughts imparted in that movie? No work has deeper psychological penetration into the dark souls that torment all of us better than expressed in this classic, considered by many as the first existential novel written, than Notes From Underground. And no one but Russian authors know the bleakness than can crowd the joy from our lives. Again, it's a difficult read but it's timeless.
4. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Egad - all this gloom, doom, and deep brooding introspection; what the hell is wrong with Professor X? Lighten up, dude, and finish this list with some uplifting material for us to read. Yes but don't such novels always involve a Love Story? (which by the way really sucked) - perhaps Professor X doesn't believe in love stories and just is constantly brooding! At least, many people think so. Consider the following two inspirational works and the first one I am very surprised that Katie has not read or recommended and this probably seems completely out of character for me, but yet I conceal my character at all times. Read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. You'll like it.
5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
And I should end with a classic but which one of many? Pride and Prejudice comes to mind and would certainly be endorsed by Katie, as likely would I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and/or The Bridges of Madison county. But I close with a classic and a good story: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
For all those book enthusiasts out there, please check out my post "Reading for Fun as a College Student." And for anyone nervous about the workload in college, please check out "When You Can't Finish the Reading."
Please feel free to share all thoughts, reactions, comments, and arguments regarding Professor X's reading list in the comments below.