Not the Best Books–Rather the Most Influential

I love lists. Top ten lists and favorite things lists and bucket lists and wish lists. THIS is a cool list. It’s not the best books–rather it’s the top 80 books written by Americans that have shaped the nation. There’s fiction and non-fiction. Thre are children’s books and books for young adults. There’s poetry. There are books I love and at least one I loathe. But I agree, all of them have influenced America and many have influenced me.

On the website there’s a link to a survey that asks you to pick your top three MOST influential choices. It also invites you to nominate a book that’s not on the list. Oh. There are so many. How about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods? Or maybe Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love? Or how about Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh–a whole generation of women were touched by that. And then there’s Max Lucado . . . well. It’s great fun to think of American writers who have influenced America.

Here’s the list. What would you add?

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain 1884
Alcoholics Anonymous anonymous 1939
American Cookery Amelia Simmons 1796
The American Woman’s Home Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe 1869
And the Band Played On Randy Shilts 1987
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand 1957
The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X and Alex Haley 1965
Beloved Toni Morrison 1987
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee Dee Brown 1970
The Call of the Wild Jack London 1903
The Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss 1957
Catch-22 Joseph Heller 1961
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger 1951
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White 1952
Common Sense Thomas Paine 1776
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care Benjamin Spock 1946
Cosmos Carl Sagan 1980
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible anonymous 1788
The Double Helix James D. Watson 1968
The Education of Henry Adams Henry Adams 1907
Experiments and Observations on Electricity Benjamin Franklin 1751
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury 1953
Family Limitation Margaret Sanger 1914
The Federalist anonymous 1787
The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan 1963
The Fire Next Time James Baldwin 1963
For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway 1940
Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell 1936
Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown 1947
A Grammatical Institute of the English Language Noah Webster 1783
The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck 1939
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925
Harriet, the Moses of Her People Sarah H. Bradford 1901
The History of Standard Oil Ida Tarbell 1904
History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark Meriwether Lewis 1814
How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis 1890
How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie 1936
Howl Allen Ginsberg 1956
The Iceman Cometh Eugene O’Neill 1946
Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures Federal Writers’ Project 1937
In Cold Blood Truman Capote 1966
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison 1952
Joy of Cooking Irma Rombauer 1931
The Jungle Upton Sinclair 1906
Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman 1855
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Washington Irving 1820
Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy Louisa May Alcott 1868
Mark, the Match Boy Horatio Alger Jr. 1869
McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer William Holmes McGuffey 1836
Moby-Dick; or The Whale Herman Melville 1851
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Frederick Douglass 1845
Native Son Richard Wright 1940
New England Primer anonymous 1803
New Hampshire Robert Frost 1923
On the Road Jack Kerouac 1957
Our Bodies, Ourselves Boston Women’s Health Book Collective 1971
Our Town: A Play Thornton Wilder 1938
Peter Parley’s Universal History Samuel Goodrich 1837
Poems Emily Dickinson 1890
Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth Benjamin Franklin 1758
Pragmatism William James 1907
The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. Benjamin Franklin 1793
The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane 1895
Red Harvest Dashiell Hammett 1929
Riders of the Purple Sage Zane Grey 1912
The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne 1850
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male Alfred C. Kinsey 1948
Silent Spring Rachel Carson 1962
The Snowy Day Ezra Jack Keats 1962
The Souls of Black Folk W.E.B. Du Bois 1903
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner 1929
Spring and All William Carlos Williams 1923
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert E. Heinlein 1961
A Street in Bronzeville Gwendolyn Brooks 1945
A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams 1947
A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America Christopher Colles 1789
Tarzan of the Apes Edgar Rice Burroughs 1914
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston 1937
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 1960
A Treasury of American Folklore Benjamin A. Botkin 1944
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Betty Smith 1943
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852
Unsafe at Any Speed Ralph Nader 1965
Walden; or Life in the Woods Henry David Thoreau 1854
The Weary Blues Langston Hughes 1925
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak 1963
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum 1900
The Words of Cesar Chavez Cesar Chavez 2002

9 thoughts on “Not the Best Books–Rather the Most Influential

  1. Mom

    Since that list contains many books I’ve never heard of (much less read!) it’s hard to comment. There are several I have read that did not dramatically change MY world (but I did like) so I wonder what I missed? Like most lists: fun to read and interesting in many ways. You must have gotten that love of lists and quizes from me. 😉 Dare I ask which on you loathed?

    1. Oh, no, it’s no secret. Howl by Alan Ginsberg. Just because you’re the first person to use the “f-word” extensively in poetry does NOT make you a creative genius.

  2. Buffy White

    Eclectic list! There’s something for everybody to love and to hate. I haven’t read them all, or even most of them, but there are some strange bed-fellows here. An example: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon! What fun.

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