Works You Should Know

In 1991, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote to the editors of "The Reader’s Companion: A Book Lover’s Guide to the Most Important Books in Every Field of Knowledge as Chosen by Experts" to recommend books he thought Americans should read to achieve cultural literacy about our own nation. Here is his list:

Book Author
Essays Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speeches and Writings Abraham Lincoln
Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville
The American Commonwealth James Bryce
The Irony of American History Reinhold Niebuhr
The Shock of Recognition Edmund Wilson
An American Dilemma Gunnar Myrdal
The Promise of American Life Herbert Croly
Pragmatism William James
The Education of Henry Adams Henry Adams
The American Language H.L. Mencken

Our Choices

Thus inspired, our program faculty presents its own lists of works (primarily books, but also films and albums) that we feel every American — or at least every undergraduate major in American studies — should know.

Joyce Antler
Professor Emerita of American Studies

Book Author
A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Woman in the 19th Century Margaret Fuller
Walden Henry David Thoreau
Uncle Tom's Cabin; Or, Life Among the Lowly Harriet Beecher Stowe
Experience and Education John Dewey
Twenty Years at Hull House Jane Addams
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
Adam's Rib (screenplay) George Cukor, director; Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, screenplay
The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan
The Education of Henry Adams Henry Adams

Jacob Cohen
Professor of American Studies

Book Author
Democracy in America (both volumes) Alexis de Tocqueville
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America Daniel Boorstin
The Omni-Americans: Black Experience and American Culture Albert Murray
Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion Daniel Gelernter
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations Christopher Lasch
Coolidge / Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (two selections by same author) Amity Shlaes
Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century Robert Kagan
Henry Adams and the Making of America Gary Wills
Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas and Moral Conflict John Burt
Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism Ronald J. Pestritto

Thomas Doherty
Professor of American Studies

Film Director
The Birth of a Nation D.W. Griffith
The Jazz Singer Alan Crosland
King Kong Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper (co-creators)
The Wizard of Oz Victor Fleming and others
Citizen Kane Orson Welles
Why We Fight (series) Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak
The Best Years of Our Lives William Wyler
The Asphalt Jungle John Huston
The Searchers John Ford
Psycho Alfred Hitchcock
The Godfather / The Godfather: Part II Francis Ford Coppola

Brian Donahue
Professor of American Studies

Book Author
Walden Henry David Thoreau
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Technics and Civilization Lewis Mumford
My Ántonia Willa Cather
Dust Bowl Ballads (album) Woody Guthrie
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Frederick Douglass
The Band (album) The Band
Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner
The Poetry of Robert Frost Robert Frost

Maura Jane Farrelly
Associate Professor of American Studies

Book Author
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Jonathan Edwards
Common Sense Thomas Paine
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Olaudah Equiano
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin
Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience) Henry David Thoreau
Ain't I a Woman? Sojourner Truth (with Frances Dana Barker Gage)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan

Paula Musegades
Assistant Professor of American Studies and Music

’50s and ’60s Pop Album (year released) Musician
Elvis Presley (1956) Elvis Presley
Chuck Berry Is on Top (1959) Chuck Berry
Kind of Blue (1959) Miles Davis
King of Delta Blues Singers (1961) Robert Johnson
Live at the Apollo (1963) James Brown
Highway 61 Revisted (1965) Bob Dylan
My Generation (1965) The Who
Pet Sounds (1966) The Beach Boys
Revolver (1966) The Beatles
The Doors (1967) The Doors

Stephen Whitfield
Max Richter Professor Emeritus of American Studies

Book Author
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin
Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville
Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
Lincoln: Speeches and Writings Abraham Lincoln
The Souls of Black Folk W.E.B. Du Bois
The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States H.L. Mencken
Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner
Death of a Salesman (play) Arthur Miller
The Lonely Crowd David Riesman et al.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley)