Whether they admit it or not, almost every parent entertains visions of greatness for their child from the moment he is born. He’ll be a businessman, or a college professor, or maybe even the President of the United States.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to move beyond daydreams and work toward making those imaginations become reality. Yet in spite of this difficulty, author and former college president Ben Sasse suggests that is exactly the job of every parent: to raise children “as if they’ll rule someday.”

According to Sasse, one practical way of raising future leaders is by creating a list of essential books for your children to read by the time they reach adulthood. In essence, this list becomes a “family canon,” and should include books influential in the parents’ lives, as well as ones which present concepts which shape society as we know it today.

Sasse and his wife took up this challenge, seeking to limit their list to under 60 titles in a wide variety of areas, including religion, fiction, science, history, and so on. The following list was the result [Note: Hyperlinked titles are those referenced elsewhere on Intellectual Takeout]:

  1. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  2. Letters and Papers from PrisonDietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. Letter from a Birmingham Jail ­– Martin Luther King Jr.
  4. Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
  5. Orthodoxy ­– G.K. Chesterton
  6. Christianity and Liberalism – J. Gresham Machen
  7. Being Digital – Nicolas Negroponte
  8. Moneyball – Michael Lewis
  9. Commentary on Galatians – Martin Luther
  10. The Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin
  11. Ethics – Aristotle
  12. Crito – Plato
  13. The Odyssey – Homer
  14. History of the Peloponnesian War – Thucydides
  15. Three Theban Plays – Sophocles
  16. Confessions – Augustine
  17. Why God Became Man – Anselm of Canterbury
  18. Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther
  19. Summa Theologica – Thomas Aquinas
  20. Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer
  21. Emile – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  22. Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare
  23. Hamlet Shakespeare
  24. King Lear – Shakespeare
  25. Julius Caesar Shakespeare
  26. Macbeth – Shakespeare
  27. Sonnets – Shakespeare
  28. The Declaration of Independence
  29. Constitution
  30. The Federalist PapersAlexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
  31. Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville
  32. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Frederick Douglass
  33. Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858
  34. Politics – Aristotle
  35. Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith
  36. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 – Charles Sellers
  37. Free to Choose ­– Milton and Rose Freidman
  38. Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond
  39. Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx
  40. Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
  41. The Road to Serfdom – F. A. Hayek
  42. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  43. 1984 – George Orwell
  44. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  45. On the Nature of Things – Lucretius
  46. Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn
  47. Elements of Geometry – Euclid
  48. Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  49. Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather
  50. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  51. Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin
  52. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Sasse goes on to say:

“Whether you start out with the above list as an opening bid or choose to go another direction completely, the most important thing is to read early and often, and impart that habit to your children, too. …

If a whole generation grows up having become habituated to reading, then even if we don’t start them off with the same readings, we’ll have prepared and positioned them to enter into meaningful wrestling with their neighbors about a core set of texts that we should tackle together. Both their preparedness and their empathetic debating will strengthen our shared ability to stand in the face of the forces seeking to pull us apart.”

What do you think of Sasse’s list? Are there titles that you would add or take away? If so, why?

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