Whether or not you will be taking a comparative literature class this fall, there are some books that can teach any college student valuable lessons, regardless of area of study. The following is a list of some books that some of the top universities in the US are teaching to their students, as well as some alternative reads that will help acquaint new students with the college experience.
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Despite being written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato well over 2,000 years ago, The Republic remains a necessary read for modern philosophers and philosophy students. However, even if you don’t care much for philosophy in general, this book can also be viewed as a collection of valuable life lessons. From the Allegory of the Cave to the Analogy of the Divided Line, The Republic provides deep insight into how we as human beings perceive physical objects, the world around us, and even reality itself.
Clash of Civilizations
Though not quite as well known as The Republic, this discourse on the source of conflicts after the Cold War, written by American political scientist Samuel Huntington in the 1990’s, is nonetheless an almost prophetic vision of how cultures, not countries, will be combatants in the next generation of geopolitical conflict. It even predicted, before the 9/11 terror attacks, that Islamic extremism would be an obstacle to maintaining global peace. Since college is often a place where students meet new people and encounter unfamiliar cultures, reading this book and learning about how different cultures interact on the global stage could be most helpful.
The 16th-century magnum opus of Florentine political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince is a must-read for any aspiring student leader, regardless of specialization. The Prince is essentially a guide on how to efficiently lead others to accomplish your goals. While it is relatively unlikely that a college student will become a Machiavellian authority figure, understanding how effective leaders function is an important life skill: governments, including our own in the US, often adhere to the Machiavellian model of “it is better to be feared than loved.” Understanding how your government functions makes you an infinitely better, more informed citizen when it comes to voting in new public officials, or even running for office yourself.
The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College
In all honesty, when I received this book from my father around the end of my senior year of high school, I viewed it as more of a gag gift than an actual didactic guide. I was pleasantly surprised, upon actually reading the book (at the time against my better judgement), to find a combination of comic relief (as suggested by the humorous title) as well as useful advice for anything from building relationships on a college campus to dealing with alcohol abuse. Harlan Cohen’s and Cynthia Jenkins’s book is a must-read for anyone wishing to learn more about the less scholarly aspects of college life.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Because why not? While this Dr. Seuss classic is bit of a cliche at college commencement ceremonies, it is worthwhile to realize that the adventure of college can be as valuable as the larger course of one’s life. Deciding on your future career, learning about what you enjoy doing, and finding value in yourself, is, and will always be, more important that merely graduating. Although you may remember this book from your childhood, it can’t hurt to pick it up and give it a quick review in order to prepare for your imminent journey through college.
The Open Syllabus Project, which has collected curriculum data from universities over the past 15 years, has listed The Republic, Clash of Civilizations, and The Prince as some of the top ten most assigned books in schools like Yale, Harvard, and Columbia, and Princeton. Combined with the works by Dr. Seuss and Harlan Cohen, these books will provide both the intellectual enrichment and the literary entertainment that are essential to a good start to college life.
Tuhin Chakraborty is an 18 year old freshman at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. He is considering studying History and Political Science there. His favorite book is Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. Tuhin believes that success is gaining the respect of everyone who knows you. He steps up for Civic Engagement: getting young people involved in politics and community action.