The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The Great American Novel. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this book. It reads today as a modern novel because it, along with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, defined the modern novel. Originally published in 1884, it forever changed how fiction would be written in America. It is still a wildly entertaining story for kids and adults. If you haven’t read it since you were a child, take another look.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. If Mark Twain defined the modern novel, then Hunter S. Thompson defined, uh, something. A groundbreaking book in its own right, it spawned quite a few imitators. However, nobody has come close to matching this it. Thompson leaves readers wondering if he actually lived these adventures or just imagined them. The answer doesn’t really matter because it’s pretty impressive either way. Just don’t blame me if you get chased by giant bats.
Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. If you want to really understand what the Founding Fathers meant by “liberty,” you need to read this book. With this text, Locke jumped into the centuries old debate begun by Plato in The Republic and continued by Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, and others about the proper role of government in society. Taking this debate to new territory, he developed a philosophy of government that inspired the American Revolution and United States Constitution. It will also shed some light on how Locke’s vision has largely disappeared in modern America.
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell was the twentieth century’s premier scholar of mythology. He studied how man, over the course of history, has built his social institutions and beliefs upon shared stories. This book came from hours of interviews done by Bill Moyers for the PBS television series of the same name. This book provides the clearest description of how we developed socially, morally, and spiritually that I’ve ever read. In order to understand the human race, you need to understand its mythology. In order to understand its mythology, you need Joseph Campbell.