Posted by: Jacqui Murray | 08/28/2009

24 Books That Will Make You Sound Like an Intellect

Perception is greater than reality. Give the impression to anyone paying attention that you are intellectual, even before you’re old enough to be one, and it becomes their reality about you. How do you do this if all you’ve got is a brief conversation?

Read the classics. I don’t mean Euripides or Voltaire, well, not only them. I mean the books that people quote, talk about, bring up in educated conversations and assume you have read. Here’s a starter list, compiled by teacher’s across the country (like this reading list from Weston High School), studies of what people read and Newsweek’s Top 100:

  • Shakespeare–pretty much anything he wrote, but Macbeth and Hamlet are a good start. In one study, 71% of people listed these two as must-reads for the well-rounded individual
  • Any of the defining documents in US history–the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 50% of people in the same study said these were critical.
  • Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer–something by Mark Twain
  • the Bible
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The quickest of Solzhenitsyn’s books, but Cancer Ward or any other is good, too.
  • The Prince by Machiavelli (how else can you understand the term ‘Machiavellian’?)
  • The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov This and Solzhenitsyn are required to understand Russian culture.
  • The Iliad or The Odyssey by Homer Our very concept of ‘odyssey’ comes from the latter, and there is no better account of the ever-popular Trojan War than the former.
  • Great Expectations or Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (think how often you’ve heard the analogy–It’s a tale of two ***)
  • The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (learn how tenuous is the fabric of western civilization)
  • The Red Badge of Courage It will not take too many days in the ‘real world’ for your students to gain their own red badge of courage.
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Students will want a label for what happens when they are judged and found lacking by small-minded people
  • Plato’s Republic, one of the most influential works of philosophy and political theory
  • Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, rudimentary to American independence by focusing anger in a logical, well-reasoned manner
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller The only way to understand that phrase when it is inevitably used is to read the book.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne There are more Pooh-isms in this book that will aptly describe your feelings, thoughts, worries, than in any book I’ve ever read.
  • Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling (It’s a poem, but a must-read if for no other reason than the quote, ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’)
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx A brilliant book about an ideal economic system that unfortunately doesn’t survive the harsh light of day or the realities of man’s selfish spirit.

A daunting list, yes, but you have four years. This is a win-win activity. Wherever you end up in life, be it the Naval Academy or some other after-high school endeavor, these books will lend their wisdom to your ongoing battles.

For more on Reading Lists, try this post by WordDreams called Forget Summer Reading Lists.



  1. […] For more on reading lists, try this post on 24 Books That Will Make You Sound Like an Intellect. […]


  2. Good morning,

    I just got Tom Sawyer from the library and I have already read the Odyssey. What books should I get next?


    • Besides this list, there’s the Marine Corps reading list. It includes military books that the Marines recommend for their soldiers and is broken down by category. It should keep you busy.


  3. […] able to communicate and defend their nation with equal aptitude. About a year ago, I posted a list of books to be on the Great books you want to […]


  4. […] able to communicate and defend their nation with equal aptitude. About a year ago, I posted a list of books to be on the reading list of any high school student with aspirations of attending any of the […]


  5. […] able to communicate and defend their nation with equal aptitude. About a year ago, I posted a list of books to be on […]


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