What Are College Students Reading?

Via our friends at Intellectual Takeout, we see a list of the 200 books most often assigned to American college students. Having perused the list, my judgment is: it could be a whole lot worse.

It is striking how many are legitimate classics, everything from Strunk and White–number one on the list–to Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Homer, Chaucer, Mill and Locke. If students are actually reading this stuff, it is a great thing.

To be sure, when syllabi stray from the classics it is generally in a leftward direction. The Communist Manifesto is number three on the list, and Capital is number 44. But presumably these are studied only as historical curiosities, like Mein Kampf. Toni Morrison, an utterly forgettable writer, is on the list, and Michel Foucault, who I understand to be an insignificant thinker, holds down three spots. Edward Said’s pernicious Orientalism ranks very high, holding down 12th place on the list. Then there are a few tedious mediocrities, like Walden.

But on the whole, it’s a heck of a list. Maybe the bad stuff comes later, after the survey courses that are mostly represented here. But any college student who read all 200 books on the list would be doing very, very well. After all, Toni Morrison and Michel Foucault don’t stand a chance against William Shakespeare and John Locke.