Transformative Texts

This is our list of 100 transformative texts that faculty representing 12 different institutions have identified as meaningful for discussion-based academic engagement at community colleges. The list we present is not intended to be monolithic but reflective of the reaching landscape of texts that raise these important questions across the human quest for the good life.

Explore the available Text Guides

Below you'll find content to support the discussion-based study of the texts on our list. We are working on pages like these for each of the 100 texts above. Please come back soon to see our progress!

mary wollstonecraft a vindication of the rights of woman

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

In A Vindication, Wollstonecraft asks questions that are part of the human experience. How does who I am affect how I am viewed in the world in which I live? What has shaped others’ understanding...

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Ain’t I a Woman - Black Women and Feminism

Ain’t I a Woman

This text shines a light on a major gap in feminism and civil rights movements and traces the damaging and pervasive oppression and disregard for black women. She makes visible and clear the struggles of...

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass Penguin Classes Deluxe Edition

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Here are two reasons students might experience the text as transformative: Alice is a stranger-in-a-strange-land tale par excellence. It illustrates how one’s sense of self can be undermined in a new context. We may know...

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Annihilation of Caste B.R. Ambedkar

Annihilation of Caste

Annihilation of Caste is an authoritative text about social hierarchy and denial of basic human rights. It discusses how one class constructs political, legal, and social systems through which basic human rights including right to...

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The Complete Greek Tragedies, 3rd edition. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Trans. Elizabeth Wyckoff

Antigone

Antigone confronts the audience with the questions- is what is legal always what is just? Creon’s law denies Polyneices a basic burial rite. It is illegal to break this law, but Antigone makes the case...

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Audre Lorde, Selected Works of Audre Lorde. Ed. Roxanne Gay. Norton, New York

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde praises, rages, turns a critical eye, desires. The poems are relentless in their observations of Black lives and loves. Lorde was a cultural observer who spoke passionately about the oppressive structures of race,...

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The autobiography of Malcolm X

Autobiography of Malcolm X

This text is about transformation. It chart’s the course of a man’s life from criminality and excess to religious devotion and political activism. Centered in the life of Malcom X is the transformative power of...

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Beloved by toni morrison

Beloved

Beloved is a powerful novel. Upon finishing it, one student looked up and said, “I love this novel.” Perhaps the reason this student loved the novel so much is its insistence on the capacity for...

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gloria anzaldúa borderlands

Borderlands / La Frontera

This can be an intimidating text, especially for the non-Spanish speaker. Ask students to observe how they respond to the shift between Spanish and English throughout the text. Anzaldúa’s flow between languages is more than...

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Labyrinth Jorge Luis Borges

Borges Selected Stories

Borges is a writer intoxicated with infinity. He is a writer with secrets buried; you will need to bring a shovel (or the internet). Reading him is like being in an old antique curio shop...

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Changes: A Love Story Ama Ata Aidoo

Changes: A Love Story

This is a story about modern African women and their frustration at the status quo where women’s rights are concerned. At the heart of the story is Esi, an educated woman, unhappily married woman, and...

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Civilization and its Discontents Sigmund Freud

Civilization and its Discontents

Admittedly, Civilization and its Discontents paints a bleak view of the possibilities for both the individual and civilization. In Freud’s view, human beings are caught, seemingly eternally, between a rock and a hard place. But...

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Manifesto of the Communist Party Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Communist Manifesto

The Manifesto of the Communist Party is a pamphlet that discusses economic disparity. The primary aim of the text was to demand equal rights for all social classes. The inequalities of wealth discussed by the...

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Augustine's Confessions

Confessions

Although much of the narrative of the Confessions happens during Augustine’s time in Italy, this book, so undeniably central to the western canon, is by a writer who was born, grew up, and spent the...

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Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment

Dostoevsky stands among the great Russian novelists and world writers. In his characters, the reader encounters the complexity of human thought and desire, the quest for understanding ourselves, and the perennial questions that mark human...

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Death and the King’s Horseman

Death and the King’s Horseman

Soyinka was the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature, awarded to him in 1986. He is an author with remarkable range, having published plays, poems, novels, stories, memoires, and essays. He...

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Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Published by The Library of America, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-1931082549

Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America allows students to grapple with complexities and paradoxes associated with democracy and democratic government. Furthermore, Democracy in America allows students to explore how democracy has changed in the United...

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Emily Dickinson selected poems

Dickinson Selected Poems

In her imagery and in her diction, Dickinson captures the questioning nature of the human experience in her poetry. She grapples with questions of love, death, and eternity in a brutally honest way. Her poems...

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Alighieri, Dante. Inferno. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam. 2004

Divine Comedy

Dante’s Inferno is an entirely new way of looking at the afterlife. Rather than envision a hell full of physical torments and punishments, which was common in his day, Dante envisions an afterlife with a...

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Don Quixote

Don Quixote

Don Quixote is often called the first novel. Despite the humor that suffuses the tale, it is a serious and even a tragic work. The laughter the novel provokes, and the distance combined with affection...

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Linehan, Katherine, ed. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Norton Critical Edition, Norton, 2003

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is suitable for a variety of community college courses and can be included in units of differing lengths and focuses. A seemingly simple story of approx. 60...

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Packer, ZZ. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. Riverhead Books. 2003

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

It is impossible to come away from these stories not realizing the trauma of growing up black and female in Packer’s world. The stories resonate with the complexities of race, gender, and class and the...

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Dubliners, Vintage Classics, New York

Dubliners

These stories can introduce students to the Joycean epiphany, the moment at the end of the stories when a profound truth gets revealed to the characters. At the end of “A Painful Case,” Mr. Duffy...

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Foster, Benjamin R., ed. and trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Norton Critical Editions, Norton, 2019

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest pieces of literature, and the character Gilgamesh is the first epic hero. The poem is full of exciting adventures, as the demi-god Gilgamesh (sometimes with Enkidu)...

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Essays of Michel de Montaigne

Essays of Michel de Montaigne

Readers of Montaigne revel in the way he shook many of the foundations of Western thought. Students may be most interested in his writing against violent governmental actions and corruption, both in French domestic policy...

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Keirkegaard Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling

Many students will be at least passingly familiar with the Biblical story at the heart of Fear and Trembling, and for those who aren’t, the passage in Genesis is short enough easily to be presented...

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Fences August Wilson

Fences

Fences is a book about inevitability of change and adaptability. It’s about the choices we make when faced with the inevitable. But Troy is also a man in progress. His failings are human failings. It...

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Frankenstein- Or the Modern Prometheus Mary Shelley

Frankenstein

Few students will not encounter Frankenstein without some preconceptions, as the character of the creature (if not the story itself) is ubiquitous. But popular culture versions of the story often exaggerate the monstrosity of the...

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Genealogy of Morals

Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche remains one of the most influential and destabilizing figures of modern philosophy. His works continue to artfully wound readers in ways which may heal beautifully. Nietzsche’s investigation of “resentment” and “slave” morality challenge readers...

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Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals

Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals

Kant is notoriously difficult to read and, although it was intended for a more general audience than some of his other works, the Grounding is no exception. Still, the overall goal – to find one,...

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Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan

Hayy Ibn Yaqzan

Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, literally “Alive, Son of Awake”, raises many fundamental questions: What is life and how does animal life differ from that of plants and inanimate objects and why? Where did everything come from,...

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Hebrew Bible

Hebrew Bible and New Testament

The transformational power of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament is undeniable. Both make claims about the human relationship to the divine, the origins and nature of the world, and the sort of life one...

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Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Dover Thrift Edition

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

"Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl" addresses the particular issues of being a woman and a slave. Few slave narratives focus on these specific details. Jacobs is writing early Black feminism and bringing...

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Jataka Tales

Jatak Tales

Jataka tales are about life’s challenges, temptations, and uncertainties. They are held in esteemed position in all Buddhist traditions and have been immortalized in art, music, and drama. The Jatakas are the most comprehensible among...

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Wu Cheng’en The Journey to the West

Journey to The West

The Journey to the West not only provides insights into Daoism, Buddhism, and Taoism and how these teachings interact with each other and co-exist harmoniously. However, at the same time, The Journey to the West...

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Tolstoy, Leo, et al. The Kreutzer sonata and other stories. London: Penguin, 2008. Print. ISBN: 0140449604

Kreutzer Sonata

The Kreutzer Sonata raises important questions about the duality of human being as animal, governed by instinct and impulse, and spiritual, shaped by mutable law and tradition. Pozdnyshev’s story prompts readers to investigate this shared...

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Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

In addition to its transformative impact on the civil rights movement, King’s speech also grapples with a timeless human question: is it just to disobey an unjust law? How do you overcome and end oppression?...

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Hobbes, Thomas, and E. M. Curley. Leviathan : with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 1994. Print.

Leviathan

Hobbes’ text is one of the most transformative texts in this history of political thought. This text is a classic of political philosophy and foundational for social contract theory, which in part influenced the framing...

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Lincoln-Douglas Debate 7

Lincoln Douglas Debate 7

Lincoln-Douglas Debate 7 highlights the problems that confronted American society on the eve of the Civil War. By 1858, issues over slavery, both the immorality of the institution as well as its possible expansion, had...

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LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA

Love in The Time of Cholera

This novel is about Love and all its itinerant forms. Unrequited love. Platonic love. Romantic Love. Parental love. Forbidden love. It is about obsession and rejection. It is about the enduring nature of love and...

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Aristophanes

Lysistrata

This text raises very directly questions about the role of women in society, about the place of war, and about the role of sexual desire both in individual relationships and in relation to the state....

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Clark, Sandra, and Pamela Mason, eds. Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series. Bloomsbury, 2015

Macbeth

Does Macbeth kill Duncan because he is fated to do so, or because he was tempted to do so? Would he have killed Duncan of his own free will without the influence of others? Why...

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Mahabharata

Mahabharata / Bhagavad Gita

Mahabharata is the ultimate tale ever told; it is the longest poem in the world with almost 80,000 verses. It’s ingenious and engaging stories have captured the fancy of people for centuries and its stories...

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Mama Day Gloria Naylor

Mama Day

Mama Day explores the concept of home in multiple ways, and in ways that the reader may not be expecting. This novel unlocks the way we think about home, and then forces us to transcend...

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Euripides, Medea

Medea

This is a short, riveting text that takes students directly to topics about human nature in extremity – questions of passion, the relationship between love and hatred, justice and the most severe vengeance extending even...

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Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

Meditations on First Philosophy

The Meditations, by Rene Descartes, is a pivotal text, marking the break between distinctive ancient and modern conceptions of self and world. In the preface to the work, addressed to the Sorbonne, Descartes explicitly states...

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Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis is about human suffering and is a perfect novella to introduce students to Kafka’s work. While the story can be disorienting in the beginning, as the reader progresses, they can relate to Gregor’s...

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Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Dover Thrift, ed.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" is the story of humanity. One goal of the slave narrative was to assert the African’s humanity. Douglass’ narrative addresses the important question what it means to be...

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he Essential Neruda

Neruda, Poems

Pablo Neruda’s poetry is rich and varied, ranging from the romantic and lonely to the political to direct and humorous. His works seek to examine important issues love to the oppression that he witnessed in...

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Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

Since it is written as a first person coming-of-age novel, Never Let Me Go is accessible to all students. Students of traditional college age will relate to the late adolescent/early young adult experiences of Kathy...

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aristotle nicomachean ethics

Nicomachean Ethics

This text is transformative because of the absolutely direct way it takes up the essential question of what it is to live a good life. Aristotle’s definition of happiness is challenging to the modern reader...

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The Odyssey Homer

Odyssey

Discussing The Odyssey is a productive way to begin an undergraduate education. Many first-year students see themselves in Telemachus, who is struggling to find his identity and to establish himself in the world as an...

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On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy

On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy

Philosophy, by its very nature of bringing things into question, is at odds with the authority of the political and the religious. So it is no small task that the twelfth century Andalusian philosopher, Ibn...

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F.H.T. Willetts translation, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1991 (ISBN 978-0374534684)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

This book was transformational upon publication because of the way in which it exposed the harsh reality of the lives of even unexceptional political prisoners in the huge system of camps that made up the...

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Parable of the Sowe

Parable of The Sower

Butler helps readers consider what good things we may lose if we do not fight for the future, or are too blinded by our comforts today to notice the precarious social and political context which...

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Paradise Lost John Milton

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost poses one significant question after another: Are our paths predestined or do we have free will? Is knowledge good or dangerous? To what lengths will we go for companionship and what is going...

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Plutarch Parallel Lives

Parallel Lives (Selections)

Caesar is a truly compelling character, whose career brought Rome almost to the pinnacle of its power, but also brought about the end of the republic and the beginning of empire. Through the prism of...

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Phenomenology of Spirit

Phenomenology of Spirit

The Phenomenology of Spirit is arguably one of the most difficult philosophical texts to engage with. Partly this stems from Hegel having to, like Plato and Kant before him, invent terms and phrases to describe...

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Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

There are many timeless questions addressed in this text. Part of the human experience is learning how to read the world around you, and to make decisions about relationships. Who is truthful, who is deceitful?...

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republic

Republic

The Republic is a book of liberation and transformation. According to Dr. Simon Blackburn, “If any books change the world, Republic has a good claim to first place.” The Republic is the foundational text of...

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Salvage the Bones Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones is one of those texts that force the reader to see the world on the other side of their comfort zone. Esch is unflinching in her observations, forcing the reader to go...

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Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Vintage Books, New York

Sappho

Using Sappho is a way to bring into the classroom themes around beauty, longing, loss and subjectivity. There are a number of ways to approach this text. One way would be to situate students in...

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Second Discourse (Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Equality)

Second Discourse

Rousseau with his Second Discourse is a superlative example of the self-critique of the Enlightenment project from within the Enlightenment project itself. The development of civilization and political society, while bringing great benefits to mankind,...

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Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon, Vintage International, New York

Song of Solomon

Complex characters sit at the center of every Toni Morrison novel. She creates all her characters, these flawed and human people, the admirable and disreputable characters, with great empathy and love, and we as readers...

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“Sonny’s Blues” is also included in Baldwin’s story collection Going to Meet the Man, Vintage International, New York

Sonny’s Blues

The emotional lives of these characters is the story’s most immediate concern and the text takes seriously the question of how we endure loss. As well, it is impossible to understand these characters fully without...

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The Souls of Black Folk

Souls of Black Folk

Du Bois is one of the most influential US authors in the 20th century. His work helped shape productive advocacy for equal rights and treatment of Black people in the United States and remains relevant...

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Plato, Symposium

Symposium

The Symposium consists of a series of speeches about love given by Socrates and his friends during a drinking party at the house of Agathon. Having overindulged the night before in celebration of Agathon’s award...

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Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

The Dao De Jing is attributed to Laozi, translated as “The Old Master,” a possibly fictitious legendary contemporary of Confucius. As such, the Dao De Jing is a response to Confucianism and its emphasis on...

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Virgil The Aeneid

The Aeneid

While The Aeneid tells the story of Aeneas’s journey to settle in Rome, Virgil’s larger point is to highlight how Roman greatness was not by accident. The Aeneid is therefore seen as a glorification of...

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The Analects Confucius

The Analects

Analects is about morality, and introduces students to the Confucian way or, path. While students may not choose to agree with Confucius understanding of morality and social hierarchical relationships, it is in this disagreement and...

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The Awakening Kate Chopin

The Awakening

’Yes,’ she said. ‘The Years that are gone seem like dreams-if one might go on sleeping and dreaming- but to wake up and find- oh! Well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all,...

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Alice Walker, The Color Purple

The Color Purple

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is not simply a novel that focuses on feminism. It is also a work that examines how people can break free of cultural shame as well as the pity that...

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The Decameron

The Decameron

The Decameron is about living through a pandemic. The text makes direct appeal to contemporary sensibilities and experiences, and students can immediately form a connection with the text due to its relatable narrative about a...

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Edgar Allan Poe, The Dupin Trilogy

The Dupin Trilogy

With the Dupin trilogy, Edgar Allan Poe single-handedly invented the detective story as a genre of fiction. Anyone interested in this type of fiction and its history will have reason to experience these stories. As...

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Euclid's elements : book one : with questions for discussion

The Elements

Euclid’s text is a model for how to think clearly and logically. Through the study and demonstration of his geometrical proofs, students learn the structure of logical arguments and what it means to prove something....

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Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers

The arguments of Publius are alive today. In 1821, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote of The Federalist Papers, “It is a complete commentary on our constitution; and is appealed to by all parties in the...

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THE FIRE NEXT TIME James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time

The Fire Next Time is a book about hate. The arc of these essays is about race, but more importantly, these essays are about hate and its destructive power. As first and second year students...

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The History of the Peloponnesian War

The History of the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides’s The History of the Peloponnesian War represented a change in how historical narratives were written. While previous historical works by people like Herodotus tended to at times depart from the facts or used literary...

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The Poetry of John Donne

The Poetry of John Donne

Community college students find Donne’s poetry both arcane and modern, both puzzling and satisfying. Complex human scenarios are described with language that is at turns colloquial or learned. Ideas are often constructed in extended metaphors...

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The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince

Considering the reputation of the author of The Prince allows students to see the value of interpreting works in historical and generic context. Machiavelli and his works demonstrate that reception is as important as the...

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The Rihla Ibn Battuta

The Rihala

Rihla is about passion for traveling, learning, and experiencing new cultures. Battuta had a great appetite for travel and adventures, and this sentiment comes across to the readers. The beauty of the text lies in...

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John Locke The Second Treatise of Government

The Second Treatise of Government

John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government represented a marked shift in political thought during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At a time when the political power of many nations vested in a monarch or...

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The Story of an African Farm Olive Schreiner

The Story of an African Farm

Students are likely to be both surprised and intrigued by the modernity of ideas and situations in the novel. If they are familiar with Victorian literature or culture or have some sense of it, the...

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Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is the foundational argument for capitalism, classical liberalism, neoliberalism, and derivatively, libertarianism. It is the central text of political economy. While the work is often invoked by the ideologues of...

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Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Amistad (an imprint of Harper Collins)

Their Eyes Were Watching God

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" is an epic feminist manifesto. But it also appeals to anyone who is in search of who they are. In this era of the “authentic self” this novel is a...

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Things Fall Apart_Achebe, Chinua

Things Fall Apart

Okonkwo is a man among men. Raised by a “weak” father, he is determined to undo the legacy of laziness his father left behind. Okonkwo works hard, has the best farm in the land, many...

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One Thousand and One Nights

Thousand Nights and a Night

Tales from 1,001 Nights shed light on a different world for modern readers. Although highly fictionalized, even fantastic, the stories reflect social mores, political structures, family life, and daily occupations of another time and place,...

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To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf. 9780156907392

To the Lighthouse

Students may feel challenged by To the Lighthouse, as it is less of a story, and more an experience in witnessing the interior thoughts and feelings of a group of characters set against the same...

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The True History of the Kelly Gang

True History of the Kelly Gang

The question at the heart of the novel is whether an outlaw is born or made. While Kelly certainly can’t be taken as a wholly trustworthy narrator (he is, after all, writing his own legacy),...

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Mill, Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals “utility” or the “greatest happiness principle” holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the...

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Zadie Smith, White Teeth, Vintage International, New York

White Teeth

Smith tackles major issues around race, culture, history and the influence of science and religion with humor and humanity. There are many questions and few answers in the novel. Through her characters and their complicated...

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Contributors

KRISTIN DORSEY

Kristin Dorsey

Oregon

Associate Professor of Humanities/English at Central Oregon Community College

Andrea Fabrizio

Andrea Fabrizio

New York

Chair/Associate Professor of English at Hostos Community College

Ted Hadzi-Antich Jr.

Ted Hadzi-Antich Jr.

Texas

Associate Professor of Government at Austin Community College & Executive Director of The Great Questions Foundation

Richard Hardesty

Richard Hardesty

Maryland

Adjunct Professor of History, American Studies, and Sports Studies at Anne Arundel Community College

Danny Hoey

Danny Hoey

California

Dean of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at Gavilan College

Emily Langston

Emily Langston

Maryland

Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at St. John’s College

glasses

Angie Lohr

Oregon

Adjunct Instructor of Humanities at Portland Community College

Holly Messitt

New York

Associate Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College

Jacob Mills

Jacob Mills

Texas

Professor of Philosophy at Houston Community College

Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson

Illinois

Professor of English and Director of the Great Books Program at Wright College, Chicago

ANISHA SAXENA

Anisha Saxena

New York

Assistant Professor of Social Science and Philosophy at Onondaga Community College

Gayle Williamson

Gayle Williamson

Ohio

Associate Professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College