Texts By Discipline

What are the texts that faculty might explore with students in a discussion-based classroom that address these great questions most productively, which could be easily integrated into general education courses already present in most community college course catalogues? See the list by Discipline.

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 black women in America while also tracing the origins and roots of a dual racial and sexist oppression through slavery and into the 20th century. It is the first major study looking at the intersection of racism and sexism in...

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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, single principle that can be a key to deciding questions of morality – is one that students find relatable. Who hasn’t struggled to find clarity, or wished for a principle about which we could all agree, when considering issues of...

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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 love them as well. She constructs the novel from a mixture of history, myth, spirituals and the supernatural that makes the writing deeply resonant. What is past is never past, as the ancestors are always present. In a Toni Morrison...

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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 human and who gets to decide that for anybody. This text is a way to get students talking not just about the history of slavery, but about the importance of education, and self-awareness.

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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 creature and minimize or even ignore Victor’s abandonment and renouncement of the creature and his responsibilities toward his own creation.

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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 appear to be incredibly straightforward, but there are multiple layers of meaning, and possible interpretations. The struggle and desire of a person trying to make sense of her place in the universe is palpable on the pages of Dickinson’s poetry....

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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 way Packer’s characters must maneuver each one with stealth and grace and sometimes violence. Packer provides an unflinching perspective on the many ways there are to be a black woman, from girlhood to adulthood.

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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 virtual user’s manual for that very thing. Men and women will connect to Janie’s quest for authentic self and for the ability to make her own choices.

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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 “felt that he was alone.” The boy in “Araby” says, “I saw myself a creature driven and derided by vanity.” The boy’s realization is not so different from Jimmy Doyle’s realization of his “folly” at the end of “After the...

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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? Who is good, who is dangerous? Who is supportive, who is threatening? These decisions, in modern society, are also key when making decisions about love and marriage. In our lives, we all must confront our pride and our prejudice at...

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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 along with whatever she shows them, and daring the reader to pass judgment. It is impossible to come away from this story not understanding that the world is a complex environment.

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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 of who I am? What are the assumptions, biases, misconceptions that impact how the world sees me? Wollstonecraft’s text examines the repeating social patterns that have led to the belief that women do not possess reason and that their singular...

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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 wives and multiple children. He is, according to his village, a successful man. He is also one of the most feared men. His prowess on the battlefield is no less impressive. When he accidentally kills the son of a village...

Read More
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 mother. Esi has a good job that provides the bungalow she and her husband Oko live in with their daughter. After Oko rapes Esi in a desperate attempt to remind her of her place, she divorces him and sends her...

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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 those beliefs. It is also a novel about faith and the life-altering effects faith of any kind can have on our lives. This novel makes readers question the very definition of faith and what true faith can accomplish.

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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 understanding the racial context of their lives. They grew up in Harlem, and they, as the narrator observes of his high school students, “were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their...

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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 the middle of the fragmentation and rupture within the poems, as described above, in order to think through the jagged and jarring structure of the text, the ways of not knowing who a speaker is, and the silences that are...

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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 polarized the United States. The debates highlighted a major problem with American democracy. How can a society consider itself a democracy when a portion of it cannot be treated like human beings?

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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, and how did that happen? Why am I asking these questions and how/do the conclusions I draw here affect my life and the decisions I make? Asking these questions along with Hayy, students may begin to wrestle with some of...

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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 the question of Black female empowerment into the feminist conversation that won’t really accept it for quite some time.

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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 nature of the sexual relationships, Lyndall’s feminism, the complicated race relations, and one character’s decision to live as a different gender for a period of time, will likely challenge what they think they know about the period, not to mention...

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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. Students are likely to sympathize strongly with the Lysistrata, who is far more than simply the leader of the sex strike. In her attempts to persuade the women to forgo sex (which, the play makes very clear, they enjoy as...

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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 winning play, the group agrees to pace themselves tonight by means of their speeches to the god of love. Phaedrus starts things off, followed by Pausanias and Euryximachus. Next, Aristophanes delivers his unforgettable origin myth, explaining our unconquerable urge to...

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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 is a play about the enduring promise of family.

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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 code switching. It is an enactment of mestiza consciousness. The same is true for the flow between genres in the text. Some students will feel empowered by Anzaldúa’s flow between languages and genres. Other students will feel they are missing...

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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 and characters have found afterlives in contemporary drama, cinema, and popular culture including music and video games. What is most beautiful about the text is that there is no single Mahabharata, but many. While the Sanskrit version of the text...

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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 embark on their studies in these uncertain times, a lesson about the incendiary nature of hate will help anchor their emotions and attitudes about ideas they will encounter in their academic careers and their lives. There is always something to...

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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? What in fact is the difference between a just and an unjust law? Is it wrong to fight for what is right if you know it will lead to violence?

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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, gender, class and sexuality. She articulated the ways that, in the name of sameness, Black women’s experiences were devalued by white women and black men alike and how lesbian sexuality was threatening to both groups and could be used to...

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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 others feel to gain agency and empowerment. The Color Purple offers a moving narrative that focuses on growing up and self-realization. At the same time, the novel covers issues of gender equality through a story that illustrates women rejecting values...

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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) defeats monsters and other-worldly creatures, but it is also a profound meditation on the meaning of being human; human achievement and limitations; power and violence; civilization (and its responsibilities) and savagery; travel and homecoming; youth and age; suffering and maturity;...

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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 his native Chile. Moreover, Neruda’s poetry also sought to examine philosophical issues that focused on humanity. Despite the variety of poetic topics Neruda covered, his poetry has a unity of style that ties his diverse works together.

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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, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.(133) Kate Chopin Does free will exist? […]

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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 independent person, worthy of respect and happiness. This text helps frame the transformative experience of beginning college through a narrative following the personal transformations of many characters. The text productivity raises questions about the conflict between safety and freedom, desire...

Read More
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 polarized the United States. The debates highlighted a major problem with American democracy. How can a society consider itself a democracy when a portion of it cannot be treated like human beings?

Read More
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 do people commit acts that they know are wrong, even when they understand the consequences of these actions? Unlocking such questions for students allows them to engage with some of the central questions about human agency, desire for self-worth and...

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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) defeats monsters and other-worldly creatures, but it is also a profound meditation on the meaning of being human; human achievement and limitations; power and violence; civilization (and its responsibilities) and savagery; travel and homecoming; youth and age; suffering and maturity;...

Read More
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 and in the actions of Europeans attempting to conquer the Americas. His delineation of cultural relativism is also very relevant to students’ increasing interest in human diversity. Montaigne resists the inclination to normalize aristocratic and bourgeois European culture; he defines...

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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 virtual user’s manual for that very thing. Men and women will connect to Janie’s quest for authentic self and for the ability to make her own choices.

Read More
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 majority of his career in, Africa. Thus it challenges our conception of where such books originate and our preconceptions about the people who wrote them. It is often called the first autobiography, and presents a remarkable exploration of interiority –...

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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 love them as well. She constructs the novel from a mixture of history, myth, spirituals and the supernatural that makes the writing deeply resonant. What is past is never past, as the ancestors are always present. In a Toni Morrison...

Read More
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 and characters have found afterlives in contemporary drama, cinema, and popular culture including music and video games. What is most beautiful about the text is that there is no single Mahabharata, but many. While the Sanskrit version of the text...

Read More
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 Soviet Gulag. Along with Solzhenitsyn’s other writings and the works of other artists coming out of the Soviet Union, it contributed to the eventual demise of that system. This can be a good place to start, but for most students...

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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 new psychological, moral, and emotional depth to it. The text continues to influence culture centuries later with its ever-relevant questions about the origins and nature of evil. The text explores the depth of human nature and invites the reader to...

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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, while simultaneously connecting to human concerns like the desires for happiness and justice, the presence of negative emotions like jealousy and anger, inequity and misunderstanding between genders, and the morality of those in power. Since almost all students have some...

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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 pandemic, including failure of a state in controlling the disease and spreading of nonhuman viruses in a highly globalized world. The Decameron is an example of excellent literary prose, the stories themselves don’t focus on the suffering from the plague,...

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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), he makes a compelling argument that poverty, abuse, lack of positive male role models, lack of education, and abuse pushed him into a life of crime. Students will see many parallels in both American popular culture and real life, and...

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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, gender, class and sexuality. She articulated the ways that, in the name of sameness, Black women’s experiences were devalued by white women and black men alike and how lesbian sexuality was threatening to both groups and could be used to...

Read More
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? Who is good, who is dangerous? Who is supportive, who is threatening? These decisions, in modern society, are also key when making decisions about love and marriage. In our lives, we all must confront our pride and our prejudice at...

Read More
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 we feel for its noble yet ridiculous protagonist as he attempts to live out his ideals in a decidedly unsympathetic world, provoke examination of themes that students will feel deeply. Many of them, in coming to college, have themselves set...

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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 is a play about the enduring promise of family.

Read More
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 pp., the novel has been frequently dismissed as “sensationalist fiction” concerned only with lurid, grisly violence and depravity. Jekyll is, however, an amazingly rich tale of a human who pursues indulgence in unspecified pleasures, vices, or criminal actions while attempting...

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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 well as being detective stories that are about Dupin’s ability to analyze, resolve, and disentangle, they are just as much about engaging the reader’s ability to do the same with the text itself. Each of these stories is itself 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 wives and multiple children. He is, according to his village, a successful man. He is also one of the most feared men. His prowess on the battlefield is no less impressive. When he accidentally kills the son of a village...

Read More
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 the question of Black female empowerment into the feminist conversation that won’t really accept it for quite some time.

Read More
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 mother. Esi has a good job that provides the bungalow she and her husband Oko live in with their daughter. After Oko rapes Esi in a desperate attempt to remind her of her place, she divorces him and sends her...

Read More
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? What in fact is the difference between a just and an unjust law? Is it wrong to fight for what is right if you know it will lead to violence?

Read More
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 independent person, worthy of respect and happiness. This text helps frame the transformative experience of beginning college through a narrative following the personal transformations of many characters. The text productivity raises questions about the conflict between safety and freedom, desire...

Read More
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 ourselves in our own world, but who are we in a world that operates with rules we don’t understand? How do we respond to that which seems nonsensical? Readers are confronted with fundamental questions about the relationship between self and...

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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 is equally renowned for activism, especially his opposition to military dictatorships. He spent two years in prison during the Nigerian Civil War, and in 1994 escaped from the brutal regime of Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha who sentenced him to...

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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 called “conceits.” When these extended metaphors use obscurely technical imagery or make surprising, unexpected comparisons, they are called “metaphysical conceits.” Donne’s poetry invites students to inhabit the speaker’s mind, to follow his thoughts through the complexities of language and emotion...

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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 histories, Smith explores the tensions between 1) the roots of history and the idealistic dream of a multicultural melting pot; 2) cosmopolitanism and patriotism; 3) science and religion; 4) idealized beauty and self-identity; 5) eugenics and genetic engineering. The story...

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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 texts. His life emphasises the powerful role authors from the past may play in opening the mind to new ideas and perspectives while encouraging us to take new steps. X’s life also exemplifies the strength required to make transformative changes...

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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 backdrop. Each character brings not only their own focus, but their own set of preoccupations: Mrs. Ramsey wants to provide certain experiences to her family members and guests, Mr. Ramsey wants to feel challenged and successful intellectually, Lily wants to...

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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 appear to be incredibly straightforward, but there are multiple layers of meaning, and possible interpretations. The struggle and desire of a person trying to make sense of her place in the universe is palpable on the pages of Dickinson’s poetry....

Read More
“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 understanding the racial context of their lives. They grew up in Harlem, and they, as the narrator observes of his high school students, “were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their...

Read More
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 makes their enjoyment possible. The text also helps raise questions about the origin of prophecy, imploring the reader to imagine Lauren and Moses as involved in a shared struggle to articulate a message of freedom from bondage and suffering 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 that Creon has no right to make this law since is flies in the face of the will of the gods. She refuses to obey an unjust law. The play makes clear that Creon offends the gods with his unjust...

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Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Modern Library, 1994

Invisible Man

Ellison’s Invisible Man is one of the great American novels of the last 100 years. It combines an impressionistic portrait of a nameless protagonist and his journey as part of the Great Migration of Black Americans to the north during the early part of the twentieth century. Published in 1952, the work speaks to a pivotal moment in history, as many aspects of American society were scrambled and reinvented in the years following World War...

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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 “felt that he was alone.” The boy in “Araby” says, “I saw myself a creature driven and derided by vanity.” The boy’s realization is not so different from Jimmy Doyle’s realization of his “folly” at the end of “After the...

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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 way Packer’s characters must maneuver each one with stealth and grace and sometimes violence. Packer provides an unflinching perspective on the many ways there are to be a black woman, from girlhood to adulthood.

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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 to children. It is almost impossible not to react strongly. It is helpful in the classroom that that the beautiful but challenging poetic language and the stylized, unfamiliar character of ancient Greek drama provide enough distance for students to be...

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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 dialogue that lies the essence of Analects. It is important that students can connect with the text and can reflect on it through their experience. Confucius lived in a period of acute political and cultural crisis, and this is reflected...

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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. Students are likely to sympathize strongly with the Lysistrata, who is far more than simply the leader of the sex strike. In her attempts to persuade the women to forgo sex (which, the play makes very clear, they enjoy as...

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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 creature and minimize or even ignore Victor’s abandonment and renouncement of the creature and his responsibilities toward his own creation.

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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 of hope. It asks difficult questions about what love is and who is entitled to it. No one walks away from this text not thinking that love is complex and nuanced and dangerous. Marquez presents love as an illness, with...

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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 H. and her peers, like negotiating friendships with romantic and sexual relationships and adjusting to life outside of adult guidance and protection. Non-traditionally aged students will remember these experiences as well. So, while the genre and narrative will be unlikely...

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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, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.(133) Kate Chopin Does free will exist? […]

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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 along with whatever she shows them, and daring the reader to pass judgment. It is impossible to come away from this story not understanding that the world is a complex environment.

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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 ought to live in response to these truths. These texts have shaped entire civilizations and innumerable individual lives, and most students will be aware that much is at stake in discussing them. The challenge in class is make possible a...

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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 its vivid description of people, flora-fauna, food, and customs of the land he travelled. Ibn Juzayy, the writer of the text brilliantly interspersed these physical descriptions with poetry and satirical personal anecdotes. Rihla is an exceptional travelogue and exposes the...

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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 of who I am? What are the assumptions, biases, misconceptions that impact how the world sees me? Wollstonecraft’s text examines the repeating social patterns that have led to the belief that women do not possess reason and that their singular...

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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 situation. The story is a complex narrative with multiple layers that explores variety of human emotions and relationships including, fear, frustration, disappointment, love, loneliness, suffering, meaning of death, and disgust.

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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 where you have to go slowly, examining all the unique pieces individually, turning them over to reveal their histories and stories. In a single one of his works he may switch from arcane literary figures, to linguistic theories, to alternate...

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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 all Buddhist literature and are perfect text to introduce first year college students to Buddhism and Buddhist literature. Students can easily relate to the moral and philosophical questions addressed in the text, including who is deceitful? Who is a good...

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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 his native Chile. Moreover, Neruda’s poetry also sought to examine philosophical issues that focused on humanity. Despite the variety of poetic topics Neruda covered, his poetry has a unity of style that ties his diverse works together.

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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 the middle of the fragmentation and rupture within the poems, as described above, in order to think through the jagged and jarring structure of the text, the ways of not knowing who a speaker is, and the silences that are...

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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 interaction. Dostoevsky’s ideas at the time of the novel’s composition were very much informed by the radical political climate in St. Petersburg, ideas which Dostoevsky felt were morally and politically dangerous.

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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 embark on their studies in these uncertain times, a lesson about the incendiary nature of hate will help anchor their emotions and attitudes about ideas they will encounter in their academic careers and their lives. There is always something to...

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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 love and community, its belief in the possibility of healing. While Morrison focuses on the range of dehumanization of African Americans, from the image of the ceramic “blackboy’s mouth full of money” on the shelf in the home of two...

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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 territory for the grounds of their own romantic relationships and provides a vivid physiological portrait of jealous rage. Tolstoy’s work highlights an often overlooked dimension of Beauty, its frightening capacity to inspire violence and self-delusion. While others exult the transformative...

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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 nature of the sexual relationships, Lyndall’s feminism, the complicated race relations, and one character’s decision to live as a different gender for a period of time, will likely challenge what they think they know about the period, not to mention...

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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 code switching. It is an enactment of mestiza consciousness. The same is true for the flow between genres in the text. Some students will feel empowered by Anzaldúa’s flow between languages and genres. Other students will feel they are missing...

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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 human and who gets to decide that for anybody. This text is a way to get students talking not just about the history of slavery, but about the importance of education, and self-awareness.

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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 others feel to gain agency and empowerment. The Color Purple offers a moving narrative that focuses on growing up and self-realization. At the same time, the novel covers issues of gender equality through a story that illustrates women rejecting values...

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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 those beliefs. It is also a novel about faith and the life-altering effects faith of any kind can have on our lives. This novel makes readers question the very definition of faith and what true faith can accomplish.

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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 too far? What is a righteous ruler and what is tyranny? Is rebellion against tyranny ever permissible or justifiable? What is Hell and what is Paradise? How does a victor emerge in a war between immortals? These are questions without...

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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 emperor, The Second Treatise of Government placed power in the hands of the people. Furthermore, Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government demonstrates that the people are deserving of the power that they receive in a state of nature. When a...

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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), he makes a compelling argument that poverty, abuse, lack of positive male role models, lack of education, and abuse pushed him into a life of crime. Students will see many parallels in both American popular culture and real life, and...

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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 questions to which that instrument has given birth. Its intrinsic merit entitles it to this high rank, and the part two of its authors [i.e., Hamilton and Madison] performed in framing the constitution, put it very much in their power...

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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 content of the work itself. The term Machiavellian typically evokes the idea of “The ends justify the means,” with the implication that Machiavelli himself must have supported absolutism or tyranny. The Prince upset contemporary readers because it is the first...

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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 black women in America while also tracing the origins and roots of a dual racial and sexist oppression through slavery and into the 20th century. It is the first major study looking at the intersection of racism and sexism in...

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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) defeats monsters and other-worldly creatures, but it is also a profound meditation on the meaning of being human; human achievement and limitations; power and violence; civilization (and its responsibilities) and savagery; travel and homecoming; youth and age; suffering and maturity;...

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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 its vivid description of people, flora-fauna, food, and customs of the land he travelled. Ibn Juzayy, the writer of the text brilliantly interspersed these physical descriptions with poetry and satirical personal anecdotes. Rihla is an exceptional travelogue and exposes 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 embark on their studies in these uncertain times, a lesson about the incendiary nature of hate will help anchor their emotions and attitudes about ideas they will encounter in their academic careers and their lives. There is always something to...

Read More
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 of the US Constitution and other modern political forms. While pre-hobbesian politics was concerned with the moral and spiritual development of citizens, the modern political projects ushered in by authors like Hobbes were decidedly not. Hobbes was a pioneer in...

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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 those beliefs. It is also a novel about faith and the life-altering effects faith of any kind can have on our lives. This novel makes readers question the very definition of faith and what true faith can accomplish.

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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 polarized the United States. The debates highlighted a major problem with American democracy. How can a society consider itself a democracy when a portion of it cannot be treated like human beings?

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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 human and who gets to decide that for anybody. This text is a way to get students talking not just about the history of slavery, but about the importance of education, and self-awareness.

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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 Rome, its values, and its people. This can be seen through Aeneas, who Virgil uses to personify Roman ideals and values. Throughout the epic, Aeneas is presented as a man who is bound by duty. This can be seen as...

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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 authors are ubiquitous in our present society, and the first-year students enrolled in community colleges are quick to recognize and can relate with the disparities of wealth discussed in the text. Marx and Engels argued that the capitalistic system established...

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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? Who is good, who is dangerous? Who is supportive, who is threatening? These decisions, in modern society, are also key when making decisions about love and marriage. In our lives, we all must confront our pride and our prejudice at...

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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 pandemic, including failure of a state in controlling the disease and spreading of nonhuman viruses in a highly globalized world. The Decameron is an example of excellent literary prose, the stories themselves don’t focus on the suffering from the plague,...

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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 raises important questions on human nature and morality that still have relevance to today’s society. For example, the journey that Xuanzang, Sun Wukong, Zhu Baije, and Sha Wujing take serves to symbolize one’s detachment from material items as they corrupt...

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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 of hope. It asks difficult questions about what love is and who is entitled to it. No one walks away from this text not thinking that love is complex and nuanced and dangerous. Marquez presents love as an illness, with...

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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 his story, students can consider a variety of questions about power, ambition, various forms of government, and the relationship of people and their leaders, that bear upon our current political situation. The narrative draws students in more effectively than most...

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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 wives and multiple children. He is, according to his village, a successful man. He is also one of the most feared men. His prowess on the battlefield is no less impressive. When he accidentally kills the son of a village...

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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 others feel to gain agency and empowerment. The Color Purple offers a moving narrative that focuses on growing up and self-realization. At the same time, the novel covers issues of gender equality through a story that illustrates women rejecting values...

Read More
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 all Buddhist literature and are perfect text to introduce first year college students to Buddhism and Buddhist literature. Students can easily relate to the moral and philosophical questions addressed in the text, including who is deceitful? Who is a good...

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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 Soviet Gulag. Along with Solzhenitsyn’s other writings and the works of other artists coming out of the Soviet Union, it contributed to the eventual demise of that system. This can be a good place to start, but for most students...

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Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Modern Library, 1994

Invisible Man

Ellison’s Invisible Man is one of the great American novels of the last 100 years. It combines an impressionistic portrait of a nameless protagonist and his journey as part of the Great Migration of Black Americans to the north during the early part of the twentieth century. Published in 1952, the work speaks to a pivotal moment in history, as many aspects of American society were scrambled and reinvented in the years following World War...

Read More
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 his native Chile. Moreover, Neruda’s poetry also sought to examine philosophical issues that focused on humanity. Despite the variety of poetic topics Neruda covered, his poetry has a unity of style that ties his diverse works together.

Read More
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 along with whatever she shows them, and daring the reader to pass judgment. It is impossible to come away from this story not understanding that the world is a complex environment.

Read More
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 novelties, Thucydides communicated his intention to write an accurate account. He outlines how he acquired the information he used in writing his history. As such, present-day historians have praised the methodology Thucydides used in writing The History of the Peloponnesian...

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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 the question of Black female empowerment into the feminist conversation that won’t really accept it for quite some time.

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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. After one understands an entire proof of Euclid’s, you know what it feels like to really know that something is true. His proofs provide a window onto the beauty of truth and inspire us to want to open it further....

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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 States over time. Tocqueville’s purpose for writing Democracy in America is to examine why democracy worked in the United States by the early-nineteenth century, while previous attempts in France failed. Tocqueville’s purpose will require students to examine how certain social,...

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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 education, occupation, movement, and freedom to consume food of one’s choice is denied to a large section of the society, who then are forced to live in abject poverty. The first and second year students can effortlessly relate to the...

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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 ideas and concepts for which ordinary language is inadequate. Because of this, there is not always agreement on just what Hegel is doing. Wherever one comes down interpretively, his impact on the history of thought is undeniable. He is the...

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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 new psychological, moral, and emotional depth to it. The text continues to influence culture centuries later with its ever-relevant questions about the origins and nature of evil. The text explores the depth of human nature and invites the reader to...

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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 texts. His life emphasises the powerful role authors from the past may play in opening the mind to new ideas and perspectives while encouraging us to take new steps. X’s life also exemplifies the strength required to make transformative changes...

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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 dialogue that lies the essence of Analects. It is important that students can connect with the text and can reflect on it through their experience. Confucius lived in a period of acute political and cultural crisis, and this is reflected...

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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 is equally renowned for activism, especially his opposition to military dictatorships. He spent two years in prison during the Nigerian Civil War, and in 1994 escaped from the brutal regime of Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha who sentenced him to...

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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 is a play about the enduring promise of family.

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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 called “conceits.” When these extended metaphors use obscurely technical imagery or make surprising, unexpected comparisons, they are called “metaphysical conceits.” Donne’s poetry invites students to inhabit the speaker’s mind, to follow his thoughts through the complexities of language and emotion...

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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 way Packer’s characters must maneuver each one with stealth and grace and sometimes violence. Packer provides an unflinching perspective on the many ways there are to be a black woman, from girlhood to adulthood.

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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 Rushd, sets for himself in On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy. This harmony is achieved by adjusting the Quran to fit Aristotelian philosophical thought through the allegorical interpretation of intransigent passages. That scripture should be interpreted symbolically when it...

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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 or even read aloud in the classroom. Part of the impact of Kierkegaard’s work comes from the fact that although the story is not new, most readers avoid allowing themselves fully to consider the horror of what God has demanded...

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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 creature and minimize or even ignore Victor’s abandonment and renouncement of the creature and his responsibilities toward his own creation.

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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 ought to live in response to these truths. These texts have shaped entire civilizations and innumerable individual lives, and most students will be aware that much is at stake in discussing them. The challenge in class is make possible a...

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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 political science and moral philosophy. The questions it raises regarding the nature of justice and its relationship to the good life are important for all human beings to consider. It may be impossible to find a notable thinker in the...

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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, and how did that happen? Why am I asking these questions and how/do the conclusions I draw here affect my life and the decisions I make? Asking these questions along with Hayy, students may begin to wrestle with some of...

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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 embark on their studies in these uncertain times, a lesson about the incendiary nature of hate will help anchor their emotions and attitudes about ideas they will encounter in their academic careers and their lives. There is always something to...

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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 is a play about the enduring promise of family.

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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 love and community, its belief in the possibility of healing. While Morrison focuses on the range of dehumanization of African Americans, from the image of the ceramic “blackboy’s mouth full of money” on the shelf in the home of two...

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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 the middle of the fragmentation and rupture within the poems, as described above, in order to think through the jagged and jarring structure of the text, the ways of not knowing who a speaker is, and the silences that are...

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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 “felt that he was alone.” The boy in “Araby” says, “I saw myself a creature driven and derided by vanity.” The boy’s realization is not so different from Jimmy Doyle’s realization of his “folly” at the end of “After the...

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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 winning play, the group agrees to pace themselves tonight by means of their speeches to the god of love. Phaedrus starts things off, followed by Pausanias and Euryximachus. Next, Aristophanes delivers his unforgettable origin myth, explaining our unconquerable urge to...

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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 on many fronts, and whether or not one ultimately agrees with him, his arguments will compel students to articulate, refine, and perhaps profoundly rethink, their own positions. Although the highest form of happiness is determined to be that arising from...

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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 wives and multiple children. He is, according to his village, a successful man. He is also one of the most feared men. His prowess on the battlefield is no less impressive. When he accidentally kills the son of a village...

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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, while simultaneously connecting to human concerns like the desires for happiness and justice, the presence of negative emotions like jealousy and anger, inequity and misunderstanding between genders, and the morality of those in power. Since almost all students have some...

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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 independent person, worthy of respect and happiness. This text helps frame the transformative experience of beginning college through a narrative following the personal transformations of many characters. The text productivity raises questions about the conflict between safety and freedom, desire...

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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 new psychological, moral, and emotional depth to it. The text continues to influence culture centuries later with its ever-relevant questions about the origins and nature of evil. The text explores the depth of human nature and invites the reader to...

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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. After one understands an entire proof of Euclid’s, you know what it feels like to really know that something is true. His proofs provide a window onto the beauty of truth and inspire us to want to open it further....

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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 the question of Black female empowerment into the feminist conversation that won’t really accept it for quite some time.

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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 love them as well. She constructs the novel from a mixture of history, myth, spirituals and the supernatural that makes the writing deeply resonant. What is past is never past, as the ancestors are always present. In a Toni Morrison...

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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, gender, class and sexuality. She articulated the ways that, in the name of sameness, Black women’s experiences were devalued by white women and black men alike and how lesbian sexuality was threatening to both groups and could be used to...

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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 H. and her peers, like negotiating friendships with romantic and sexual relationships and adjusting to life outside of adult guidance and protection. Non-traditionally aged students will remember these experiences as well. So, while the genre and narrative will be unlikely...

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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 Rome, its values, and its people. This can be seen through Aeneas, who Virgil uses to personify Roman ideals and values. Throughout the epic, Aeneas is presented as a man who is bound by duty. This can be seen as...

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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 virtual user’s manual for that very thing. Men and women will connect to Janie’s quest for authentic self and for the ability to make her own choices.

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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 those beliefs. It is also a novel about faith and the life-altering effects faith of any kind can have on our lives. This novel makes readers question the very definition of faith and what true faith can accomplish.

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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 too far? What is a righteous ruler and what is tyranny? Is rebellion against tyranny ever permissible or justifiable? What is Hell and what is Paradise? How does a victor emerge in a war between immortals? These are questions without...

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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 that Creon has no right to make this law since is flies in the face of the will of the gods. She refuses to obey an unjust law. The play makes clear that Creon offends the gods with his unjust...

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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 well as being detective stories that are about Dupin’s ability to analyze, resolve, and disentangle, they are just as much about engaging the reader’s ability to do the same with the text itself. Each of these stories is itself a...

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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 and in the actions of Europeans attempting to conquer the Americas. His delineation of cultural relativism is also very relevant to students’ increasing interest in human diversity. Montaigne resists the inclination to normalize aristocratic and bourgeois European culture; he defines...

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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), he makes a compelling argument that poverty, abuse, lack of positive male role models, lack of education, and abuse pushed him into a life of crime. Students will see many parallels in both American popular culture and real life, and...

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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 appear to be incredibly straightforward, but there are multiple layers of meaning, and possible interpretations. The struggle and desire of a person trying to make sense of her place in the universe is palpable on the pages of Dickinson’s poetry....

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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, is paradoxically the source of most of our evils. In fact, the ultimate progress of political society will end in tyranny! This is an innovative text featuring methods and conclusions new to the history of thought. Along with his revolutionary...

Read More
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 majority of his career in, Africa. Thus it challenges our conception of where such books originate and our preconceptions about the people who wrote them. It is often called the first autobiography, and presents a remarkable exploration of interiority –...

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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 backdrop. Each character brings not only their own focus, but their own set of preoccupations: Mrs. Ramsey wants to provide certain experiences to her family members and guests, Mr. Ramsey wants to feel challenged and successful intellectually, Lily wants to...

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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 human and who gets to decide that for anybody. This text is a way to get students talking not just about the history of slavery, but about the importance of education, and self-awareness.

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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. Students are likely to sympathize strongly with the Lysistrata, who is far more than simply the leader of the sex strike. In her attempts to persuade the women to forgo sex (which, the play makes very clear, they enjoy as...

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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 territory for the grounds of their own romantic relationships and provides a vivid physiological portrait of jealous rage. Tolstoy’s work highlights an often overlooked dimension of Beauty, its frightening capacity to inspire violence and self-delusion. While others exult the transformative...

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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, single principle that can be a key to deciding questions of morality – is one that students find relatable. Who hasn’t struggled to find clarity, or wished for a principle about which we could all agree, when considering issues of...

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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 of who I am? What are the assumptions, biases, misconceptions that impact how the world sees me? Wollstonecraft’s text examines the repeating social patterns that have led to the belief that women do not possess reason and that their singular...

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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 where you have to go slowly, examining all the unique pieces individually, turning them over to reveal their histories and stories. In a single one of his works he may switch from arcane literary figures, to linguistic theories, to alternate...

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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 to children. It is almost impossible not to react strongly. It is helpful in the classroom that that the beautiful but challenging poetic language and the stylized, unfamiliar character of ancient Greek drama provide enough distance for students to be...

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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 social relations grounded in the family to create a harmonious cosmos. Daoism criticizes Confucianism here by claiming that the exclusive focus on proper social relations is an attempt to fix and concretize dao in a way that will ultimately backfire...

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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 histories, Smith explores the tensions between 1) the roots of history and the idealistic dream of a multicultural melting pot; 2) cosmopolitanism and patriotism; 3) science and religion; 4) idealized beauty and self-identity; 5) eugenics and genetic engineering. The story...

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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 ourselves in our own world, but who are we in a world that operates with rules we don’t understand? How do we respond to that which seems nonsensical? Readers are confronted with fundamental questions about the relationship between self and...

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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 code switching. It is an enactment of mestiza consciousness. The same is true for the flow between genres in the text. Some students will feel empowered by Anzaldúa’s flow between languages and genres. Other students will feel they are missing...

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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, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.(133) Kate Chopin Does free will exist? […]

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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 mother. Esi has a good job that provides the bungalow she and her husband Oko live in with their daughter. After Oko rapes Esi in a desperate attempt to remind her of her place, she divorces him and sends her...

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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 understanding the racial context of their lives. They grew up in Harlem, and they, as the narrator observes of his high school students, “were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their...

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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 we feel for its noble yet ridiculous protagonist as he attempts to live out his ideals in a decidedly unsympathetic world, provoke examination of themes that students will feel deeply. Many of them, in coming to college, have themselves set...

Read More
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 that his goal is to prove the existence of God and the soul. However, the world Descartes recovers after all his doubt is not the one we left behind. Colors are no longer in the object, but are relegated to...

Read More
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 Rome, its values, and its people. This can be seen through Aeneas, who Virgil uses to personify Roman ideals and values. Throughout the epic, Aeneas is presented as a man who is bound by duty. This can be seen as...

Read More
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. After one understands an entire proof of Euclid’s, you know what it feels like to really know that something is true. His proofs provide a window onto the beauty of truth and inspire us to want to open it further....

Read More
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 we feel for its noble yet ridiculous protagonist as he attempts to live out his ideals in a decidedly unsympathetic world, provoke examination of themes that students will feel deeply. Many of them, in coming to college, have themselves set...

Read More
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 to reconsider the value of contemporary pieties and the ultimate aim and origins of their own moral perspectives, which overflowing love may transform.

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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 raises important questions on human nature and morality that still have relevance to today’s society. For example, the journey that Xuanzang, Sun Wukong, Zhu Baije, and Sha Wujing take serves to symbolize one’s detachment from material items as they corrupt...

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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 that his goal is to prove the existence of God and the soul. However, the world Descartes recovers after all his doubt is not the one we left behind. Colors are no longer in the object, but are relegated to...

Read More
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 education, occupation, movement, and freedom to consume food of one’s choice is denied to a large section of the society, who then are forced to live in abject poverty. The first and second year students can effortlessly relate to the...

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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 political science and moral philosophy. The questions it raises regarding the nature of justice and its relationship to the good life are important for all human beings to consider. It may be impossible to find a notable thinker in the...

Read More
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 majority of his career in, Africa. Thus it challenges our conception of where such books originate and our preconceptions about the people who wrote them. It is often called the first autobiography, and presents a remarkable exploration of interiority –...

Read More
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 that Creon has no right to make this law since is flies in the face of the will of the gods. She refuses to obey an unjust law. The play makes clear that Creon offends the gods with his unjust...

Read More
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 do people commit acts that they know are wrong, even when they understand the consequences of these actions? Unlocking such questions for students allows them to engage with some of the central questions about human agency, desire for self-worth and...

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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 on many fronts, and whether or not one ultimately agrees with him, his arguments will compel students to articulate, refine, and perhaps profoundly rethink, their own positions. Although the highest form of happiness is determined to be that arising from...

Read More
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 situation. The story is a complex narrative with multiple layers that explores variety of human emotions and relationships including, fear, frustration, disappointment, love, loneliness, suffering, meaning of death, and disgust.

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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 dialogue that lies the essence of Analects. It is important that students can connect with the text and can reflect on it through their experience. Confucius lived in a period of acute political and cultural crisis, and this is reflected...

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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 social relations grounded in the family to create a harmonious cosmos. Daoism criticizes Confucianism here by claiming that the exclusive focus on proper social relations is an attempt to fix and concretize dao in a way that will ultimately backfire...

Read More
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 creature and minimize or even ignore Victor’s abandonment and renouncement of the creature and his responsibilities toward his own creation.

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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 of hope. It asks difficult questions about what love is and who is entitled to it. No one walks away from this text not thinking that love is complex and nuanced and dangerous. Marquez presents love as an illness, with...

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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, is paradoxically the source of most of our evils. In fact, the ultimate progress of political society will end in tyranny! This is an innovative text featuring methods and conclusions new to the history of thought. Along with his revolutionary...

Read More
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, and how did that happen? Why am I asking these questions and how/do the conclusions I draw here affect my life and the decisions I make? Asking these questions along with Hayy, students may begin to wrestle with some of...

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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? What in fact is the difference between a just and an unjust law? Is it wrong to fight for what is right if you know it will lead to violence?

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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 States over time. Tocqueville’s purpose for writing Democracy in America is to examine why democracy worked in the United States by the early-nineteenth century, while previous attempts in France failed. Tocqueville’s purpose will require students to examine how certain social,...

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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 content of the work itself. The term Machiavellian typically evokes the idea of “The ends justify the means,” with the implication that Machiavelli himself must have supported absolutism or tyranny. The Prince upset contemporary readers because it is the first...

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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 pp., the novel has been frequently dismissed as “sensationalist fiction” concerned only with lurid, grisly violence and depravity. Jekyll is, however, an amazingly rich tale of a human who pursues indulgence in unspecified pleasures, vices, or criminal actions while attempting...

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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 ought to live in response to these truths. These texts have shaped entire civilizations and innumerable individual lives, and most students will be aware that much is at stake in discussing them. The challenge in class is make possible a...

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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 its vivid description of people, flora-fauna, food, and customs of the land he travelled. Ibn Juzayy, the writer of the text brilliantly interspersed these physical descriptions with poetry and satirical personal anecdotes. Rihla is an exceptional travelogue and exposes the...

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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 where you have to go slowly, examining all the unique pieces individually, turning them over to reveal their histories and stories. In a single one of his works he may switch from arcane literary figures, to linguistic theories, to alternate...

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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 all Buddhist literature and are perfect text to introduce first year college students to Buddhism and Buddhist literature. Students can easily relate to the moral and philosophical questions addressed in the text, including who is deceitful? Who is a good...

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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 the book itself provides so many opportunities for debate—about religion, which Freud considers a “mass delusion.” About the Arts, which are not something that anyone “would care to put . . . in the background as trivialities” but which are...

Read More
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 questions to which that instrument has given birth. Its intrinsic merit entitles it to this high rank, and the part two of its authors [i.e., Hamilton and Madison] performed in framing the constitution, put it very much in their power...

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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 H. and her peers, like negotiating friendships with romantic and sexual relationships and adjusting to life outside of adult guidance and protection. Non-traditionally aged students will remember these experiences as well. So, while the genre and narrative will be unlikely...

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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 or even read aloud in the classroom. Part of the impact of Kierkegaard’s work comes from the fact that although the story is not new, most readers avoid allowing themselves fully to consider the horror of what God has demanded...

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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, single principle that can be a key to deciding questions of morality – is one that students find relatable. Who hasn’t struggled to find clarity, or wished for a principle about which we could all agree, when considering issues of...

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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 authors are ubiquitous in our present society, and the first-year students enrolled in community colleges are quick to recognize and can relate with the disparities of wealth discussed in the text. Marx and Engels argued that the capitalistic system established...

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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 emperor, The Second Treatise of Government placed power in the hands of the people. Furthermore, Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government demonstrates that the people are deserving of the power that they receive in a state of nature. When a...

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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 free-market capitalism, it is just as often misunderstood, misread, or ignored by those same proponents. Smith’s analyses of how interventions and changes in one section of the economy have unforeseen ramifications elsewhere is always fascinating and insightful. His fundamental belief...

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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 of the US Constitution and other modern political forms. While pre-hobbesian politics was concerned with the moral and spiritual development of citizens, the modern political projects ushered in by authors like Hobbes were decidedly not. Hobbes was a pioneer in...

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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 novelties, Thucydides communicated his intention to write an accurate account. He outlines how he acquired the information he used in writing his history. As such, present-day historians have praised the methodology Thucydides used in writing The History of the Peloponnesian...

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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 reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.

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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 called “conceits.” When these extended metaphors use obscurely technical imagery or make surprising, unexpected comparisons, they are called “metaphysical conceits.” Donne’s poetry invites students to inhabit the speaker’s mind, to follow his thoughts through the complexities of language and emotion...

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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 ourselves in our own world, but who are we in a world that operates with rules we don’t understand? How do we respond to that which seems nonsensical? Readers are confronted with fundamental questions about the relationship between self and...

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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 nature of the sexual relationships, Lyndall’s feminism, the complicated race relations, and one character’s decision to live as a different gender for a period of time, will likely challenge what they think they know about the period, not to mention...

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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 Rushd, sets for himself in On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy. This harmony is achieved by adjusting the Quran to fit Aristotelian philosophical thought through the allegorical interpretation of intransigent passages. That scripture should be interpreted symbolically when it...

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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 ideas and concepts for which ordinary language is inadequate. Because of this, there is not always agreement on just what Hegel is doing. Wherever one comes down interpretively, his impact on the history of thought is undeniable. He is the...

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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 and characters have found afterlives in contemporary drama, cinema, and popular culture including music and video games. What is most beautiful about the text is that there is no single Mahabharata, but many. While the Sanskrit version of the text...

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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 winning play, the group agrees to pace themselves tonight by means of their speeches to the god of love. Phaedrus starts things off, followed by Pausanias and Euryximachus. Next, Aristophanes delivers his unforgettable origin myth, explaining our unconquerable urge to...

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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 in that continued struggle. His penetrating insight into “double consciousness” remains an important psychological and sociological framework. Du Bois is an evangelist for the liberatory power of Liberal Education and its, “simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and...

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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 and in the actions of Europeans attempting to conquer the Americas. His delineation of cultural relativism is also very relevant to students’ increasing interest in human diversity. Montaigne resists the inclination to normalize aristocratic and bourgeois European culture; he defines...

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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 questions to which that instrument has given birth. Its intrinsic merit entitles it to this high rank, and the part two of its authors [i.e., Hamilton and Madison] performed in framing the constitution, put it very much in their power...

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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 emperor, The Second Treatise of Government placed power in the hands of the people. Furthermore, Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government demonstrates that the people are deserving of the power that they receive in a state of nature. When a...

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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 do people commit acts that they know are wrong, even when they understand the consequences of these actions? Unlocking such questions for students allows them to engage with some of the central questions about human agency, desire for self-worth and...

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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? What in fact is the difference between a just and an unjust law? Is it wrong to fight for what is right if you know it will lead to violence?

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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 pandemic, including failure of a state in controlling the disease and spreading of nonhuman viruses in a highly globalized world. The Decameron is an example of excellent literary prose, the stories themselves don’t focus on the suffering from the plague,...

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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 reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.

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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 raises important questions on human nature and morality that still have relevance to today’s society. For example, the journey that Xuanzang, Sun Wukong, Zhu Baije, and Sha Wujing take serves to symbolize one’s detachment from material items as they corrupt...

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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, while simultaneously connecting to human concerns like the desires for happiness and justice, the presence of negative emotions like jealousy and anger, inequity and misunderstanding between genders, and the morality of those in power. Since almost all students have some...

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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) defeats monsters and other-worldly creatures, but it is also a profound meditation on the meaning of being human; human achievement and limitations; power and violence; civilization (and its responsibilities) and savagery; travel and homecoming; youth and age; suffering and maturity;...

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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 to reconsider the value of contemporary pieties and the ultimate aim and origins of their own moral perspectives, which overflowing love may transform.

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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 the book itself provides so many opportunities for debate—about religion, which Freud considers a “mass delusion.” About the Arts, which are not something that anyone “would care to put . . . in the background as trivialities” but which are...

Read More
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 authors are ubiquitous in our present society, and the first-year students enrolled in community colleges are quick to recognize and can relate with the disparities of wealth discussed in the text. Marx and Engels argued that the capitalistic system established...

Read More
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 political science and moral philosophy. The questions it raises regarding the nature of justice and its relationship to the good life are important for all human beings to consider. It may be impossible to find a notable thinker in the...

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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 is equally renowned for activism, especially his opposition to military dictatorships. He spent two years in prison during the Nigerian Civil War, and in 1994 escaped from the brutal regime of Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha who sentenced him 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 that Creon has no right to make this law since is flies in the face of the will of the gods. She refuses to obey an unjust law. The play makes clear that Creon offends the gods with his unjust...

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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 content of the work itself. The term Machiavellian typically evokes the idea of “The ends justify the means,” with the implication that Machiavelli himself must have supported absolutism or tyranny. The Prince upset contemporary readers because it is the first...

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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 his native Chile. Moreover, Neruda’s poetry also sought to examine philosophical issues that focused on humanity. Despite the variety of poetic topics Neruda covered, his poetry has a unity of style that ties his diverse works together.

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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 Soviet Gulag. Along with Solzhenitsyn’s other writings and the works of other artists coming out of the Soviet Union, it contributed to the eventual demise of that system. This can be a good place to start, but for most students...

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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 too far? What is a righteous ruler and what is tyranny? Is rebellion against tyranny ever permissible or justifiable? What is Hell and what is Paradise? How does a victor emerge in a war between immortals? These are questions without...

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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 free-market capitalism, it is just as often misunderstood, misread, or ignored by those same proponents. Smith’s analyses of how interventions and changes in one section of the economy have unforeseen ramifications elsewhere is always fascinating and insightful. His fundamental belief...

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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 of the US Constitution and other modern political forms. While pre-hobbesian politics was concerned with the moral and spiritual development of citizens, the modern political projects ushered in by authors like Hobbes were decidedly not. Hobbes was a pioneer in...

Read More
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 makes their enjoyment possible. The text also helps raise questions about the origin of prophecy, imploring the reader to imagine Lauren and Moses as involved in a shared struggle to articulate a message of freedom from bondage and suffering to...

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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 polarized the United States. The debates highlighted a major problem with American democracy. How can a society consider itself a democracy when a portion of it cannot be treated like human beings?

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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 black women in America while also tracing the origins and roots of a dual racial and sexist oppression through slavery and into the 20th century. It is the first major study looking at the intersection of racism and sexism in...

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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 education, occupation, movement, and freedom to consume food of one’s choice is denied to a large section of the society, who then are forced to live in abject poverty. The first and second year students can effortlessly relate to the...

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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 to children. It is almost impossible not to react strongly. It is helpful in the classroom that that the beautiful but challenging poetic language and the stylized, unfamiliar character of ancient Greek drama provide enough distance for students to be...

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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 States over time. Tocqueville’s purpose for writing Democracy in America is to examine why democracy worked in the United States by the early-nineteenth century, while previous attempts in France failed. Tocqueville’s purpose will require students to examine how certain social,...

Read More
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 his story, students can consider a variety of questions about power, ambition, various forms of government, and the relationship of people and their leaders, that bear upon our current political situation. The narrative draws students in more effectively than most...

Read More
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 novelties, Thucydides communicated his intention to write an accurate account. He outlines how he acquired the information he used in writing his history. As such, present-day historians have praised the methodology Thucydides used in writing The History of the Peloponnesian...

Read More
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 in that continued struggle. His penetrating insight into “double consciousness” remains an important psychological and sociological framework. Du Bois is an evangelist for the liberatory power of Liberal Education and its, “simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and...

Read More
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, is paradoxically the source of most of our evils. In fact, the ultimate progress of political society will end in tyranny! This is an innovative text featuring methods and conclusions new to the history of thought. Along with his revolutionary...

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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 interaction. Dostoevsky’s ideas at the time of the novel’s composition were very much informed by the radical political climate in St. Petersburg, ideas which Dostoevsky felt were morally and politically dangerous.

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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 on many fronts, and whether or not one ultimately agrees with him, his arguments will compel students to articulate, refine, and perhaps profoundly rethink, their own positions. Although the highest form of happiness is determined to be that arising from...

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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 territory for the grounds of their own romantic relationships and provides a vivid physiological portrait of jealous rage. Tolstoy’s work highlights an often overlooked dimension of Beauty, its frightening capacity to inspire violence and self-delusion. While others exult the transformative...

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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 or even read aloud in the classroom. Part of the impact of Kierkegaard’s work comes from the fact that although the story is not new, most readers avoid allowing themselves fully to consider the horror of what God has demanded...

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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 new psychological, moral, and emotional depth to it. The text continues to influence culture centuries later with its ever-relevant questions about the origins and nature of evil. The text explores the depth of human nature and invites the reader to...

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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 his story, students can consider a variety of questions about power, ambition, various forms of government, and the relationship of people and their leaders, that bear upon our current political situation. The narrative draws students in more effectively than most...

Read More
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 backdrop. Each character brings not only their own focus, but their own set of preoccupations: Mrs. Ramsey wants to provide certain experiences to her family members and guests, Mr. Ramsey wants to feel challenged and successful intellectually, Lily wants to...

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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 social relations grounded in the family to create a harmonious cosmos. Daoism criticizes Confucianism here by claiming that the exclusive focus on proper social relations is an attempt to fix and concretize dao in a way that will ultimately backfire...

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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 that his goal is to prove the existence of God and the soul. However, the world Descartes recovers after all his doubt is not the one we left behind. Colors are no longer in the object, but are relegated to...

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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 appear to be incredibly straightforward, but there are multiple layers of meaning, and possible interpretations. The struggle and desire of a person trying to make sense of her place in the universe is palpable on the pages of Dickinson’s poetry....

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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 and in the actions of Europeans attempting to conquer the Americas. His delineation of cultural relativism is also very relevant to students’ increasing interest in human diversity. Montaigne resists the inclination to normalize aristocratic and bourgeois European culture; he defines...

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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 to reconsider the value of contemporary pieties and the ultimate aim and origins of their own moral perspectives, which overflowing love may transform.

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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 the book itself provides so many opportunities for debate—about religion, which Freud considers a “mass delusion.” About the Arts, which are not something that anyone “would care to put . . . in the background as trivialities” but which are...

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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 well as being detective stories that are about Dupin’s ability to analyze, resolve, and disentangle, they are just as much about engaging the reader’s ability to do the same with the text itself. Each of these stories is itself a...

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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? Who is good, who is dangerous? Who is supportive, who is threatening? These decisions, in modern society, are also key when making decisions about love and marriage. In our lives, we all must confront our pride and our prejudice at...

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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 makes their enjoyment possible. The text also helps raise questions about the origin of prophecy, imploring the reader to imagine Lauren and Moses as involved in a shared struggle to articulate a message of freedom from bondage and suffering to...

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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 majority of his career in, Africa. Thus it challenges our conception of where such books originate and our preconceptions about the people who wrote them. It is often called the first autobiography, and presents a remarkable exploration of interiority –...

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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 pp., the novel has been frequently dismissed as “sensationalist fiction” concerned only with lurid, grisly violence and depravity. Jekyll is, however, an amazingly rich tale of a human who pursues indulgence in unspecified pleasures, vices, or criminal actions while attempting...

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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 of who I am? What are the assumptions, biases, misconceptions that impact how the world sees me? Wollstonecraft’s text examines the repeating social patterns that have led to the belief that women do not possess reason and that their singular...

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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 histories, Smith explores the tensions between 1) the roots of history and the idealistic dream of a multicultural melting pot; 2) cosmopolitanism and patriotism; 3) science and religion; 4) idealized beauty and self-identity; 5) eugenics and genetic engineering. The story...

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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, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.(133) Kate Chopin Does free will exist? […]

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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 authors are ubiquitous in our present society, and the first-year students enrolled in community colleges are quick to recognize and can relate with the disparities of wealth discussed in the text. Marx and Engels argued that the capitalistic system established...

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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 understanding the racial context of their lives. They grew up in Harlem, and they, as the narrator observes of his high school students, “were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their...

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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 in that continued struggle. His penetrating insight into “double consciousness” remains an important psychological and sociological framework. Du Bois is an evangelist for the liberatory power of Liberal Education and its, “simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and...

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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 love them as well. She constructs the novel from a mixture of history, myth, spirituals and the supernatural that makes the writing deeply resonant. What is past is never past, as the ancestors are always present. In a Toni Morrison...

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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 and characters have found afterlives in contemporary drama, cinema, and popular culture including music and video games. What is most beautiful about the text is that there is no single Mahabharata, but many. While the Sanskrit version of the text...

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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 its vivid description of people, flora-fauna, food, and customs of the land he travelled. Ibn Juzayy, the writer of the text brilliantly interspersed these physical descriptions with poetry and satirical personal anecdotes. Rihla is an exceptional travelogue and exposes the...

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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 love and community, its belief in the possibility of healing. While Morrison focuses on the range of dehumanization of African Americans, from the image of the ceramic “blackboy’s mouth full of money” on the shelf in the home of two...

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Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Modern Library, 1994

Invisible Man

Ellison’s Invisible Man is one of the great American novels of the last 100 years. It combines an impressionistic portrait of a nameless protagonist and his journey as part of the Great Migration of Black Americans to the north during the early part of the twentieth century. Published in 1952, the work speaks to a pivotal moment in history, as many aspects of American society were scrambled and reinvented in the years following World War...

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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 education, occupation, movement, and freedom to consume food of one’s choice is denied to a large section of the society, who then are forced to live in abject poverty. The first and second year students can effortlessly relate to the...

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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 situation. The story is a complex narrative with multiple layers that explores variety of human emotions and relationships including, fear, frustration, disappointment, love, loneliness, suffering, meaning of death, and disgust.

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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 ideas and concepts for which ordinary language is inadequate. Because of this, there is not always agreement on just what Hegel is doing. Wherever one comes down interpretively, his impact on the history of thought is undeniable. He is 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 interaction. Dostoevsky’s ideas at the time of the novel’s composition were very much informed by the radical political climate in St. Petersburg, ideas which Dostoevsky felt were morally and politically dangerous.

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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 others feel to gain agency and empowerment. The Color Purple offers a moving narrative that focuses on growing up and self-realization. At the same time, the novel covers issues of gender equality through a story that illustrates women rejecting values...

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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 Rushd, sets for himself in On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy. This harmony is achieved by adjusting the Quran to fit Aristotelian philosophical thought through the allegorical interpretation of intransigent passages. That scripture should be interpreted symbolically when it...

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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 free-market capitalism, it is just as often misunderstood, misread, or ignored by those same proponents. Smith’s analyses of how interventions and changes in one section of the economy have unforeseen ramifications elsewhere is always fascinating and insightful. His fundamental belief...

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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 reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.

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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 code switching. It is an enactment of mestiza consciousness. The same is true for the flow between genres in the text. Some students will feel empowered by Anzaldúa’s flow between languages and genres. Other students will feel they are missing...

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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 all Buddhist literature and are perfect text to introduce first year college students to Buddhism and Buddhist literature. Students can easily relate to the moral and philosophical questions addressed in the text, including who is deceitful? Who is a good...

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