It doesn’t matter whether you are an English Major, a Business Major, or anything in between. Reading literature is important to help yourself grow as a person and to challenge your thoughts and ideologies. Classic and modern books can give a great insight into society, human condition, and give a new perspective to things we may have not thought about before. This list of influential books will challenge you and cause you to think about your own morals and choices. Delve into the pages of these classic novels and find out who you are and what your place is in the world. Every college student needs to discover who they are, these books can help you do that.
1. Brave New World By Aldous Huxley
This novel takes place in a Utopian future where every individual is created for a specific purpose and designed to fit into one of five castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon. The Alpha’s are the leaders and thinkers of this made up world while each lower caste gets progressively less physically and mentally acute. The society even goes so far as to stunt the Epsilon’s growth and knowledge by using oxygen deprivation and chemical treatments.
It is also revealed they use hypnosis on the young in order to teach them the rules and morals of the World State. Individuality practically ceases to exist and no one has the ability (or the want) to go outside of their caste. Emotions, desires, and human relationships have been made completely obsolete and monogamy is nonexistent.
When our protagonist, Bernard, meets a man untouched by “the brave new world” he will see that maybe the society he has grown up in has it all wrong. This story deals with themes of conformity, the dangers of an all all-powerful state, and the use of technology to control society. Influential books don’t have to be recent cause an impact. Written in 1931, this novel does an incredible job at shedding light on problems we still face today.
2. 1984 By George Orwell
This book follows Winston Smith, a lower ranking member of society a “Utopian” society. Everywhere he goes and every move he makes is being watched and it is the same for everyone else in this society. Everywhere he looks he is reminded of the Party and that he is being watched by a leader only known as Big Brother. Winston, feeling oppressed at his inability to express free thought (considered a thought crime) or to show any kind of individuality starts writing in a journal to express his “criminal” thoughts.
This story is thought provoking and will have the reader questioning their own society and compliance. It talks about how higher power can control the people through psychological manipulation and control of history and information. It also deals greatly with revolution against a society that is against individuality and independence. It is one of the most influential books a person could read about society today.
3. This Side Of Paradise By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Out of all the influential books, this one most pertains to college students as it follows a student, Amory Blaine, from his young adult years through college. Amory starts off relatively lazy in his school work but somehow finds himself at Princeton where he is more interested in self-knowledge than anything his classes provide for him. It is a story of a college student finding his way but not in the way one would assume as he comes to discover himself.
This book deals with themes of the American Dream (more importantly, the failure of the American Dream), commentary on social structures, and conflicts with relationships. This story is a must read for any college student.
4. The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde
This story follows Dorian Gray, a beautifully handsome, wealthy, and cultured young man, enamored by his own beauty. Dorian becomes obsessed with his own youth and beauty, fearful that they would fade with each passing day. Distressed, Dorian offers his soul if only it would be the portrait that ages instead of himself. Thus, the story begins and one of the most infamous characters in Gothic literature is created.
Written at the end of the 18th century, the story deals heavily with themes of art and aestheticism. Dorian becomes obsessed with material things, wealth, beauty, and fun. Though he doesn’t age, the portrait begins to show the passage of time and the ugliness of his sins mars the once beautiful portrait.
This story takes a deep dive into the superficial nature of society, the purpose of art, and the negative consequences of influence (societal and otherwise). It’s certainly one of the most important of the influential books to have on your reading list.
5. A Clockwork Orange By Anthony Burgess
This book takes place in a future city ruled by a totalitarian state. The protagonist of the story is young Alex who leads a small gang of criminals that steal, rob, and do much worse. After assaulting and killing a woman, Alex gets arrested and goes to prison for many years. He later becomes one of the first candidates for something called the Ludovico Technique that brainwashes Alex so that even the thought of violence causes him to feel ill. Ultimately the story questions the government and the ability of free will in society. It’s incredibly important to understand your own choices as a person and how they affect you and others.
Like the other influential books on this list, this book deals with themes of choice and free will and inherent evil of the government. Alex is certainly not a protagonist that you are rooting for necessarily but the book takes a deep dive into understanding your own morals and the importance of choice and free will.