Books That Belong in Every American Library


White Fang Book CoverBy D. J. McAdam

I’ve had this project – listing books that I feel should be found in every American library – in mind for some time.  That such a list could be controversial does not bother me, so long as the list serves its purpose as a starting point for discussion on what constitutes essential American literature. 

But here’s the part of the project I’ve struggled with: I actually hope that you, dear reader, will visit your local public library and determine whether or not these books can be found there.  This isn’t to make things harder for librarians; to me, our librarians are under-appreciated heroes who deserve help and praise much more than any criticism.  But what I think is that, if we agree that these books do actually belong in every American library, and we find public libraries lacking these texts, then we should take the next step and either donate the books ourselves or publicize the need so that someone, somewhere, can get the right books to the right places.  I know that the readers of this website are an intelligent, resourceful, bunch, so my hope is that somehow together we’ll find a way to make this effort work successfully.

Herewith, the list, alphabetically by author’s surname:


The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Complete Works, by William Cullen Bryant

Tobacco Road, by Erskine Caldwell

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

Complete Poems, by Emily Dickinson

An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

Complete Works, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

Outcasts of Poker Flat, and Other Stories, by Bret Harte

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, by Oliver Wendell Holmes

The Sketch-Book, by Washington Irving

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Washington Square, by Henry James

Daisy Miller, by Henry James

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

White Fang, by Jack London

Complete Works, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, by H. P. Lovecraft

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

The Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman

Complete Works, by Edgar Allan Poe

The Conquest of Mexico, by William H. Prescott

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

One Lonely Night, by Mickey Spillane

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Democracy in America, by Alexis de Toqueville

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman

Complete Works, by John Greenleaf Whittier

The Virginian, by Owen Wister

Journal, by John Woolman

Native Son, by Richard Wright