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Senior Reagan Cool gives her rec­om­men­da­tions for books to read before grad­u­ation. One of them is “Love and Respon­si­bility” by Karol Wojtyla I Wiki­media Commons

We are lucky as Hillsdale stu­dents to read so many great books with our class­mates. We read the words that have guided and shaped Western civ­i­lization, from the Old Tes­tament and Herodotus to Herman Melville and C.S. Lewis. 

There are many we ought to read, however, that we may miss during our time here, depending on the majors and elec­tives we end up choosing. Some never get assigned at all. Here is a list of ten essential unas­signed texts, in no par­tic­u­larly strict order, that every Hillsdale student ought to read before he grad­uates. 

And if you don’t get to all of them in the course of your four years, have no fear: these are all excellent titles to keep on your lifelong book­shelf, to see you through moves and seasons of life, loyally waiting to be picked up again to reveal new truths and new beauties. 

 

  1. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis  

This trio of novels, dis­guised as science fiction, are woven with truths on tech­nology, human nature, and man’s rela­tionship with God. Lewis’s images are bewil­dering and his under­standing of man’s weak­nesses is acute. If you’re dis­couraged by the length of all three, read the last one: “That Hideous Strength” (you don’t need the first two to under­stand it). 

 

  1. Love and Respon­si­bility by Karol Wojtyla

Don’t shrug this one off for the author’s religion (which, for the record, is never suf­fi­cient excuse to dismiss a book.) Wojtyla — better known as Pope John Paul II — based his novel on a phi­losophy of the human person, which is applied to an ethic for rela­tion­ships. “Love and Respon­si­bility,” through its expla­nation and defense of human dignity, is a sturdy lesson on how to treat the other, par­tic­u­larly in romantic rela­tion­ships. 

 

  1. On the Laws by Cicero

You might remember the excerpt of Cicero’s “On Duties” included in the Western Her­itage reader. “On the Laws” (De Legibus) is a dia­logue con­sid­ering human nature and unity of the classes that ends in a sug­gested political order. Most inter­esting is the (pre-Christ) vision of Christian humanism in Cicero’s dis­tinction of civil and natural law and the impor­tance of building the former upon the latter.

 

  1. Waiting for God by      Simone Weil

Simone Weil is a 20th century French philosopher and mystic. Her per­spective on asceticism and political phi­losophy at times gen­erated crit­icism, but “Waiting for God” is a con­sistent and pro­found col­lection of essays reflecting on the rela­tionship of man and the tran­scendent.  

 

  1. Abo­lition of Man by C.S. Lewis

I couldn’t help but include two Lewis titles on this list; really, I could make an entire list of Lewis essays and novels. “Abo­lition of Man,” if you’ve managed to escape it so far, deserves your attention. One of Lewis’s more popular titles, the novel is one of the shortest titles on this list and raises his con­cerns about the shifting pri­or­ities of edu­cation. If your strength is strug­gling to rejoice in the giant hassle of liberal edu­cation, maybe Lewis can restore your grat­itude and wonder at this rare place and what we’re up to here.

 

  1. Leisure: The Basis of    Culture by Josef Peiper

If the mention of our motto reminded you about your list of homework due tomorrow, you might be inter­ested to hear that the English word for “school” comes from the Greek “skole,” meaning leisure. Who knew Josef Pieper begins his novel with that rev­e­lation and spends the book explaining how Western culture is built on leisure, and why it’s important we hold onto that. 

 

  1. Frag­ments by Her­a­clitus 

OK, so you don’t have time to add another book to your schedule (How much time did you spend scrolling on your phone today? But I digress…) You should read Heraclitus’s “Frag­ments,” a col­lection of notes including some sharp obser­va­tions on human expe­rience. They range in length from one sen­tence to several, perfect to pick up and put down without losing your place. 

 

  1. Eccentric Culture by Remi Brague

You might remember Remi Brague, a French philosopher, vis­iting campus last Spring to give a talk called “Our Own Others.” “Eccentric Culture” deals with many of the topics Brague addressed in his lecture: Western culture grew up in Europe, yet its roots are in Jerusalem and Athens. The sec­on­darity this presents is a trait of Western culture con­tributing to the con­ver­sation on humanism and ethics.

 

  1. Essays in Anthro­pology by Robert Spaemann

I know what you’re thinking: that title sug­gests an unbearably dense read. Spaemann, con­sid­ering the philo­sophical content of his essays, writes with a par­tic­u­larly fresh style. Try his third essay first: Human Dignity. 

 

  1. Lord of the World by RH. Benson

What about a dystopian novel to close out the list? Mon­signor R.H. Benson wrote the novel in 1907 out of his frus­tration with many con­tem­porary utopian attempts (Atheism, Marxism, etc.) “Lord of the World,” one of the first novels dubbed “dystopian” rather than “utopian,” depicts the antichrist’s reign at the end of the world. It has been called prophetic by prominent the­olo­gians and mul­tiple popes.  

 

I will con­clude with an hon­orable mention: “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederic Forsyth. We read great books and hard books in our time at Hillsdale. They chal­lenge us, teach us, and improve us, and we should con­tinue to take up such growth fol­lowing our grad­u­ation. While these chal­lenges are good and nec­essary for us, John Miller, director of the Dow Jour­nalism Program, is keen to point out that it’s also good to read fun books. The “Day of the Jackal” is his sug­gestion for a “fun read.” The story — a thriller, because he loves thrillers — describes an assassin tar­geting the pres­ident of France, and it’s cap­ti­vating until the last page. 

 

Whatever the genre is for you, don’t be afraid to indulge, but remember the rich culture, history, and lessons hiding behind a bit of a chal­lenge. 

 

Reagan Cool is a senior studying phi­losophy and religion. She is a columnist on faith and culture.