The 50 Best Books of the 20th Century


By Intercollegiate Studies Institute

1. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

The Education of Henry Adams records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838–1918), in early old age, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. I…


2. The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

The Abolition of Man is a 1943 book by C. S. Lewis. It is subtitled “Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools,” and uses that as a st…


3. Witness by Whittaker Chambers

First published in 1952, Witness was at once a literary effort, a philosophical treatise, and a bestseller. Whittaker Chambers had just participated in America’s trial of the century in which Chamb…


4. Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot by T. S. Eliot

This is the first large and representative book of T. S. Eliot’s prose and it is being published just at the time when Mr. Eliot is returning to America for the Harvard lectures. A year ago Edmund …


5. A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee

A Study of History is the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961. In this immensely detailed and complex work, Toynbee traces the birth, growth and decay of …


6. Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Up from Slavery is the 1901 autobiography of Booker T. Washington detailing his slow and steady rise from a slave child during the Civil War, to the difficulties and obstacles he overcame to get an…


7. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Orthodoxy is a book by G. K. Chesterton that has become a classic of Christian apologetics. Chesterton considered this book a companion to his other work, Heretics. In the book’s preface Chesterton…


8. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E. B. White

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White, is an American English writing style guide. It is the best-known and most influential prescriptive treatment of English grammar and us…


9. Prejudices by H. L. Mencken

With a style that combined biting sarcasm with the “language of the free lunch counter,” Henry Louis Mencken shook politics and politicians for nearly half a century


10. The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner

One of the most influential and important books written about the impact of frontier life on a transplanted civilization. Reprinted from original 1920 edition, this edition lucidly reflects Jackson…


11. The Whig Interpretation of History by Herbert Butterfield

The Whig historian studies the past with reference to the present. He looks for agency in history. And, in his search for origins and causes, he can easily select those facts that give support to h…


12. R. E. Lee by Douglas Southall Freeman

Autobiography of Robert E. Lee.


13. The Great Chain of Being by Arthur Lovejoy

From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and s…


14. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Homage to Catalonia is political journalist and novelist George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations in the Spanish Civil War, written in the first person.


15. Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks & Robert Penn Warren

Understanding Poetry was an influential American college textbook and poetry anthology by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, first published in 1938. The book influenced New Criticism and went …


16. The Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr

Arguably Niebuhl’s most important work, this book offers a sustained articulation of his theological ethics and is considered a landmark in 20th-century thought. This book issues a challenge to Wes…


17. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy is the most famous book by Joseph Schumpeter in which he deals with capitalism, socialism and creative destruction. First published in 1942, it is largely unmath…


18. Persons and Places by George Santayana

Santayana’s autobiography


19. Teacher in America by Jacques Barzun

With his customary wit and grace, Dr. Barzun contrasts the ritual of education with the lost art of teaching. Twenty-one chapters deal with three major issues: the practice of teaching, the subject…


20. A History of Philosophy by Frederick Charles Copleston

Copleston’s History provides extensive coverage of Western philosophy from the Pre-Socratics through Dewey, Russell, Moore, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. The first nine volumes, originally published be…


21. Jefferson and His Time by Dumas Malone

Dumas Malone’s classic biography “Jefferson and His Time” — originally published in six volumes over a period of thirty-four years, between 1948 and 1982 — was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history…


22. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The Seven Storey Mountain is the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk and a noted author of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Merton finished the book in 1946 at the age of 31, five years afte…


23. The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling

The Liberal Imagination is one of the most admired and influential works of criticism of the last century, a work that is not only a masterpiece of literary criticism but an important statement abo…


24. Religion and the Rise of Western Culture by Christopher Dawson

This classic study of European history begins in 500 A.D. with the aftermath of the fall of Rome and ends with the close of the 13th century. Dawson shows how,apidly throughout Europe and changed t…


25. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

The Origins of Totalitarianism is a book by Hannah Arendt which classed Nazism and Stalinism as totalitarian movements. Its original title was to be ‘The Burden of Our Times’, and the move away fro…


26. The New Science of Politics by Eric Voegelin

Compressed within the Draconian economy of the six Walgreen lectures is a complete theory of man, society, and history, presented at the most profound and intellectual level. . . . Voegelin’s [work…


27. The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk

The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk is arguably one of the greatest contributions to twentieth-century American Conservatism. Brilliant in every respect, from its conception to its choice of sign…


28. Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss

In this classic work, Leo Strauss examines the problem of natural right and argues that there is a firm foundation in reality for the distinction between right and wrong in ethics and politics. On …


29. The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet


30. Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosophical Investigations is, along with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, one of the two most influential works by the 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. In it, Wittgenstein discus…


31. The Second World War by Winston Churchill

The Second World War is a six-volume history of the period from the end of the First World War to July 1945, written by Sir Winston Churchill. It was largely responsible for him winning (in 1953) t…


32. Protestant, Catholic, Jew by Will Herberg

Protestant, Catholic, Jew created a sociological framework for the study of religion in the United States. Herberg demonstrated how immigration and American ethnic culture were reflected in religio…


33. The Constitution of Liberty by Friedrich A. Hayek

The Constitution of Liberty is a book by Austrian economist and Nobel Prize recipient Friedrich A. Hayek. The book was first published in 1960 and it is an interpretation of civilization as being m…


34. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, is a greatly influential book on the subject of urban planning in the 20th century. First published in 1961, the book is a critique of m…


35. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

Capitalism and Freedom is a book by Milton Friedman originally published in 1962 which discusses the role of economic capitalism in liberal society. In accessible, jargon-free language, Friedman…


36. Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson

Critical/biographical portraits of such notable figures as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Ambrose Bierce, Mary Chesnut, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Oliver Wendell Holme…


37. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

This book describes Malcolm X’s upbringing in Michigan, his maturation to adulthood in Boston and New York, his time in prison, his conversion to Islam, his ministry, his travels to Africa and to M…


38. The Triumph of the Therapeutic by Philip Rieff

“The Triumph of the Therapeutic” has been hailed as a work of genuine brilliance, one of those books whose insights uncannily anticipate cultural developments and whose richness of argumentation re…


39. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA is an autobiographical account of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA written by James D. Watson and pub…


40. Roll, Jordan, Roll by Eugene Genovese

This weighty book intends to “tell the story of slave life as carefully and accurately as possible.”


41. The Civil War by Shelby Foote

The Civil War: A Narrative (1958–1974) is a three volume, 2,968-page, 1.2 million-word history of the American Civil War by Shelby Foote. Although previously known as a novelist, Foote is most famo…


42. The Face of Battle by John Keegan

The Face of Battle, is a 1976 non-fiction book on military history by the English military historian John Keegan. It deals with the structure of warfare in three time periods — medieval Europe, th…


43. Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate

This 1979 chronicle is seen by critics not only as the definitive life of Dr. Johnson, but as a model of well-researched, lucid, fair — but always affectionate — biography.


44. The Habit of Being by Flannery O’’Connor

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Special Award “I have come to think that the true likeness of Flannery O’Connor will be painted by herself, a self-portrait in words, to be found in her l…


45. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff is a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar experiments with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft as well as documenting the stories of the firs…


46. After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre

After Virtue is a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre provides a bleak view of the state of modern moral discourse, regarding it as failing to be rational, and failing to admi…


47. Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

Lost in the Cosmos by the late Walker Percy is a mock self-help book and social satire on the American value of autonomy published in 1983. Organized into roughly four sections that explore ideas …


48. Modern Times by Paul Johnson

The classic world history of the events, ideas, and personalities of the twentieth century.


49. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a book written by Richard Rhodes, won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. The 900-page bo…


50. The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy

While its title suggests a focus on iconoclasm, its concerns are broader, dealing with the shift in religious sensibilities in English society between 1400 and 1580. In particular, the book is conc…


Source: goodreads.com

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