These are the books students at the top US colleges are required to read

Image: Flickr/Marissa Smith, CC BY 2.0
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The leaders of tomorrow will be well versed in dead philosophers, according to a new database of college syllabi.

The Open Syllabus Project, a collection of over 1 million curricula from English-language colleges and universities over the past 15 years, released its data on Friday (Jan. 22). Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Aristotle overwhelmingly dominate lists in the US, particularly at the top schools.

The required readings skew toward the humanities—science and engineering classes tend to assign fewer titles—and not surprisingly, toward the Western canon.

In the US, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein is the most taught work of fiction, with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales a close second. In history titles, George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi’s textbook, America: A Narrative History, is No. 1, with Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi, a memoir about life as an African-American woman in Jim Crow America, at No. 2. The Communist Manifesto is the third most taught in history, and is the top title in sociology.

“It’s still a dirty dataset,” project director Joe Karaganis tells Quartz, referring to the potential for errors from misspelled or non-uniform titles. In addition, the team behind the project, based at Columbia’s American Assembly public policy institute, has had to rely on what’s publicly available on college sites.

But with the database now open, Karaganis hopes this will change: As more institutions and academics get involved, the team can start to fill in the gaps and correct mistakes. He looks to triple the number of syllabi by the end of 2016.

See the texts taught at 10 of the top US colleges and how often they appeared over the last 15 years.

10 top US colleges*






University of Chicago

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


University of Pennsylvania


* This list is compiled from the US News’ current national universities rankings cross-referenced with available syllabi on the Open Syllabus Project.

Image by Marissa Smith on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.