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

Flickr/Marissa Smith, CC BY 2.0
  • Thu-Huong Ha
By Thu-Huong Ha


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

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*

2163LeviathanHobbes, Thomas
3163The PrinceMachiavelli, Niccolò
4158The Clash of CivilizationsHuntington, Samuel
5145The Elements of StyleStrunk, William
7119The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsKuhn, Thomas
8119Democracy in AmericaTocqueville, Alexis De
9116The Communist ManifestoMarx, Karl
10113The PoliticsAristotle


120The Clash of CivilizationsHuntington, Samuel
219Globalization and its DiscontentsStiglitz, Joseph
318The Logic of Congressional ActionArnold, R. Douglas
417Public FinanceRosen, Harvey
515Capitalism, Socialism, and DemocracySchumpeter, Joseph Alois
615The Peloponnesian WarThucydides
715DiplomacyKissinger, Henry
814The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismWeber, Max
914To End a WarHolbrooke, Richard
1014Ethnic Groups in ConflictHorowitz, Donald


160Letter from the Birmingham JailKing, Jr., Martin Luther
250The Elements of StyleStrunk, William
349Leadership without Easy AnswersHeifetz, Ronald
445The Clash of CivilizationsHuntington, Samuel
544Thinking, Fast and SlowKahneman, Daniel
643The PrinceMachiavelli, Niccolò
743A Primer for Policy AnalysisStokey, Edith
843A Theory of JusticeRawls, John
939Principles of Corporate FinanceBrealey, Richard
1039Thank You for ArguingHeinrichs, Jay


211Quarterly ReviewFederal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
310Invisible ManEllison, Ralph
410The OdysseyHomer
59Let Us Now Praise Famous MenAgee, James
69Democracy in AmericaTocqueville, Alexis De
79AnthropologyBoas, Franz
89Zapata and the Mexican RevolutionWomack, John
98The Anti-Politics MachineFerguson, James
108The IliadHomer


141The Clash of CivilizationsHuntington, Samuel
337On LibertyMill, John Stuart
432The Social ContractRousseau, Jean-Jacques
529LeviathanHobbes, Thomas
628The PoliticsAristotle
727The Metaphysics of MoralsKant, Immanuel
827Wealth of NationsSmith, Adam
927Calculus: Early TranscendentalsStewart, James
1026Civilization and its DiscontentsFreud, Sigmund


121LeviathanHobbes, Thomas
221The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsKuhn, Thomas
317Foundations of Statistical Natural Language ProcessingManning, Christopher
416Code and other Laws of CyberspaceLessig, Lawrence
515“Creative Writing”Stegner, Wallace
714Robinson CrusoeDefoe, Daniel
814FrankensteinShelley, Mary Wollstonecraft
914Understanding MediaMcLuhan, Marshall
1013Rethinking the Public SphereFraser, Nancy

University of Chicago

221Nicomachean EthicsAristotle
319Statistics with Stata 3Hamilton, Lawrence
415Office HoursFoster, Norm
515The PrinceMachiavelli, Niccolò
614The DiscoursesMachiavelli, Niccolò
713The Metaphysics of MoralsKant, Immanuel
813ConfessionsSaint Augustine
913Artificial IntelligenceRussell, Stuart
1012Two Treatises of GovernmentLocke, John

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

137LeviathanHobbes, Thomas
235The Communist ManifestoMarx, Karl
333MacroeconomicsBlanchard, Olivier
429The PrinceMachiavelli, Niccolò
528Lectures on MacroeconomicsBlanchard, Olivier
627CapitalMarx, Karl
726The Elements of StyleStrunk, William
825EconomicsKrugman, Paul
925Japanese, the Spoken Language, Part 1Jorden, Eleanor Harz
1025Quarterly ReviewFederal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis


127Introduction to EconometricsStock, James
227“The Problem of Social Cost”Coase, R. H.
325Wealth of NationsSmith, Adam
423The Tragedy of the CommonsHardin, Garrett James
521EconometricsHayashi, Fumio
620Leadership without Easy AnswersHeifetz, Ronald
719Analytical PoliticsHinich, Melvin
818Principles of Corporate FinanceBrealey, Richard
917MacroeconomicsBarro, Robert
1016Macroeconomic TheorySargent, Thomas

University of Pennsylvania

226A Short Guide to Writing About ArtBarnet, Sylvan
326Heart of DarknessConrad, Joseph
423The Evolution of CooperationAxelrod, Robert
621AutobiographyFranklin, Benjamin
720The Art and Architecture of the Indian SubcontinentHarle, J. C.
819Canterbury TalesChaucer, Geoffrey
919ConfessionsSaint Augustine
1018PersuasionAusten, Jane


131Learning and TeachingSheridan, Harold James
218Cyborg CitizenGray, Chris Hables
316The Technological SocietyEllul, Jacques
416The Learning CenterBrown, Robert
516The Communist ManifestoMarx, Karl
616The Transparent SocietyBrin, David
714A Social History of American TechnologyCowan, Ruth Schwartz
814IlluminationsBenjamin, Walter
914SimulationsBaudrillard, Jean
1013The Control RevolutionBeniger, James

* 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.

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