Special Report

20 Classics Every American Should Read, According to English Professors

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1. Romeo and Juliet
> Author: William Shakespeare
> Originally published in: 1597

“Romeo and Juliet” is perhaps the most famous tragedy ever written. The story about the two youngsters from feuding families who fall in love and die trying to stay together is among the most frequently performed plays and has been turned into several movies.

“No one appreciates how good ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is because everyone encounters it too early in school,” Buster said.

Source: Courtesy of Thomas Egerton

2. Pride and Prejudice
> Author: Jane Austen
> Originally published in: 1813

“Pride and Prejudice” is one of the most famous romantic novels. Even though it’s set in rural England at the beginning of the 19th century, the story is still relevant today. A powerful and proud man falls in love with an independent and proud woman, who dislikes him at first but eventually begins to see him in a different light.

The novel can be analyzed from a variety of critical perspectives, Uruburu said. “And even those perspectives change with the years.”

Source: Courtesy of Chapman & Hall

3. A Tale of Two Cities
> Author: Charles Dickens
> Originally published in: 1859

“A Tale of Two Cities” is a novel that spans London and revolutionary Paris and shows how personal events can be driven by political drama. It is on almost every literary classics list, whatever the definition of a “classic” is.

“I read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ on summer vacation this year and was blown away,” Buster said. “I realized that I’d originally encountered [it] when I was too young to appreciate it.” The definition of a classic, he notes, is perhaps just that: a book you can re-read every other year or so and get something new out of it.

Source: E. W. Kemble (1861–1933) - illustrator / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

4. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
> Author: Mark Twain
> Originally published in: 1884

The story of the youngster who runs away from home and his adventures with his friend, a runaway slave, has captivated America for more than a century. Readers go on a journey with the characters, compelled by brilliant storytelling.

“There are those who say this book should be edited to take out offensive language or taken off reading lists when in fact it is meant to outrage the reader about the reality of slavery in this country and language that racists still use as a means of trying to control not just a narrative but race and history,” Uruburu said.

Source: Courtesy of Charles Scribner's Sons

5. The Great Gatsby
> Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
> Originally published in: 1925

The novel was written in beautiful prose, and “its stylish poetic deconstruction of the American Dream remains timeless,” Uruburu said. The basic themes of love and rejection are immortal. Almost anyone can connect with the book on some level — emotional or psychological.