June 27, 2012

Library of Congress picks its 88 most influential books


The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has opened an exhibition this week celebrating “Books That Shaped America,” a display of 88 books that they’ve deemed to have the most influence on American culture.

Selected and debated over by curators and experts at the Library, the list is fairly wide-ranging in terms of genre; it includes children’s books like Charlotte’s Web, political treatises such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, works that shaped American language like Noah Webster’s A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, and works of drama and poetry, including Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Tennessee WilliamsA Streetcar Named Desire.

Interestingly, the Library’s selections make no claim to be a referendum on the quality of the books; Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explains that:

This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books–although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.

The full list of books is available here, and if you want to see them in person, the exhibition will be open from June 25 through September 29 in the library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, DC.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.