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International University Presidents Recommend Oldies:

the Bible, Homer and Shakespeare

The books most strongly recommended as essential reading for undergraduate college students are the Bible, The Odyssey, and The Republic according to a survey of members of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP). The Presidents were asked: “What are five books you believe every undergraduate university student should read and study in order to engage in the intellectual discourse, commerce, and public duties of the 21st century?”

No book was chosen by a majority of the IAUP members. No work came even close to being chosen by a majority. But the Bible was chosen by a fifth of the university presidents who participated. No other work was picked so often—or even came close. Homer’s Odyssey was the next most popular choice but was cited only half as often as the Bible. The Koran was also among the top most frequently cited books, ranking number seven.

Both William Shakespeare and Plato gained as many mentions as the Bible. While Shakespeare’s Hamlet was one favorite, other Presidents recommended King Lear or Macbeth; some recommended the Bard’s complete works. Plato’s dialogues, particularly the Republic, also were mentioned as favorites. Heinrich Stremitzer, former Rector of Vienna University of Economics, commented that A classical education seems to be the most important prerequisite to meet the challenges in your question.”

Considering Plato, Homer, and Aristotle together, Greece did better than any other country among the top picks. The Americans had no author in the top nine books but the United States could claim several authors in the eight-way tie for 10th place including: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who wrote The Federalist Papers, Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick, and Thomas Friedman who recently wrote The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

When authors rather than books are ranked by the number of citations they receive, Stephen Hawking is the only recent author to appear in the top ten. No Americans are on the list. Among the authors most frequently cited, half wrote philosophy and half wrote plays or fiction.

The question was posed by Dr. J. Michael Adams, President of Fairleigh Dickinson University, to the members of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) which has about 500 members worldwide. About a quarter of the members responded and had the option of ranking or not ranking their choices. Fairleigh Dickinson University has long been considered a leader in developing common core readings and courses for its undergraduates. “I think a conversation about what to read is one of the most important conversations university leaders can have,” said Dr. Adams. “Though it is not a scientific survey, it’s a necessary and edifying intellectual engagement. It is a process of argument and discovery, a conversation we will have with many different groups and many different kinds of leaders around the world.”

Survey Notes: The survey was conducted by Michael Adams, President of Fairleigh Dickinson University during the academic year 2002-2003 by canvassing the membership of the International Association of University Presidents. The members each received a letter with the single question: “What are five books you believe every undergraduate university student should read and study in order to engage in the intellectual discourse, commerce, and public duties of the 21st century?” Respondents had the option of ranking or not ranking the five books. Their rankings--or non-rankings--were weighted on a five point scale with the highest ranked selection weighted 5 times that of the lowest ranked. About a quarter of the members (128) responded. Please note the respondents were self-selected and the results cannot be said to be representative of the views of the entire membership of the IAUP.

Table I: Most frequently cited Books or Plays

Frequency

Rank

Top Choices

(Weighted

Rank)

1st

The Bible

1

2nd

The Odyssey

2

3rd

The Republic

3

4th

Democracy in America

4

5th

The Iliad

5

6th

Hamlet

6

tied for 7th

Koran

7


The Wealth of Nations

13

The Prince

21

tied for 10th

Federalist Papers,

Don Quixote,

On Liberty,

Invisible Man

King Lear

War and Peace

Moby Dick

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

7

9

11

11

13

13

13

31

Table II: Most frequently cited Authors

Frequency
Rank
Author Weighted
Rank
Works Cited

1.

William Shakespeare

2

Hamlet, King Lear, MacBeth

2.

Homer

2

The Iliad, The Odyssey

3.

Plato

1

The Republic, Dialogues, Allegory of the Cave, Apology of Socrates

4.

Alexis De Tocqueville

4

Democracy in America

5

Fyodor Dostoevsky

5

The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment


Charles Dickens

6

A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations

7

Aristotle

6

Nichomachean Ethics, The Politics


Stephen Hawking

8

Brief History of Time, et alia


Leo Tolstoy

9

War and Peace, Anna Karenina


Karl Marx

10

Das Kapital, The German Ideology


Adam Smith

11

The Wealth of Nations


Niccolo Machiavelli

12

The Prince

 

Table III: Books receiving at least two recommendations

Book

Frequency

Weight


The Bible

20

68


The Odyssey

11

36

Homer

The Republic

9

31

Plato

Democracy in America

8

27

de Tocqueville, Alexis

The Iliad

7

20

Homer

Hamlet

6

16

Shakespeare, William

Koran

5

15


The Wealth of Nations

5

11

Smith, Adam

The Prince

5

10

Machiavelli, Niccolo

The Federalist Papers

4

15

Hamilton, Madison, Jay

Don Quixote

4

14

Cervantes

On Liberty

4

12

Mill, John Stuart

Invisible Man

4

12

Ellison, Ralph

Moby Dick

4

11

Melville, Herman

War and Peace

4

11

Tolstoy, Leo

King Lear

4

11

Shakespeare, William

War and Peace

4

11

Tolstoy, Leo

Moby Dick

4

11

Melville, Herman

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

4

8

Friedman, Thomas L.

A Brief History of Time

3

9

Hawking, Stephen

A Tale of Two Cities

3

10

Dickens, Charles

Crime and Punishment

3

11

Dostoevsky, Fyodor

Huckleberry Finn

3

11

Twain, Mark

John Adams

3

13

McCullough, David

MacBeth

3

9

Shakespeare, William

Man's Search for Meaning

3

10

Frankl, Viktor E.

The End of History

3

9

Fukuyama, F.

To Kill a Mockingbird

3

11

Lee, Harper

Das Kapital

3

7

Marx, Karl

Politics

3

10

Aristotle

Dialogues

3

8

Plato

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

3

12

Landes, David S.

The Brothers Karamazov

3

7

Dostoevsky, Fyodor

My Experiment With Truth

3

11

Gandhi, M.K.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

3

9

Covey, Stephen

Canterbury Tales

2

6

Chaucer, Geoffrey

David Copperfield

2

6

Dickens, Charles

Guns, Germs and Steel

2

4

Diamond, Jared

Heart of Darkness

2

6

Conrad, Joseph

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

2

6

Angleou, Maya

Long Walk to Freedom

2

7

Mandela, Nelson

Mythology

2

7

Hamilton, Edith

The Allegory of the Cave

2

10

Plato

The Closing of the American Mind

2

7

Bloom, Allan

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

2

6

Keynes, John M.

Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

2

6

Kennedy, Paul

The Third Wave

2

6

Toffler, Alvin

Ulysses

2

5

Joyce, James

Walden

2

8

Thoreau, H.D.

You Can Win

2

4

Khera, Shiv

The Protestant Ethic...

2

6

Weber, Max

Beyond Ideology

2

6

Lee, Won Sul

Inferno

2

8

Dante

Essays

2

6

Montaigne

Nichomachean Ethics

2

7

Aristotle

From Dawn to Decadence

3

10

Barzun, Jacques

Genome: Autobiography of a...

2

7

Ridley, Matt

The Analects of Confucius

2

8

Disciples of Confucius

Structure of Scientific Revolutions

2

7

Kuhn, Thomas S.

The Tragedies

2

3

Shakespeare, William

Tuesdays with Morrie

2

5

Albon, Mitch

What Color is Your Parachute?

2

5

Bolles, Richard

Apology of Socrates

2

6

Plato

Brave New World

2

6

Huxley, Aldous

The Confessions

2

8

Augustine of Hippo

Emotional Intelligence

2

5

Goleman, Daniel

Sophie's World

2

4

Gaarder, Jostein

City of God

2

5

Augustine of Hippo

The Confessions

2

8

Augustine of Hippo

The Divine Comedy

2

6

Dante

The Grand Failure

2

6

Brezesinski, Zhignew

Greatest Inventions

2

7

Brockman, John

The Clash of Civilizations

2

8

Huntington, Samuel P.

Table IV: Weightiest authors

Author

Frequency

Weight

Plato

17

58

Shakespeare, William

21

56

Homer

18

56

de Tocqueville, Alexis

8

27

Dostoevsky, Fyodor

6

18

McCullough, David

4

18

Dickens, Charles

6

17

Aristotle

5

17

Hawking, Stephen

5

15

Hamilton, Madison, Jay

4

15

Gandhi, M.K.

4

15

   

Comments from FDU Faculty on the Survey Findings

Six FDU faculty- members comment on the findings from our survey of international university presidents on essential books.

Jason Scorza
John Becker
Nandita Ghosh
Odysseus Makridis
Marion McClary
Walter Cummins



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