Canon Fodder-Friday: Nonfiction

For my final foray into considering the educational canon, I’d like to include nonfiction. Many speeches, letters and treatises have had a profound effect on the modern world as it relates to politics, economics, sciences, philosophy, the penal code, and human rights among other things. The following is my top ten non-fiction canon for works written in the last 250 years:

1) 1764 — On Crime and Punishment by Cesare Beccaria

This treatise was spread by Voltaire long after Beccaria lived out his life largely under house-arrest just for having written it. It suggested the first arguments against capital punishment, torture, and cruel and unusual punishment. It called for punishments to fit the crimes.

2) 1776 — The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith [Hello free market.]
3) 1776 — “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
4) 1845 — Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
5) 1848 — The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
6) 1859 — On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
7) 1863 — “The Gettysburg Address” and The Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln
8) 1869 — The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill
9) 1958 — Night by Elie Wiesel
10) 1963 — “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

My three previous Friday posts listed Top 10s that included poetry, plays, and novels written in European languages. As of yet, I have not included a single graphic work in any of these lists, so I’d like to propose an eleventh item for this list as I think graphic works can be just as important and literary as non-graphic works.

11) 1991 — Maus by Art Spiegelman

What would you include in such a list, or what would you exclude? Let me know.

April is International Poetry Month. My Friday posts with all be poetry-related:
April 3rd– Poetry Forms I: Haikus and Limericks
April 10th– Poetry Forms II: Sonnets, Villanelles and Sestinas
April 17th– Poetry: Rhyming and Sounds
April 24th– Poetry: Avoiding Abstractions and Cliches

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2 responses to “Canon Fodder-Friday: Nonfiction

  1. I think these are all great social science non-fiction selections, but additional non-fiction lists could be made for science and biography. Obviously there is crossover with Darwin and science and Douglass with biography. Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience” might work its way into the social science list, but I don’t know what I would bump. “Maus” definitely would have a home in biographies.

    Other sciences could include:
    (older than 250: Newton, Galileo, Copernicus and Aristotle)
    Richard Feynman – Lectures
    Stephen J. Gould – Mismeasure of a Man (both for thesis and controversy)
    Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat
    Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene
    Brian Greene – Elegant Universe, Fabric of the Cosmos

    Other biographies could include:
    Lewis & Clark – Journals
    Marco Polo – Journals/Ship Log (older than 250)
    Charles Darwin – Journals/Ship Log
    Henry David Thoreau – Walden
    Watson & Crick – The Double Helix

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