100 Best (Free Online) Books for an Education


Adapted from Will Durant's list One Hundred 'Best' Books For an Eductation which was first published in The American Magazine issue CVIII (December, 1929) and republished in The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time (Simon and Schuster, 2002).

This site aims to modernize the list by attempting to make all of this information available freely online through ebooks, sound recordings, maps and videos. The original books are listed and my goal was to write a short paraphrase of each book on the list. About 85/100 books were found online. Those not found online, I attempted to find an equivalent website discussing the topic of the book. I sometimes add a link to something I think is educational also, I make it clear it is my opinion and suggestion though.

Click on a group to learn more about a book.

Group 1 - Introductory

* 1 John Arthur Thomson, The Outline of Science: A Plain Story Simply Told (4 vol.)

* 2 Logan Clendening, The Human Body

* 3 John Harvey Kellogg, The New Dietetics, pp 1-531, 975-1011

* 4 William James, Principles of Psychology (2 vol.)

* 5 Herbert George Wells, The Outline of History, ch. 1-14

* 6 William Graham Sumner, Folkways

* 7 James Frazer, The Golden Bough (1 vol. abridged)

Group 2 - Asia and Africa

* 8 James Henry Breasted and James Harvey Robinson, The Human Adventure (2 vol.), vol. 2 ch. 2-7

* 5 Wells, ch. 15-21, 26

* 9 Brian Brown, The Wisdom of China

* 10 The Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Amos, Micah, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and Epistles of St. Paul)

* 11 Elie Faure, History of Art (4 vol), vol. 1 ch. 1-3, vol. 2 ch. 1-3

* 12 Henry Smith Williams, A History of Science (5 vol.), vol. 1 ch. 1-4

Group 3 - Greece

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 1 ch. 8-19

* 5 Wells, ch. 22-25

* 13 J. B. Bury, History of Greece (2 vol.)

* 14 Herodotus, Histories (Everyman Library)

* 15 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (Everyman Library)

* 16 Plutarch, Lives of Illustrious Men, esp. Lycurgus, Solon, Themistocles, Aristides, Pericles, Alcibiades, Demosthenes, Alexander

* 17 Gilbert Murray, Ancient Greek Literature

* 18 Homer, Iliad (trans. William Cullen Bryant), selections

* 19 Homer, Odyssey (trans. William Cullen Bryant), selections

* 20 Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound (trans. Elizabeth Browning)

* 21 Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone (trans. Young, Everyman Library)

* 22 Euripides, all plays (trans. Gilbert Murray)

* 23 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers

* 24 Plato, Dialogues (trans. Jowett), esp. "The Apology of Socrates", Phaedo, and The Republic; sections 327-32, 336-77, 384-85, 392-426, 433-35, 481-83, 512-20, 572-95

* 25 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics

* 26 Aristotle, Politics

* 12 Williams, History of Science, vol. 1 ch. 5-9

* 11 Faure, History of Art, vol. 1 ch. 4-7

Group 4 - Rome

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 1 ch. 20-30

* 5 Wells, ch. 27-29

* 16 Plutarch, esp. Cato Censor, Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, Marius, Sylla, Pompey, Cicero, Caesar, Brutus, Antony

* 27 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (trans. Munro, certain passages are admirably paraphrased in William Mallock, Lucretius on Life and Death)

* 28 Virgil, Aeneid (trans. William Morris), selections

* 29 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Everyman Library)

* 12 Williams, vol. 1 ch. 10-11

* 11 Faure, vol. 1 ch. 8

* 30 Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 vol., Everyman Library), esp. ch. 1-4, 9-10, 14, 15-24, 26-28, 30-31, 35-36, 44, 71

Group 5 - The Age of Christianity

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 2 ch. 1-11

* 5 Wells, ch. 30-34

* 30 Gibbon, ch. 37-38, 47-53, 55-59, 64-65, 68-70

* 31 Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat (Fitzgerald paraphrase)

* 32 George Moore, Heloise and Abelard (2 vol.)

* 33 Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy (trans. Longfellow or Charles E. Norton)

* 34 Hippolyte Taine, History of English Literature, book 1

* 35 Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (Everyman Library), selections

* 36 Henry Adams, Mont St. Michel and Chartres

* 12 Williams, vol. 2 ch. 1-3

* 11 Faure, vol. 2 ch. 4-9

* 37 Cecil Gray, The History of Music, ch. 1-3, 5

Group 6 - The Italian Renaissance

* 5 Wells, ch. 35

* 38 John Addington Symonds, The Renaissance in Italy (7 vol.) (Durant also suggests Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy)

* 39 Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography (trans. Symonds)

* 40 Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Painters and Sculptors (4 vol.), esp. Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michaelangelo

* 41 Harald Hoffding, History of Modern Philosophy (2 vol.), sections on Bruno and Machiavelli

* 42 Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

* 37 Gray, ch. 6, 8

Group 7 - Europe in the Sixteenth Century

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 2 ch. 13-14

* 43 Preserved Smith, The Age of the Reformation

* 44 Emile Faguet, The Literature of France, sections on the sixteenth century

* 45 Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

* 46 Michel de Montaigne, Essays (3 vol., Everyman Library), esp. "Of Coaches", "Of the Incommodity of Greatness", "Of Vanity", and "Of Experience"

* 47 Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

* 48 William Shakespeare, Plays, esp. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Henry IV, Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Timon of Athens and The Tempest

* 34 Taine, vol. 2 ch. 1-4

* 37 Gray, ch. 4, 7

* 12 Williams, vol. 2 ch. 4-8

* 11 Faure, vol. 3 ch. 4-6

Group 8 - Europe in the Seventeenth Century

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 2 ch. 15

* 44 Faguet, sections on the seventeenth century

* 49 Francois La Rochefoucauld, Reflections

* 50 Moliere, Plays, esp. Tartuffe, The Miser, The Misanthrope, The Bourgeois Gentleman, and The Feast of the Statue (Don Juan)

* 51 Francis Bacon, Essays (Everyman Library)

* 52 John Milton, "Lycidias", "L'Allegro", "Il Penseroso", Sonnets, "Areopagitica" and selections from Paradise Lost

* 12 Williams, vol. 2 ch. 9-13

* 41 Hoffding, sections on Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza and Leibnitz

* 53 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Everyman Library)

* 54 Benedictus de Spinoza, Ethics and On the Improvement of the Understanding (Everyman Library)

* 11 Faure, vol. 4 ch. 1-4

* 37 Gray, ch. 9-10

Group 9 - Europe in the Eighteenth Century

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 2 ch. 16-21

* 5 Wells, ch. 26-27

* 44 Faguet, sections on the eighteenth century

* 55 Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Portraits of the 18th Century

* 56 Francois Marie de Voltaire, Works (1 vol. ed.), esp. Candide, Zadig, and essays on "Toleration" and "History"

* 57 John-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions

* 58 Taine, Origins of Contemporary France (6 vol.), vol. 1-4

* 59 Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution (2 vol., Everyman Library)

* 34 Taine, History of English Literature, vol. 3 ch. 4-7

* 60 James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (2 vol., Everyman Library)

* 61 Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (2 vol., Everyman Library)

* 62 Laurence Sterne, Tristam Shandy (Everyman Library)

* 63 Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (Everyman Library)

* 64 David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature (2 vol., Everyman Library) esp bks 2-3

* 65 Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman

* 66 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (2 vol., Everyman Library), selections

* 12 Williams, vol. 2 ch. 14-15

* 41 Hoffding, sections on the eighteenth century

* 11 Faure, vol. 4 ch. 5-6

* 37 Gray, ch. 11-12

Group 10 - Europe in the Nineteenth Century

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 2 ch. 22-28

* 5 Wells, ch. 38-39

* 58 Taine, Origins of Contemporary France, vol. 5; The Modern Regime, pg 1-90

* 67 Emil Ludwig, Napoleon

* 68 George Brandes, Main Currents of 19th Century Literature (6 vol.)

* 69 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

* 70 Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe

* 71 Heinrich. Heine, Poems (trans. Loius Untermeyer)

* 34 Taine, History of English Literature, books 4-5

* 72 John Keats, Poems

* 73 Percy Bysse Shelley, Poems

* 74 George Gordon Byron, Poems

* 44 Faguet, sections on the nineteenth century

* 75 Honore de Balzac, Pere Goriot

* 76 Gustave Flaubert, Works (1 vol. ed.), esp. Madame Bovary and Salambo

* 77 Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

* 78 Anatole France, Penguin Isle

* 79 Alfred Tennyson, Poems

* 80 Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers

* 81 William Thackeray, Vanity Fair

* 82 Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Children

* 83 Fyodor Dostoievski, The Brothers Karamozov

* 84 Leo Tolstoi, War and Peace

* 85 Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt

* 12 Williams, books 3-4

* 86 Charles Darwin, Descent of Man

* 41 Hoffding, sections on the nineteenth century

* 87 William Buckle, Introduction to the History of Civilization in England, esp. pt 1 ch. 1-5, 15

* 88 Arthur Schopenhauer, Works (1 vol. ed.)

* 89 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

* 11 Faure, vol. 4 ch. 7-8

* 37 Gray, ch. 13-17

Group 11 - America

* 90 Charles and Mary Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (2 vol.)

* 91 Edgar Allen Poe, Poems and Tales

* 92 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays

* 93 Henry David Thoreau, Walden

* 94 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

* 95 Abraham Lincoln, Letters and Speeches

Group 12 - The Twentieth Century

* 8 Breasted and Robinson, vol. 2 ch. 29-30

* 5 Wells, ch. 40-41

* 96 Romain Rolland, Jean Cristophe (2 vol.)

* 97 Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. 1-3, 6

* 98 Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

* 99 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

* 100 Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West (2 vol.)


Who wrote this list you ask? If you don't know him, take a look at WillDurant.com to learn about his life works. He had a genuine passion for wisdom. He wrote many other books on science, history, and philosphy, some of which were written at the same time as books on this less and were better sellers at the time. He composed this list of 100 books for people to invest about 4 years reading that will enhance their knowledge of everything. He even goes so far as to say you will have a better education from these 100 books than a newly graduated law or medical student because Durant says most people are too immature when they attend college at such a young age and won't appreciate the wisdom then. Apparently the list has inspired me, and I'm sure it has inspired others.

Since a great deal of this list is a history lesson I would highly recommend buying The Wall Chart of World History to follow along with. It's a 30 foot long timeline of history that spreads across my entire house almost. It helped me tremendously! And it's the only thing I recommend buying. Oh and Will Durant suggests getting a world map "so that new words and old places have meaning to us."

Under construction notice: What was I thinking trying to do this all by myself one stormy night!? So far it's taken me about 2 months of collecting data for this website, and I'm exhausted. It's not how I envisioned it, but it'll do for now. If you have a suggestion, or want to help, or find any errors on the page, my email address is at the bottom of each page. Thanks.
-Felix (July, 2007)