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Four Books Every College Student Should Read

By Lee Eigner

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O Wilson

In this book by Pulitzer Prize winning sociobiologist Edward O Wilson, Wilson details the rapid and seemingly conditional growth of intellect throughout the history of humanity. Wilson covers historically significant events like The Enlightenment, which promoted the application of science and development of intelligence. He discusses the validity of scientific philosophies such as pragmatism and positivism, and how people like Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon combined different fields of science to create innovative social theories. Towards the end of the book, Wilson ponders the future of humanity and the endless possibilities available to us.

This is not the easiest read, that being said this book is an unbridled intellectual adventure. For a student about to go into college, or who currently is in college, understanding the importance of intellectual development and the conditions necessary for that development is key. More importantly if that student takes any kind of philosophy or ethics class, there is a very good possibility they will be reading some form of literature by Wilson. Consilience is one of his more complex books, but would be a great introduction to Wilson’s genius mindset.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

A 1942 novel by Albert Camus, The Stranger is extraordinarily ahead of its time. Camus tells the story of an emotionally detached man named Meursault, and the plot is split into two different parts; Meursault’s first person narrative of the events that lead to a seemingly irrational murder and then after the act. Even before the murder Meursault was considered a monster, an outsider. He did not partake in the emotional norms that his society demanded, for example; at his mothers funeral he did not shed a single tear, and when it came time for a marriage proposal again Meursault was indifferent. This book is an intoxicating mixture of existentialism and stoicism with an undertone of nihilism. Camus creates an introspective story about the significance our actions and our role in the universe through a main character that is emotionally vacant yet desperately curious.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This celebrated coming of age tale by legendary writer Charles Dickens revolves around an orphan named Pip. The plot details the growth and development of Pip, who eventually becomes the benefactor of a large amount of money and the storyline centers on the ‘great expectations’ Pip now has for his new life. Great Expectations may have some language that isn’t quite relevant nowadays, but its themes of crime, ambition, empiricism and social class could not be more relatable. Pip’s internal struggle with his conscience is a conflict that emerges early on in the book, and Pip’s questioning of what is right and what must be done is symbolic of humanity’s innate selfishness and greed. It is a timeless classic that is one of Dickens’ more powerful works.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad’s epic novella Heart of Darkness details the memories of Charles Marlow, the captain of a Belgian trading boat traveling along the rivers of Africa. Marlow is not your traditional hero; he is a man that has been defeated by the world, and that defeat has left him emotional drained and terribly cynical. The story details the three levels of darkness Marlow encounters; the darkness of the Congo, the darkness of the European’s horrific treatment of the African natives and the bottomless darkness that engulfs every human who has committed an evil act. Though this novella is a vessel by which Conrad criticizes the hypocrisy of Imperialism, it is also a statement about the absurdity of life and the duality of human nature. Through the characters Marlow and Kurtz, an unfortunately influential ivory trader with megalomania, Conrad exemplifies the wavering between good and evil that every person must eventually end. It is a story that is as disturbing as it is enlightening, and Joseph Conrad does an impressive job at drawing the audience in page after page.

Lee Eigner attends the University of Missouri where he’s double majoring in Mass Media Communications and Film Studies.

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