Founding Fathers

What were the Founding Fathers' favorite books?
Part 1: Thomas Jefferson

After his presidency, Thomas Jefferson took on the work of re-creating education in the young country. Up until that point, education was largely a religious undertaking from youth all the way through university. Jefferson, however, believed that one’s education should encompass much more than just knowledge of the divine.

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So, in 1819, at the ripe age of 76 years old, he founded the University of Virginia as a secular institute. At the center of this undertaking — quite literally — was the library. Traditionally, the chapel would be at the center of campus. At UVA, though, Jefferson put the library in the center of campus, thereby signaling his belief that books were central to one’s education.

In many of his letters, Jefferson gave lists of books that he found to be uplifting for both moral gain as well as pleasure. What’s listed below is a sampling of the books that Jefferson mentioned in various letters throughout his life. 

 
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This article is part of a series that explores the personal libraries of Founding Fathers.

COMING SOON: George Washington's Recommended Reads

As Jefferson himself noted, these works don’t encompass the entirety of what a man should read, but will provide an excellent base:

“These by no means constitute the whole of what might be usefully read in each of these branches of science. The mass of excellent works going more into detail is great indeed. But those here noted will enable the student to select for himself such others of detail as may suit his particular views and dispositions. They will give him a respectable, an useful and satisfactory degree of knowledge in these branches.”



THE LIST

ANCIENT HISTORY

The Histories by Herodotus

History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

Anabasis & Hellenica by Xenophon

Life of Alexander the Great by Quintus Curtius Rufus

The Gallic War & The Civil War by Julius Caesar

Antiquities by Josephus

Lives by Plutarch

Annals & Histories by Tacitus

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons

POLITICS/RELIGION/MODERN HISTORY

Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu

Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

Discourses Concerning Government by Algernon Sidney

The Bible

The History of America by William Robertson

Historical Review of Pennsylvania by Benjamin Franklin

A History of the Settlement of Virginia by Captain John Smith

PHILOSOPHY

Works of Plato by Plato

Works of Cicero by Cicero

Morals by Plutarch

Moral Epistles & Essays by Seneca

Memorabilia of Socrates by Xenophon

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Enchiridion by Epictetus

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume

Candide by Voltaire

Introductory Discourse and the Free Inquiry by Conyers Middleton

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

SCIENCE

On Electricity by Benjamin Franklin

The Gentleman Farmer by Henry Home

The Horse Hoeing Husbandry by Jethro Tull

Buffon’s Natural History by Georges-Louis Leclerc

Anson’s Voyage Round the World by Richard Walter

LITERATURE

The Iliad & The Odyssey by Homer

The Aeneid by Virgil

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles

Orestian Trilogy by Aeschylus

The Plays of Euripides by Euripides

Poems by Horace

The Works of Shakespeare by William Shakespeare

The Misanthrope by Moliere

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Adventures of David Simple by Sarah Fielding

The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Poems by Edmund Waller