The 13 Essential Books Every College Student Needs to Read

I used to dread reading. Ask my parents. I refused to pick up those bundles of paper we call books.

Throughout my education, I often had to read for class. I recall getting into a few books here and there, but more often than not I refused to read. Why would I waste my time with that when I can play FIFA for hours on hours?

Rick Riordan managed to grab a hold of my attention with the two series, Percy Jackson & the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus. Oh, and way back in the day, I collected Magic Tree House books.

Moving to present day, the art of reading has suddenly slipped into my veins. Through my dad’s fondness of reading, he has slowly but surely influenced me to start picking up a book here and there. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, knowledge is power. And books contain a lot of knowledge.

Enough chit-chat. Let’s get into it. I broke this article down into three parts, each containing a handful of books. The first category is business/self-help, followed by the classics (no, not those classics), and finally, miscellaneous books that I’ve read and enjoyed.

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Business/Self Help

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

Bonus: the “sequel” to this is Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant.

The first time I read Rich Dad Poor Dad I didn’t understand it. When I reread the book years later, I finally comprehend the lessons in this book. If you have any desire to be financially independent, wealthy, or are generally curious about money, this is the book for you. I particularly loved how the book was written in a story telling format. The complex ideas where portrayed in real life scenarios and were broken down very well. Except if you’re 12, then maybe get the children’s version.

“Rich Dad Poor Dad shows you how to start a journey to wealth by teaching you the right mindset, accounting basics and wealth building strategies, even if you’ve had no clue about personal finance until now.”

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann

This is hands down my favorite fiction books. I’ve read The Go-Giver a total of three times, and it gets better each read. My old soccer coach, Coach V, gave me the book so it also has special meaning to me. The message of this book is so critically important, I can’t stress it enough. Reading this book has changed my perspective on life, especially with business. Become a giver.

“The book tells a parable of a man named Joe who, struggling to make his quarterly sales target, meets a mentor named Pindar to help him. Pindar then teaches Joe the “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success” by having Joe meet various people who have already mastered the five laws.”

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The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I never considered myself a morning person until I read The Miracle Morning. All of a sudden, waking up at 5:45 am became an after thought. Hal Elrod is a wonderful author full of stories that will jolt you out of bed before the sun rises. Get ready to change your life, because Hal’s tips on waking up earlier will give you the necessary morning motivation to take on the world.

“He was hit by a car and declared dead for 6 minutes, spent 6 days in a coma and was told he would never walk again. How do you go from being dead to that? First, you have to wake up — and that’s exactly what Hal did. He woke up and faced a new morning. Day after day, after day. Eventually, he developed the Miracle Morning — a 6-step morning routine based on the best habits he could find in books, in others and himself.”

The Go-Getter by Peter B. Kyne

This book is a short read, but it contains a powerful message. I received it as a gift from a coworker (Sean Wagner), and read it in it’s entirety the next day. I really enjoyed the simplicity of this book. If you really want something, go get it, at all costs.

“In The Go-Getter, Bill Peck, a war veteran, persuades Cappy Ricks, the influential founder of the Rick’s Logging & Lumbering Company, to let him prove himself by selling skunk wood. When Peck goes on to beat his quota, Rick hands Peck the ultimate opportunity and the ultimate test: the quest for an elusive blue vase. Drawing on such classic values as honesty, determination, passion, and responsibility, Peck overcomes nearly insurmountable obstacles to find the vase and launch his career as a successful manager.”

Campus CEO by Randal Pinkett

I had the honor of meeting Randal Pinkett and have him sign my copy of his book. I was a sophomore and he came to speak at my high school. A multi-millionaire, apprentice winner, entrepreneur, and graduated of the same high school I attended. What an inspiration. Regarding his book, it’s a wonderful journey of the life of a campus CEO. From tips to managing classes and business, to basic accounting and legal support, this book has it all. If you’re thinking of launching a business in college, this is the best book to get you off the ground.

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. enter college totally clueless as to their choice of a major, and even less sure about what they will do with the rest of their lives. But for a growing number of students, the financial pressures of college are far more taxing than the academic rigors of campus life. However, students don’t have to suffer through a penniless college existence, nor must they wait until after graduation to find a career and make money. Instead, they can generate income by launching their own businesses while on campus, taking advantage of the period in their lives during which any number of once-in-a-lifetime perks and resources are readily available to them. The Campus CEO walks any would-be entrepreneur through all the necessary steps to launching a profitable, campus-based business, while simultaneously achieving academic success.”

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The Classics

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Here we are, sitting in my high school English class. I was never very fond of school, but I had some very good English teachers (talking about you Ms. Hoefener) that choose some extraordinary books. One of them was The Catcher in the Rye. The story told in this book was so fascinating to me. I recall never wanting to put it down. The way the story is told is intriguing and makes you want to read more.

“The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951.”

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Maybe you’ve watched the movie, but the book is better. And the movie was a bit… lavish. Nonetheless a great movie, one of my favorites actually. But the book. The book tells a story that makes your imagination run wild. From the extravagant parties, to the meaning of the colors, there are so many details in this novel. There is so much to like in this classic book about love and passion in the roaring 1920’s.

“This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story is of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his new love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.”

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Animal Farm by George Orwell

I’m sure you’ve heard of Animal Farm by now. George Orwell is the well known author of this book about farm animals. He has also written 1984, and several other books. The motifs and analogies used in this book create a vivid picture of what Orwell was describing. The story is unraveled as the book progresses along, with each chapter providing a new lesson on society as we see it.

“A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus, the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.  It is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Good ole Mark Twain and his best book (in my opinion). If you like adventures, you’ll fall for this with ease. The language isn’t ideal for a millennial, but oh well. It’s Mark Twain and it’s important to understand the great authors of our past. A classic and good one at that. Everyone needs to read this book.

“A nineteenth-century boy from a Mississippi River town recounts his adventures as he travels down the river with a runaway slave, encountering a family involved in a feud, two scoundrels pretending to be royalty, and Tom Sawyer’s aunt who mistakes him for Tom.”

There are way too many good classics. To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Catch-22, Of Mice and Men, Lord of The Flies, Moby Dick, and so on. Pick one up that interests you and read it.

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These are the books that recall picking up and never putting down. I guess you can say I binge read them?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I was very skeptical of reading this at first, but boy am I glad. It was one of those books I read in my high school English class actually. This book tugs at your heart strings and is quite sad. Khaled Hosseini is a wonderful author who paints a picture of the famous kite flying events in Afghanistan, all while telling the tragic story of two friends. It’s a powerful book about friendship, sacrifices, and power.

“The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons — their love, their sacrifices, their lies. The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.”

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhit Venkatesh

I read every word of this book and wanted more. I simply couldn’t put this book down. The topic was fascinating and simply held my attention the entirety of the book. A researcher for the University of Chicago and a gang leader becomes “friends”? A story for the ages, full of twists and turns. One of my favorite book’s hands down.

“When Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, he was looking for people to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty. A first-year grad student hoping to impress his professors with his boldness, he never imagined that as a result of the assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade inside the projects under JT’s protection, documenting what he saw there. It’s a brazen, page turning, and fundamentally honest view into the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, often corrupt struggle to survive in what is tantamount to an urban war zone. It is also the story of a complicated friendship between Sudhir and JT-two young and ambitious men a universe apart.”

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Maybe you’ve heard of this one before. It’s definitely a simpler read, but it’s message is powerful and important. Ever heard don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Because it couldn’t be more relevant with the story portrayed by Sherman Alexie. Give it a read if you haven’t already, it’s a great book and is written wonderfully.

“Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.”

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Here’s another book that I recall reading, but I wasn’t interested in at first. Then a few chapters in and I was hooked. It’s like a new Netflix show, it takes a few episodes to get a feel for it. Bud, Not Buddy takes place in a dark time where few things go right. The story Christopher Paul Curtis put together is so moving. A book about hope and adventure, Bud, Not Buddy is a strong book with many awards for a reason.

“It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him. He has his own suitcase full of special things. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression! Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him — not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.”

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I challenged myself to read 12 books last year, one a month. To my surprise, I surpassed this goal and read around 15 books. I should have kept track of this more carefully. This year, I’m going to challenge myself to read 24 books and have set myself up on Goodreads.

Any book recommendations?

Did I miss a book? Do you have a book suggestion? Let me know in the comments below.

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Alex Siminoff

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