Ask a group of people to name the most influential books that shaped America and they are likely to give a wide variety of responses. We all bring a different set of experiences to a book, and those experiences shape how we react to what we read. The Books That Shaped America exhibition marks a starting point—a way to spark a national conversation on books and their importance in Americans’ lives, and, indeed, in shaping our nation.
The titles featured here (by American authors) have had a profound effect on American life, but they are by no means the only influential ones. And they are certainly not a list of the “best” American books, because that, again, is a matter of strong and diverse opinion. Curators and experts from throughout the Library of Congress contributed their choices, but there was much debate—even agony—in having to remove worthy titles from a much larger list in order to accommodate the physical constraints of this exhibition space.
Some of the titles on display have been the source of great controversy, even derision, yet they nevertheless shaped Americans’ views of their world and often the world’s view of the United States. As you go through this exhibition, we hope the books you see will inspire you to think of other “books that shaped America” and that you will share your choices for future lists at www.loc.gov/bookfest. Please tell us how you think your book shaped America.
Finally, the Library of Congress encourages you to read the books exhibited here and to explore the extraordinary breadth and depth of America’s literary tradition, which the Library of Congress is dedicated to preserving for the immediate and long-term future of our nation.