11/17/2011 07:57 pm ET | Updated Jan 17, 2012

12 Essential Reads for Your Education

By Arafat Kazi, TNGG

I read too much. I'm a media addict. I say stuff like, "Ha ha, it's like that fart joke from that Jonathan Swift poem from 1732." Most people find it annoying. But it sometimes has its uses. Like now.

The following list are some "Essential Books for your Education." Pick one from each category to consider yourself educated.


Everybody needs a philosophical foundation. It makes it easier to understand the third act of a South Park episode. I was lucky enough to go to Boston University, where they pretty much force liberal arts majors into taking two years of intellectual wankery.

In the years since, I've used my readings to justify reactions to death, heartbreak, and drinking the last beer in someone's fridge. Here are my favorite books from their core curriculum:

Aristotle: Nichomachean Ethics

Aristotle was the ultimate bro. He says that true love can only exist between two men, and that to be able to dedicate yourself to a life of contemplation (the highest calling), you need plenty of slaves. But he also lays down the foundation of Western thought, so I guess it's all good.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching

The way that is called the way is not the way. This text is full of mystery, and you can interpret it any way you wish, as long as you interpret it as being passive and riverine in a world of hard edges.

The New Testament, King James version

I know religion's not the most popular among educated 20-somethings, but this text is lovely. If all else fails, you can use its contradictions to argue your atheist agenda -- 'cause you know, arguing about one's belief is cool as long as it's not a two thousand year old one.

Jalal al-Din Rumi: Masnavi

As a practicing Muslim, I get a lot of flack from my friends. It's exacerbated by my love for Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which means that I also observe Towel Day. The Koran is the Bible, pretty much, with some new stuff thrown in. But Rumi's Masnavi is the purest expression of oneness with the universe and Allah.

Business & Marketing

Sun-Tzu: The Art of War

If you read one book on strategy, let it be this one. I think it's more accessible than Machiavelli's The Prince, and it's more popular among CEOs, since it doesn't have pesky paragraphs. And it lays down everything you'll need to know about how to backstab your best friends in the corporate world.

David Ogilvy: Confessions of an Advertising Man 

Oh god, where to start with Ogilvy? This book contains the most important line in all of advertising: "The consumer is not an idiot." Some people argue that this book had better be named "Why you should hire my agency."

Fine, that's a legitimate contention. But if your new business pitch happens to be one of the best marketing books ever written, isn't that pretty cool?

Jack Trout and Al Ries Positioning: the Battle For Your Mind 

Long before Jack Trout wrote the same thing over and over again and Al Ries was a crotchety old columnist for Ad Age, they wrote a wonderful book on how to differentiate yourself from the crowd. The references are dated now, but the lesson is lucidly stated and all-important.

Biography and History

James Boswell: The Life of Samuel Johnson 

Dr. Johnson wrote the first English dictionary, peppered with definitions such as "Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." He also had Tourette's, depression, scrofula, and went through periods of poverty when he walked the streets of London all night because he couldn't afford a bed.

There are moments of great tenderness, tales of hilarity, and sometimes the both are mingled wonderfully, for example when David Garrick (who went on to become the most famous actor of his day) spies, through a keyhole, on Dr. Johnson getting it on with his wife, whose "bosom was of an extraordinary protuberance."

James McPherson: Battle Cry of Freedom 

In order to know the present, we must know the past. For me as an immigrant, the defining moment in American history is not the expansion after World War II, but the Civil War. If you want to pinpoint it to a specific event, it would have to be John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry.

Everything -- our drive to "liberate" others, Occupy Wall Street, belief in the fundamental equality of all humans -- is encapsulated in that one night. This book is about what happened after.


George MacDonald Fraser: Flashman and the Angel of the Lord 

Speaking of John Brown, he's a main character in this one. But it's mostly about Harry Flashman, a scoundrel, coward and bastard who screws, lies, and cheats his way into glory in the British Empire. Imagine James Bond in the 19th century, except Fraser's a better writer than Ian Fleming. Plus, Fraser wrote the screenplay for my favorite Bond movie: Octopussy.

Chester Himes: Cotton Comes to Harlem 

The finest novel in the Harlem Detective Series, starring Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. 'Nuff said.

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White 

I chose this over The Hound of the Baskervilles for two reasons. One, it's a novel of crime and intrigue with a powerful female protagonist, which we don't often see. Two, the villain is Count Fosco, the most charming supervillain in popular literature. (Well, aside from Milton's Satan.) He is an obese and suave Italian nobleman who wears only the finest silk suits and has pet mice that are constantly crawling all over his body, over and under his clothes. Creepy and wonderful.

What books inspire you?

The Next Great Generation is an online magazine for 18-30 year olds. Follow us @nextgreatgen and check us out at

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