Lists of books that journalists or journalists-to-be should read aren’t hard to find. Inspired by one of the latest (A Reading List for Future Journalists at the Columbia Journalism Review), I asked second-year students what inspired and informed them. They came up with a great list and solid explanations.

Two things: There is a wide variety of interests, sources and inspiration, and my students — encouragingly — are a well-read bunch.

(Along the way, I discovered that while in high school they were assigned many of the same books I had to read 40+ years ago ‐ Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, etc.)

Here’s the list. I jotted down their explanations on the fly, so they’re telegraphic and short on nuance.

Learning to write

  • Writing With Power, by Peter Elbow — good advice about the writing process that makes sense
  • The Book of Your Voice, by Julie Elizabeth Leto — good writing advice on finding your voice
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark — easy to understand and some uncommon advice


  • What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell — explains complex stuff vividly
  • New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass — compilation of great long-form writing
  • Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936, by David Clay Large — deep, well-researched book on the 1936 Olympics
  • Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler — Not for inspiration, but because you need to read to understand. (This addition to the list provoked, as you can imagine, some great discussion.)
  • Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, by Mark Kriegel — great, deep biography, extensively sourced
  • Punk, compiled by Mojo — read for interest and understanding
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann — Great popular science writing
  • Songbook, by Nick Hornby — Showed me that I could be a journalist and write about music
  • The Damage Done: Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison, by Warren Fellows — short and powerful; profound storytelling
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson — inspiring, got me excited about journalism; showed me you can be different.


  • 1984, by George Orwell — for the storytelling and the writing
  • The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy — finding and telling good stories that haven’t been told
  • Brokeback Mountain, by Annie Proulx — writing for story and emotion
  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy — writing in different prose style, playing with structure and sustaining poetic flow
  • Obasan, by Joy Kogawa — fiction based on reality
  • The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova — writing about different places and customs
  • Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling — the creativity needed to create new worlds
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams — how to write humour
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov — precise, inventive use of language
  • A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey — a different structure that works
  • The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill — empathetic writing and writing in other voices
  • On the Road, by Jack Kerouac — a peek into the life of a writer of his time; inspirational
  • King Rat, by James Clavell — good storytelling about human nature
  • The Plague, by Albert Camus — a journalistic style that gives it the ring of truth; it reads like it could had been a true story.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde — shows the importance of phrases and sentences that stop you
  • Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts — great writing