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In Brief

What Books Shaped America?

26 June 2012

Cover art of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" (Library of Congress)

The Library of Congress's exhibition Books That Shaped America shines a light on the books that influenced the way Americans think about their country.

As much as the values of a country shape its books, its greatest books end up shaping the country.

Books That Shaped America is an exhibition at the Library of Congress highlighting works that made a difference to Americans.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (above), which portrayed the hardships of Oklahoma migrant workers during the Great Depression, inspired a movement in Congress to pass laws benefiting farm workers. Other books, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Richard Wright’s Native Son, advanced the conversation about racism at crucial junctures in the country’s history.

While the initial list for the exhibition was compiled by the library’s curators and experts, the public is encouraged to nominate books that will be added to the exhibition by way of an online survey.

“The list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world."

See the online survey on the Library of Congress’ website.