In 1987, UT’s College of Liberal Arts released a document titled “The Texas List of Unrequired Reading,” a four-year reading plan of books in philosophy, science, literature, and history. The 48 books and 48 on an alternate reading list ranged from the Bible to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At the time, Dean Robert King said the college was immediately overwhelmed by the response. The Alcalde picked up the list and ran it in its March/April 1987 issue, and for 20 years, the Alcalde staff has been directing callers back to that issue. It is perhaps the most requested page ever published in the magazine.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of that great hit, because we’re overdue for another, and because a lot of great books have been written in the last two decades, we set out to create a new list. We considered going back to the College of Liberal Arts, or even to the Department of English, but quickly concluded both approaches would be too limiting. But neither did we have the means to open the survey to the entire 2,500-member faculty.
So we contacted all 90 members of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers — a body that was created in 1995 by President Robert Berdahl to honor the University’s top profs — and asked them to list their top five books of all time. We were intentionally vague about the criteria. We told them to imagine they were giving a friend five titles to read before they died, taking five books to a desert island, or any other cliché that worked for them. Twenty-one took up the challenge, and when it was all sorted out, we had our list of 89 books.