Category Archives: School in a Book

Basic Philosophy (The “School in a Book” Series)

Whether or not you’ve studied philosophy, you’re probably already a philosopher. You think about the meaning of life, absolute and relative moral precepts, political ideals and the indelible qualities of human nature. For this reason, the formal study of philosophy isn’t so much about defining or comparing philosophical ideas–something you’re already quite capable of doing–but about the thinkers of the past who famously argued different sides of these questions. Basically, philosophy is history.

Here, I do briefly introduce some of the major questions of philosophical debate, with the caveat that the list is not comprehensive. There is philosophy in everything—every subject. Every … thing. But these are the questions that have so far seemed most fundamental (such as the meaning of life), most practical (such as political ideas) and have been most famously discussed (such as the empiricism versus rationalism debate). Then I introduce you to many of the major philosophers of history and their most notable contributions, which will hopefully give your philosophical discussions and debates more texture, context and depth.

Terms and Ideas

Philosophy: The study of the meaning and nature of life, consciousness and more. Every subject can be philosophically analyzed to determine the subject’s inherent qualities, purpose and right functioning. For example, the study of medicine has benefited from people asking what the ultimate goal of doctors should be, and then arriving at the Hippocratic Oath (“first, do no harm …”) The word “philosophy” literally means “love of wisdom.”

Some major questions of philosophy: What is the meaning of life? What qualities are fundamental to human nature? How can we know what we know (empiricism versus rationalism)? What is truth? How do we arrive at morality and values? What political structures are most beneficial? How does language shape our beliefs? What is the best way to live? Do humans have free will? What is the nature of existence? What is beauty?

Sub-fields of academic philosophy: Metaphysics (the study of ultimate, nonphysical reality), epistemology (the study of knowledge), ethics, ontology (study of what exists, i.e. God), cosmology (study of the cosmos), aesthetics (the study of beauty), political philosophy, logic and more

Eastern philosophy: The philosophical tradition of China, Japan, India and other eastern countries. Important contributions include Daoism (The Tao Te Ching of approximately 600 BCE), Confucianism (The Analects of Confucius of approximately 500 BCE) and Buddhism (which arose in India around 500 BCE). Eastern philosophy is characterized by an interest in the unknowable, the unspeakable and patterns and cycles. See the “Religions” section of this series for more information on these philosophies.

“The dao that can be told is not the dao.” – Laozi, who taught about the Tao/Dao, also known as The Way, the indescribable ultimate truth which can partly be discovered by acting in harmony with nature and meditating
“Happy is he who has overcome his ego.” – Siddhartha Gautama, later the Buddha, who prescribed meditation, the middle way (life balance) and letting go of suffering through wanting nothing
“Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.” – Confucius, who emphasized virtuous living, loyalty and obedience to one’s leaders, sincerity and self-reflection
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes around in another form.” – Rumi, a Persian who taught about reincarnation and Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam

Western philosophy: The philosophical tradition of the West dating from approximately 500 BCE with the Greeks (Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), to the Romans (Cicero and Seneca), to medieval Christian philosophers (Aquinas and Augustine) and beyond. Western philosophy is marked by an interest in logic, absolute knowledge and the Christian faith.

History of Western Philosophy

The Greek Period (approximately 600-300 BCE): Thales influenced Pythagoras. Pythagoras influenced Socrates. Socrates taught Plato. Plato taught Aristotle.

Pythagoras combined math and philosophy. Socrates developed the Socratic Method in which he asked question after question in order to confound people who believed themselves to be wise, digging for deeper truths in everything. He was condemned to die due to his ideas. He drank hemlock.

Plato introduced the idea of the world of forms, an imagined place that holds the ideal of each type of real thing. (Example: A table has the essence–the form–of a table, even if it is old and broken. But the real table is a lesser version of the ideal table form.) He used the Allegory of the Cave to show how humans only see a mere shadow of what is ultimately real.

Plato disagreed with this idea. He was not a rationalist (a believer in the primacy of reason and ideas in discovering truth) but an empiricist (a believer in the primacy of evidence and material reality in discovering truth). Plato founded a famous school called the Academy in Athens. After him, Aristotle opened his school, the Lyceum, also in Athens.

Parmenides said that matter can’t die, and something can’t come from nothing, so everything that is real is eternal, unchanging, and containing some invisible unity. Protagoras argued for moral relativism.

“The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” – Socrates
“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” – Socrates
“Earthly knowledge is but shadow.” – Plato
“Truth resides in the world around us.” – Aristotle
“All is one.” – Parmenides
“Man is the measure of all things.” – Protagoras

The Roman Period (approximately 300 BCE to 350 CE): The stoics (stoicism), led by Zeno, taught indifference to pleasure and pain and acceptance of one’s lot in life. By contrast, the epicureans (epicureanism), led by Epicurus, believed that the goal of life is pleasure. The cynics (cynicism) taught that happiness is contentment with little, particularly little material comfort.

The Middle Ages (approximately 350 to 1300 CE): St. Augustine of Hippo wrote extensively about free will. He attempted to explain why both God and evil exist. Boethius wrote about God’s foresight but maintained Augustine’s philosophy of free will. St. Anselm attempted an ontological argument for the existence of God, saying that if you can conceive of the greatest thing that could ever exist, it must exit, because the greatest thing has to exist or it wouldn’t be the greatest. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively about the logical and scientific nature of Christianity.

The Renaissance Period (approximately 1300-1750): Here, philosophy becomes sharply more humanist. Erasmus introduced modern humanism, arguing that religion is folly. Niccolo Machiavelli argues that government can’t be bound by morality if it wants to succeed. Francis Bacon wrote about the value of the scientific method. Thomas Hobbes wrote that the nature of reality is purely physical, that there is no ultimate meaning to life. He introduced the idea of the social contract, saying that our agreements with each other are what enables a relatively peaceful society to exist.

Unlike Bacon and Hobbes, Rene Descartes was a rationalist. He believed that even the existence of physical matter cannot be proven and the only thing we can truly know exists is our own minds. Blaise Pascal was a practical thinker, arguing that it’s safer to bet on God’s existence than to bet against it (“Pascal’s Wager”). Benedictus Spinoza changed the argument, simply redefining God: everything is one, and everything is God.

John Locke returned us to empiricism, arguing that no truths are universal to all people and all cultures. He came up with the idea of the tabula rasa–the blank slate, which is a metaphor for the unknowing state in which each person is born before they are implanted with cultural ideas. George Berkeley foresaw quantum physics, saying that a thing only exists in so far as it perceives or is perceived, and that there is no material substance.

“To know nothing is the happiest life.” – Erasmus
“Happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is.” – Erasmus
“The ends justifies the means.” – Niccolo Machiavelli
“Knowledge is power.” – Francis Bacon
“Man is a machine.” – Thomas Hobbes
“And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” – Thomas Hobbes
“I think, therefore I am.” – Rene Descartes
“Imagination decides everything.” – Blaise Pascal
“God is the cause of all things, which are in him.” – Benedictus Spinoza
“No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.” – John Locke
“To be is to be perceived.” – George Berkeley

The Age of Revolution (approximately 1750-1900): Voltaire, a playwright, said that certainty is absurd. David Hume agreed, saying that custom is the source of knowledge.

Immanuel Kant sought to prove the existence of the physical world. He tried to marry empiricism and rationalism, saying that both reason and perceptions are needed for knowledge. Georg Hegel believed reality is constantly changing and suggested people use dialectic reasoning and avoid assumptions. Arthur Schopenhauer said that we are all limited in our knowledge due to our unique experiences of life.

On the political philosophy front, Jean-Jacques Rosseau argued that though man is fundamentally good, laws and government create injustice and oppression. Adam Smith, an economist, argued that the basis of society is trade. Edmund Burke said that governmental change should be slow and argued for a free market economy. Jeremy Bentham tried to calculate pleasure and proposed that laws are created by considering which give the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Mary Wollstonecraft founded feminism. John Stuart Mill agreed with Bentham, adding that people should be free to do with their own bodies as they wished, but not harm anyone else.

Soren Kierkegaard said that as much as we think we want freedom, we really don’t. He is the father of existentialism, the theory that there is no meaning inherent in existence, that existence precedes essence. Karl Marx said that class struggle is what causes all of the ills of society, arguing for communism, while Henry David Thoreau argued for individual liberty, non-conformism, and conscientious objection through non-cooperation and non-violent resistance. William James founded pragmatism, saying that people should just do the best they can in spite of uncertainty.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” – Voltaire
“Custom is the great guide of human life.” – David Hume
“Man was born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.” Jean-Jacques Rosseau
“Man is an animal that makes bargains.” – Adam Smith
“There are two worlds: our bodies and the external world.” – Immanuel Kant
“The greatest happiness for the greatest number.” – Jeremy Bentham
“Mind has no gender.” – Mary Wollstonecraft
“Reality is a historical process.” – Georg Hegel
“Over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” – John Stuart Mill
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” – Soren Kierkegaard
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” – Karl Marx
“Must the citizen ever resign his conscience to the legislator?” – Henry David Thoreau
“Act as if what you do makes a difference.” – William James

The Modern World (1900-1950) and the Postmodern World (1950 to the present): Friedrich Nietsche, an existentialist, wrote about the insufficiency of religion. Bertrand Russell insisted that people attach too much importance to work. Ludwig Wittgenstein described the limits of language and the limits placed on our thinking by language. Martin Heidegger wrote about finding meaning in a meaningless world and about living authentically. Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus agreed, saying that we must create our own life purpose. Simone de Beauvior wrote about the oppression of women, Noam Chomsky argued for adherence to codes of ethics and Jacques Derrida was a deconstructionist who believed that knowledge is limited by language and by our ability (or lack of ability) to interpret it. Life is a series of flawed interpretations.

“God is dead.” – Nietzsche
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Sartayana
“It is only suffering that makes us persons.” – Miguel de Unamuno
“The road to happiness lies in an organized diminution of work.” – Bertrand Russell
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein
“We are ourselves the entities to be analyzed.” – Martin Heidegger
“Existence precedes essence.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
“Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female.” – Simone de Beauvoir
“Life will be lived all the better if it has no meaning.” – Albert Camus
“There is nothing outside of the text.” – Jacques Derrida
“We are all mediators, translators.” – Jacques Derrida

Basic Literary Analysis (The “School in a Book” Series)

When it comes to analyzing a literary work, here is what you need to know: the basic historical context of the piece; the reason the piece is considered great or important; and what the piece is, ultimately, about (what’s the point?). After that, you’ll want to look at the literary devices in the work and understand how they add to its meaning, beauty and effectiveness. This sounds like a lot of work, but don’t be a martyr: for context, and to get through more difficult works, I highly recommend CliffsNotes and SparkNotes . . . and skimming.

Bonus points: Understand the difference between good and great literature (one is well-written and entertaining while the other is these, plus important and universal in some way) and don’t confuse a work’s true meaning with the meaning that the author intended (the authorial intent). Great literature, it is said, is a mystical creature with a life independent of its creator.

A few additional notes on poetry interpretation: Though any great literary work can abide line by line analysis, due to its shorter length, poetry is particularly amenable to it. At least once in your life, choose a poem you like and study its use of some of the literary devices below, its use of repetition, rhyme, rhythm and cadence and, most importantly, its diction (both the connotations and the denotations of each word). Think about how each of these elements furthers the meaning of the poem. You might be surprised how much there is to say about those few lovely stanzas.

Basic Literary Terminology Checklist

Most people should probably know most of these terms; it just makes for better conversation about books. Play with literary analysis by choosing one or two favorite works and identifying some or most of the following literary devices in them. This will help you appreciate their beauty in a way you haven’t before.

Subject: The objective main topic of a piece of writing (i.e. Tom Sawyer’s adventures on the Mississippi)

Theme: The subjective, philosophical idea that is being explored in the work (i.e. boyhood or independence)

Narrative: The work’s story line

Genre: The type or category of writing (i.e. mystery, science fiction, romance, etc.)

Motif: A recurring idea, symbol or set of symbols in the work (i.e. the Mississippi River)

Premise: The question or problem posed by the work

Diction: Word choice

Syntax: The ways words are organized in sentences and paragraphs

Style: The unique way something is written, including the work’s diction and tone

Tone: The unique way the audience receives the work (i.e. formal, conversational, etc.)

Voice: The unique way the author writes. A magazine can have many voices, but maintain a single tone throughout.

Mood: The overall feeling of the piece (i.e. dark, brooding, light, fanciful, etc.)

Pace: The speed and rhythm with which a story is told

Literary convention: A commonly used style, idea or technique in literature

Figurative language: Language that implies or represents an idea rather than directly stating it, often for mood, dramatic effect, or humor (i.e. hyperbole, understatement, analogy, personification, euphemism, simile, metaphor, etc.)

Image/imagery: A mental picture or representation of a person, place, or thing

Analogy: A comparison that goes into some detail

Simile: A short description that compares two different things using the words like or as

Metaphor: A word or phrase that stands in for the object it’s being compared to. (Metaphors don’t use the words like or as.)

Symbol: Something that appears in a piece of writing that stands for or suggests something else

Onomatopoeia: A word or words that imitate a sound
Personification: The attributing of human characteristics to something that is not human

Irony: What occurs when reality is exactly the opposite of one’s reasonable expectation. Example: “I was hired to write books but instead, I am burning them.”

Paradox: A statement that initially appears to be contradictory but then, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense

Foreshadowing: Hints of upcoming events in the story

Pun: A play on words that relies on a word’s having more than one meaning or sounding like another word

Cliché: An overused expression

Double entendre: A phrase that can be interpreted in two different ways

Euphemism: An innocuous-sounding phrase used in place of something disagreeable

Allusion: A reference that is not directly stated or explained (i.e. using “to be or not to be” without mentioning Hamlet)

Oxymoron: A phrase composed of two words with contradictory meanings

Synecdoche: Substituting a part for the whole (i.e. “boards” for “the stage”) or the whole for a part (i.e. “the Americans” for “the American team”).

Metonymy: Substituting a related concept for the whole (i.e. “the White House” for “the President”).

Alliteration: The repetition of initial sounds in closely-placed words

Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds in closely-placed words (anywhere in the words)

Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds in closely-placed words (anywhere in the words)

Connotation: A word’s unspoken implication

Denotation: The dictionary meaning of a word

Plot: The events of the story

Subplot: An additional plot interwoven with the main plot

Conflict: A struggle that affects the story line

Setting: The time, place, and conditions in which the action takes place; the work’s context

Point of view (POV): The view from which the story is told. It can be first person (the narrator speaks as himself), objective (the reader knows no more than the reader), limited omniscient (the narrator knows a bit extra about the characters, as when he/she tells the story through the eyes of the protagonist), or omniscient (the narrator knows everything about the characters and situations).

The five parts of dramatic structure: Exposition (inciting incident), rising action, climax, falling action (resolution), and dénouement

Rising action: The set of conflicts in a story that lead up to the climax

Climax: The peak moment of the action, occurring at or near the end of the work. It is the turning point for the protagonist.

Reversal: The point in the plot at which the action turns in an unexpected direction

Falling action: The action that occurs after the climax, moving it toward its resolution

Dénouement: The final resolution of the story

Characterization: Writing that brings a character to life and makes them unique

Protagonist: The story’s main character

Tragic hero/tragic figure: A protagonist whose story comes to an unhappy end due to his or her own behavior and character flaws

Antihero: A protagonist who isn’t all good and may even be bad

Antagonist: The story’s main bad guy

Round character: A character that is complex and realistic

Flat character: An uncomplicated character that doesn’t feel real to the reader

Foil: A character who provides a clear contrast to another character

Soliloquy: A monologue by a character in a play

Fiction: Imagined, untrue literature

Nonfiction: Factual literature

Biography: A nonfiction life story written by someone other than the subject

Autobiography: A nonfiction life story written by the subject

Memoir: A nonfiction story written by the subject about his or her own experiences, but not about his or her entire life

Anthology: A collection of short stories written by various authors, compiled in one book or journal.

Myth: A story that attempts to explain events in nature by referring to supernatural causes, like gods and deities. Usually passed on from generation to generation.

Fable: A story intended to depict a useful truth or moral lesson. Fables frequently involve animals that speak and act like human beings.

Tale: A story about imaginary or exaggerated events that the narrator pretends is true

Parable: A short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson

Parody: A humorous imitation of a popular work

Satire: A humorous work that makes fun of another work or anything else, revealing its weakness

Travesty: A work that treats a serious subject lightly or mockingly

Types of poems: Ode (dignified poem written to praise someone or something), lyric, free verse (rule-free poetry), limerick (lighthearted rhyming poem with a particular structure), haiku, sonnet, villanelle, sestina, acrostic, elegy, epigram, ballad (narrative folksong-like poem), epitaph (brief poem sometimes written on a gravestone paying tribute to a dead person or commemorating another loss), more.

Stanza: A group of lines in a poem that form a metrical or thematic unit, set off by a space.

Verse: Poetic lines composed in a measured rhythmical pattern, that are often, but not necessarily, rhymed.

Beat: One count pause in speech, action, or poetry.

Stress: The emphasis, or accent, given a syllable in word pronunciation or in poetry reading

Meter: A recurring rhythmic pattern of stresses and unstressed syllables in a poem

Rhythm: A term used to refer to the recurrence of stressed and unstressed sounds in poetry

Couplet: A group of two rhyming lines

Triplet: A group of three rhyming lines

Quatrain: A four-line stanza. Quatrains are the most common stanzaic form in the English language, having various meters and rhyme schemes.

Epic: A long narrative poem, told in a formal, elevated style that focuses on a serious subject and chronicles heroic deeds and events important to a culture or nation.

Lyric: A brief poem that expresses the personal emotions and thoughts of a single speaker, not necessarily of the poet.

Sonnet: A fixed form of lyric poetry that consists of fourteen lines, usually written in iambic pentameter, with a varied rhyme scheme.

Acrostic: A sentence where the first letter of each word of the sentence helps to remember the spelling of a word, or order of things

Villanelle: A type of fixed form poetry consisting of nineteen lines of any length divided into six stanzas.

Basic Geology and Ecology (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

As humans, we experience the effects of chemistry, biology and physics every day, but not always knowingly. For this reason, geology and ecology are to me the most visual–even the most sensual–of the hard sciences, the ones that allows us to better understand our immediate environment.

Geology isn’t theory and microscopes; it’s what we see around us every day.

Sometimes, it’s hard to mentally separate geology and ecology. Here’s the short version: geology is the study of all the stuff on the earth, and ecology is the study of the way living things interact with it.

Basic Geology

Layers of the earth: Outer crust, mantle (viscous), outer core (liquid metal), inner core (solid metal)

Earth’s crust: The surface of the earth that is made of various rocks and minerals with soil on top. The five main elements found in the Earth’s crust are oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium.

Rock: Collections of minerals formed together into a stone. A compound.

Mineral: A single material of uniform color, texture, luster and structure. Usually made up of two or more elements.

Crystal: A piece of mineral that has a characteristic shape (box or cube). Ex: table salt. Each grain of salt is cube-shaped. Each molecule, too.

Dirt: They are made up of broken down minerals and organic substances through weathering.

Soil: Dirt that is fit to grow plants in

Ore: Any natural, earth material that is mined and processed to obtain a desired metal. Ex: iron ore is rock containing iron.

Metal: The chemical particles, often found in minerals, that are pure metallic elements such as iron, copper, gold and aluminum. They share these properties: 1. shiny; 2. conduct heat and electricity; 3. solid at room temp (except mercury); 4. some are magnetic (iron and nickel).

Alloy: A mixture of two or more metals

Steel: An alloy of iron, carbon and traces of other metals

Sediment: The dirt and sand that is carried away with water and wind and add layers to other places. The layers separate according to the size and density of the materials and eventually harden into rock under the sea and elsewhere.

Fossil: The structure that results when organisms are buried under layers of sediment and pressed on, then cemented into the soil

Clay: A kind of dirt with the smallest particles. Makes a very uniform, soft sdimentary rock, like shale … unlike sandstone. Clay soil holds water well.

The three types of rocks: Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic

Sedimentary rock: Rock formed when other rocks break down into sediment, then gradually reform other rocks due to pressure and layering. The Grand canyon is an example of sedimentary rocks. Its layers are visible. It was once under the ocean.

Igneous rock: Rock formed from magma erupting from a volcano. It forms in an irregular, crystalline pattern combining two or more distinct materials, with less mixing. Come from cooling magma, so form quickly and doesn’t contain fossils.

Metamorphic rock: Igneous, sedimentary or other metamorphic rock that changes due to heat

Geological time: A division of the history of the earth into periods based on the types of fossils found in the layers of the earth’s crust

Radiometric/carbon dating: A way to determine the age of a rock by the amount of carbon it contains

Corrosion: The damaging chemical reaction that occurs when metal is in contact with oxygen. The damage happens because oxide forms on the metal.

Weathering/erosion: The process of the breakdown of minerals, rocks and organic materials through freezing, thawing, melting, abrasion, wind, acids, etc.

Water: A chemical compound that is the most common liquid on earth. It is a solvent that is formed when hydrogen burns in air (oxygen).

The water cycle: The process by which water is continuously recycled between the earth, the atmosphere and living things through heat and evaporation and clouds and rain

Dissolve: To mix something into a liquid

Solution: The result of dissolving something in a liquid

Soluble: Able to dissolve in liquid

Insoluble: Unable to dissolve in liquid

Tides: The rise and fall of sea levels caused by the gravity of the moon and the rotation of the earth

Ocean currents: The movement of the water of the world’s oceans due to wind, the rotation of the earth and more

Groundwater: Water under the Earth’s surface. Most groundwater is found in porous rocks.

The water table: The depth at which groundwater is found, which is affected by rainfall or lack thereof

Spring: A place where groundwater emerges from a hillside

Air: The gas that we breathe. Air is oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. It helps people breathe oxygen, which they need in their blood. It helps plants make food. It protects people from sun’s UV rays. Nitrogen: 78%, Oxygen – 21%, Other – 1%. Molecules/particles in air are constantly moving and there’s lots of empty space between them. Like water always flows downhill, air always flows toward lower pressure. To separate out the gases in air, just cool and compress it. Each gas liquifies at a different temperature.

Earth’s atmosphere: All of the air that surrounds the Earth. It is held near the earth due to gravity. There is no distinct starting point, but instead a gradual decline; the further up into the atmosphere you get, the less air is held down. Also, the higher air is thinner, with less oxygen, and unbreathable. (Side note: the moon’s gravitational pull isn’t strong enough to hold air down, so there is no air on the moon.)

Air compression: What happens when air particles are pushed closer together (as in a small space). Compressed air is more highly pressurized.

Air pressure: The condition created when air is pushed. When you push more air into a small space, air particles move closer together but try to escape by pushing on the inside walls (of the tire or balloon or whatever). The place on the body we notice air pressure changes is the ear since the eardrum must have equal air pressure on both sides, but air has to go through a bottleneck, and can move unevenly, resulting in popping.

Vacuum: When we suck or otherwise remove air from a container, we create a vacuum. By removing air, air pressure decreases. And since air always flows toward lower pressure, sucking occurs and air and materials from the outside get pulled in. (It’s not the motion of pulling out the air that causes sucking. It’s the higher pressure on the outside wanting to get in!) Outer space has no air, so it is a vaccum. If you went to space without a spacesuit you’d explode because all the air in your body would push outward toward the vaccum at once. Spacesuits provide air pressure.

The magnetic field of the earth: The field of magnetism in the earth with poles near the North Pole and the South Pole that are tilted at a slight angle. The field may be caused by moving metal in the Earth’s outer core. From time to time, these reverse, with north becoming south.

Magnetosphere: The area that stretches into space in which the Earth’s magnetic field can be felt.

Basic Ecology

Ecology: The study of the way living things interact with their environments

Ecosystem: A group of plants and animals that interact with each other and their surroundings

Biome: A unique climate and soil type

The eleven biomes of Earth: Tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, mountains, coniferous forests, scrub lands, temperate grasslands/prairies, tundra, tropical grasslands, deserts, polar areas, oceans

Habitat: The natural environment in which a species lives

Biodiversity: The huge variety of living things in a particular area. Biodiversity is lost with selective breeding.

Pollution: The unneeded junk (particularly the human-made chemical particles) that gets into the air and water. Water pollution happens both due to poisons in water killing life and to the oxygen in the water being used up by the bacteria (or even plant) overgrowth as they feed on waste materials. When there is inadequate oxygen for fish and animals, the water becomes lifeless.

The Ozone Layer: The layer of ozone (O3) that exists in the upper atomosphere of earth. It is poisonous to humans but protects us from UV rays.

The Greenhouse Effect: The result of an overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps heat and causes a greenhouse-like effect on earth which then results in major climate change

Global warming: The result of the Greenhouse Effect

Sewage treatment: The process by which a city’s waste water is filtered for large particles, then left in tanks where the organic solids sink to the bottom and are broken down by bacteria

Carbon cycle: The process by which carbon cycles in an through plants, animals, minerals and the atmosphere. This happens mostly due to the respiration of carbon dioxide by animals, the incorporation of carbon dioxide by plants during photosynthesis, decomposition and the burning of fossil fuels.

Nitrogen cycle: When the nitrogen cycle is not in balance, global warming and ozone depletion can occur.

Intensive farming: Farming with use of chemicals, machinery, etc.

Fossil fuels: Coal, oil, and gas, which are called fossil fuels because they were formed from the remains of animals and plants that were buried by layers of sediment millions of years ago. They are non-renewable.

Biodegradable: A substance that can be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms

Sea level change: The change in sea levels caused by temperature changes. During ice ages, sea levels are low due to the great amount of frozen water. Today, sea levels have risen due to global warming.

Basic Writing (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

In some people, the word writer inspires a feeling of pride or admiration. In others, it inspires dread. If you’re in the latter category, consider making writing improvement your top educational priority. If you aren’t, practice a lot anyway. It’s probably the most useful skill you’ll learn in school.

Basic Writing Skills

How to write a paragraph: Write the main idea. Follow this with several supporting sentences. After mastering this basic formula, experiment with placing the main idea elsewhere in the paragraph. Switch to a new paragraph when the main point you’re making changes.

How to write an essay: The first paragraph is the most important. Begin with either the main idea or a hook—a lead-in that offers relevant information. The hook may be several sentences long, but most of the time, the main idea following it will be one sentence, especially for short essays. The statement of the main idea is called the thesis. Some theses are called “five-prong” or “three-prong” because they follow the main idea with exactly three or five supporting points, each of which correlates with a single body paragraph in the essay. After writing the first paragraph, write the body paragraphs, then a concluding paragraph. For simple essays, body paragraphs each make a single supporting point. For more complex essays, which might be broken out into sections, several paragraphs may be used to make one supporting point.

How to take notes on a text: First, find the main idea of the entire section of writing. Practice this skill alone until you are good at it. (This comes in handy in both personal and philosophical arguments, in which the main point of the speaker often gets lost.) After that, identify the main supporting ideas in the section—the points that give rise to the main idea. Finally, make note of any particularly insightful or important side point. Record your notes in the simplest form possible, without unnecessary blank spaces on the page. Use bullets.

How to write an outline: Place your thesis statement at the beginning. Then list the major points that support your thesis using Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.). Under each of these, list all of the supporting ideas or arguments using capital letters (A, B, C, etc.). If needed, under these, list subordinate ideas using numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.), then small letters (a, b, c, etc.).

How to write a short story: First, create a compelling dilemma involving interesting characters. Think of the story as a movie without a narrator, and write each scene like a movie scene without any background explanation. Start the story at a particularly interesting place in media res (in the middle of action). Make sure that every character undergoes inner change, and the protagonist is quite changed by the end. Make sure that in each and every scene there is an immediate conflict in addition to the story’s larger conflict, and make sure that every scene moves the story forward. Use the standard plot graph, with a slow introduction, then rising action (when lots of complications are thrown in), then a climax (when everything bad happens all at once), then a quick resolution.

How to write a poem: Read several poems of several types, including free verse, odes, haikus, rhyming poems with regular stanza lengths, nonrhyming poems with regular stanza lengths and more. Find a feeling within yourself and choose a subject that in the moment of writing causes that same strong feeling in you. Write a straight description of that subject/metaphor that includes words that convey your reaction to it, without ever describing your thoughts or feelings directly. As you edit it, get rid of any extra words and any words that sound in any way corny (flower, sunshine, beauty, etc.).

Basic Writing Terminology

Synonyms: Words with the same or approximately the same meaning

Antonyms: Words with opposite meanings

Homographs: Words which are spelled alike but have different meanings and/or pronunciations

Homonyms: Words that are spelled and pronounced alike but have different meanings

Palindrome: A word or phrase that means the same when read in either direction (i.e. “eve”)

Acronym: An abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word

Exposition: Explanatory writing

Didactic writing: Instructional writing

Freewriting: Writing continuously without much thought in order to discover hidden ideas or feelings

Jargon: Terms only familiar to those in the know

Editorial: A short article expressing an opinion or point of view. Often, but not always, written by a member of the publication staff.

Bibliography: The list of books, magazines, journals, people, websites, or any other resources that you consulted in the process of writing a book, article, or paper.

Boilerplate: A piece of writing that gets reused frequently, sometimes with minor changes

Canon: Works generally considered by scholars to be the most important of a genre

Byline: The author’s name appearing with his/her published work

High concept: A storyline with a clear conflict and that can be described in one sentence

Hook: A starting sentence or idea that grabs the reader’s attention

Pseudonym: A “pen name” 

Public domain work: Any written material not under copyright

Query: A short letter pitching an article or a book idea to an editor or agent

Rough draft: The first organized version of a document or other work

Serial: A series of related works or a regularly published work, as a newsletter or magazine

Side bar: Extra information put alongside, but not in, the main article

Slant: The bias or angle a writer used in an article

Solicited/unsolicited manuscript: A manuscript that an agent or editor has or has not asked to see

Synopsis: Brief summary of a story, manuscript, or book

Basic Writing Rules

The goal of writing is to be understood, and preferably, to be understood easily. This happens when language is clear, concise, well-organized and direct. The following rules for good writing can and should be selectively broken in creative writing, but in most nonfiction writing and in most practical writing (letters, emails, instructions, etc.) they stand.

Most, but not all, of the following rules come from The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.

Be direct. Use the active voice. Use the positive form of the statement, avoiding “do not” or double negatives when possible. Use definite, specific, concrete language.

Be concise. Omit needless words. Do not overwrite. Do not overstate. Don’t use a lot of adjectives and adverbs. Don’t over-explain.

Be clear. Place the words you want to emphasize at the end of the sentence. Avoid awkward phrases. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking. Keep related words together. Pay attention to transitions. Don’t confuse the reader by jumping from one step to the next or one idea to the next without showing (subtly) how they relate.

Be readable. Avoid a succession of loose sentences. Avoid a succession of short sentences. Express coordinate ideas in similar form. For example, when using bullet points, all of the points should be in the same form (sentence or fragment), same tense, and as parallel in structure as possible. Pay attention to rhythm. Intersperse long and short sentences. Read the piece out loud or have someone else read it out loud to you to see if it flows well.

Be organized. Write an outline first, and use it.

Be humble. Don’t refer to yourself. Write in a way that comes naturally. Don’t used forced-sounding figurative or formal language. Do not affect a breezy manner. Use orthodox spelling. Avoid fancy words. Don’t use dialect unless your ear is good. Don’t inject opinion. Avoid foreign language words. Use figures of speech sparingly. Prefer the standard to the offbeat. For dialogue, use either “said” or “asked” or leave the quote bare. Don’t use “stated,” “exclaimed,” etc.

Practice. Revise and rewrite. Wait a year, then revise again. To become a faster, clearer, more organized writer, practice outlining nonfiction texts (summarizing the main idea and supporting points in a few pages). Also, master the art of writing short, true, straightforward stories worthy of a top-notch news reporter.

Basic Grammar and Punctuation (The “School in a Book” Series)

Some of the rules of grammar and punctuation don’t need to be taught; instead, they’re inbued, like social skills. However, as with social skills, a little direct coaching goes a very long way. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how much more educated you’ll seem when you don’t make embarrassing writing mistakes.

Basic Punctuation

The fourteen punctuation marks: Period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, semicolon, colon, apostrophe, dash/hyphen, en dash, em dash, brackets, braces, parentheses and ellipsis

Comma: Used to separate ideas within a sentence. Sometimes there’s no clear right or wrong way to use a comma. The serial comma is the comma sometimes used right before the “and” in a list, and most writers don’t use it anymore. Do use commas to set off parenthetic expressions and before other independent clauses.

Semicolon: Used to connect separate sentences, the second of which includes a restatement of the first. It is also used to separate words and phrases in long lists that already have commas in them. Example: I was sad; she hurt me on purpose. Example: I own: three black and yellow hats; one long, dark skirt; and one pair of shoes.

Colon: Used to introduce a quotation, explanation, example, or series. It is also used between sentences instead of a period to show that the second explains or adds directly to the first. Finally, colons can be used for emphasis. Example: I have four pairs of boots: one for rain, one for snow and two for fashion. Example: My sister is beautiful: she has dark hair and a great smile. Example: Yes, I have a best friend: my sister.

Dash/hyphen: Used to connect compound phrases. Example: Cold-water fish

En dash: Used to connect dates and more. It is largely a stylistic choice when to use it.

Em dash: Twice as long as an en dash and used in place of commas, colons, or parenthesis.

Brackets, braces and parentheses: Used to contain additional information that isn’t otherwise grammatically connected to the sentence. Example: My dog (who I love) is sweet as heck. Parenthesis are most common. Brackets are used for technical purposes or to clarify a quote. Example: He [Mr. Smith] is my friend. Braces ({}) are used to contain two or more lines of text or listed items to show that they are considered as a unit. Used mostly in mathematics and computer programming. Example: 2{1+[23-3]}=x.

Apostrophe: Used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters from a word, the possessive case, or the plurals of lowercase letters. Examples: I’ve; Sara’s.

Quotation marks: Used around quotations. Single quotation marks are used for quotes within quotes.

Ellipsis: Used to indicate that something is missing, the idea or list continues in the same way, or there was a pause in speech. They’re also used to end a quote if the actual quote did not end at the chosen ending.

Basic Grammar

The eight parts of speech: Noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection

Noun: A person, place or thing. Proper nouns are capitalized and are the given name of someone or something in particular. Common (generic) nouns are not capitalized.

Pronoun: A small word used in place of a noun: she, he, they, we, them, it, I, you, etc. You may use they, them and their as the indefinite singular pronoun, but try to avoid this pronoun entirely.

Verb: An action word

Adjective: A word that describes a noun, like “pretty” or “smart”

Adverb: A word that describes a verb, like “slowly” or “carefully”

Article: The words a, an, and the. (These are also considered adjectives.)

Preposition: A word placed before a noun to form a phrase that, taken as a whole, modifies another word in the sentence. (This phrase is called the “prepositional phrase.”) The most common are in, with, by, for, at, in, on, out, to, under, within and without. Example: “With my dog as company, I can do anything.” Contrary to popular understanding, it’s okay to end a sentence in a preposition; however, choose the wording that is the most clear. “The building in which I live” and “The building I live in” are both correct, but “The building I live in is brown” is hard to read.

Conjunction: A word that joins words, phrases or clauses but are not part of a clause or prepositional phrase. The most common are and, but, therefore, however, so, for, or, nor, yet, since, while, and because. Coordinating conjunctions connect grammatically equal elements, while subordinating conjunctions connect clauses that are not equal (because, although, while, since, etc.). There are other types of conjunctions as well.Interjection: A word used to express emotion: oh, wow, ah, etc.

Sentence: A unit of writing consisting of a single main subject (someone or something that is doing something) and a single main action. (Caveat: If two complete sentences convey the same idea, a semicolon can be used to separate them and make up a single sentence.) Sentences may also include adverbs, adjectives, small words and clauses. The number of the subject of the sentence (whether it’s singular or plural) determines the number of the verb in the sentence. A clause should be placed directly after the noun or verb to which it refers. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Run-on sentence: Two or more sentences joined as one, without a period separating them

Loose sentence: A sentence that connects two different ideas with a conjunction like “and.” These give the paragraph some breathability and flow, but too many in a row are tiresome.

Sentence fragment: A sentence that is missing the subject, the verb, or both. “Aha!” is a sentence fragment, as is “Good question.”

Topic sentence: The sentence at the beginning of a paragraph that includes the main idea of the paragraph

Verb tense: The form of the verb that denotes the time of the action. It’s important to hold to one tense throughout a piece of writing.

The six verb tenses: Past, present, future, past perfect (“has eaten”), present perfect (“has been dancing”, and future perfect (“will have danced”).

Clause: A phrase that as a whole, modifies a verb or noun. Example: Running to meet her, I slipped.

Independent clause: A modifying sentence that, if desired, could stand alone

Helping verb: A verb that helps the main verb express the action. There are 23 or 24 in all: be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being, have, has, had, could, should, must, may, might, must, can, will, would, do, did, does, and (sometimes) having.

Suffix: A word ending that changes the word’s tense or meaning

Prefix: A word beginning that changes the word’s meaning

Basic Astronomy (The “School in a Book” Series)

Everyone loves space. Why? I don’t know. It just sort of blows our minds, I guess. The following will give you many of the main astronomical terms and ideas, but do also read The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene and Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. There’s also a great memoir by Scott Kelly of living on the ISS for a year called Endurance, as well as many excellent space documentaries.

Basic Astronomy

Space: The area outside the earth’s atmosphere, without air. Behind planets, space is far below freezing. Facing the sun, it is hotter than boiling water.

Universe: All of the billions of galaxies in existence. The Universe is slowly expanding, but it’s held together by gravity. It is mostly empty space, with material like stars at distances away from each other that are comparable to the distance of particles in an atom. This is why there aren’t more collisions, despite the many and varied paths taken by celestial bodies.

Gravity: The force everywhere in the Universe that pulls every object towards every other object simultaneously. The greater the mass an object has, the greater gravitational force it exerts. Gravity is sometimes called the “weak force,” as opposed to stronger forces that hold particles together.

Star: Ball of very hot gas in space. Stars can be white, red, yellow or blue.

Sun: The only star in Earth’s solar system. It is medium-sized: one million times the size of Earth and ten times the size of Jupiter. On its surface, the sun is 5,500 degrees.

Planet: Spinning ball of rock or gas that travels around a star (or a black hole) in an orbit. We can only see a few planets outside our solar system.

Moon: Mini planet that revolves around a regular planet instead of revolving around a star. The earth’s moon is dry and dusty with many craters. It takes 27 days for the moon to spin once, and 27 days for it to orbit once around the earth, which is why it doesn’t seem to be spinning. It is always facing away from us, so we’ve never seen the other side. People have gone to the moon several times. It takes about three days to reach the moon and each crew spent about three days there.

Phases of the moon: New moon (no light); waxing crescent moon (getting more visible and in a crescent shape); first quarter moon (half moon); waxing gibbous (getting more visible and in a lopsided circle shape); full moon; waning gibbous (getting less visible); last quarter moon (half moon); waning crescent; new moon. This cycle takes 29.5 days.

Solar system: A group of planets revolving around a single star or a group of stars, or just a small group of stars revolving around each other.

Sol: The name of our solar system. It orbits the center of the Milky Way.

Galaxy: A group of solar systems. Many galaxies have millions of stars. Sometimes galaxies cross paths and collide. It’s likely that most or all galaxies have a black hole at their center. Many galaxies orbit other galaxies, but not all. It is difficult to determine what galaxies like our orbit, if anything, due to the slowness of their movement and limitations of technology.

Milky Way: The name of the galaxy our solar system is in. It is about 100,000 light years across. It has eight planets, many of which have moons, and an asteroid belt. The Milky Way doesn’t orbit anything, but other galaxies orbit it and Andromeda, the closest neighbor galaxy.

Galaxy cluster: A group of galaxies

The Local Cluster: The galaxy cluster our galaxy is in

Supercluster: A group of galaxy clusters

Virgo Supercluster: The supercluster our galaxy is in

Orbit: Circular path taken by a planet or moon. As gravity pulls them toward their star or planet, their own momentum pulls them away and the dual forces keep them in balance.

One day: 24 Earth hours, which is one spin on Earth’s axis. The part of the earth facing the sun has light, and the other doesn’t. It takes 365 days to orbit around the sun once.

The Big Bang: The explosion that might have occurred that resulted in the stars and planets. Happened 15 billion years ago. All of the energy and matter currently in existence was created in one place, then suddenly exploded and became randomly distributed in space. Then, as it all cooled, due to gravity, larger bits attracted smaller bits and grew into stars and planets.

Comet: Ball of dirty ice floating around space. When close enough to the sun, the ice melts partway and the solar wind blows a trail of gas and dust behind it, making a tail.

Asteroid: Big lump of rock or metal in space

Meteoroid: Dust or small space rocks (house-sized to coffee-ground sized) in orbit around the sun.

Meteor/shooting star: A meteoroid that burns up in a planet’s atmosphere

Meteorite: A meteoroid that hits the surface of a planet

Rocket: An engine that burns fuel to achieve thrust and lift a spacecraft

Astronaut: Someone who goes to space to work. (Russian astronauts are called cosmonauts.) Astronauts learn to fly and land the space shuttle, fix parts of the space station or satellites, do scientific experiments and more. Some of their training is done underwater to simulate space conditions.

Space shuttle: A rocket that brings astronauts and supplies to the ISS and other satellites, then returns to Earth as an airplane. Booster rockets and fuel tanks fall off after they’re used. The crew compartment is at the top and it holds the flight deck and other areas for working and sleeping.

Hubble Space Telescope: Big telescope with a camera that orbits the earth and takes clear photos of deep space from outside our atmosphere. Uses solar panels to power it.

Flight simulator: A replica of the inside of a rocket or airplane that allows astronauts to practice.

Space walk: Going in space, outside the station or shuttle, to check or repair equipment. A strong spacesuit regulates temperature and carries air.

International Space Station (ISS): A series of connected compartments and solar panels where astronauts live and work. It is located 230 miles above Earth. On the station, all water (including pee) is recycled. Many scientific experiments are done.

Satellite: Anything in space that orbits a planet or the sun other than planets and moons. These include man-made satellites that investigate space, carry radio signals around Earth.

Space probe: Man-made robots that explore other planets and moons. Some even leave our solar system and carry information about Earth, looking for other life forms.
*Future space missions will include more space tourism–maybe even a space hotel–space bases on Mars, maybe even a space elevator.

Our eight planets, in order from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Gas giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Rest are rock. Jupiter is largest, Mercury is smallest. Juiter has the Great Red Spot, a permanent gas storm. Saturn is very light, light enough to float in water.

Light year: The distance light travels in one year. It is used as a measurement of distances in space.

Solar mass: The mass of our sun. It is used as a standard unit of measurement of space bodies.

Andromeda: The nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way

Star cluster: Groups of stars that form together

Nebula: Big cloud of gas and dust that stars are formed in

Supernova: A very large star that has reached the end of its life (and its supply of gas) and is exploding

Red Giant: A smaller or medium-sized star that is near the end of its life and has swelled up and turned red

White dwarf: A star that results from the Red Giant’s exterior gas burning off. After a time, it cools and fades away.

Black hole: An invisible, very dense ball of matter and energy with gravity so strong even light can’t escape it. Some are the remains of very large stars that, instead of dying, collapsed. Some black holes are only a few miles across, while others are several million miles across. Black holes continuously draw in more matter and expand due to their huge gravitational force.

Event horizon: The boundary of the region of a black hole from which no escape is possible

Pulsar: A collapsing star that instead of becoming a black hole keeps spinning faster and faster and getting denser as it collapses. It gives off waves (pulses) of electrons.

Solar wind: The stream of charged particles in the form of plasma that make the air glow at Earth’s magnetic poles, creating the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights).

Basic Human Body and Medical Science (The “School in a Book” Series)

We love our bodies, don’t we? It’s just so nice to understand what’s going on inside of all of this skin.

Basic Human Body and Medicine Science

The eleven systems of the human body: Skeletal system, respiratory system, muscular system, nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system, circulatory system, endocrine system, lymphatic/immune system, integumentary system, urinary system

Skeletal system: The framework of bones and cartilage that supports the body and provides hard surfaces for the muscles to contract on

The four types of bones: Flat (example: ribs), long (example: legs), irregular (example: spine), short (example: fingers)

Important bones to remember: Cranium (skull), mandible (jawbone), scapula (shoulder blades), clavicle (collar bone), sternum (breastbone), humerus (upper arm), rib, vertebral column (spine, made of vertebrae), radius (lower arm on top), ulna (lower arm underneath), carpals (wrist bones), metacarpals (finger bones), pelvis (hip bones, including the pelvis), coccyx (butt bone), femur (high leg bone), patella (kneecap), tibia (top shinbone), fibula (bone under fibia) metatarsals (foot bones), tarsals (ankle bones), phelanges (finger and toe/digit bones)

Joint: The places where bones meet. Most joints are movable.

Bone marrow: The store of fat inside the bone cavity

Cartilage: The alternative to bone that’s more flexible. Most baby bones are actually cartilage and slowly turn into bone later.

Muscular system: The system that enables the body to move using muscles

Muscles: Stretchy tissues all over the body that allow for movement. Some pairs work together with one contracting as the other relaxes. They can only contract and relax, not push.

Contracting/flexing: Getting shorter and harder and bulging

Relaxing: Getting longer and softer

Types of muscles: Muscles are either voluntary (quads) or involuntary (heart). They are also either skeletal, cardiac or visceral (intestines).

Nervous system: The system that collects and processes information from the senses via nerves and the brain and tells the muscles to contract to cause physical actions. It is made up of the sensory organs, the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves. The nervous system coordinates both voluntary and involuntary body movements.

Peripheral nervous system: The whole network of nerves throughout the body

Neurons: Nerve cells. They include sensory, association and motor nerves cells.

Nerves: Cords that contain bundles of nerve fibers. Can be sensory, motor and mixed (both).

Spinal cord: The thick bundle of nerves that joins the brain to the rest of the body. It is located inside a tunnel in the backbone.

Nerve impulse: An action of a neuron

Neurotransmitter: Chemical that enables neurotransmission. Sometimes called a chemical messenger.

Reflex action/reflex: An involuntary and nearly instantaneous movement in response to a stimulus

Brain: Organ under the skull that is made up of millions of neurons and cerebrospinal fluid. It has a cerebrum (for physical activities and thinking), cerebellum (for muscle movement and balance), diencephalon (with thalamus, which sorts and directs incoming impulses) and hypothalamus (which controls hunger, thirst, body temperature, release of hormones from pituitary gland).

Brain stem: Controls automatic functions like heartbeat and breathing. It contains two hemispheres: right and left. There are electrical impulses going on between nerve cells in brain all the time. Brain waves (patterns of impulses) can be measured.

REM sleep: Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep, REMS) is a unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds, distinguishable by random/rapid movement of the eyes, accompanied with low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly.

Sensory organs: Organs that send nerve impulses (signals) to the brain along nerves

Motor nerves: Nerves that receive signals from the brain to the muscles to move

How eyes work: Light enters the pupil through the clear cornea and lens. These bend the light rays so they form an image on the retina and back of eye. (Turns image upside down.) Rods and cones convert the image to nerve impulses which take the optic nerve to the brain. The brain interprets and turns the image right side up.

Stereoscopic vision: Perception of depth and 3-dimensional structure obtained on the basis of visual information deriving from two eyes

Ear: The hearing organ. It contains an outer, middle and inner part.

How ears work: The ear flap funnels sound waves to the ear canal, then to the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates. These vibrations pass through bones and holes to the cochlea, then to fluid chambers. Tiny nerve cells in the fluid convert vibrations into nerve impulses, which go along the auditory nerve to the brain. Ears also help keep you balanced through the vestibular system. This works by sensing movement of fluid in ducts and sending that info to the brain. Since you have two ears you can tell which direction sound is coming from.

Chemoreceptors: Small organs in the nose and tongue that detect smells and tastes, which are chemicals, and send this information to the brain.

Nasal cavity: The large air filled space above and behind the nose in the middle of the face

Digestive system: The system responsible for the mechanical and chemical processes that provide nutrients via the mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines and eliminates waste from the body.

Liver: The organ that allows us to go between meals without eating by storing food energy. It is the largest organ by mass. Extra energy beyond the liver capacity is stored as fat. The liver also processes waste materials we encounter in our environment.

Nutrients: The vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are used to make body parts, either by facilitating a chemical reaction or by being used as actual material (like calcium an amino acids from protein breakdown), and the carbs and fats that are burned for fuel.

Circulatory system: The system that circulates blood around the body via the heart, arteries and veins, delivering oxygen and nutrients to organs and cells and carrying their waste products away. It also equalizes the temperature in the body. It includes blood, blood vessels and the heart.

Parts of the heart: Four chambers (two atria and two ventricles), valves to keep blood moving the right direction through the heart (each time one snaps shut there’s a heartbeat), veins and arteries that carry blood from heart to lungs, upper body and lower body and others for the opposite direction.

Arteries: Move blood away from the heart

Integumentary system: Skin, hair, nails, sweat and other exocrine glands

Skin: The soft outer tissue covering of vertebrates. It contains the epidermis, the dermis and subcutaneous tissues (fat cells).

Melanin: Natural pigments found in most organisms

Pores: Tube-shaped sweat glands

Keratin: What skin and nails are made of

Hair follicle: The opening at the base of a hair. Its shape determines whether the hair is curly, wavy or straight.

Respiratory system: The lungs and the passages that lead to them and allow for breathing of oxygen and breathing out of CO2.

Windpipe/trachea: A tube that connects the pharynx and larynx to the lungs, allowing the passage of air

Primary bronchus: The tubes between the trachea and each lung. After passing through the bronchus, air goes into the lungs. Then oxygen goes into secondary and tertiary bronchi, bronchioles, air sacs and capillaries and from there is distributed throughout the body.

Lung: A large air sack containing many tubes

Diaphragm: A flat sheet of muscle lying under the lungs. When you breathe in, your ribs move up and out and the diaphragm flattens. When you breathe out, your ribs move down and in and the diaphragm rises.

Voice box/larynx: Top part of the trachea

Vocal cords: Two bands of muscle that open to let air past when you breathe. When you speak muscles pull the cords together and air makes them vibrate. Shorter, faster cords, as in females, make higher pitched sounds.

Internal respiration: The movement of oxygen from the outside environment to the cells within tissues, and the transport of carbon dioxide in the opposite direction.

Metabolism: The set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in organisms

Aerobic respiration: Internal respiration that uses oxygen

Anaerobic respiration: Doesn’t use oxygen

Enzymes: Macromolecular biological catalysts. Enzymes accelerate chemical reactions.

Thermogenesis: The process of heat production in organisms

ATP: Adenosine triphosphate, an organic chemical that provides energy to drive many processes in living cells, e.g. muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, and chemical synthesis.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR): The rate of energy expenditure per unit time by an animal at rest

Calorie/kilocalorie: A unit of energy. A calorie is the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at a pressure of one atmosphere, and the kilocalorie is the heat energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram (rather than a gram) of water by one degree Celsius.

Lactic acid: An important body acid

Endocrine system: The system that provides chemical communications within the body using hormones

Endocrine glands: Groups of cells that make hormones.

Hormones: Any member of a class of signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behaviour. The body makes over 20 types of hormones.

Main glands, hormones and functions:

Pituitary gland: Makes growth hormone, prolactine, which control other endocrine glands, growth, mother’s milk production

Parathyroids gland: Makes parathormone which controls calcium levels in blood and bones.

Adrenals: Make adrenalin and aldosterone which control blood glucose level, heart rate, body’s salt level

The thyroid gland: Makes thyroxin which controls metabolism

The pancreas: Makes insulin and glucagon which control the use of glucose by the body

Urinary/renal system: The system that controls the amount of water in your body and filters blood. It includes two kidneys, a balloon-like sac called the bladder and the tubes connected to them.

Urethra: The tube that connects the bladder to the urinary meatus for the removal of urine from the body

Kidneys: The two bean-shaped organs on the left and right in the retroperitoneal space. They are about 11 centimetres in length. They receive blood from the paired renal arteries; blood exits into the paired renal veins. Each kidney is attached to a ureter, a tube that carries excreted urine to the bladder.

Lymphatic/immune system: The system comprising a network of lymphatic vessels that carry a clear fluid called lymph. It defends the body against pathogenic viruses that may endanger the body. The lymph contains the leftover interstitial fluid resulting from blood filtration.

Lymph: Lymph is the fluid that circulates throughout the lymphatic system

Lymph node: A kidney-shaped organ of the lymphatic system, and of the adaptive immune system, that is widely present throughout the body. Lymph nodes are major sites of white blood cells and important for the immune system.

Reproductive system: The sex organs required for the production of offspring

Reproduction: The process of creating new life

Male reproductive system: Penis, testicles, sperm, prostate gland, and scrotum

Penis: The primary sexual organ that male animals use to inseminate sexually receptive mates

Glans: A vascular structure located at the tip of the penis in males or a genital structure of the clitoris in females

Foreskin: The the double-layered fold of smooth muscle tissue, blood vessels, neurons, skin, and mucous membrane part of the penis that covers and protects the glans penis and the urinary meatus

Sperm: The male reproductive cell

Semen: The fluid made in the testicles that may contain spermatozoa (sperm)

Testicle: The testicle or testis (plural testes) is the male reproductive gland in all animals, including humans. It produces sperm and semen.

Prostate gland: A gland of the male reproductive system

Scrotum: The suspended dual-chambered sack of skin and smooth muscle that holds the two testacles

Female reproductive system: The uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries

Ovulation: The release of eggs from the ovaries

Ovum: (Plural ova.) The egg cell

Menstruation/having a period: The (approximately) monthly discharge of blood and mucosal tissue (known as menses) from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina

Menopause: The time in most women’s lives when menstrual periods stop permanently, and they are no longer able to bear children

Vagina: The elastic, muscular canal leading to the uterus in which sex takes place

Cervix: The lower part of the uterus that contracts and opens during childbirth

Fallopian tubes: The tubes leading from the ovaries to the uterus

Womb/uterus: The organ in which fetal development takes place.

Labia: The major externally visible portions of the vulva. It has two layers.

Sexual intercourse: The insertion and thrusting of the penis, usually when erect, into the vagina for sexual pleasure, reproduction, or both. This is also known as vaginal intercourse or vaginal sex. Other forms of penetrative sexual intercourse include anal sex (penetration of the anus by the penis), oral sex (penetration of the mouth by the penis or oral penetration of the female genitalia), fingering (sexual penetration by the fingers), and penetration by use of a dildo.

Ejaculation: The discharge of semen (normally containing sperm) from the male reproductory tract, usually accompanied by orgasm

Fertilization/conception: The union of a human egg (ovum) and sperm, usually occurring in the fallopian tube of the mother after sex

In vitro fertilization (IVF): A process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside the womb, in vitro.

Contraception: Birth control

Embryo: The newly conceived form of life between the fertilized egg (zygote) stage and the fetus stage

Fetus: The unborn baby who is past the embryonic stage (about nine weeks into the pregnancy)

Placenta: The temporary organ that connects the developing fetus via the umbilical cord to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake, thermo-regulation, waste elimination, and gas exchange via the mother’s blood supply; to fight against internal infection; and to produce hormones which support pregnancy

Umbilical cord: The conduit between the developing fetus and the placenta inside a pregnant woman

Puberty: The process of physical changes through which a child’s body matures into an adult body capable of sexual reproduction

Adolescence: Phase of life after puberty and between childhood and adulthood; the teen years

Medical Science Knowledge Checklist

Disease: Anything that stops all or part of your body from working properly (other than injury)

Infection: The invasion of an organism’s body tissues by disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and the reaction of host tissues to the infectious agents and the toxins they produce

Immunity: The balanced state of multicellular organisms having adequate biological defenses to fight infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasion, while having adequate tolerance to avoid allergy, and autoimmune diseases

Drug: A drug is any substance (other than food that provides nutritional support) that, when inhaled, injected, smoked, consumed, absorbed via a patch on the skin, or dissolved under the tongue causes a temporary physiological (and often psychological) change in the body

Preventative medicine: Measures taken for disease prevention, as opposed to disease treatment

Diagnosis: The identification of the nature and cause of a certain phenomenon

Bacteria: A type of biological cell. Among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most of its habitats. Most have not been discovered or studied.

Virus: A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of other organisms

White blood cell: The cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders

Vaccination: The administration of antigenic material (a vaccine) to stimulate an individual’s immune system to develop adaptive immunity to a pathogen

Antibiotics: A substance that kills bacterial. Not antiviral.

Pathogen: The scientific name for a germ. A germ in the oldest and broadest sense is anything that can produce disease, usually a microorganism like a bacteria or virus

Tumor: An abnormal and excessive growth of tissue that starts as a neoplasm, then forms a mass

Senescence: The gradual deterioration of functional characteristics due to age

Medical imaging: Creating images of the internal organs to help diagnose and treat disease

CT scan: Computed tomography scan. Formerly CAT scan. Uses computer-processed combinations of many X-ray measurements taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images of internal organs.

MRI scan: Magnetic resonance imaging. Uses magnets and radio waves (not X-rays, as CT scans do) to create images of the internal organs.

Surgery: The use of knives, lasers and other instruments to explore inside the body or change or remove something in the body

Laser surgery: Laser surgery is a type of surgery that uses a laser (in contrast to using a scalpel) to cut tissue.

Alternative medicine: Unproven or disproven medical techniques and substances

Acupuncture: An unproven traditional Chinese alternative medicine in which thin needles are inserted into the body.

Basic Algebra, Geometry and Statistics (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

Math isn’t that bad. It’s a pain, but doable. Hopefully this list will give you a clear map for mastering these subjects in a self-guided way. Please make use of some of the excellent resources out there, such as the free online lecture series by the Khan Academy, to learn and practice.

Note that I include here more than is strictly necessary for most elementary school and high schoolers to learn. Do learn basic statistics, but skip everything else after algebra I and geometry I if it doesn’t interest you or if it doesn’t fit with your college and career plans. (You’ll be fine, I promise.)

Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1:

Using factors and multiples

Using variables

Using algebraic symbols (parentheses, brackets, dots, slashes, etc.)

Solving basic algebraic equations

Solving inequalities

Calculating ratios, rates, percentages and proportions

Calculating exponents, radicals, and scientific notation

Solving algebraic expressions

Solving functions

Solving linear word problems

Understanding sequences

Systems of equations

Using absolute value

Using rational exponents

Using exponential growth

Using systems of equations

Working with expressions with exponents

Working with polynomials

Working with factorization

Working with quadratics

Working with rational and irrational numbers

Basic Geometry:

Calculating area

Calculating diameter

Calculating square footage

Calculating perimeter

Calculating volume

Graphing lines and slope

Understanding the differences between angles, polygons, lines, circles, triangles, right triangles and shapes

Calculating linear equations

Understanding transformations

Understanding congruence

Understanding similarity

Working with coordinate plane

Working with the Pythagorean theorem

Doing solid geometry

Doing analytic geometry

Basic Statistics:

Understanding data sets and samples

Knowing common experiment designs and the differences between them

Understanding data distribution

Reading and interpreting data

Graphing and modeling simple data

Understanding scatterplots

Calculating probability

Understanding randomization

Understanding and calculating mean, median and average

Understanding and calculating standard deviation

Understanding correlation and regression

Understanding statistical significance

Understanding positive correlation and negative correlation

Understanding bivariate numerical data

Running t-Tests, chi-square tests and ANOVA tests using statistical computation software

Algebra 2: 

Continuing to learn the concepts taught in Algebra 1, including a more in-depth study of graphing and solving equations, inequalities, and functions.

Trigonometry: 

Applying algebra and geometry skills to circular and periodic functions. This includes an understanding of sine, cosine and tangent.

Pre-Calculus: 

Learning about series and sequences, probability, statistics, limits, and derivatives.

Calculus: 

Continuing to learn about the concepts taught in pre-calculus, with an emphasis on integration and differentiation.

Basic Arithmetic and Measurement (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

I almost didn’t include mathematics in this series. For one thing, there isn’t nearly enough space to explain all this stuff. For another, math is more standardized than most subjects and most people won’t have trouble finding a comprehensive curriculum to follow. (If you are homeschooling, I recommend the nice video series from the Khan Academy, a free online school. Even better for younger students: the hilarious Life of Fred series.) In the end though, I realized that this book wouldn’t be complete without at least listing the topics to cover and leaving it to you to decide how to make it fun.

One more note: If you’re teaching a young homeschooler and want to delay the more advanced arithmetic for a while, that shouldn’t be a major problem. However, math thinking does cause growth in places of the brain that other types of thinking do not. Instead of having your kids do long, repetitive math worksheets, I recommend math games and math puzzles, particularly those that emphasize spacial thinking. I didn’t realize how greatly those areas of my brain had been neglected after years of writing for a living till I took an aptitude test and totally failed the spacial thinking section. Don’t limit your kids’ options to become a mathematics professor, physicist or engineer.

Basic Arithmetic and Measurement Skills

Counting by twos, tens, fives and twenties
Understanding place value (ones, tens, hundreds, etc.)
Recognizing shapes, including three-dimensional shapes (cubes, cones, cylinders and spheres)
Adding and subtracting
Rounding
Multiplying (finding the product of two factors) and dividing (finding an unknown factor)
Using arrays
Understanding sets
Solving one-variable equations and inequalities
Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions
Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals
Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing negative numbers
Understanding integers, whole numbers, negative numbers, positive numbers
Solving story problems
Understanding absolute value
Using coordinate planes
Reading bar graphs and line graphs
Measuring, including memorization of important conversions

Common English Measures

Distance

Inches (in) – 12 in = 1 ft
Feet (ft) – 3 ft = 1 yd
Yards (yd) – 1760 yd = 1 mi
Miles (mi) – 1 mi = 5280 ft

Weight

Ounces (oz) – 16 oz = 1 lb
Pounds (lb) – 2000 lb = 1 t
Tons (t) – 1 t = 2000 lb

Volume

Teaspoons (tsp) – 3 tsp = 1 tbsp
Tablespoons (tbsp) – 1 tbsp = 3 tsp
Fluid ounces (fl oz) – 8 fl oz = 1 cup
Cups (c) – 2 cups = 1 pt
Pints (pt) – 2pt = 1qt, 8 pt = 1 gal
Quarts (qt) – 4 qt = 1 gal
Gallons (gal) – 2 gal = 1 peck

Common Metric Measures

Distance

Millimeter (mm) – 1000 mm = 1 m
Centimeter (cm) – 100 cm = 1 m
Meter (m) – base unit (1)
Kilometer (km) – 1000 m = 1 km

Weight

Milligrams (mg) – 1000 mg = 1 g
Grams (g) – base unit (1)
Kilograms (kg) – 1000g = 1 kg, 1000 kg = 1 t
Metric ton (t) – 1000 kg = 1 t

Volume

Milliliters (mL) – 1000 mL = 1 L
Liters (L) – base unit (1)

Universal Measures of Time

Seconds (sec) – 60 sec = 1 min
Minutes (min) – 60 min = 1 hr
Hours (hr) – 24 hr = 1 day
Days – 7 days = 1 wk
Weeks (wk) – (about) 4 wk = 1 mo
Months (mo) – 12 mo = 1 yr
Years (yr) – 1 yr = 365 days
Decades – 1 decade = 10 yr
Centuries – 1 century = 100 yr
Millennium – 1 millennium = 1000 yr

Metric Prefixes

Nano – 1/1000000000
Micro – 1/1000000
Milli – 1/1000
Centi – 1/100
Deci – 1/10

Temperature Conversion (Centigrade/Fahrenheit)

C = (F – 32) X 5/9
F = (C X 9/5) + 32

Comprehensive Multimedia List: Educational Documentaries, Shows, Websites and Podcasts for Older Kids and Adults

Here’s my documentary philosophy in a nutshell: it’s far more important that you regularly watch documentaries than it is which documentaries you watch. The reason is twofold: first, documentaries are, by nature, mini adventures. They’re excursions into an unknown place in which you might not even be able to guess what’s around the corner. If you choose a documentary based on the importance of the subject matter, you lose this element of the unknown.

The second reason is that no matter the subject, documentaries expand your mind. They increase your knowledge of politics, economics, history and psychology, and along with these, your mental flexibility and creativity. After I watched Being Elmo, I wondered what other art forms are currently underappreciated and what might be done with them in the future. After I watched The Staircase I considered the snowball effect that often happens when the desire to be right trumps the desire to know the truth.

In short: documentaries make you smarter. They do. Even if you’re just learning about puppets.

There’s a third reason to watch documentaries, too, I suppose: they get us talking, leading to some top-notch conversations with friends and family.

The following list of documentaries, then, is merely a suggested starting point. My advice is to watch any documentaries you can find that interest you–any, and every, and all.

By the way, IMDB has a few great top-100 lists for documentaries, and many more for other film categories. When looking for something to watch, don’t peruse Netflix; find stuff on there first instead.

A final note: this list is a work in progress. Check back for updates anytime. (There’s a link to this series, School in a Book, on mollieplayer.com.)

Best Educational Documentaries and Shows for Older Children and Adults

Planet Earth*
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey*
Through the Wormhole*
America: The Story of Us*
American Experience*
Food, Inc.
King Corn
The Future of Food
Food Matters
Ken Burns: America
American Masters
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
A Brief History of Time (1991)
The Civil War (1990)
Guns, Germs, and Steel (2005– )

The Arrival of a Train (1896)
In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)
Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Las Hurdes (1933)
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
Night Mail (1936)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
Night and Fog (1956)
Primary (1960)
Empire (1964)
The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Jaguar (1968)
Titicut Follies (1967)
The Hour of the Furnaces (1968)
Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Babies (2010)
Black Gold (2006)
Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Broken Rainbow (1985)
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary (2008)
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Crumb (1994)
Devil’s Playground (2002)
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967)
Earth (2007)
500 Nations (1995)
500 Years Later (2005)
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)
Freakonomics (2010)
GasLand (2010)
Gates of Heaven (1978)
Gaza Strip (2002)
Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006)
The Gleaners & I (2000)
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
Good Hair (2009)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Hell House (2001)
Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977)
Hoop Dreams (1994)
How Bruce Lee Changed the World (2009 TV Movie)
Human Planet (2011)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Inside Deep Throat (2005)
Invisible Children (2006)
I.O.U.S.A. (2008)
Jesus Camp (2006)
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Lake of Fire (2006)
Life and Debt (2001)
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
Man on Wire (2008)
March of the Penguins (2005)
Matthew Barney: No Restraint (2006)
Microcosmos (1996)
Mojados: Through the Night (2004)
Murderball (2005)
No End in Sight (2007)
Paper Clips (2004)
Paragraph 175 (2000)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Powaqqatsi (1988)
Restrepo (2010)
Religulous (2008)
Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)
Rize (2005)
Salesman (1969)
Sans Soleil (1983)
Scared Straight! (1978)
Shoah (1985)
Sicko (2007)
The Silent World (1956)
Spellbound (2002)
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Super Size Me (2004)
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
This Is It (2009)
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Trekkies (1997)
Touching the Void (2003)
Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)
War Dance (2007)
The War Game (1965 TV Movie)
Wasteland (2010)
Wheel of Time (2003)
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006–2007)

How It’s Made
Myth Busters
Drive Thru History
Timeshift
The Most Extreme
How the States Got Their Shapes
Worst Case Scenario
Ancient Discoveries
Chasing Mummies
Steven Hawking’s SciFi Masters
The Adventures of Captain Hartz
The Unknown War
Castle Secrets and Legends
Get Schooled
Super Structures of the World
United Stats of America
Joseph Campbell: Myths
Travel with Kids
The Rachel Divide
Amanda Knox
Searching for Sugar Man
Going Clear
Paradise Lost
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Life Itself
The Wolfpack
Amy
Room 237
Grey Gardens
Undefeated
How to Survive a Plague
Abacus
Jiro Dreams of Sushi*
Blackfish
The Act of Killing
Icarus
13th
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Casting Jonbenet
20 Feet from Stardom
Strong Island
The Look of Silence
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Citizen Four
The Cove
Faces Places
The Staircase
The Keepers
Herb & Dorothy
Iris
Sour Grapes
Bisbee ’17
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
The Last Race
Minding the Gap
Shirkers
306 Hollywood
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Three Identical Strangers
McQueen
Momentum Generation
Breakthrough

Best Educational Websites for Older Children and Adults

TED talks*
Wikipedia

Best Educational Podcasts for Older Kids and Adults

Revisionist History with Malcom Gladwell
Invisibilia by NPR
Maven Interviews
Where Should We Begin

Other Recommended Resources: Older Kids and Adults (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

When I was in school, nonfiction was textbooks. And the encyclopedia and the dictionary, too. What nobody told me is that there’s another kind of nonfiction out there. There’s the kind that’s actually fun to read.

Modern nonfiction is some of the most entertaining, well-written stuff you can find. (After all, if you want to make money writing about neuroscience, for example, you’d better make it relevant, understandable, and full of fascinating anecdotes, right?) It’s stimulating and informative, but that’s not all it is: it’s a road map for becoming a better person. Nonfiction can widen your perspective, give you wisdom, make you stronger . . . maybe even make you a happier person. Nonfiction helps us come up with new goals and ideas about what our lives can encompass–then takes our hands and helps us draw the circles.

With this in mind, here is my carefully curated list of what are, in my humble opinion, the best, most inspiring works of nonfiction in existence. To make the list, books must be:

  • Engaging;
  • Perspective-altering; and
  • Uniquely informative.

Though this list may seem overwhelmingly long, my promise to you is that I haven’t put anything on it that doesn’t truly deserve to be here. With some exceptions, these books aren’t stuffed with humdrum filler; they’re solid. And the exceptions are exceptions for a reason.

Also, they’re books I’ve actually read. Which is why this list is definitely a work in progress; I’m always reading awesome new stuff, and I’ll update this page regularly and tell you about it. (The permalink for this post is on my homepage.)

Note that the best of the best are marked with asterisks.

It’s such a great time to be a reader, isn’t it?

Comprehensive Reading List: Nonfiction

Excellent Textbooks and Reference Books

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Susan Wise Bauer (four-part series)*
A good world history encyclopedia (either aimed at children or adults)*
History Year by Year: The History of the World, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age by DK Publishing
A good science encyclopedia
A good geography encyclopedia*
Travel guides as needed/desired*
The What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know series by E.D. Hirsch (through sixth grade)* (excellent resource for homeschoolers)
The Science Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained and the rest of this series*
How Science Works: The Facts Visually Explained (How Things Work) and the rest of this series*
Everything You Need to Ace World History in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide and the rest of the Big Fat Notebooks series by Workman Publishing*

Important Classic History and Philosophy Texts

The Holy Bible
The Koran
The Analects,
Confucius (551–479 BC)
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze (c. 6th century BC)
The Art of War, Sun Tzu (late sixth century BC)
Selected writings of Plato (c. 428–347 BC)
Rhetoric,
Aristotle (384–322 BC)
De Republica
and other writings, Cicero (106–43 BC)
Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch (c. 46–120)
Enchiridion, Epictetus (c. 55–135)
The Confessions, Saint Augustine (354–430)
The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (c. 480–524)
Selected writings of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas
The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471)
In Praise of Folly, Erasmus (1466–1536)
Novum Organum, Frances Bacon (1561–1626)
The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)
Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes (1596–1650)
Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes (1596–1650)
Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke (1632–1704)
The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke (1632–1704)
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
Rights of Man, Thomas Paine (1737–1809)
Common Sense, Thomas Paine (1737–1809)*
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745–1797)
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859)*
Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth (1797–1883)*
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)*
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897)*
Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)*
Other works by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)*
The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963)
Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)*
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
The Constitution of the United States
The Gettysburg Address
The Magna Carta
The Diary of a Young Girl,
Anne Frank (1929-1945)*
Go Ask Alice, Anonymous*
The Story of My Life, Helen Keller (1880–1968)*
Roots,
Alex Haley*
In Cold Blood,
Truman Capote*
Autobiography of Malcom X,
Malcom X*
Mythology,
Edith Hamilton*
Black Boy, Richard Wright (1908–1960)*
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1920–1980)*

Optional Advanced Classic History and Philosophy Texts

Selected writings of Buddha (c. 500–300 BC)
Selected writings of Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC)
Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (384–322 BC)
Wars of the Jews, Josephus (37–100)
Annals, Tacitus (c. 56–117)
The Early History of Rome, Livy (c. 64 BC–AD 17)
The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius (c. 69–after 122)
The Campaigns of Alexander, Arrian (c. 89–after 160)
On the Nature of Things, Lucretius (c. 99–55 BC)
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (121–180)
The City of God, St. Augustine (354–430)
The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471)
The Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus (1466–1536)
Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther (1483–1546)
The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther (1483–1546)
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1509–1564)
Selected writings of John Knox (c. 1513–1572)
The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)*
Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross (1542–1591)
The Defense of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys (1633–1703)
Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather (1663–1728)
An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
The Way to Wealth, Ben Franklin (1706-1790)
The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)
The Journal of John Woolman, John Woolman (1720–1772)
The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1723–1790)
A Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
On American Taxation, Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Life of Johnson, James Boswell (1740–1795)
Memoir, Correspondence and Misc., Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)
The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804)
The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, Victor Hugo (1802–1885)
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859)
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)*
A Child’s History of England, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
For Self-Examination, Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)
The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx (1818–1883)
The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1838–1918)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Frederich Nietzsche (1844–1900)
Beyond Good and Evil, Frederich Nietzsche (1844–1900)
An Autobiography, Annie Besant (1847–1933)
Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)
The Ego and the Id, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)
The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale
The Ecclesiastical History, Adam Bede
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer

Other Recommended History, Geography and Philosophy Books

Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank*
Roots,
Alex Haley*
In Cold Blood,
Truman Capote*
Autobiography of Malcom X,
Malcom X*
The Power of One,
Bryce Courtenay
Citizen Soldiers,
Stephen E. Ambrose
Alexander of Macedon,
Peter Green
The Devil’s Triangle, Richard Winer
Treblinka, Jean-Francois Steiner
The War Magician, David Fisher
Is Paris Burning?, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
An American Life, Ronald Reagan
Plain Speaking, Merle Miller
Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen
Twelve Great Philosophers, Wayne Pomerleau
Mythology, Edith Hamilton*
Aku-Aku, Thor Heyerdahl
1776, David McCullough
The Bridge at Chappaquiddick, Jack Olsen
The Night of the Grizzlies, Jack Olsen
Enola Gay, Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux
The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson
Don’t Know Much About History, Kenneth Davis*
Bomb, Steve Sheinkin
Cyberpunk, Katie Hafner
How the Web Was Won, Paul Andrews
The Hundred Year Diet, Susan Yager
Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer
Citizen Soldiers, Stephen E. Ambrose
Miracle at Philadelphia, Catherine Drinker Bower*
Black Boy, Richard Wright (1908–1960)*
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1920–1980)*
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer

Best Science Books

A good science encyclopedia for children*
A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking*
The Particle at the Edge of the Universe, Sean Carroll*
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman*
The Meaning of It All, Richard Feynman*
The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene*
Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin (1809–1882)
Zoobiquity, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz
Bonk, Mary Roach
Spook, Mary Roach
Endurance,
Scott Kelly
Being Mortal,
Arul Gawande*
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
Genome,
Matt Ridley
Gulp!, Mary Roach
Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe,
Robert Lanza and Bob Berman*
Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable–and Couldn’t, Steve Volk

Best Politics and Economics Books

Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Capitalism and other books by Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand
Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen
Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki*
The Four-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss
God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley

Best Psychology and Sociology Books

The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman*
The Plug-In Drug, Marie Winn
Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher
The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Summers
Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm
The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg*
Switch, Chip Heath and Dan Heath*
Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath*
How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer
Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, Malcom Gladwell
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcom Gladwell
Other books by Malcom Gladwell
The Feeling Good Handbook, Kenneth Burns*
The Consuming Instinct, Gad Saad
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, Dan Ariely
Irrationally Yours, Dan Ariely
Dressing Your Truth: Discover Your Type of Beauty, Carol Tuttle*
Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman
Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman
Flourish, Martin Seligman*
Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmivaly*
The Science of Happiness, Stefan Klein
The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky
Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile, Daniel Nettle
Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Richard Layard
Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Ed Diener & Robert Biswas-Diener
Happiness, Ed Diener
The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha*
Engineering Happiness, Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarin*
The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor
What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo
The Inner Game of Work, W. Timothy Gallway*
The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell*
The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook
The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel
The Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantarn
Daring Greatly and other books by Brené Brown, Brené Brown
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon*
Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, Candace Pert*
Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d, Candace Pert
A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming, Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel

Best Diet and Health Books

The Diet Alternative, Diane Hampton
French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Food Rules, Michael Pollan
Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes
Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, Gary Taubes
Neanderthin, Ray Audette
Overcoming Emotional Eating and other books by Geneen Roth, Geneen Roth
Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
How to Make Almost Any Diet Work, Anne Katherine
Fasting and Eating for Health, Joel Fuhrman
How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds, Dana Carpender
The Diet Cure, Julia Ross

Best Writing Books

The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Spunk & Bite, Arthur Plotnik
Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, Luke Sullivan
A Whack On the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech
Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell
On Writing, Steven King
Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maas
How Fiction Works, James Wood
Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole
Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster
Manuscript Makeover, Elizabeth Hyon
Your Life Is A Book, Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann
Hooked, Leslie Edgerton
Good Prose, Tracy Kidder
Sick in the Head, Judd Apatow
The Memoir Project, Marion Roach Smith

Best Education Books

The Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer*
The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer*
How Children Fail, John Holt*
How Children Learn, John Holt
Learning All the Time, John Holt
Instead of Education, John Holt
The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin*
Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn*
The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn
No Contest, Alfie Kohn
Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Books Children Love, Elizabeth L. Wilson
Study Is Hard Work, William H. Armstrong
In Their Own Way, Thomas Armstrong
Seven Kinds of Smart, Thomas Armstrong*
Unschooling Rules, Clark Aldrich
Un-Jobbing, Michael Fogler
The Unschooling Handbook, Mary Griffith
The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould

Best Marketing Books

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini*
Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi*
What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis*
Viral Loop, Adam L. Peneberg
The Whuffie Factor, Tara Hunt
The Long Tail, Chris Anderson*
Trust Agents, Chris Brogan*
Get Slightly Famous, Steven Von Yoder
Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsich
Whacha Gonna Do With That Duck?, Seth Godin
Linchpin, Seth Godin
Other books by Seth Godin
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell
Grapevine, Dave Balter and John Butman

Best Relationships Books

His Needs, Her Needs, Willard F. Harley, Jr.*
Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice, John Gray*
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and other books by John Gottman, John Gottman*
Love Is Never Enough, Aaron Beck*
The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shaunti Feldhahn
The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, Dr. Laura Schlessinger
For Better, Tara Parker-Pope
A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle*
I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them, Byron Katie and Michael Katz*

Best Parenting Books

Between Parents and Child, Haim G. Ginott
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, Adele Faber
Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber
Parenting with Dignity, Mac Bledsoe
Parenting with Love and Logic, Foster Cline
The Child Whisperer, Carol Tuttle
If I Have to Tell You One More Time, Amy McCready
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv
The Case for Make-Believe, Susan Linn
Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn
Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn
Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Mordechai
Attachment Parenting, Katie Allison Granju
The Baby Book, Barry Sears
The Discipline Book, Barry Sears
Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Douglas Caplan
Home Grown,
Ben Hewitt
Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Raising Your Spirited Child, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
Oh, Crap! Potty Training, Jamie Glowaki

Best Memoirs

The Story of My Life, Helen KellerA Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout
Into the Wild, John Krakauer
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
The Two Kinds of Decay, Sarah Manguso
Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin
Jay J. Armes, Investigator, Jay J. Armes and Fredrick Nolan
Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klostermann
Klostermann II, Chuck Klostermann
Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman
Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman
Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken
How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gill
Found, Jennifer Lauck
It Was Me All Along, Andie Mitchell
Let’s Take the Long Way Home,
Bossypants, Tina Fey
Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson
In Memory of Bread,
Ordinary Light,
Passage, Connie Willis
Glitter and Glue, Kelly Corrigan
The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan
Lift, Kelly Corrigan
Dying, Cory Taylor
The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
Hunger, Roxane Gay
What Comes Next and How to Like It, Abigail Thomas
The Seven Good Years, Etgar Keret
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey
The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, Amy Silverstein
Flat Broke With Two Goats, Jennifer McGaha
Fifty Acres and a Poodle, Jeanne Marie Laskas
Fifty Years in Polygamy, Kristyn Decker
Why I Left the Amish, Saloma Miller Furlong
Cult Child, Vennie Kocsis
Favorite Wife, Susan Schmidt
“It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass, Joanne Hanks and Steve Cuno
Banished,
Growing Up Amish, Ira Wagler
Educated, Tara Westover
Cult Insanity,
Go Ask Alice, Anonymous
Straight Pepper Diet, Joseph W. Naus
Coming Clean
Fall to Pieces,
Mary Forsberg Weiland
Girl Walks Out of A Bar, Lisa Smith
Manic, Terri Cheney
Madness, Marya Hornbacher
Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me, Chelsea Handler
My Horizontal Life, Chelsea Handler
Official Book Club Selection, Kathy Griffin
I Regret Nothing, Jen Lancaster
MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel Bersche
Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me, Rachel Bersche
A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, Kristin Newman
A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, Lev Golinkin
Eating Ice Cream With My Dog, Frances Kuffel
A Year of No Sugar, Eve O. Schaub
It Was Food vs. Me-And I Won, Nancy Goodman
Massive, Julia Bell
The Taming of the Chew, Denise Lamothe
Hungry, Allen Zadoff
The Good Eater, Ron Saxen
The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, Wendy Shanker
Locked Up for Eating Too Much, Debbie Danowski
Full, Kimber Simpkins
Learning to Eat Along the Way, Margaret Bendet
Dying to Be Me, Anita Moorjani
Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
The Search For Grace: A Documented Case of Murder and Reincarnation, Bruce Goldberg
Zero Limits: The Secret Hawaiian System for Wealth, Health, Peace, and More, Joe Vitale
Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives, Brian Weiss
Ten Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, Dan Harris
A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken
The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence

Best How-To and Miscellaneous Books

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer and Marior Rombauer Becker
The Story of the Incredible Orchestra, Bruce Koscielniak
The Nourishing Homestead, Ben Hewitt
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle
Who Would You Be Without Your Story?: Dialogues with Byron Katie, Byron Katie
A Mind at Home With Itself, Byron Katie
A Thousand Names for Joy, Byron Katie
Conversations with God, Parts One through Three, Neale Donald Walsch
Whatever Arises, Love That, Matt Kahn
The Shack, William Young

Here’s my documentary philosophy in a nutshell: it’s far more important that you regularly watch documentaries than it is which documentaries you watch. The reason is twofold: first, documentaries are, by nature, mini adventures. They’re excursions into an unknown place in which you might not even be able to guess what’s around the corner. If you choose a documentary based on the importance of the subject matter, you lose this element of the unknown.

The second reason is that no matter the subject, documentaries expand your mind. They increase your knowledge of politics, economics, history and psychology, and along with these, your mental flexibility and creativity. After I watched Being Elmo, I wondered what other art forms are currently underappreciated and what might be done with them in the future. After I watched The Staircase I considered the snowball effect that often happens when the desire to be right trumps the desire to know the truth.

In short: documentaries make you smarter. They do. Even if you’re just learning about puppets.

There’s a third reason to watch documentaries, too, I suppose: they get us talking, leading to some top-notch conversations with friends and family.

The following list of documentaries, then, is merely a suggested starting point. My advice is to watch any documentaries you can find that interest you–any, and every, and all.

By the way, IMDB has a few great top-100 lists for documentaries, and many more for other film categories. When looking for something to watch, don’t peruse Netflix; find stuff on there first instead.

A final note: this list is a work in progress. Check back for updates anytime. (There’s a link to this series, School in a Book, on mollieplayer.com.)

Best Educational Documentaries and Shows for Older Children and Adults

Planet Earth*
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey*
Through the Wormhole*
America: The Story of Us*
American Experience*
Food, Inc.
King Corn
The Future of Food
Food Matters
Ken Burns: America
American Masters
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
A Brief History of Time (1991)
The Civil War (1990)
Guns, Germs, and Steel (2005– )

The Arrival of a Train (1896)
In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)
Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Las Hurdes (1933)
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
Night Mail (1936)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
Night and Fog (1956)
Primary (1960)
Empire (1964)
The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Jaguar (1968)
Titicut Follies (1967)
The Hour of the Furnaces (1968)
Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Babies (2010)
Black Gold (2006)
Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Broken Rainbow (1985)
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary (2008)
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Crumb (1994)
Devil’s Playground (2002)
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967)
Earth (2007)
500 Nations (1995)
500 Years Later (2005)
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)
Freakonomics (2010)
GasLand (2010)
Gates of Heaven (1978)
Gaza Strip (2002)
Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006)
The Gleaners & I (2000)
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
Good Hair (2009)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Hell House (2001)
Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977)
Hoop Dreams (1994)
How Bruce Lee Changed the World (2009 TV Movie)
Human Planet (2011)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Inside Deep Throat (2005)
Invisible Children (2006)
I.O.U.S.A. (2008)
Jesus Camp (2006)
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Lake of Fire (2006)
Life and Debt (2001)
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
Man on Wire (2008)
March of the Penguins (2005)
Matthew Barney: No Restraint (2006)
Microcosmos (1996)
Mojados: Through the Night (2004)
Murderball (2005)
No End in Sight (2007)
Paper Clips (2004)
Paragraph 175 (2000)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Powaqqatsi (1988)
Restrepo (2010)
Religulous (2008)
Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)
Rize (2005)
Salesman (1969)
Sans Soleil (1983)
Scared Straight! (1978)
Shoah (1985)
Sicko (2007)
The Silent World (1956)
Spellbound (2002)
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Super Size Me (2004)
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
This Is It (2009)
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Trekkies (1997)
Touching the Void (2003)
Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)
War Dance (2007)
The War Game (1965 TV Movie)
Wasteland (2010)
Wheel of Time (2003)
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006–2007)

How It’s Made
Myth Busters
Drive Thru History
Timeshift
The Most Extreme
How the States Got Their Shapes
Worst Case Scenario
Ancient Discoveries
Chasing Mummies
Steven Hawking’s SciFi Masters
The Adventures of Captain Hartz
The Unknown War
Castle Secrets and Legends
Get Schooled
Super Structures of the World
United Stats of America
Joseph Campbell: Myths
Travel with Kids
The Rachel Divide
Amanda Knox
Searching for Sugar Man
Going Clear
Paradise Lost
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Life Itself
The Wolfpack
Amy
Room 237
Grey Gardens
Undefeated
How to Survive a Plague
Abacus
Jiro Dreams of Sushi*
Blackfish
The Act of Killing
Icarus
13th
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Casting Jonbenet
20 Feet from Stardom
Strong Island
The Look of Silence
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Citizen Four
The Cove
Faces Places
The Staircase
The Keepers
Herb & Dorothy
Iris
Sour Grapes
Bisbee ’17
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
The Last Race
Minding the Gap
Shirkers
306 Hollywood
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Three Identical Strangers
McQueen
Momentum Generation
Breakthrough

Best Educational Websites

TED talks*
Wikipedia

Best Educational Podcasts

Revisionist History with Malcom Gladwell
Invisibilia by NPR
Maven Interviews
Where Should We Begin

*You can also review my Best Spirituality Books list here.

Other Recommended Resources: Children’s

Honestly, there aren’t as many awesome educational shows for kids as I would prefer. A few are pretty outdated, and many are a bit frenetic in pace and tone (over-stimulation can desensitize kids to the pleasures of reading and quiet play), or simply not as educational as advertised. For this list, then, I looked for the exceptions to these limitations: the shows that are informative and calm but engaging, too.

Note that this list doesn’t include classic films for children, which you can find elsewhere in this series.

The best of these resources are marked with asterisks.

Best Educational Documentaries and Shows for Children

Tumble Leaf*
The Magic Schoolbus*
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood*
Peg + Cat*
Reading Rainbow (original version)*
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
Wishbone
Zoom
Beakman’s World
Destination Truth
Wild Krats
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Odd Squad
Electric Company (updated version)
Earth to Luna
Cyberchase
Word Girl
Animal Atlas
Design Squad Nation
Xploration Outer Space
Beakman’s World
Jaques Cousteau’s Ocean Tales
Scigirls
Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego
Xploration Awesome Planet
Brain Games
Genius by Steven Hawking
Get the Math

Best Educational Websites for Children

The free online video series by the Khan Academy*
National Geographic Kids (YouTube series)

Best Educational Podcasts for Children

But Why*
Tumble*
The Past and the Curious*
Elderberry Tales*
Pants on Fire
What If World

Basic Film Studies: Classic Children’s Films

I know I’m not the only one who just can’t stand the thought of my kids missing out on the movies that meant so much to me. Besides, who wouldn’t want to snuggle up to their littles and watch Anne of Green Gables again from a new, savvier perspective? (In case you’re wondering, thirty years later, that movie didn’t disappoint at all.)

Classic Children’s Films

Wizard of Oz
Return to Oz
Alice in Wonderland
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Labyrinth
The Neverending Story
Goonies
The Karate Kid
Star Wars: A New Hope
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (original version)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (new version)
Ghostbusters (original version)
The Muppet Movie (original version)
The Lord of the Rings series
The Chronicles of Narnia series
The Harry Potter series
The Anne of Green Gables Series
The Anne of Avonlea Series
Bambi
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Lion King
Cinderella
Aladdin
Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Snow White
Pinocchio
Dumbo
The Sound of Music
The Parent Trap (original version)
Swiss Family Robinson
Charlotte’s Web
Lilo and Stitch
Benji
Old Yeller
Winnie the Pooh
Hugo
The Red Balloon
The Jungle Book
Pippi Longstocking
The Adventures of Milo and Otis
Totoro
Grave of the Fireflies
Spirited Away
Finding Nemo
Frozen
Moana
Babe
Freaky Friday
Big
Home Alone
Home Alone 2
Matilda
The Incredibles
How to Train Your Dragon
Wall-E
The Sandlot
Enchanted
The Iron Giant
Tangled
A Little Princess
Escape to Witch Mountain
Pete’s Dragon

A Christmas Carol
Miracle on 34th Street
A Christmas Story
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Frosty the Snowman
The Muppet Christmas Carol

Science Overview (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

Like most other subjects, science is best learned through conversation. Experiments are great, too, but they’re not always necessary. If like me you have little kids who can’t yet handle close proximity to anything magnetic, explosive or filled with water, choose a few scientific concepts to talk about per day, and send the older kid to a fun science class. (Video demonstrations are great, too.)

That said, if you can manage it, there’s a huge number of great science project ideas out there, and hands-on stuff is definitely a great memory aid.

For excellent science textbooks, references and pleasure reading, see my list Comprehensive Reading List: Nonfiction.

Essential Science Projects

Treasure collecting from nature
Growing plants
Building science-related structures and models with mixed media
Building science-related structures and models with Lego (such as solar system models, lifelike animal and vehicle replicas, etc.)
Block building
Train set building
Playing with magnets
Breaking open and identifying rocks
Building circuits
Taking nighttime walks
Watching astronomical events (like a lunar eclipse, shooting stars or the Aurora Borealis)
Using a telescope and a microscope
Attempting to decompose various man-made and organic materials in bags (to compare rates of decomposition)
Making homemade environmentally friendly house cleaners (using borax, lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar and more)
Growing crystals
Using a compass
Making a water filter with sand, rocks, clay and charcoal
Making a model of our solar system
Making a balloon rocket
Making a volcano using baking soda and vinegar
Making a bottle submarine
Making invisible ink
Hunting for fossils
Making a rainbow
Making and testing a hypothesis and using the scientific method
Reading a map
Identifying the four directions
Identifying plants, animals, climate type, time zone, seasonal changes in local area
Understanding world time zones
Choosing many other science projects from science books

History Overview (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

There is no shortage of historical timelines on the Internet. Here’s why I created my own: I wanted a timeline that read more like a continuous story than a list of separate occurrences, and I wanted to limit the number of dates to the most important. In other words, I wanted a brief timeline that my kids and I would actually remember.

Whenever possible, I chunked events into centuries or groups of centuries, which I believe greatly aids in memorization. While knowing a large number of specific dates is usually not vital to one’s understanding of the unfolding of world events, I do want my kids to be able to recall at all times the century in which an important event before 1800 took place, and the decade in which an important event since then took place.

Here is what I created from The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, The Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer, The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun, Factmonster.com and one or two other sources. It (almost) goes without saying that excellent history texts that weave characterization, suspense and detail into these awesome occurrences, such as the ones I recommend in the nonfiction reading section of this text, is absolutely vital to an appreciation for the beauty and educational importance of history.

History questions for discussion:

What are some of the things that all cultures of history shared in common?

What are some of the reasons towns and civilizations spring up independently in so many different parts of the world within a few hundred years of each other?

Are there any good civilizations in history?

Are there any bad ones?

Are there some countries that are more moral than others?

What are the main reasons nations and states initiated warfare?

Why did smaller tribes wage war?

Why did larger civilizations wage war?

How was history influenced by the growth of the human brain?

What are some examples of religious wars?

To what extent were they motivated by the spread of religious ideas and the quashing of other religious ideas and to what extent were they motivated by other desires or needs?

Why did safe, prosperous nations, like Rome, continuously try to grow larger?

Was this a wise strategy?

What are some of the historical reasons for poverty?

History isn’t hard. It’s just stories. Lots of stories. And remembering dates and names is important, too. One of the main reasons I made my history timelines is that when you’ve committed certain important dates to memory, they anchor you to new information you gain throughout your life.

Don’t be afraid of dates. Dates are awesome.

Basic Religion and Spirituality (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

Spirituality feels complicated: cultural, nuanced. And it is. I understand that. But the basic tenets of the major world religions are actually fairly straightforward, and it is these that I seek to present here. Please note that this treatment is highly simplified and does not represent all adherents of the given faith. Other religions with over one million adherents that aren’t discussed here include Falun Gong (a 20th-century Chinese religion similar to Buddhism that incorporates meditation and qigong exercises), Sikhism (a 15th-century Indian religion that follows the teaching of Sikh gurus and rejects religious certainty), Korean shamanism, Caodaism, Bahá’í Faith (a nineteenth-century Middle Eastern religion that seeks to unify all world religions), Tenriism, Jainism, Cheondoism, and Hoahaoism.

Christianity Knowledge Checklist

Rank: Number one. Christianity is the world’s most populous religion.

Holy book(s): The Bible. The Catholic Christian version of the Bible includes additional sections, and Mormons have an additional holy book called The Book of Mormon.

Concept of God: There is one all-knowing, all-loving, everywhere-present, all-powerful, gender-neutral God, who created the universe.

Notion of life after death: Salvation–that is, eternal life in a place of bliss called Heaven–comes to those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. Others go to Hell after death.

Other basic tenets: Humans are sinful and in need of redemption. Jesus Christ, the sinless son of God, came to Earth to preach faith in Him and to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. In addition to faith, Christians should practice love, charity, self-sacrifice, humility, morality, prayer, Bible reading, sexual abstinence prior to marriage and monogomy thereafter, and other good works.

Origins: Christianity began with the life of Jesus Christ, who lived in the first century AD in the Middle East. His followers spread the faith widely over the following several centuries. From these early Christians, Catholicism developed, which appointed a Pope as its leader. Then Orthodoxy and Protestantism split off from Catholicism, in that order. Protestants divided into many different sects, including Methodist, Anglican and Lutheran Christianity. Later, Mormonism split off from Protestant Christianity with even greater changes.

Islam Knowledge Checklist

Rank: Number two

Holy book(s): The Quran, which is the verbatim word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad, plus the sunnah, the other teachings of Muhammad, and the hadith, the record of Muhammad’s life.

Concept of God: There is one God, with Muhammad as the messenger of God. God is merciful and all-powerful.

Notion of life after death: Muslims go to a blissful Heaven, and non-Muslims go to a place of eternal punishment.

Other basic tenets: Islam is the final expression of a faith that pre-existed and was partially revealed through Adam, Abraham, and Jesus. Therefore, it is considered an Abrahamic faith like Judaism and Christianity. Muslims must practice the five pillars of the faith, which include (1) recitation of the creed, (2) daily prayers, (3) almsgiving, (4) fasting during Ramadan and (5) making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. They also must follow sharia law, which is more specific and lengthy and includes guidelines on clothing, relationships, finances and more. Most Muslims belong to either the Sunni or the Shia sect, with the major original difference between them being who they considered the proper leader of their faith after the death of Muhammad. Muslims also believe in angels.

Origins: Islam was started in the early seventh century in Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad. It spread in Europe through war and coercion, and in Africa through trading relationships.

Hinduism Knowledge Checklist

Rank: Number three

Origins: Hinduism is a fusion of various ancient Indian cultural ideas and tradition, with no single founder. It began to take its current form between 500 B.C. and AD 300. It is widely practiced in India and parts of Southeast Asia.

Holy book(s): Hindu texts are many and varied. They are not considered absolutely true. They are divided into two categories: the Shruti and the Smriti. The Shruti are the oldest traditions and include the four Vedas. The Upanishads are the parts of the Vedas that discuss meditation and philosophy and are the foundation of Hinduism. Of the Smritis, the Hindu epics, especially the Bhagavad Gita, and the Puranas are most important.

Concept of God: Varies by tradition. Some traditions teach the existence of multiple deities (dualism) while others teach of a single supreme being that is reflected in all other beings (the divine in all/non-dualism). Hindu gods are depicted in art and stories. Various incarnations of the same god are called avatars.

Notion of life after death: Reincarnation, called samsara. Hindus desire liberation from samsara through moksha (enlightenment).

Other basic tenets: Dharma (the path of rightness) is considered the foremost goal of a human being. It includes religious duties and moral virtues, but it is also equated with the eternal, unchanging truth. According to Hinduism, achieving dharma allows people to be in harmony with their true nature and with the world. Other Hindu goals are artha, properly pursued economic prosperity; kama, aesthetic pleasure; and moksha, liberation from suffering (enlightenment). Hindus also believe in karma. Hindu monks are called sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. Religious rituals are observed mostly at home and are not mandatory. They include yoga, chanting, meditation and more. Hindus recognize four social classes: the Brahmins (teachers and priests); the Kshatriyas (warriors and kings); the Vaishyas (farmers and merchants); and the Shudras (servants and laborers). They believe in non-violence, respect for all life and vegetarianism.

Buddhism Knowledge Checklist

Rank: Number four

Origins: Buddhism was founded between 500 and 400 B.C. in India by Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, who as a wealthy but unhappy young man who became enlightened while sitting underneath a Bodhi tree. Buddhism is prominent throughout Asia.

Holy book(s): Numerous and highly varied. Some are based on the words of the Buddha, like the sutras, while others were created by ancient Buddhist schools, like the tantras.

Concept of God: There is no creator God or supreme being in the universe.

Notion of life after death: Reincarnation. This cycle of death and rebirth, which is affected by one’s karma, can be escaped through nirvana (enlightenment).

Other basic tenets: Meditation, mindfulness, nonattachment, compassion, lovingkindness and virtue; taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the way) and the Sangha (teachers and fellow travelers); the Four Noble Truths; and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are: suffering is universal; suffering is caused by desire and attachment; suffering can end; this happens through the Noble Eightfold Path (right understanding, right thinking, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration). There are two main schools of Buddhist thoughts: the Theravada and the Mahayana. They differ in their recommended approach to nirvana and more.

Confucianism Knowledge Checklist

Origins: Confucianism was founded by Confucius, a government worker-turned-philosopher who lived around the time of Buddha (551-479 B.C.) in China. Confucius taught his philosophy to his subordinates at work before quitting to travel and teach only. His teachings became the state philosophy during the Han Dynasty in China, which liked Confucius’ emphasis on strong central government and respect for authority.

Holy book(s): The Analects of Confucius

Concept of God: None. Confucianism is sometimes considered a religion and sometimes considered a philosophy.

Notion of life after death: None.

Other basic tenets: Kindness; manners; rituals; morals; respect of elders and family; moderation.

Taoism Knowledge Checklist

Origins: Taoism (sometimes called Daoism) began with the writing of the Tao Te Ching, likely by the teacher Laozi around 500 B.C. (This is close to the time of Buddha and Confucius.) The Tao Te Ching was influenced by an ancient divination text, the I Ching (Yi Ching), which as the oldest Chinese classic text was compiled around 800 B.C. Like Confucianism, Taoism became prominent during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-AD 220). It might have developed as a reaction to that more authoritarian philosophy.

Holy book(s): The Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, the Daozang/Treasury of Tao, and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). The Daozang is a collection of over 1500 texts written up to the Ming dynasty, and is considered the Taoist canon. The Zhuangzi is an important, beautiful, lighthearted description of the ideal sage written by Master Zhuang (Zhuangzi) (c. 369-301 B.C.).

Concept of God: Various gods exist but none are supreme, and all are subject to the Tao. (Most Taoist gods are borrowed from other cultures.)

Notion of life after death: Unclear. The soul is eternal, but there is a regular afterlife and an enhanced one.

Other basic tenets: Taoists are naturalists. They believe in the interconnectedness of all things; acceptance of contradiction or paradox, called Yin and Yang (concepts originated in the I Ching); and the pursuit of harmony through virtue. They also believe in fortune telling, honoring deceased spirits, and more.

Shinto Knowledge Checklist

Origins: Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan. It is a collection of animistic folk mythologies. Practices were first codified around 700 B.C.

Holy book(s): The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, written in the 8th century.

Concept of God: There are many gods, spirits and essences, all with unique roles and purposes.

Notion of life after death:

Other basic tenets: Shinto emphasizes the importance of performing rituals for the purpose of connecting with the past.

Judaism Knowledge Checklist

Origins: Abraham, a man who lived in the Middle East, had a son, Isaac, who had a son, Jacob, who was the father of twelve sons, who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. These tribes, who lived around 1200 B.C., later became known as Jews, or the Jewish people. Later, Christianity and Islam developed from Judaism. Jews have been persecuted throughout history and repeatedly forced to leave their nation, Israel, yet they have largely maintained their ethnic and cultural identity. About 43% of Jews reside in Israel and another 43% reside in the United States and Canada.

Concept of God: Orthodox Jews believe in one all-knowing, all-loving, everywhere-present, all-powerful, gender-neutral God, who created the universe. Other Jews believe that belief in God is a matter of personal choice.

Notion of life after death: Unclear and controversial.

Holy book(s): The Torah, which is part of the Hebrew Bible, and additional oral tradition found in later texts like the Midrash and the Talmud. Texts are open to interpretation by rabbis and is a highly scholarly and intellectual endeavor.

Basic tenets: Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, practice a complex, laborious array of rituals dating to the time of Abraham. They believe that by doing so, they are keeping the Covenant (the law of God given to the Jews by which they earn God’s favor). Among these practices: not working on Sundays; not eating pork or shellfish (eating kosher foods only); and celebration of Jewish holidays. Conservative and Reform Jews take a more lenient approach to Jewish law.

Alternative Spirituality Knowledge Checklist

Origins: Alternative spirituality includes Buddhist Modernism, some new religious movements (NRMs), spiritual-but-not-religious ideas, New Thought spirituality and New Age spirituality. It primarily refers to belief systems that originated during the twentieth century. Alternative spirituality evolves rapidly as new spiritual teachers, channels and authors become known. It is largely influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism.

Holy book(s): None. Modern spiritual thinkers read modern spiritual-but-not-religious authors like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Esther Hicks, plus Buddhist authors like Pema Chodron, Ram Daas and more.

Concept of God: God is the one, unified something that makes up everything in the Universe. As such, God is part of everything, including each person. God is sometimes called the creator, the force, the all-that-is or simply the universe. God is good and loving.

Notion of life after death: Reincarnation, another afterlife including the experience of oneness with the Divine, or unknown. There is no Hell, but there is no one clear and correct path to a happy afterlife.

Other basic tenets: Sin does not exist. Though people often judge poorly or act out of fear, they are naturally and fundamentally good. Onesself is one’s only spiritual authority. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. So are various healing modalities, such as Reiki. Discovering one’s highest self is a priority, as is practicing love and non-judgment. Truth is often relative and experiential and may be discovered through the law of attraction; divination/clairvoyance/mediums; angels, spirits and ghosts; near-death experiences; deathbed revelations; intuition; and more. Enlightenment or something akin to enlightenment is the goal of many modern spiritualists.

Homeschooling Process Overview (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

I love homeschooling. I really do. And I think my kids are good with it, too. Here, just what it sounds like: a brief description of the process that seems to be working for us thus far.

K-12 Homeschooling Process Overview

What We Learn

I recommend you decide on a core set of facts, skills and textbooks that you develop from various sources of your choice. You can do this on an annual basis, or, if you’re a planner like me, you can outline through to your projected endpoint. Once you have your curriculum, divide your efforts into two parts: core curriculum studies and elective studies. Elective studies are, of course, pretty much anything. I call this part of our homeschooling day “unschooling,” because it is entirely child-led.

Here is a more specific description of what we learn in our home.

We study the following subjects: history; science; literature; writing; mathematics; art, film and music; religion and spirituality; morality, relationships, health and life management; physical education; Mandarin; Spanish; philosophy and logic; psychology and sociology; and more as time and interest dictates.

We rotate between history and science, choosing one as our core subject for the school year. During history years, we study our core curriculum history books, lesson by lesson, in their entirety. During science years, we study our core curriculum science books, lesson by lesson, in their entirety. Every year we also choose several other secondary subjects to focus on. We learn various other skills and lessons and read other books as time and interest allow.

When We Learn

In my family, homeschooling works backwards: heavy reading and conversation in bed at night with the lights turned off and the little ones bored to sleep, independent projects in the afternoon and social and physical stuff first thing in the morning. Coincidentally (or not), this order roughly reflects my educational priorities for my kids (and myself), and is exactly the opposite of traditional public education.

How We Learn

When planning for homeschooling, the question of how to learn is both the most complicated one and the least important. I recommend that you default to the old-fashioned reading, writing, arithmetic and lecture M.O., noting that your lectures will normally take the form of every day conversation. As you are able, seek out high quality podcasts, worksheets, YouTube videos, games, TV shows and other activities to supplement your efforts. The range of choices is enormous, and they’re all effective. But sometimes it’s easiest to just choose a few concepts a day and just … talk about them.

Here’s a brief outline of how we learn in our home.

Each week, we: listen to music, read together, read independently, engage in various hobbies and self-directed projects, engage in physical activity, attend play dates, have quiet time, practice life skills, practice character building and relationship skill building through coaching, attend at least one class outside the home, go on family outings and more.

We strictly limit the use worksheets, calculators, TV and video games and the Internet.

We learn our core and secondary subjects primarily through reading and discussion.

We incorporate reading and writing practice into our core subject lessons.

While reading primary sources, we ask the following questions:

What does the piece say?
What is the historical context of the piece?
Who was the author (profession, social standing, age, etc.) of the piece?
What is the genre of the piece?
What does the author have to gain or lose from others accepting or rejecting his ideas?
What events led to the writing of the piece?
What events resulted from the writing of the piece

We also use some of the following methods to learn the material:

Supplemental reading
Outlining
Discussion
Memorization
Time line making
Map making
Doing science experiments
Coloring, drawing and painting
Teaching another student
Creating and playing games
Learning songs
Watching documentaries and other films
Additional in-depth projects like book making, writing argumentative essays, model making, building, traveling, creating subject taxonomies and more.

How We Record Our Learning

For me, record keeping is a huge deal. It keeps me on track and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I highly recommend a robust but efficient system, whatever it may be, so you don’t waste time on old material and so your kids have handy evidence of everything they’ve done.

Here’s what I do for my kids (and myself, too) to keep track of our reading and other accomplishments.

I keep a thorough and meticulous record of all students’ homeschooling activities in a single spreadsheet. The spreadsheet includes a list of books each student read or heard and a list of each student’s learning experiences and accomplishments.

I keep detailed checklists of everything we’re learning on our office walls. As a student demonstrates understanding of one of the items, I mark their initials and their grade level next to it. My plan is to have everything on all our checklists initialed at least three times per child throughout their homeschooling career.

I scan and save each student’s selected writings, artwork and more in a homeschooling scrapbook file.

Simple Prehistory Timeline (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to recall the approximate date for the beginning of the universe, or the invention of fire, or the first known appearance of Homo sapiens on the spot but could not. Knowing a few key dates is hugely important to your understanding of the world. It provides a framework that you can build on as needed.

FYI, prehistory is history that took place prior to the invention of writing. After that, everything is part of recorded history. Also note that all dates listed here are approximate and many of them merely indicate the earliest known evidence of the events they describe. Finally, recall that the Stone Age is comprised of the Paleolithic (big-game hunting) Era, the Mesolithic (transitional hunter-gatherer) Era, and the Neolithic (farming) Era, though the dates of these eras vary by location since they’re based on the acquisition of related technologies. The Stone Age is followed by the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, though these terms are only useful regarding the ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Egyptian peoples. Among other advantages, bronze technology allowed for better weaponry, and lighter, cheaper iron technology allowed for more widespread use of weaponry.

Basic Prehistory Timeline

The Beginning of Time

14 billion B.C.: The Big Bang occurred. Matter exploded, cooled, and expanded.

4.5 billion B.C.: Earth formed.

4.4 billion B.C.: The oceans formed.

4 billion B.C.: The first microorganisms evolved.

3.8 to 3.5 billion B.C.: The last universal common ancestor (LUCA)–the most recent living organism that survived to evolve into all current life on the planet–existed.

8 to 6 million B.C.: The first great apes (hominids) evolved.

The Stone Age: The Paleolithic Era

2.5 million B.C.: Homo habilis, the first human species, evolved in East Africa from an unknown, extinct great ape. Habilis was the first to use stone tools and had a larger brain than his ancestors.

1.8 to 1.5 million B.C.: Homo erectus evolved, then migrated out of Africa to Asia.

1.6 to 1 million B.C.: Homo erectus started using fire for cooking. Half a million years later, these early humans began hunting with spears, building shelters and creating more complex tribal communities.

230,000 B.C.: The Neanderthals evolved and migrated across Asia and Europe..

200,000 B.C.: Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and migrated across Asia and Europe.

150,000 B.C.: Humans developed the ability to speak.

50,000 to 12,000 B.C.: Human culture developed rapidly. Humans began performing ritual burials and making clothing, artworks, jewelry, advanced tools, boats, ovens, pottery, harpoons, saws, woven baskets, woven nets and woven baby carriers. Also during this time, the Neanderthals mated with Homo sapiens, then went extinct. They were replaced by the Cro-Magnons, who also mated with Homo sapiens. From them the modern Homo sapiens inherited larger brains.

40,000 B.C.: Early modern humans appeared. They settled Australia, then North America.

The Stone Age: The Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras

13,000 B.C.: People in Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent) started raising animals.

10,000 B.C.: People in Mesopotamia started cultivating crops and forming small towns. They created religious sites, grew grain (particularly barley and wheat) and other crops, smelted copper, developed a simple writing system built irrigation channels and invented the wheel (only used for pottery, though, at this time).

10,000 B.C.: Caucasians settled Europe.

5,000 B.C.: The Sumerians built a collection of individual city-states in Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, creating the world’s first true civilization. It had ziggurats (pyramid-like centers of worship), scribes and accountants.

3200–2600 B.C.: Writing was developed in Sumer (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs), triggering the beginning of recorded history.

Classic Literature: Older Kids and Adults (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

Did you ever wonder what the best thing in the world is? Well, pay attention, because I know the answer: it’s reading.

Reading is the best thing.

Here is my list of the best books in the world that aren’t true, besides the ones in my classic children’s literature list.

Note that when it comes to literature, reading great books is only the first step. Literary analysis comes later, and is also vital, so be sure to read that School in a Book section, too.

Works I particularly recommend reading in their entirety have an asterisk after them.

Introductory Classic Fiction

The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan (1628-1688)*
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)*
The Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss (1743–1818)*
Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (1783-1859)*
Rip van Winkle, Washington Irving (1783-1859)*
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1797–1851)*
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas (1802–1870)
The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas (1802–1870)
The complete poetry of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)*
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)*
Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne (1828–1905)*
A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne (1828–1905)*
From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne (1828–1905)*
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne (1828–1905)*
Other novels by Jules Verne (1828–1905)
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)*
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)*
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)*
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain (1835–1910)*
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1835-1910)*
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Dracula, Bram Stoker (1847–1912)*
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)*
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)
Little Lord Fauntleroy, Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)*
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)*
Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle (1853–1911)*
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)
Peter Pan, James Barrie (1860-1937)
The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry (1862–1910)
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1865-1947)
Chronicles of Avonlea, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1865-1947)
Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling (1865- 1936)
The Scarlet Pimpernell, Emma Orczy (1865–1947)
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells (1866–1946)*
The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1866–1946)*
The Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)
Selected poems by Robert Frost (1874-1963)*
You Know Me Al, Ring Lardner (1885–1933)
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
The Yearling, Marjorie Rawlings (1896–1953)*
The Chronicles of Narnia series, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)*
Out of the Silent Planet and the rest of the Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)*
The Once and Future King, T. H. White (1899-1985)*
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900–1944)
Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls (1913–1984)*
Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls (1913–1984)*
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, John Ciardi (1916-1986)
Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary (1916–)
Other books by Beverly Cleary (1916–)*
A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007)*
Other books by Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007)
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger (1919–2010)*
Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger (1919–2010)
Nine Stories, J. D. Salinger (1919–2010)
Books by Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1920–2002)*
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)*
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1926–)*
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (1927–2014)*
The Princess Bride, William Goldman (1931–)*
Rabbit, Run, John Updike (1932–2009)*
Rabbit Revisited, John Updike (1932–2009)*
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)*
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Hannah Green (1932–)*
Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson (1932–)
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson (1932–)*
A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines (1933–)*
Summer of My German Soldier, Bette Greene (1934–)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey (1935–2001)*
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume (1938–)
Other books by Judy Blume
The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1944–)*
Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller (1944–)*
The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton (1948–)*
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1951–)*
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1952–2001)*
The White Stallion, Elizabeth Shub*
The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous
The Pilgrim Continues His Way, Anonymous
Stuart Little, E.B. White
The Trumpet of the Swans, E.B. White
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting
The Walking Drum, Louis L’Amour
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
Peter and Wendy, James Barrie
Pollyanna, Elanor Hodgman
Ben Hur, Lew Wallace
The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
Heidi, Johanna Spyri
Lassie, Eric Knight
Paul Revere’s Ride, Henry Longfellow
The Man in the Iron Mask
The A Wrinkle in Time series, Madeline L’Engle

Classic Fiction for Readers of High School Age and Beyond

The Illiad, Homer
The Odyssey, Homer
Greek mythology
Roman mythology
The Orestia Trilogy, Aeschylus (c. 525/524–c. 456/455 BC)
The Oedipus Plays, Sophocles (c. 497–405 BC)
Medea, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC)
The Bacchae, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC)
The Trojan Women, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC)
Hippolytus, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC)
Selected works of Thucydides (c. 460–400 BC)
Lysistrata, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC)
The Frogs, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC)
The Clouds, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC)
Odes, Horace (65–8 BC)
The Aeneid, Virgil (70–19 BC)
The Metamorphosis, Ovid (43 BC–AD 17/18)
The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, Epictetus (c. 55–135)
Prometheus Bound and selected works of Aeschylus (c. 525/524– c. 456/455 BC)
Beowulf, Anonymous (c. 975-1025)
Cur Deus Homo, Anselm (c. 1033–1109)
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c. 1090–1164)*
The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321)
The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)*
The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (c. 1343–1400)*
Mabinogion, Anonymous (c. 1350-1410)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Anonymous (c. 1300s)
La Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1415–1471)
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527)*
Mandragola, Niccolo Macchiavelli (1469–1527)
Orlando Furioso, Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533)
Utopia and other selected works by Sir Thomas More (1478–1535)*
Selected works by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542)
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616)*
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599)
Selected works by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)*
Faust, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)*
Poetry of John Donne (1572–1631)*
Volpone, Ben Jonson (1572–1637)*
The Alchemist, Ben Johnson (1572–1637)*
Paradise Lost, John Milton (1608–1674)*
Paradise Regained, John Milton (1608–1674)*
The Bourgeois Gentleman, Moliere (1622–1673)*
The Misanthrope, Moliere (1622–1673)*
Tartuffe, Moliere (1622–1673)*
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731)*
Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift (1667–1745)*
Selected poetry of John Hopkins (born 1675)*
Candide, Voltaire (1694–1778)*
The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774)
The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)*
The poetry of William Blake (1757–1827)*
The poetry of William Wordsworth (1770–1850)*
The poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)*
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1775–1817)*
Emma, Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Other works by Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Don Juan, Lord Byron (1788–1824)*
The Last of the Mohicans, James Fennimore Cooper (1789–1851)
The poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)*
Sartor Resarus, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)
Pere Goriot, Honore de Balzac (1799–1850)
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (1802–1885)*
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo (1802–1885)
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)*
The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)*
The poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)*
The poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)*
Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852)
The Professor at the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)*
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)*
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)*
Other works by Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
The poetry of Robert Browning (1812–1889)*
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1816–1855)*
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (1818–1848)*
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (1819–1892)*
Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1819–1891)*
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (1819–1880)
Adam Bede, George Eliot (1819–1880)
Middlemarch, George Eliot (1819–1880)
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880)
Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880)
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)*
The Brothers Karamozov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)*
Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)*
The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)*
The Man Without a Country, Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909)
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)*
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)*
Modern Love, George Meredith (1828–1909)*
The complete works of Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)*
The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler (1835–1902)
Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Green Mansions, William Henry Hudson (1841-1922)*
The complete works of Henry James (1843–1916)*
Miss Julie, August Strindberg (1849–1912)
The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909)*
The Awakening, Kate Chopin (1850–1904)*
The complete works of Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)*
The complete works of George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)*
The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1857–1924)
The complete works of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)*
The complete works of Edith Wharton (1862–1937)*
The complete works of W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)*
The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux (1868–1927)*
Twelve Men, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945)
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane (1871–1900)*
The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford (1873–1939)*
The Innocence of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)*
The Wisdom of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)*
The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936)
The Ball and the Cross, G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936)
Daylight and Nightmare, G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936)
Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann (1875–1955)*
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann (1875–1955)*
Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)*
The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1876-1916)*
White Fang, Jack London (1876-1916)*
The Sea-Wolf, Jack London (1876-1916)
To Build a Fire (Part of the collection titled Lost Face), Jack London (1876-1916)*
Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)*
Siddhartha, Herman Hesse (1877–1962)*
The complete works of E. M. Forster (1879–1970)*
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1882–1941)*
Ulysses, James Joyce (1882–1941)
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
The complete works of Franz Kafka (1883–1924)*
The poetry of Ezra Pound (1885–1972)*
Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930)
Women In Love, D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930)*
Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence (1885–1930)*
Eight Sonnets, Edna St. Vincent Millay
The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Other poems by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)*
Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)*
The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)
Other novels by Agatha Christie (1890–1976)*
The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)*
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)*
Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)*
The complete works of Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)*
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)*
The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973)*
The Lord of the Rings series, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973)*
The complete works of E. E. Cummings (1894–1962)*
The complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940)*
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1897–1962)
Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)*
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1900–1949)*
Lost Horizon, James Hilton (1900–1954)*
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1911–1993)*
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970)*
The complete works of Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)*
The Pearl, John Steinbeck (1902–1968)*
The complete works of John Steinbeck (1902–1968)*
Animal Farm, George Orwell (1903–1950)*
1984, George Orwell (1903–1950)*
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)*
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)*
The complete works of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980)*
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)*
Endgame, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)*
Waldo, Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)*
Magic, Inc., Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)*
Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988)*
Everyman, Anonymous (1909)
The Bald Soprano, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)*
The Lesson, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)
Jack, or the Submission, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)
The Chairs, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)
A Death in the Family, James Agee (1909–1955)*
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee (1909–1955)*
The complete works of Tennessee Williams (1911–1983)*
The complete works of Albert Camus (1913–1960)*
The complete works of Dylan Thomas (1914–1953)
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)*
Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1923–1999)*
Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin (1924–1987)*
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote (1924–1984)*
The complete works of John Knowles (1926–2001)*
The Tin Drum and other selected works by Gunter Grass (1927–2015)*
The American Dream, Edward Albee (1928–)*
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee (1928–)*
Walden Two, B.F. Skinner*

Optional Advanced Classic Fiction

The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1438)
The Schoolmaster, Roger Ascham (1515–1568)
Tamburlaine the Great, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)
The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)
Every Man in His Humour, Ben Johnson (1572–1637)
The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster (c. 1580–c. 1634)
Life is a Dream, Calderon de la Barca (1600–1681)
Pensees, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)
Absalom and Achitophel: A Poem, John Dryden (1631–1700)
Oroonoko: The Royal Slave, Aphra Behn (1640–1689)
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731)
The Bassett Table, Susana Centlivre (c. 1667 to 1670–1723)
The Way of the World, William Congreve (1670–1729)*
The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay (1685–1732)
The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated, Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
The Dunciad, Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
Pamela, Samuel Richardson (1689–1761)
Fantomina, Eliza Haywood (c. 1693–1756)
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding (1707–1754)
Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding (1707–1754)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Lawrence Stern (1713–1768)
Erotica Romana, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
Hermann and Dorothea, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832)
Edmond, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797)
Charlotte: A Tale of Truth, Susana Rowson (1762–1824)
The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal (1783–1842)
The Red and the Black, Stendhal (1783–1842)
The Deerslayer, James Fennimore Cooper (1789–1851)
Mr. Midshipman Easy, Captain Frederick Marryat (1792–1848)
The Inspector-General, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852)
Henry Esmond, William Thackeray (1811–1863)
Vanity Fair, William Thackeray (1811–1863)
Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana (1815–1882)
The Small House at Allington, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882)
Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882)
Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883)
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)*
The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)*
The Egoist, George Meredith (1828–1909)
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, George Meredith (1828–1909)
The Rise of Silas Lapham, W. D. Howells (1837–1920)
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Tess of the D’ubervilles, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce (1842–c. 1914)
Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy (1850–1898)
The Hound of Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930)*
In His Steps, Charles Sheldon (1857–1946)*
The Virginian, Owen Wister (1860–1938)
What Every Woman Knows, J.M. Barrie (1860–1937)
The Petty Demon, Fyodor Sologub (1863–1927)
The Three-Cornered World, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)*
Kokoro, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)*
I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)*
The Pastoral Symphony, Andre Gide (1869–1951)
The Pit, Frank Norris (1870–1902)
The Octopus, Frank Norris (1870–1902)
Sarra, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919)
The Seven Who Were Hanged, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919)
The Life of Man, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919)
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945)
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945)
Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust (1871–1922)
My Antonia, Willa Cather (1873–1947)*
O Pioneers!, Willa Cather (1873–1947)*
Death Comes For the Archbishop, Willa Cather (1873–1947)
Of Human Bondage and other selected works by W. Somerset Maugham (1874–1965)*
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1874–1946)
Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein (1874–1946)
The writings of Amy Lowell (1874–1925)
Giants in the Earth, O.E. Rolvaang (1876–1931)
Many Marriages, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)*
Demian, Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)*
Red Roses for Me, Sean O’Casey (1880–1964)*
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (1882–1941)
Dubliners, James Joyce (1882–1941)
Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951)
Giant, Edna Ferber (1885–1968)
Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951)
Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951)
The Key, Junichiro Tanizaki (1886–1965)
Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Nordhoff (1887–1947) and James Norman Hall (1887–1951)
The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary (1888–1957)
At the Bay, Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923)
In a German Pension, Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923)
Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter (1890–1980)
The Sea of Grass, Conrad Richter (1890–1968)
Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (1890–1960)
The Light in the Forest, Conrad Richter (1890–1968)
Black Spring, Henry Miller (1891–1980)
Johnny Tremain, Ester Forbes (1891–1967)
Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen (1893–1918)
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett (1894–1961)*
The Citadel, A. J. Cronin (1896–1981)
The 42nd Parallel, John Dos Passos (1896–1970)
Nineteen, Nineteen, John Dos Passos (1896–1970)
Three Soldiers, John Dos Passos (1896–1970)
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (1897–1962)
Light in August, William Faulkner (1897–1962)
Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner (1897–1962)
Sanctuary, William Faulkner (1897–1962)
The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)
Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972)
The Sound of the Mountain, Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972)
You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938)
Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther (1901–1970)
Selected works of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991)
Too Late the Philanthrope, Alan Paton (1903–1988)
The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West (1903–1940)
God’s Little Acre, Erskine Caldwell (1903–1987)
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1904–1991)
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene (1904–1991)
Anthem, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)*
Night of January 16th, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)*
We The Living, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)*
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren (1905–1989)
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1905–1983)
Act Without Words, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)
Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt (1907–2001)
Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank (1908–1964)*
The Ox-Bow Incident, Walter van Tillburg Clark (1909–1971)
Free Fall, William Golding (1911–1993)
The Inheritors, William Golding (1911–1993)
The Assistant, Bernard Malamud (1914–1986)
The Fixer, Bernard Malamud (1914–1986)
Dangling Man, Saul Bellow (1915–2005)
Herzog, Saul Bellow (1915–2005)
All My Sons, Arthur Miller (1915–2005)*
The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk (1915–)
The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers (1917–1967)
Selected works of Robert Lowell (1917–1977)
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1917–1993)
The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark (1918–2006)
The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008)
Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose (1920-2002)*
Dune, Frank Herbert (1920–1986)*
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)*
Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)*
The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)*
Other books by Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)*
The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)*
A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt (1924–1995)
Music for Chameleons, Truman Capote (1924–1984)*
Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote (1924–1984)*
A Separate Peace, John Knowles (1926–2001)*
A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck (1928–)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (1929–)*
My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potak (1929–2002)*
The Chosen, Chaim Potak (1929–2002)
The Promise, Chaim Potak (1929–2002)
No Longer At Ease, Chinua Achebe (1930–2013)*
Selected books by Toni Morrison (1931–)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest J. Gaines (1933–)
Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya (1937–)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard (1937–)
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nora Hurston
Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss
Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad
Nana, Zola
Native Son, Richard Wright
The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton
Kim, Rudyard Kipling

Other Literature I Recommend

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (1927–2013)*
The Bears’ House and other books by Marilyn Sachs (1927–)*
The Daring Book for Girls
The Dangerous Book for Boys
The Boys’ Book of Survival
The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers, Mary Norton
The complete Ramona series, Beverly Cleary
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Judy Blume
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Judy Blume
Along Came a Dog, X and Maurice Sendak
The Wheel on the School, X and Maurice Sendak
The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald
All the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald
Happy Times in Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren
The Children of Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren
Emil and the Great Escape, Astrid Lindgren
McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm
Phoebe the Spy, Judith Griffin
The Cabin Faced West, Jean Fritz
The Courage of Sarah Noble
Paddle-to-the-Sea
The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de Angeli
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

Basic Mandarin Chinese Vocabulary (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

I have a basic working Mandarin vocabulary–what I call “traveler’s Chinese.” Though it’s one of my life goals to become fluent or close to it (mostly because it would be so much fun), I also feel that this basic level is extremely valuable in its own right. Once you get past the language basics and talk to some natives who–surprise!–actually understand you, the groundwork has been laid; you become confident. After that, you have fun with it: talk to people you meet, ask them to explain things, practice a bit here and a bit there. A decade or so later, you’re ready to visit the land of your chosen second language and make a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time.

A note on the list: There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese. Fortunately, they’re not hard to master; just do an Internet search to hear them and practice. One more tip: At first, don’t worry about grammar too much. Get the main verbs, the main short words (“because,” “with,” “and,” “very,” and the time- and distance-related vocabulary) and the whole introductory conversation basics, then move on to your nouns–food, body parts, etc. When you practice, make as many mistakes as you can possibly make, grammar-wise; just get yourself understood. That’s the goal.

Basic Mandarin Vocabulary:

Conversational Basics and Common Phrases:

Hello: Ni3 hao3
How are you: Ni3 hao3 ma
What is your name: Ni3 de ming2 zi jiao4 shen2 me
My name is: Wo3 de ming2 zi jiao4
First name: Ming2 zi
Family name: Gui4 xing4
How old are you: Ni3 ji1 sui4 le
I am __ years old: Wo3 you3 __ nian2
Good morning: Zao3 an1
Good afternoon:
Good evening: Wan3 an1
Yes: Shi4
No: Bu4 shi4
Please: Qing2
May I: Ke3 yi3
Thank you: Xie4 xie4
Excuse me/I’m sorry: Dui4 bu4 qi2
You’re welcome/I don’t mind: Mei2 guan4 xi1
No problem/I don’t care: Bu4 yao4 jin3
Where are you from: Ni3 lai2 zai4 na3 li3
I am from: Wo3 lai2 zi4
I speak __: Wo3 shuo1 __
Do you speak __: Ni3 shuo1 __ ma?
U.S.A.: Mei3 guo2
American: Mei3 guo2 ren2
English: Ying1 wen2
China: Zhong1 guo2
Chinese (person): Zhong1 guo2 ren2
Chinese (Mandarin language): Pu2 tong2 hua4
Chinese (Cantonese language): Guang3 dong1 hua4
How do you say: Wo3 zem2 me shuo1
What does this mean: Shen2 me yi4 ci2
Say it again: Zai4 shuo1 yi1 ci4
May I ask: Qing2 wen3
Can you please: Ni3 ke3 yi3
Nice to meet you: Hen3 gao1 xin1 jian4 dao4 ni3
Be careful: Xiao4 xin1 (yi1 dian3)
Hurry up: Kuai4 yi1 dian3
Wait a moment: Deng3 yi2 xia4
I am ready: Wo3 zhu3 bei4 hao3 le
Both are fine: Shen2 me dou1 ke3 yi3

Verbs:

To be: Shi4
To go: Qu4
To want: Yao4
To use: Yong4
To need: Xu3 yao4
To know: Zhi1 dao4
To like: Xi3 huan1
To love: Ai4
To live: Zhu4
To be born: Chu1 sheng1
To die: Si2
To sleep/go to bed: Shui4 jiao4
To wake up: Xing3 lai2
To cook: Zuo2 (fan4)
To read: Kan4 (shu1)
To practice: Lian4 xi3
To make/do: Zuo3
To look at: Kan4
To see: Kan4 dao4
To look for: Zhao3
To walk: Zou3 (lu4)
To run: Pao3 (bu4)
To go to work: Shang4 ban4
To finish work: Xia4 ban4
To rest: Xiu2 xi3
To play: Wan2
To sing: Chang4 ge1
To smile: Wei1 xiao4
To laugh: Da4 xiao1
To hug: Bao4
To cry: Ai1 hao4; ku1; bei4 qi4
To dance: Tiao4 wu3
To swim: You2 yong3
To take pictures: Zhao4 xiang4
To go shopping: (Qu4) guang4 jie1; gou4 wu4; mai3 dong1 xi1
To go to the bathroom: Shang4 ce4 suo3
To take a shower: Xi3 zao3
To wash hands/face: Xi3 lian2/shou3
To ride (a bike, etc.): Qi2
To ride (a car–no movement): Zuo4
To visit (someone): Bai4 fang3
To visit (something): Can1 guan1
To leave: Zou3
To wait: Deng3 (dai4)
To stay (there): Liu2 zai4 (zhe1 li3)
To stay home: Dai4 zia4 jia1 li3
To stand up: Zhan4 qi3 lai2
To sit down: Zuo4 xia4
To find: Zhao3 dao4
To pay: Fu4 qian2
To break: Sui4; lan4
To fix: Xiu1
To take: Na2
To listen: Ting1 (shuo1)
To lay down (something): Fang4
To lay down (body): Tang3 xia4
To meet (regularly): Peng4 dao4; peng4 tou2
To meet (past or future): Kan4 jian4
To show/indicate: Zhan3 shi3
To mistakenly think: Yi3 wei2
To try: Shi4 yi1 shi4
To taste/experience: Chang2 hang2; chang2 yi1 chang2
To guess: Cai1 yi1 cai1
To translate: Fan1 yi4
To hate: Hen4
To put on/wear: Chuan1; dai4
To change clothes: Huan2 yi4 fu2

Time-related:

When: Shen2 me shi2 hou4
How long: Duo1 jiu2
Early: Zao4
Late: Wan2
Soon: Hen3 kuai4
Not soon: Hen3 man4
Always: Zong3 shi4
Never: Cong2 lai2 (mei2 you3)
Again: Zai4
Often/usually: Jing1 chang2
Sometimes: You3 shi2 hou4
Still more (time): Hai2 (you3)
Daytime: Wan3 shang4
Nighttime: Wan3 shang4
Day: Tian1
Morning: Zao3 shang4
Afternoon: Xia4 wu3
Time: Shi2 jian1
Hour: Xiao3 shi2; zhong1 tou2
Minute: Fen1 zhong1
Second: Miao3 zhong1
This week: Zhe4 zhou1
Next week: Xia4 zhou1
Last week: Shang4 zhou1
Before/earlier: Yi3 qian2; zai4 shi1 qian2
After/later: Yi3 hou4; hou4 lai2; dai1 hui3
At the same time: Tong2 shi2
First: Di1 yi1
Second: Di1 er4
One time: Yi1 ci4
The first time: Di1 yi1 ci4
Midnight: Ban4 ye4
Long (time): Jiu2; chang2 shi2 jian1
A while: Yi2 xia4
Future: Wei4 lai2
Past:
Ever: Guo1; ceng2 jing2

Size- and Amount-Related:

How much/how many: Duo1 shao1
More: Bi3 (jiao4) duo1 de;
Less: Bi3 (jiao4) shao3 de
A little: Yi1 dian3
A little more: Duo1 yi1 dian3
Most: Zui4
Some: Yi1 xie3 de
Only: Zhi2 you3
Still more (amount): Hai2 you3
Almost: Cha4 bu4 duo1
Not enough: Bu2 gou4
Not quite: Bu2 tai4
Too (much): Tai4
Size: Da4 xiao3
Short (people): Ai3
Short (stuff): Duan3
Tall (people): Gao1
Long (things): chang2
Wide: Kuan1 kuo4 de
Deep: Shen1 de
Empty: Kong1 dong4
Amount: Deng3 yu2
Enough: Gou3 le
None: Mei2 you3 yi1 ge
Both: Liang3
Both/all: Dou1; quan2 bu2 de
Another one: Zai4 yi1 ge
Equal: Deng3 (yu1)
How many?: Ji3 ge
Another: Bie2 de
One or two: Yi1 liang2 ge
Either one: Bu2 lun4 . . . dou1 (hao1)
Only: Jiu4
Pound: Bang4
Kilo: Gong1 jin1
1/2 kilo: Jin1
Still more: Hai2 you3
Others: Qi2 ta1 de
Every: Mei3 yi1; mei3 ge
Each: Mei3 yi1 ge
The whole (one): Zheng3 ge4
The whole (time): Suo3 you3 (shi2 jian1)
Everything: Yi1 qie4 dou1; shen2 me dou1; suo3 you3 shi4 wu4
Something: Xie1 shi4
Nothing: Mei2 you3 dong1 xi1; mei1 you3 shi4
Everybody: Mei2 ge ren2; ren2 ren2
Anything: Wu2 lun2 shen2 me
Somebody: Yi1 ge ren2
Nobody: Mei2 you3 ren2
Anybody: Ren4 he2 ren2; shen2 me ren2
Everywhere: Mei3 ge di4 fang1; dao4 qu4 dou1
Somewhere: Yi1 ge di4 fang1
Nowhere: Mei2 you3 di4 fang1
Anywhere: Ren4 he2 di4 fang1

Direction/Location-related:

A direction: Fang1 xiang4
A location: Fang1 wei4
Here: Zher4
There: Nar4
High: Gao1
Low: Di1
Beside: Zai . . . pang2 bian1/lin2 jin4
Between: Zai4 . . . zhi1 jian1/zhong1 jian1
Ahead: Zai . . . qian2 fang1/qian2 mian4
Over/above/on: Zai4 . . . shang4 mian4; gao1 yu2
In: Zai4 . . . li3 bian1
Under: Zai4 . . . xia4 mina4
The top: Zui4 shang4 mian4; zui4 shang4 bian4
The bottom: Di3 bu1; zui4 di3
Side/limit: Bian1
Behind: Zai . . . hou4 mian4
Both sides: Liang3 bian1
This side: Zhe4 bian1
That side: Na4 bian1
Central: Zhong1 yang1 de
Inner: Li3 bian1 de
Outer: Wai4 bian1 de
Right: You3
Left: Zuo3
Center: Zhong1 jian1
Close/near: Jin4
Far away: (Yao2) yuan2
To travel forwards: Ziang4 qian2 zou3
To travel backwards: Ziang4 hou4 zou3
On the corner: Zai4 jiao3 luo4
One block: Yi1 kuai4 zhuan1
To turn right: Xiang4 you4 zhuan3
To turn left: Xiang4 zuo3 zhuan3
To go straight: Zhi2 zou3
North: Bei1
South: Nan2
East: Dong1 fang1
West: Xi1 fang1
Easterner: Dong1 fang1 ren2
Westerner: Xi1 fang1 ren2

Other Small Words:

This: Zhe4 ge
That: Na4 ge
But/nevertheless: Ke3 shi4; dan4 shi4
If: Ru2 guo3; yao4 shi4
Which: Na3 yi1 ge
Although/even though: Sui1 ran2
Therefore: Suo3 yi3
Will: Hui4; jiang1 (yao4)
Should: Ying1 gai1
Because: Yin1 wei4
Anyway/regardless: Qi2 shi2; bu4 guan3
Also: Ye3; you4
Probably: Huo4 xu3; ke3 neng2
In addition: Ling4 wai4; hai2 you3; chu1 ci3 gi4 wai4
Instead of: Er4 bu2 shi2
Not so: Bu4 ran2
To: Qu4 (location); gei1; zi1 (time)
From: Cong2; lai2 zi
Of: Shu3 yu2
For: Wei4
(Word at end of a question): Ma
(Word at end of a completed statement): Le

Numbers and Money:

1-10: Yi1, er4, san1, si4, wu3, liu4, qi1, ba1 jiu3 shi2
11: Shi2yi1
20: Er4 shi4
Hundred: Bai3
Thousand: Qian1
Ten thousand: Wan4
Million: Bai3 wan4
Billion: Yi4
1/10th yuen2: Yi1 jiao3
1/100th yuen: Yi1 fen1
To barter/exchange: Huan4
Passcode: Mi4 ma3
Number one: Yi1 yao4
1.00: Yi1 dian4 ling2 ling2
Money: Qian2
The cost: Jia4 ge2
Debit card: Jie4 ji4 ka1
Credit card: Xin4 yong4 ka3
Receipt: Shou1 ju4

Family Members:

Husband: Zhang4 fu1; lao3 gong1
Wife: Qi1 zi; lao3 po2
Mother: Mu3 qian1; Ma1 ma
Father: Fu4 qian1; ba1 ba
Parents: Fu4 mu3 qian1
Son: Er2 zi
Daughter: Nu3 er2
Older brother: Ge4 ge
Younger brother: Di4 di
Older sister: Jie3 jie
Younger sister: Mei4 mei
Grandparents: Ye3 ye3 nai3 nai4
Grandmother (mom’s mom): Wai4 po2
Grandmother (dad’s mom):  Nai3 nai1
Grandfather (mom’s dad): Wai4 gong1
Grandfather (dad’s dad): Ye3 ye

Adjectives:

Best: Zui4 hao3 de
Better: Geng4 hao3 de; bi (jian4) hao3 de
Worse/worst: Geng4 huai4 de; bi3 (jiao4) huai4 de; bi3 (jiao4) cha4 de
The same: Yi2 yang4 de
Different: Bu4 tong2 de
Big: Da4
Small: Xiao3
Clamorous: Da4 shan1
Loud: Chao3 nao4
Quiet/peaceful: An1 jing4 de
Old (people): Lao3
Old (things) jiu4
Young: Nian2 qing1 de
Weak: Ruo4 de; shou4 ruo4
Strong: (Qiang2) zhuang4 de
Heavy: Zhong4 de
Light: Qing1 de
Light/bright: Deng1
Soft: Ruan3 de
Hard: Ying4 de
Wet: Chao2 shi2 de; shi2 de
Dry: Gan1 (zao4) de
Clean: Gan1 jing4 de
Dirty: Zang1 de
True: Zhen1 de
False: Bu4 zhen1 de
Cheap: Pian2 yi4 de
Used: Er4 shou3 de; yong4 guo4 de
New: Xin1 de
Stinky: Chou4
Handsome: Ying1 jun4
Pretty: Piao4 liang4
Beautiful: Mei3 liang3
Broken: Sui4 le; lan4 de; huai4 de
Bright: Ming2 liang2 de; xing3 mu4 de
Dim: Bu4 liang2
Well-organized: Zu3 zhi1 de; zheng3 li2 de
Works well: Zuo2 de hen3 hao3
Doesn’t work: Mei2 zuo4
Happy: Gao1 xin1; kai1 xin1
Sad: Bei1 shang1; shang1 xin1 de
Hopeful/to hope: Xi1 wang4 (de)
Surprised: Chi1 jing1 de
Angry: Sheng1 qi4 de
Jealous: Du4 ji4
Afraid: Hai4 pa4
Excited: Xing4 fen4
Nervous: Jin3 zhang1 (DE??)
Worried: Dan1 xin1; zhao1 ji2
Embarrassed: Diu1 ren2; gan1 ga4
Bored: Wu2 liao3
Famous: Zhu4 ming2; you3 ming2
Popular: Liu2 xing2
Unpopular: Bu4 de ren2 xin1; bu4 luo3 xing2
Shy: Hai4 xiu1
Outgoing: Kai1 fang4
Nice: Hao3 de
Mean: Huai4 de
Friendly: You3 hao3 de
Scholarly: Hao4 xue2 de
Smart: Cong2 ming2 de
Stupid: Ben4 de
Rich: You3 qian2 de
Poor: qiong2
Funny: You3 mo2 de; hua1 ji4 de
Interesting: You3 qu4
Unique: Tu4 bie2 de
Ordinary/common: Pu2 tong1 de; ping2 chang2 de
Rare: Xi1 you3 de
Important: Zhong4 yao4
Complicated: Fu4 za2

Food-related:

Food: Fan4; shi2 wu4
Fruit: Shui3 guo3
Vegetables: Shu1 cai4
Apple: Ping2 guo3
Banana: Xiang1 jiao1
Orange: Ju2 zi
Grape: Pu2 tao2
Carrot: Hu2 luo2 bo1
Peas: Wan1 dou4
Cucumber: Huang2 gua1
Spinach: Bo1 cai4
Broccoli: Ye1 cai4
Cabbage: Da4 bai2 cai4
Onion: Yang2 cong1
Corn: Bao1 gu3; yu2 mi3
Cauliflower: Hua1 cai4
Tomato: Xi1 hong2 shi4
Celery: Qin2 cai4
Green pepper: Qing1 jiao1
Red pepper: Tian2 jiao1 hong2 jiao1
Rice: Mi3 fan4; fan4
Noodles: Mian4 tiao2
Bread: Mian4 bao1
Chicken: Ji1 rou4; ji1
Fish: Yu2 rou4; yu2
Tofu: Dou4 fu1
Pork: Zhu1 rou4; zhu1
Egg(s): Ji1 dan4
Meat: Rou4
Beef: Niu3 rou4; niu3
Hamburger: Han4 bao3 bao1
Milk: Niu2 nai3
Alcohol: Jiu3
Beer: Pi2 jiu3
Wine: Jiu3
Potato: Tu3 dou4
Soy sauce: Jiang4 you3
Sauce: Jiang4
Oil: You2
Sugar: Tang3
Dessert: Tian2 shi2; tian2 dian3
Wheat: Mai4
Cookie: Bing3 gan1
Seafood: Hai3 xian1
Steak: Niu3 pai2
Beans: Dou4 li3; dou4
Shrimp: Xia1
Berry: Jiang1 guo3
Lettuce: Sheng1 cai4
Green vegetables: Qing1 cai4
Green beans: Ji1 dou4 ji1
Beverage: Yin3 liao4
Water: Shui3
Ice: Bing1
Sweet: Tian2 de
Salt: Yan2
Salty: Xian2 de
Spicy: La4 de
Sour: Suan1 de
Fresh: Xin1 xian4 de
Menu: Cai4 dan1
Fork: Cha1 zi
Knife: Dao1 zi
Spoon: Shao2 zi
Bowl: Wan3
Chopsticks: Kuai4 zi
Cup: Bei1 zi
Plate: Pan2 zi
Wok/pan: Ping2 guo1; guo1
Caffeine: Ka1 fei1 yin1
Coffee: Ka1 fei1
Decaf coffee: Two1 ka1 fei1 yin1 de ka1 fei1
Bottle: Yi4 ping2
Spices: Xiang1 liao4; tiao2 wei4 pin3
Cheese: Nai3 lao4
Pizza: Pi1 sa4
Snack: Dian3 xin1
Salad: Sha1 la1
Fast food: Kuai4 can1
Butter: Huang3 you2
A dish: Cai4
Soup: Tang2

Personal Effects:

Pencil: Qian1 bi3
Pen: Bi3
Paper: Zhi3
Scissors: Bi3 ji4 ben3; ben3 zi
Tape: Zhao1 dai4
Computer: Dian4 zi3 (ji1 suan4 ji1)
Glue: jiao1 shui3
Map: Di4 tu3
Cards: Ka1 pian4
Letter: Xing4
Calendar: Ri4 li4
Stamp: You2 pian4
Envelope: Xin4 feng1
Cell phone:
Sign: Biao1
Light/lamp: Deng1
Clothes: Y2 fu2
Shirt: Chen4 shan1
Pants: Ku4 zi
Sweater: Mao3 yi1
Shoes: Xie4 zi
Skirt: Duan3 qun2; qun2 zi
Hat: Mao4 zi
Coat: Wai4 tao4
Socks: Wa4 zi
Underwear: Nei4 yi1; nei4 ku4; duan3 ku4
Bra: Wen2 xiong1; xiong1 zao4
Pajamas: Shui4 yi1
Shorts: Duan3 ku4
Jeans: Niu3 chang2 ku4
Blanket: Bei1 zi
Hairbrush: Shu1 zi
Comb: Shu1 zi
Handbag: Shou3 ti2 bao1
Purse: Qian2 bao1
Towel: Mao2 jin1
Shampoo: Xi3 fa1 shui3
Conditioner: Zhe1 li3 shui3
Soap: Xiang1 zao4; fei2 zao4
Lotion: Ying1 yang3 shuang1
Toothpaste: Ya2 gao1
Toothbrush: Ya2 shua1
Backpack:
Suitcase: Xiang1 zi; lu3 xing2 xiang3
Toilet paper: Ce4 zhi3
Garbage: La1 ji1
Garbage can: La1 ji1 xiang1
Air conditioner: Kong1 tiao2
Heater: Dian4 nuan3 qi4
Keys: Yao4 shi2
Batteries: Dian4 chi2
Clock: Zhong1
Camera: Zhao4 xiang4 ji1
Wallet: Qian2 bao1
Glasses: Yan3

Colors:

Color: Yan2 se4
Red: Hong2 se4
Blue: Lan2 se4
Yellow: Huang2 se4
Green: Lu2 se4
Orange: Ju2 se4
Purple: Zi3 se4
Pink: Fen3 hong2 se4
Black: Hei1 se4
White: Bai2 se4
Gray: Hui1 se4
Brown: Zhong se4/ he1 se4
Silver: Yin2 se4
Gold: Jin1 se4

Body Parts:

Body: Shen1 ti3
Head: Tou3
Mind: Si1 xiang3
Face: Lian3
Eyes: Yan3 jing1
Ears: Er3 duo1
Mouth: Kou3
Lips: Zui3 ba1
Nose: Bi2 zi
Hands: Shou3
Feet: Jiao3
Fingers: Shou3 zhi3
Toes: Jiao3 zhi3
Legs: Tui3
Arms: Shou3 bi4
Hair: Tou2 fa1
Back: Bei4
Neck: Bo2 zi
Skin: Pi2 fu1
Stomach: Du4 zi
Butt: Pi4 gu3
Poop: Fen4 bian4
Pee: Niao4

Travel-related:

Car: Che1
Bus: Gong1 gong4 qi4 che1
Taxi: Chu1 zu1 che1
Motorcycle: Mo2 to2 che1
Plane: Fei1 ji1
Ship: Lun2 chuan2
Airport: Ji1 chang3
Bus station: Gong1 gong4 qui4 che1 zhan4
Train: Huo3 che1
Train station: Huo3 che1 zhan4
Bus stop: Gong1 gong4 qi4 che1 zhan4
Culture: Wen2 hua4
Foreign: Wai4 guo2
Foreigner: Wai4 guo2 ren2
To travel: Lu2 you2
Overseas/abroad: Hai3 wai4
Nation: Guo2 jia1; guo2 min2
Native language: Ben3 zu2 yu3
Trip/journey: Cheng2
Passenger: Cheng2 ke4
Hometown: Jia1 xiang1; ben3 guo2
Fare: Fei4 yong4
Hotel: Fan4 dian4; lu2 guan3

Places:

Where: Zai4 na3 li3; nai4 nar3
Place: Di4 fang1
Supermarket: Chao1 shi4
Small market: Cai4 shi4 chang3; shang4 dian4
Park: Gong1 yuan2
Library: Tu2 shu1 guan3
Street: Jie1 dao4
Bank: Yin2 hang2
Hospital: Yi1 yuan4
Building: Jian4 zhu4
Elementary school: Xia3 xue2
Middle school: Zhong1 xue2
High school: Gao1 zhong1
College: Da4 xue
Gym: Jian4 shen1 fang2
City: Cheng2 shi4
Church: Jian4 tang2
Temple: Miao4
Post office: You3 ju2
Bar/nightclub: Jiu3 ba1
Movie theater: Dian4 ying3 yuan4
Theater: Ju4 yuan4
Outdoors: Wai4 mian4
Indoors: Li3 mian4
The zoo: Dong4 wu4 yuan1
Great Wall: Chang2 cheng2
Art museum: Bo4 wu4 guan3
Apartment building: Gong1 yu4

Rooms & Furniture:

Room: Fang2 jian1
Bedroom: Fang2 jian1; wo4 shi4
Bathroom/toilet: Ce4 suo3
Kitchen: Chu1 fang2
Living room: Ke4 ting1
Dining room: Fan4 ting1
Bed: Chuang2
Window: Chuang1 (hu4)
Wall: Qiang2 bi4
Chair: Yi3 zi
Desk/table: Zhuo1 zi
Couch: Chang2 sha4 fa1
Pillow: Zhen3 tou2
Closet: Zha3 wu4 fang2
Door: Men2
Home/house: Jia1
Apartment: Fang2 zi

Nature-related:

Weather: Tian1 qi4
Hot: Re4
Cold: Leng2
Warm: Nuan3 he de
Cool: Liang2 kuai4
Spring: Chun1 tian1
Summer: Xia4 tian1
Fall: Qiu1 tian1
Winter: Dong1 tian1
Sun: Tai4 yang2
Moon: Yue4 liang4
Stars: Xing1 xing1
Land: Lu4 di4; tu3
Sea/ocean: Hai3 yang2
Wind: Feng1
Rain: Yu3
Snow: Xue3
Clouds: Yun2
Cloudy: Yin1 tian1 de
Storm: Feng1 bao4
Grass: Cao3
Flower: Hua1
Tree: Shu4
Bush: Guan4 mu4 cong2
Nature: Zi4 ran2
River: He2 liu2
Lake: Hu2
Beach: Sha1 tan1
Mountain: Shan1
Fire: Huo3
Sunny: Qing2 lang3
Rainy: Xia4 yu3 de
Temperature: Wen1 du4
Animal: Dong4 wu4

Professions:

Doctor: Yi1 sheng1
Nurse: Hu4 shi4
Waitress: Nu3 zhao1 dai4; fu2 wu4 guan2
Waiter: Nan2 zhao1 dai4
Salesperson/shopkeeper: Shou4 huo4 yuan2
Driver: Si1 ji1
Manager: Jin1 li3
Supervisor: Zhu2 guan3
School principal: Xiao4 zhang3
Cook: Chu2 shi1
Janitor: Men2 wei4
Writer: Zuo4 jia1
Secretary: Mi4 shu1
Librarian: Tu2 shu1 guan3 li3 yuan2
Scientist: Ke1 xue2 jia1
Soldier: Shi4 bing1
Journalist: Bao1 jie4
Minister: You2 di4 yuan2; mu4 shi1
Singer: Ge1 shou3
Artist: Yi4 shu4 jia1
Dancer: Wu2 dao3 jia1
President: Zong3 tong3
Government official: Gong1 wu4 yuan2
Tutor: Jiao1 jao4
Boss: Lao3 ban3
Interpreter: Fan1 yi4
Cashier: Shou1 ying2 yuan2
Garbage collector: qin1 jie3 gong1
Fireman:
Police officer:
Housekeeper/housewife: Bao3 mu2; (jia1 ting2) zhu2 fu4
Computer programmer:
Business owner:

Activities, Entertainment & Celebrations:

Game: You3 xi4
Sports/exercise: Yun4 dong4
Ball: Dan4; qui2
Basketball: Lan2 qui2
Football: Gan1 an1 qui2
Baseball: Lei qui2
Soccer: Zu2 qui2
Volleyball: Pai2 qui2
Ping-Pong: Ping1 pong1 qui2
Badminton: Yu3 mao1 qui2
Karate:
Competition: Bi4 sai4
Song: Ge1 qu3
Team: Huan2 dui4
To skate: Bing1 chang3
To see a movie: Kan4 dian4 ying3
Birthday: Sheng1 ri4
Christmas: Sheng4 dan4 jie2
New Year: Xin1 nian2
Spring Festival: Chun1 jie4
Happy birthday: Sheng1 ri4 kuai4 le
Merry Christmas:
Happy New Year: Xin1 nian1 kuai4 le
Congratulations: Zhu4 he4
Celebration: Qing4 zhu4
Holiday: Jia4 qi1
Vacation: Jia4 re4
Present/gift: Li3 wu4
Wedding: Hun1 li3
Funeral: Chu1 bin1

Sickness-Related:

Death: Si3
Life: Shen1 ming4
Sick: Bing4 le
Sickness: Ji2 bing4
Pills: Yao4 pian4
A cough: Ke2 sou4
A cold: Gan3 mao4
Fever: Fa1 shao1
Flu: Liu2 xing2 gan3 mao4
Stomachache: Du1 zi tong4
Headache: Tou2 tong4
?: Ban2
?: Shen1 bing4
To hurt/ache: Tong4
Allergy:
Tired: Lei4

Miscellaneous:

Word: Zi4
Character: Xie1 zi4
New word: Sheng1 zi4; dan1 zi4
Sentence: Ju1 zi
Phrase: Ci2 zu3
Pronunciation: Fa1 yin1
Grammar: Yu2 fa3
Language: Yu3 yan2
Story: Gu4 shi4
Number: Hao4 ma3; hao4
Vocabulary:
Phone number: Dian4 hua4 hao4 ma3
Address: Di4 zhi3
Driver’s license: Jia4 shi2 zi2 zao4
Passport: Hu4 zao4
Age: Nian2 ji4
Literature: Wen2 xue2
Math: Shu4 xue2
History: LI4 shi3
Science: Zi4 yan2; ke1 xue2
Art: Yi4 shu4; mei3 shu4
Music: Yin1 yue4
Politics: Zheng4 zhi4
Government: Zheng4 fu3
Physical education: Ti3 yu4
Sign: Biao1 zhi4
Wood: Mu4 tou2
Plastic: Su4 liao4
Electricity: Dian4
Electric: Dian4 de
Machine: Ji1 qi4
Action/movement: Xing2 dong4
Problem: Wen4 ti3
Plan: Ji4 hua4
Idea/concept: Zhu2 yi4
Level: Shui2 ping1
List: Dan4 zi
Stress: Ya1 li4
Feelings/emotion: Gan3 jue2
Attitude: Tai4 du4
Mood: Qing2 xu4
Personality: Ge4 xing4
God: Shang4 di4
Classmate: Ton2 xue2
Relationship: Guan1 xi4
Friendship: You3 qing3