Peter recently said to his Big Think readers “It really is true that you don’t know much about how the Constitution works even today if you haven’t read them.”

By “them” he meant The Federalist Papers . But of course, not all of them.

Some Great Books must be read in their entirety. The Republic , for example. But The Federalist isn’t one of those. Almost no-one reads all of its papers. I did recently, to prep for a seminar on the book, and to allow me to know which ones to exclude. I have seen some syllabi, and even some edited collections, such as the Dover Thrift edition, which do a pretty poor job of selecting. So here are four possible options that make good sense, helped along by a Ralph Ketcham note in his introduction to The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates . There are eighty-five papers total.

My minimal list , sixteen:

1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 23, 39, 49, 51, 55, 62, 70, 78, 84.

Clinton Rossiter’s “cream” list , twenty-one:

1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 23, 37, 39, 47, 48, 49, 51, 62, 63, 70, 78, 84, 85.

Ralph Ketcham’s “long list of the best,” thirty-two:

1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 23, 27, 30, 37, 39, 45, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 53, 57, 62, 63, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 73, 76, 78, 84

My maximal list (what I’m doing with the seminar), sixty-four:

1-12, 13-21, 23-24, 27-28, 31, 33, 37-41, 43-45, 47-57, 62-66, 68-78, 81, 84-85.

(Thus, it excludes 13, 22, 25-26, 29-30, 32, 34-36, 42, 46, 58-61, 67, 79-80, 82-83.  You really don’t need to read those.)

So what do y’all think? And let’s also hear your ideas for the a) most underrated paper, and if like me you’ve read them all, for the b) most boring paper. Or maybe the most boring and/or aggravating sentence of the work. There are some real doozies in there on that score.

P.S. The best secondary work I know which you should read alongside the papers remains the William Schambra collection How Democratic Is the Constitution? The essays by Parenti, Wood, Bessette, and McWilliams in it illustrate key different approaches towards the work. And the Martin Diamond essay in Strauss-Cropsey History of Political Philosophy . Charles Kesler’s intro to the Signet Classic edition of the papers, which you really must get for the index and other editorial apparatus, is also quite helpful.

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