Go to your local chain bookstore and take a gander at the “Business” section. You’ll see more books on business, finance, and investing than you can shake an empty wallet at. All of them want your attention, but which are worth your time?

Fool co-founder Tom Gardner set out to answer that question by creating a reading list for his Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter subscribers. The list encompassed every level of financial savvy, from elementary school to doctoral degrees. You can take a free trial of Hidden Gems to see the full list, but here are the five you absolutely must know, whatever your level of expertise.

Elementary school
One Up on Wall Street, by Peter Lynch. This “must-read for the rookie investor” walks you through Peter Lynch’s rational, “invest in what you know” approach to evaluating companies. Lynch amassed a legendary track record running the Fidelity Magellan Fund, so it’s worth listening to what he has to say. Looking for companies in disagreeable industries, companies being bought by insiders, and companies with a compelling niche led Lynch to such success stories as Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM), Philip Morris (its tobacco business now split between Altria (NYSE:MO) and Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM)), and Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW). Before you gasp at Fannie Mae’s inclusion, remember that Lynch retired as a fund manager in 1990.

Junior high
Investment Fables, by Aswath Damodaran. In this book, Damodaran, a professor at the Stern School of Business of New York University, looks at several investing strategies – low P/E stocks, stable earnings, and momentum, for example – and tests whether they hold up in the real world. This “excellent addition to any investor’s library” can help keep you from getting fooled the next time someone tells you about a brand-new strategy that just can’t miss.

High school
The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham. You’ve heard of Warren Buffett, right? He runs a little company called Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)? Well, Benjamin Graham taught Warren Buffett how to do what he does so well. That should help explain why The Intelligent Investor is considered a “superb reference book” for investors of any stripe.

You Can Be a Stock Market Genius, by Joel Greenblatt. The thesis of Greenblatt’s 1997 work is a very Foolish one – that “the small investor -- without portfolios totaling hundreds of millions or billions of dollars --has an advantage over professional investors.”  Case studies of spinoffs help to illustrate the author’s point. The book isn’t for beginners, but it’s a solid guide to some advanced investing strategies.

Grad school
The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek. This classic work arguing against increased governmental control over economic affairs is as relevant today as it has ever been, if not more. Recent federal bailouts of automakers such as GM (NYSE:GM) and financial institutions such as Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) make this a must-read for anyone concerned with the intersection of politics, government, and economic policy.

Want extra credit for this crash course in financial literacy? Click here for a 30-day, no-obligation free trial of Hidden Gems, and see Tom’s whole list of required reading.