20 Academic Books that Changed the World: a perspective on the list

20 Academic Books that Changed the World: a perspective on the list

The list of 20 Academic Books that Changed the World is now closed but had been open to public vote to choose the most influential academic book of all time. The list of 20 books, spanning a wide range of subjects, including science, philosophy, religion, feminism and literature, was generated and voted for by leading academic booksellers, librarians and publishers. Its announcement has sparked debate and prompted questions around what an academic book is. This guest post has been submitted by a member of the public, Emily Tee, and offers one reaction to the list. This post was written before the announcement of the winner. 

Public voting is now closed and the winner has been announced! On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin gained the most votes.

Originally a list of more than 200 titles had been narrowed down to just 20:

  1. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
  2. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
  3. Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  5. On the Origins of Species – Charles Darwin
  6. Orientalism – Edward Said
  7. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
  8. The Communist Manifesto – Marx & Engels
  9. The Complete Works – William Shakespeare
  10. The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer
  11. The Making of the English Working Class – E P Thompson
  12. The Meaning of Relativity – Albert Einstein
  13. The Naked Ape – Desmond Morris
  14. The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
  15. The Republic – Plato
  16. The Rights of Man – Thomas Paine
  17. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
  18. The Uses of Literacy – Richard Hoggart
  19. The Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith
  20. Ways of Seeing – John Berger

Whilst I am eager to find out the winner, I am slightly reserved about the decision-making process behind voting. For me, I have only entirely read one of the texts (George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four), and extracts from around five or six others. I’m immediately on the back foot. How many others will be in a similar situation to me? Will this add a certain bias to the voting? There will be very few individuals who have read all 20 texts, and therefore few who can submit a subjective vote.

The subject areas of the nominations are so varied that people are likely to vote for books within the subject that they are interested in or their specialist area. For me, that would be The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare has shaped and influenced the arts and literature world in a way that no other within the subject area has, however, has he been as influential on the world as Einstein or Darwin? I would argue that he probably hasn’t.

Significantly, there are only four women on the list. Three of those are writing about feminism, which seems rather niche compared to the male-authored books on the list. Although feminism is important, some variety would have been welcomed.

The list is also dominated by English speakers. Could it be culturally biased, or is this bound to happen in a world where the English language is dominant?

However, I’ll base my shortlist on what I know:

  • Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ has sold more than 20 million copies and has simplified science and physics so that it can be understood by non-academic readers;
  • Mary Wollstonecraft was the first woman to voice her opinion on a woman’s place in society and their equality to men, ultimately changing the way women are perceived to this day;
  • Albert Einstein gave us the world’s most famous equation and is now synonymous with the word ‘genius’;
  • Charles Darwin wrote the foundation of evolutionary biology
  • Plato explained to us why we need justice in ‘The Republic’.

All of these touch on pivotal moments in the world’s history and it’s academic progress, ranging from 380BC to the present day. I am now a few steps closer to determining which book I’m going to vote for, but I’ll have to wait until Academic Book Week in November to find out the winner.

Who will you vote for?

Emily Tee, 27, is a lifelong reader, writer and reviewer of books. Currently working for a large international organisation in the professional area of business proposal writing. Whilst juggling life with two young children, she reads and recites stories on a daily basis and shares her thoughts on them via her personal blog, which also includes her original poetry and short stories. This year she has started to study towards a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing.

 

Check out Emily’s blog here: http://mrsemilytee.blogspot.co.uk/

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