Do you want to stand out from your peers by preparing your mind to be 10, 20, or even 100 years ahead of them? Besides getting as many A’s as possible in PMR, SPM, or STPM, one of the most effective ways to cultivate your mind is to read the top 20 academic books that changed the world. You can spend all of your life just trying to distill each book by itself. So, if you can’t understand at your first read, do not be intimidated. Get yourself a local study group or online study group to understand the material better. I can guarantee that the time of you reading these books are more worthy than you playing Dota 2, Facebooking, or just lepaking in the mall.
If you are not convinced yet, you should read “10 Reasons Why You Should Read The Western Great Books” so that you won’t miss out and say you were never recommended to read these great books.
Here is a list of the top 20 academic books that have changed the world, as voted for by academic booksellers, librarians and publishers, has been revealed.
From A Brief History of Time to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the list has been unveiled ahead of Academic Book Week, which takes place from 9 to 16 November.
The top 20 was chosen from 200 titles submitted by publishers across the UK, and was selected by a committee assembled by the Booksellers Association and The Academic Book of the Future project.
The top 20 academic books that changed the world are:
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, wrote the modern classic A Brief History of Time to help non-scientists understand fundamental questions of physics and our existence: where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end, and if so, how?Hawking attempts to deal with these questions (and where we might look for answers) using a minimum of technical jargon. Among the topics gracefully covered are gravity, black holes, the Big Bang, the nature of time and physicists’ search for a grand unifying theory.This is deep science; the concepts are so vast (or so tiny) that they cause mental vertigo while reading, and one can’t help but marvel at Hawking’s ability to synthesize this difficult subject for people not used to thinking about things like alternate dimensions. The journey is certainly worth taking for as Hawking says, the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of “the mind of God”.
– hawking.org.ukIf you happen to be a Hawking’s fan or a physic enthusiast, you don’t want to miss out his latest publication with Leanord Mlodinow: The Grand Design
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Published in 1792, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was the first great feminist treatise. Wollstonecraft preached that intellect will always govern and sought “to persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonimous [sic] with epithets of weakness.”Her most quoted paragraph was,”It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion, that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness.”
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is one of the seminal and monumental works in the history of Western philosophy. Published in May I 78I, when its author was already fifty-seven years old, and substantially revised for its second edition six years later, the book was both the culmination of three decades of its author’s often very private work and the starting-point for nearly two more decades of his rapidly evolving but now very public philosophical thought. In the more than two centuries since the book was first published, it has been the constant object of scholarly interpretation and a continuous source of inspiration to inventive philosophers. To tell the whole story of the book’s influence would be to write the history of philosophy since Kant. Read it for yourself and find out the most compelling critique you can find towards your reason.
– edited from the Introduction of Cambridge’s publication of Critique of Pure Reason.Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is one of my favorite book that gives me goose bumps until today. It has challenged the extent of my logic and created a huge void in it that is waiting to be filled. Clearly, the only way I can ever fill the void is through reading him again, again, and again… until I die.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by English author George Orwell published in 1949. The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged elite of the Inner Party, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrime.”
Nineteen Eighty-Four uses themes from life in the Soviet Union and wartime life in Great Britain as sources for many of its motifs. American producer Sidney Sheldon wrote to Orwell in the early 1950s, interested in adapting the novel to the Broadway stage. Orwell sold the American stage rights to Sheldon, explaining that his basic goal with Nineteen Eighty-Four was imagining the consequences of Stalinist government ruling British society:[Nineteen Eighty-Four] was based chiefly on communism, because that is the dominant form of totalitarianism, but I was trying chiefly to imagine what communism would be like if it were firmly rooted in the English speaking countries, and was no longer a mere extension of the Russian Foreign Office.The statement “2 + 2 = 5,” used to torment Winston Smith during his interrogation, was a Communist party slogan from the second five-year plan, which encouraged fulfillment of the five-year plan in four years. The slogan was seen in electric lights on Moscow house-fronts, billboards and elsewhere.Looking to blow your mind away with a alternative political world? Read this book and you shall not put it down.
On the Origins of Species by Charles Darwin
Origin of Species is the abbreviated, more commonly-known title for Charles Darwin’s classic, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) began drafting Origin of Species in 1842, just six years after returning from his fateful five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle (1831-36). Heavily influenced by Sir Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-1833, a three volume work) and Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Origin of Species was ultimately published in 1859.In Origin of Species, Charles Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection. Natural selection is a natural process which acts to preserve and accumulate minor advantageous variations within living systems. Suppose a member of a species were to develop a functional advantage (a reptile grew wings and learned to fly: an obvious advantage his earth-bound relatives couldn’t enjoy); its offspring would inherit that advantage and pass it on to future offspring. Natural selection would act to preserve the advantageous trait. Essentially, natural selection is the naturalistic equivalent to domestic breeding. Over the centuries, human breeders have produced dramatic changes within domestic animal populations simply by selecting individuals to breed. They have been able to accentuate desirable traits (given the trait is already present in the creature’s genetic code) and even suppress undesirable traits gradually over time. The difference between domestic breeding and natural selection is this: rather than human breeders making the selections, nature itself is the selector.Darwin’s theory made me realized how little human life could mean. Through his understanding of the survivor of the species, a human life is nothing but a number of the whole natural selection, where the fittest survive. In other words, none of choices in our lifetime matters; our genes (which is the result of natural selection itself for centuries) already determine how we act and react.
Orientalism is a 1978 book by Edward W. Said, a critical study of the cultural representations that are the bases of Orientalism, the West’s patronizing perceptions and fictional depictions of “The East“ — the societies and peoples who inhabit the places of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. Orientalism, Western scholarship about the Eastern World, was and remains inextricably tied to the imperialist societies who produced it, which makes much Orientalist work inherently political and servile to power, and thus intellectually suspect.I have never read this personally but I think it would be a great read to scope the western perspective of what the “Orientals” means from an original oriental perspective.
Silent Spring is an environmental science book written by Rachel Carson and published in 1962. The book documented the detrimental effects on the environment—particularly on birds—of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation and public officials of accepting industry claims unquestioningly.In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to the American public. Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, but it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, led to a nationwide ban on DDT for agricultural uses, and inspired an environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.This is a great book to read if you are a student of the nature and an environmentalist. It gives you great insight of the origin of the global environmental movement.
A number of 21st-century writers have commented on the Communist Manifesto‘s continuing relevance. Academic John Raines in 2002 noted that “In our day this Capitalist Revolution has reached the farthest corners of the earth. The tool of money has produced the miracle of the new global market and the ubiquitous shopping mall. Read The Communist Manifesto, written more than one hundred and fifty years ago, and you will discover that Marx foresaw it all.” In 2003, the English Marxist Chris Harman stated:”There is still a compulsive quality to its prose as it provides insight after insight into the society in which we live, where it comes from and where its going to. It is still able to explain, as mainstream economists and sociologists cannot, today’s world of recurrent wars and repeated economic crisis, of hunger for hundreds of millions on the one hand and ‘overproduction’ on the other. There are passages that could have come from the most recent writings on globalization.”Although I have never read this work of Marx, Marx’s Capital has allowed me to understand the flipside of the capitalism. The economic crises (recession, depression, etc.) that are rooted in the contradictory character of the economic value of the commodity (cell-unit) of a capitalist society, are the conditions that propitiate proletarian revolution; which the Communist Manifesto (1848) collectively identified as a weapon, forged by the capitalists, which the working class “turned against the bourgeoisie, itself”.
I know, some of you probably still couldn’t understand why did we have to learn Sonnet 18 during our secondary school period. No worries, I couldn’t understand any of it as well until I immersed myself in liberal arts education in the United States where I started to develop a great appreciation for literature.Shakespeare’s work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of characterization, plot, language, and genre. Until Romeo and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy. Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events; but Shakespeare used them to explore characters’ minds. His work heavily influenced later poetry. The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success. Critic George Steiner described all English verse dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson as “feeble variations on Shakespearean themes.”For those of you who wants to understand about subtle human communication via reading, reading Shakespeare is one of the most romantic method you can go with.
In January 1972 The Age‘s reviewer Thelma Forshaw described The Female Eunuch as “the orchestrated over-the-back-fence grizzle … based on the curious fancy … we were all men, and then some fiend castrated half of us and gave us a ghastly internal bookie’s bag called a womb”. The newspaper declared that the review “has stirred up a considerable controversy”. According to Keith Dunstan in the book, The Best Australian Profiles (2004), “[t]he reviews of [the book] were extremely mixed. The most famous was by [Forshaw] of The Age“. Dunstan contrasted this with a positive review by Sylvia Lawson of The Australian, “[it has] been greeted in Australia with some fantastically myopic, complacent and resentful printed comment … [the book] is neither dogmatic nor complacent, neither strident nor paranoic … [it is] ranging, exploratory and questioning“.Activate your mind now with what is going on with the global women’s rights movement with this book. It’s a book that allows us to view all sexes as equal and yet unique at the same time.
The Making of the English Working Class is an influential and pivotal work of English social history, written by E. P. Thompson, a notable ‘New Left’ historian; it was published in 1963 (revised 1968) by Victor Gollancz Ltd, and later republished at Pelican, becoming an early Open University Set Book. It concentrates on English artisan and working class society “in its formative years 1780 to 1832.”Its tone is captured by the oft-quoted line from the preface:
- “I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “Utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.” (Thompson, 1980: 12)
Thompson attempts to add a humanist element to social history, being critical of those who turn the people of the working class into an inhuman statistical bloc. These people were not just the victims of history: Thompson displays them as being in control of their own making. (“The working class made itself as much as it was made.”) He also discusses the popular movements that are oft forgotten in history, such as obscure Jacobin societies like the London Corresponding Society. Thompson makes great effort to recreate the life-experience of the working class(es), which is what often marks it out as such an extremely influential work.
It takes effort to live the life you really want; it takes 10 times effort to live, speak, and stand for the life that you truly want to live. This books provides a great insight on the life that we are living (and it still apply to today’s working class to a certain extend). The only way that you can get out of that rat race is to identify that you are in it, speak about it, and do something everyday to change it.
The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is actually two separate theories: his special theory of relativity , postulated in the 1905 paper, The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies and “histheory” of general relativity , an expansion of the earlier theory, published as The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity in 1916.
Einstein sought to explain situations in which Newtonian physics might fail to deal successfully with phenomena, and in so doing proposed revolutionary changes in human concepts of time, space and gravity.
Before you read this book, if you don’t already have a strong foundation in Newtonian physics, and Faraday’s & Maxwells theories, it is advisable for you to read through those first to help you fully understand the references in it. This is a must read if you want to understand movies like “Interstellar”.
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal is a 1967 book by zoologist and ethologist, Desmond Morris that looks at humans as a species and compares them to other animals. The Human Zoo, a follow-up book by Morris that examined the behavior of people in cities, was published in 1969.
The Naked Ape, which was serialized in the Daily Mirror newspaper and has been translated into 23 languages, depicts human behavior as largely evolved to meet the challenges of prehistoric life as a hunter-gatherer (see nature versus nurture). The book was so named because out of 193 species of monkeys and apes, only humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) are not covered in hair. Desmond Morris, the author, who had been the Curator of mammals at London Zoo, said his book was intended to popularize and demystify science.Morris said that Homo sapiens not only have the largest brains of all higher primates, but that sexual selection in human evolution has caused humans to have the highest ratio of penis size to body mass. Morris conjectured that human ear-lobes developed as an additional erogenous zone to facilitate the extended sexuality necessary in the evolution of human monogamous pair bonding. Morris further stated that the more rounded shape of human female breasts means they are mainly a sexual signalling device rather than simply for providing milk for infants. Although the book’s subject was the many behavioral consequences of the evolutionary transformation from forest-dwelling, mainly vegetarian creatures to carnivorous hunter-gatherers, reviewers predictably focused on the sexual aspects.I would say that this book is like a physical counterpart of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis. I challenge you to read this just to focus on the connection between the evolution of Homo sapiens without thinking about sex. Let me know your feedback in the comment box below.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince (Italian: Il Principe [il ˈprintʃipe]) is a 16th-century political treatise by the Italian diplomat and political theoristNiccolò Machiavelli. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus (About Principalities). However, the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death. This was done with the permission of the Medici pope Clement VII, but “long before then, in fact since the first appearance of The Prince in manuscript, controversy had swirled about his writings”.Although it is relatively short, the treatise is the most remembered of Machiavelli’s works and the one most responsible for bringing the word “Machiavellian” into usage as a pejorative.
It also helped make “Old Nick” an English term for the devil, and even contributed to the modern negative connotations of the words “politics” and “politician” in western countries. In terms of subject matter it overlaps with the much longer Discourses on Livy, which was written a few years later. In its use of near-contemporary Italians as examples of people who perpetrated criminal deeds for politics, another lesser-known work by Machiavelli which The Prince has been compared to is the Life of Castruccio Castracani.Whether or not the word “satire” is the best choice, there is more general agreement that despite seeming to be written for someone wanting to be a monarch, and not the leader of a republic, The Prince can be read as deliberately emphasizing the benefits of free republics as opposed to monarchies.
Differences of opinion amongst commentators revolve around whether this sub-text was intended to be understood, let alone understood as deliberately satirical or comic.
The Republic (Greek: Πολιτεία, Politeia; Latin: De Republica) is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning the definition of justice (δικαιοσύνη), the order and character of the just city-state and the just man — for this reason, ancient readers used the name On Justice as an alternative title (not to be confused with the spurious dialogue also titled On Justice). The dramatic date of the dialogue has been much debated and though it might have taken place some time during the Peloponnesian War, “there would be jarring anachronisms if any of the candidate specific dates between 432 and 404 were assigned“. Plato’s best-known work, it has proven to be one of the world’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory, both intellectually and historically.
In it, Socrates along with various Athenians and foreigners discuss the meaning of justice and examine whether or not the just man is happier than the unjust man by considering a series of different cities coming into existence “in speech”, culminating in a city called Kallipolis (Καλλίπολις), which is ruled by philosopher-kings; and by examining the nature of existing regimes. The participants also discuss the theory of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the roles of the philosopher and of poetry in society.
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
Paine argues that the interests of the monarch and his people are united, and insists that the French Revolution should be understood as one which attacks the despotic principles of the French monarchy, not the king himself, and he takes the Bastille, the main prison in Paris, to symbolize the despotism that had been overthrown.Human rights originate in Nature, thus, rights cannot be granted via political charter, because that implies that rights are legally revocable, hence, would be privileges:It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few… They… consequently are instruments of injustice … The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals, themselves, each, in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.Government’s sole purpose is safeguarding the individual and his/her inherent, inalienable rights; each societal institution that does not benefit the nation is illegitimate — especially monarchy and aristocracy. The book’s acumen derives from the Age of Enlightenment, especially from the Second Treatise of Government, by John Locke.This is a great book to read for us to fully understand our inherent rights to be a human being. Especially in Malaysia, all of us deserve the rights to be treated equally in every aspect of our lives, regardless of our race, the color of our skins, our native language, our culture, our religious beliefs, and our sexual orientation.
The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart
The Uses of Literacy was an attempt to understand the changes in culture in Britain caused by “massification”. It has been described as marking a “watershed in public perception of culture and class and shifted academic parameters”. Hoggart’s argument is that “the mass publicists” were made “more insistently, effectively and in a more comprehensive and centralized form today than they were earlier” and “that we are moving towards the creation of a mass culture, that the remnants of what was at least in part an urban culture ‘of the people’ are being destroyed”.In his study, Hoggart looks at pulp fiction, popular magazines and newspapers and the movies and finds in all of these, “drift”. He documents the break-up of the old, class culture, lamenting the loss of the close-knit communities and their replacement by the emerging manufactured mass culture. Key features of this are the tabloid newspapers, advertising, and the triumph of Hollywood. These “alien” phenomena have colonized local communities and robbed them of their distinctive features. Hoggart’s attack is not on popular culture; rather it is on mass culture which is imposed from above. “Popular culture” being self-created has a fundamental integrity and evolves according to its own laws and dictates, not as a result of the mass media.Apparently, our knowledge these days do not come from the truth itself but the apparent truth that we perceive. “Today, I live what most people won’t live, so that tomorrow, I can do what most people can’t.” This saying has more truth in it if we put it into Hoggart’s context.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, the book offers one of the world’s first collected descriptions of what builds nations’ wealth and is today a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labor, productivity, and free markets.
Adam Smith defines the value of commodities by the labour embedded and also by the labour a good commands. Ricardo agrees with the first definition:”The real price of every thing,” says Adam Smith, “What every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it, or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people. That this is really the foundation of the exchangeable value of all things, excepting those which cannot be increased by human industry, is a doctrine of the utmost importance in political economy.“This books has helped me to open up my mind to the current trend of the modern economy world. Being someone who had been a sales professional for 5 years as both an intern and later a trainer, I cannot agree enough of what Adam Smith has mentioned about the beauty f the free market. This book is perfect for those of you who wants to be an entrepreneur who understands the theory of the current and near future economics phenomena.
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
The book Ways of Seeing was written by Berger and Dibb, along with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis. The book consists of seven numbered essays: four using words and images; and three essays using only images. The book has contributed to feminist readings of popular culture, through essays that focus particularly on how women are portrayed in advertisements and oil paintings.
Berger argues that color photography has taken over the role of oil paint, though the context is reversed. An idealized potential for the viewer (via consumption or consumerism) is considered a substitution for the actual reality depicted in old master portraits.
I am ready to read this book to expand my perspectives of seeing things. I would be glad to update my views on it later.
Reading has been a great part of my life ever since I was Form 1 studying. Back then, my English comprehension was insufficient to even finish the first book of the Harry Potter series. So, most of the work that I have read was in Chinese until the end of my high school period. So far, I have the great opportunity to have read 9 of them on this list, how many of them have you read?
If you haven’t already, which one do you think you are likely to read.
Source: The top 20 academic books that changed the world | Times Higher Education (THE)
All of the italic words are the personal opinion of the author. MalaysianStudent.com doesn’t represent any of his personal opinions as a company. Vincent Lee is an independent contributor who is currently interning at MalaysianStudent.com as a marketing intern. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor Degree in Marketing in the United States.