A very short introduction to all the knowledge of the world

Summer breaks are the perfect time to read around different subjects and explore the world in more detail.

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A perfect way to do this is the Very Short Introductions series published by Oxford University Press. Over 500 books have been published on various subjects, written by academic experts in an accessible and engaging style. Covering everything from Anglo-Saxon England to thermodynamics dipping into these easy to read books can give you an instantaneous knowledge in various tough subjects. So whether you want to prepare for University Challenge or just show off in the Courtyard Cafe, check out some Very short Introductions now.

Here are some of our favourite books in the series:


Barthes: a very short introduction by Jonathan Culler

A fascinating cultural critic who analysed everyday objects through the lens of structuralist philosophy, Barthes is both an eminently readable and difficult author all in one. A classic in the genre of very short introductions. This book is written by afiniciano of Barthes, Jonathan Culler and has won several awards. 2017 saw Barthes back in a big way, following Laurent Binet’s stunning novel.

Civil engineering : a very short introduction by David Muir Wood

Civil engineering is what’s just built Crossrail, digging through 42 km of new tunnels to remove over 3 million tonnes of excavated materials. It’s also built dams, bridges, hospitals and schools.  Check out this book for more information about the discipline, that’s literally shaped the world around you.

Criminal justice : a very short introduction by Julian V. Roberts

One of the more exciting areas of the legal system, whether you just want to understand the news better or you are a fan of crime thrillers and procedurals this little book will help you make sense of the criminal justice system. It’s a good introduction to a very complex area and takes you through the basics of how criminal justice is administered.

Corporate social responsibility : a very short introduction by Jeremy Moon

Corporations take their social responsibility very seriously, as this very short introduction makes very clear. A fascinating insight into an aspect of the corporate world, which corporations take very seriously.

Game theory: a very short introduction by KG Binmore

Game theory is a mathematical method of understanding logical decision making. It’s a great market to get into, according to an acquaintance of Lord Bragg. This is your chance to find out more.

Globalization : a very short introduction by Manfred B. Steger

Globalization [sic] is the process of the world becoming more connected via communications, companies and markets and travel. It has had a massive impact across the world. Recent political events will affect this process in ways that we probably can’t predict. It has its supporters and critics, and is worth studying in more detail. A fascinating area of globalisation is glocalisation, which links local and global markets.

Information: a very short introduction by Luciano Floridi

In his Very Short Introduction, Luciano Floridi presents his Philosophy of Information by looking at how information is presented and seen in various subjects including Mathematics, Economics and Biology.  Floridi looks first at the Age of Information that we live in (the 4th Revolution after the works of Copernicus, Darwin and Freud) before presenting his philosophy and using different subjects to explain it.  The book is a short and interesting read about how we look at and use information.

The history of mathematics: a very short introduction by Jacqueline A Stedall

Following the dramatic discovery of an unknown medieval manuscript belonging to Johannes Sacrobosco, the history of mathematics is suddenly big news again. This book will take you through all the big news stories in the subjects giving you a deeper understanding of how mathematics has shaped us and how we have shaped mathematics.

Linguistics: a very short introduction by Peter Hugoe Matthews

Language is central to how we understand the world and communicate with others about it. Linguistics is the study of language and so is in some ways the study of everything, but it is also the study of language.

Racism : a very short introduction by Ali Rattansi

Ali Rattansi tackles this very important subject with great sensitivity and insight. Sadly, in these latter days it is more important than ever for all of us to remain vigilant and look after each other. If you only read one very short introduction this year, make it this one.

Risk: a very short introduction by Baruch Fischoff & John Kadvany

Not to be confused with the military strategy board game of the same name, this addition to the series looks at different sorts of risk and how people analyse them.  The authors look at the definition and analysing of risk before talking about how individuals understand risk and make decisions, including the involvement of bias.  They also look at how societies differ in the ways they deal with risk.

Science Fiction: a very short introduction by David Seed

By breaking Science Fiction into a variety of themes, this book by David Seed, analyses and discusses a genre that has captured many an imagination.  Via space travel, encounters with aliens, technology, the polar opposite societies types utopias and dystopias, time travel and the communities created by sci fi, this book explores all media formats used in its creation.  An interesting read, this very Short introduction will interest all who enjoy science fiction.

Statistics : a very short introduction by David J. Hand.

Big data is the big news at the moment, but statistics has always underlaid several disciplines. Understanding the trends and problems of statistical modeling can help you understand important subjects with ease.


What’s your favourite very short introduction book? What topic do you think the subject should cover?

25 interdisciplinary books you must read now

Summer is a great time to expand your mind. During the year, you can find it too busy to read up on all the stuff that has piqued your interest;  but there’s nothing better than taking the time to explore new ideas and find out more about what’s going on. It’s good for inspiration and creativity and if nothing else, you can always get more interesting conversation pieces from reading widely.

Here’s a list of great books from across different subjects that are worth reading.

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  1. Margaret Austin, Rudy Crawford, and Vivien J Armstrong, First aid manual: the authorised manual of St John Ambulance, St Andrews First Aid and the British Red Cross
  2. Jean-Dominique Bauby, The diving-bell and the butterfly
  3. Leonard Bernstein, The unanswered question: six talks at Harvard
  4. Tom Bingham, The rule of law
  5. Michael Blastland and AW Dilnot, The tiger that isn’t: seeing through a world of numbers
  6. James Cameron, Point of departure
  7. Dale Carnegie, How to win friends and influence people
  8. Michel Foucault, Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison
  9. Sigmund Freud, The Penguin Freud reader
  10. James Edward Gordon, Structures, or, Why things don’t fall down
  11. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John “JJ” Jay, The Federalist papers
  12. Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: the enigma
  13. Helena Kennedy, Eve was framed: women and British justice
  14. Tim Lang and Michael Heasman, Food wars: the global battle for mouths, minds and markets
  15. Harper Lee, To kill a mockingbird
  16. Larry MacDonald, The Bombardier story: from snowmobiles to global transportation powerhouse
  17. David Ogilvy, Confessions of an advertising man: the all-time best seller about advertising
  18. Inderjeet Parmar, Foundations of the American Century : the Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the rise of American power
  19. Sheryl Sandberg, Lean in: women, work, and the will to lead
  20. Mary Seacole, Wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands
  21. Gary Slapper, How the law works
  22. Susan Sontag, Illness as metaphor and: AIDS and its metaphors
  23. Thorstein Veblen, The theory of the leisure class
  24. Dan Ward, The simplicity cycle: a field guide to making things better without making them worse
  25. Alex Wright, Cataloging the world: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age

(In alphabetical order by first author surname)


Have we missed anything that you would recommend to your fellow students? Tell us in the comments below.