The weather is getting warmer and summer holidays are just around the corner! With the long holiday period comes not just the chance to relax and unwind, but also the opportunity to dedicate free time to the all-important wider reading that is invaluable for making a successful personal statement and to help inform your discussions at interview
Although right now the summer holidays may be stretching long and endless in front of you, time is still of the essence, and it can be very easy to get caught up in the time-consuming question of what to read. Naturally, this will vary depending on your interests, your mood, and your schedule - at times you might want to delve into some challenging, to stretch you; sometimes you’re looking for something quick in between planned activities; and sometimes you just want to relax and remember your enjoyment of the subject.
Bearing these considerations in mind, we’ve compiled some of our favourite reading suggestions to give you a head start and keep you motivated to crack on with your summer reading.
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
An engaging – and topical – epic, exploring gender and identity across centuries.
Why Do I Love You Sir? - Dickinson
A great introduction to Dickinson’s work, you can reflect on the use of dashes, the significance of nature and the portrayal of love.
The Faerie Queene - Edmund Spenser
Spenser’s classic work is particularly tricky, so just reading the first three chapters will give you plenty to stretch your brain with!
The Poetry Handbook – John Lennard
A great book to reference when analysing poetry, and perfect to have on hand when preparing for the ELAT and interviews.
Amor Mundi – Christina Rossetti
A challenging poem to analyse, but really interesting in its use of rhyme and imagery. It’s often misinterpreted so take your time and really get your teeth into it.
Art and Culture: Critical Essays - Clement Greenberg
This is essential reading for students wishing to learn more about interpretations of art and contemporary art theory.
A World History of Art - H. Honour & J. Fleming
This is an incredibly comprehensive history of art, including: painting, mosaic, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, architecture and photography. This thoughtful study of cultures and civilisations is framed by the contextualisation of different eras. The newer edition also has some useful material on art history research.
Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in Its Struggle to Be Understood - Grayson Perry
Perry examines the art establishment and Art History through the lens of someone who was once an outsider. This is a short, light read and is very much written in a language for a newcomer, so would be a great starting point.
Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker*
This would be a great book for anyone considering Psychology, Biomedical Sciences, or even Medicine. A really interesting book that ties together research into the effects of sleep on cognition, memory and health. Through the research it describes it also gives a good insight into the different methods available to psychologists and neuroscientisits and the limitations of many of these. It also refutes a lot of ‘pseudo-science’ and popular science that surrounds the concepts of sleep and dreams.
Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman*
An absolute staple of behavioural economics, but with crossovers to Psychology; for example, it discusses the different types of cognitive processing and the implications this has on many facets of human behaviour. One of the most interesting points raised is about regression to the mean, which highlights the problems with much statistical reporting.
*Top tip: both these books are quite popular, and it is likely that other people will mention them in their personal statement. The more obvious books can give you a great grounding in a subject, but are not always the most impressive in a personal statement. If you want to mention one, make sure you approach it from a new and interesting angle; in general, try to reserve your personal statement for the more interesting reads.
The Oxford Bible Commentary - ed. John Barton, John Muddiman
Commentaries are a crucial way to get to grips with scripture and the scholarship surrounding it, and are widely used by Theology students. This is a hefty one and not the cheapest either, but if you can get your hands on it it’s extremely helpful as it gives you an introduction to every single book of the Bible and a succinct line-by-line commentary. If you’re interested in one biblical book in particular, you can also just pick commentary for that particular book.
The Crucified God - Jürgen Moltmann
This 1972 work poses some really interesting questions about suffering, the problem of evil, and the impassibility of God. A classic of postmodern theology, which you may well come up against in your degree course.
After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory - Alasdair MacIntyre
A lively read, After Virtue was received as an important and highly controversial re-evaluation of contemporary moral philosophy.
Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (part of the Oxford Very Short Introduction series) - Henry Chadwick
These pocket-sized but academically rigorous books are a great place to start for a busy student who wants to dip their toes in a topic. Have a browse in your local bookshop!
Christus Victor - Gustaf Aulen
This influential book explores different theories of the atonement and what the crucifixion of Jesus all means. Whilst Aulen's argument has convinced many, others disagree, so feel free to explore opposing views!
The Language Instinct - Steven Pinker
In his 1994 work, Pinker argues that all humans are born with the capacity for language.
A Little Book of Language - David Crystal
Written explicitly for a young audience, this is a charming account of the history of language and a great introduction to linguistics.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Online)
This thoroughly comprehensive and highly-regarded resource is peer-reviewed and can be accessed online for free. Have a browse or search ‘language’ or ‘linguistics’.
The Vulfpack Phenomenon
A quick history of the Vulfpack, hugely influential in the current jazz-funk scene.
The Cultural Study of Music: A critical introduction - Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton (eds.)
An anthology of new writings to provide a basic textbook on music and culture.
Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down - J.E Gordon
An accessible, witty take on the structure design principles you need to know. This is a quick but insightful article on the how the drive for sustainability is affecting modern architecture. Read here.
A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals - Spiro Kostof
Engagingly written, this book has extraordinary scope as it examines architecture throughout human history.
The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time - Keith Devlin
In 2000, The Clay Foundation offered one million dollars to anyone who could solve any of seven incredibly difficult mathematics problems; here, Devlin energetically explains them.
This article from Oxford’s research.
This article from Cambridge’s research.
Taking a look at these short articles – or others like them – will give you an impressive up-to-date knowledge of current research at Oxbridge.
The Pleasures of Counting - T.W. Körner
With exercises scattered throughout, this is a book that asks for your engagement as it provides an insight into the world of applied mathematics.
Fermat’s Last Theorem - Simon Singh
This is an interesting book to read and one which is going to reveal a lot about the nature of post- university mathematics. As an applicant you should definitely read it. However, a caveat—avoid bringing it up in your personal statement, as all of your competitors will have done so!
The Physics of Superheroes - James Kakalios
A really good, approachable read which takes you through some relatively complex physics in quite an enjoyable way. The only issue with it is that it’s American, so all of the units are imperial!
6 Easy Pieces - Richard Feinman
This book collects six of the easiest extracts from Nobel Prize winner Feynman’s famous lectures, and would serve as a good stepping stone to tackling some of the more challenging lectures.
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