On Oxford’s Very Short Introductions

Today I write just to share a tip.

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It’s a tip I found in the reading list I received for my studies in Creative Writing at Oxford (glad to have submitted my thesis last month!). Among thick and imposing books there were volumes with interesting titles and slim silhouettes: books from Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series.

The idea is to have an expert introduce a subject in a competent by readable way, in about 100 pages or so. Think Wikipedia, but more authoritative.

These are fascinating books. They helped me learn about subjects I wanted to know a bit about (but which I am not inclined to master). So far I’ve read the introductions about Modernism, Postmodernism, Biography, English Literature and Modern Italy. Next in my sights are the introductions on the Meaning of Life, the Devil, Comedy, Bestsellers, Continental philosophy, Science and Religion, Jesus, Love, and Leadership.

The New Yorker ran an article on the series that will help wet your appetite.

That feeling, or something like it—the yearning for mastery, or, more cynically, the yearning for the illusion of mastery—has helped make a basically nerdy series from a basically nerdy publishing house impressively popular…. What better time than one in which nothing makes any sense to revive the ancient dream of knowing everything?

Here’s the series’ website.

Have a good week, folks.

René Breuel

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