Coming up at the end of April is the 2018 Academic Book Week (#AcBookWeek), the third such event. Academic book week is ‘A celebration of the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books’. This year, on 23–28th April, the event will be asking the public to vote for the top academic book written by women that changed the world. The top twenty short-listed books will be published soon, but before that I wanted to take a quick look back at some of the books that have featured in the last two events.

The first Academic Book Week, in November 2015, was organised by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) and the British Library’s The Academic Book of the Future Project. The project aimed to ‘encourage discussion around the future of the academic book while looking at how scholarly work in the arts and humanities will be produced and read in the coming years’.

The first online poll aimed to find the greatest ever academic book and publishers from across the UK submitted over 200 books for consideration. This list was whittled down to just twenty books for the public vote.


The Greatest Academic Book Shortlist



  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


What a fantastic list of books. I am certainly not going to try to tell you I have read them all – I haven’t, but it would be enjoyable to try.


The Greatest Academic Book: On the Origins of Species

The overall winner of the poll was, predictably, although deservedly, Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species. Certainly this was one book that changed the views of the entire world (well, most of it), setting out the mechanism by which evolution takes place and greatly increasing our understanding of where all species come from.


Is my view of the winner biased by my academic background? It’s quite likely. Would Darwin’s work be your winner as the greatest academic book of all time? I suspect it probably depends on what academic area you are in. Are there books missing from the list that you would like to have seen included? I know that I have a few that inspired me in my academic studies and that I love to read still: Genome, by Matt Ridley; The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins; In the Blood, by Steve Jones; and finally, the truly moving, C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, by John Diamond. I know the last one is not technically an academic book but it spans genres and it is a very powerful read – enough to have quoted it in my PhD thesis.


Next time I will take a look at the books featured in the 2017 Academic Book Week.


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The twenty academic books that changed the world

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