Since launching in April 2012 we’ve published over 40 short essays from academics on the books that have inspired them from their student days right through to teaching and writing today. Here are the top five most-read essays.

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The books that inspired Simon Glendinning: “I did not put the book down again for the next five years. In fact, I could not say I have put it down even now, nearly thirty years later.”

I was about nineteen years old, and I was staying at my father’s house in Mile End, East London. It was the Christmas vacation of my second year at university, where I was reading Philosophy. “Reading” is a refined word – my father’s kind of word – for what I was doing. I was doing what needed to be done and no more. And I was only doing philosophy at all because I hadn’t made the grades for my first choice: to “read” Law.

I had grown up in North London, and I didn’t have friends anywhere near my father’s house. So when I was staying with him I had no escape, and had to find my own ways to pass the time from what was on hand. His house was a pretty strange place for me to be in that respect. My father was an academic. A very distinguished Hispanist, and a specialist on the Spanish artist Goya. My father’s house was full of books. They were everywhere. Endless book shelves lined most rooms, and where there were no shelves there were great piles of books. Books, books and more books, books over-flowing his house, making it an Aladdin’s cave library. Read the full essay….

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The books that inspired Carli Ria Rowell: “Bev Skeggs’ work motivates me during times of isolation that come with a PhD”

It was during my time as an undergraduate at Loughborough University that I was first introduced to Bev Skeggs’ seminal publication Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. Central to Skeggs’ work is the examination of class positions, identity, and subjectivities; a microscopic exploration and analysis of the ways in which class is experienced and lived. It was while reading Chapter 5, “(Dis)Identifications of Class: on Not Being Working Class”, that I was introduced to the work of Bourdieu and was also struck by the realization that sociology wasn’t just what I wanted ‘to do’, but what ‘I had to do’.

More intimately, this chapter explores the way in which the white working-class women of Skeggs’ ethnography attempted to pass (unsuccessfully) as not being working-class. Informed by Bourdieusian social theory, Skeggs writes of the way in which the bodies of the women in her study bared – through dress, speech and disposition – the hallmarks of their social class positioning. “The surface of their bodies is the site upon which distinctions can be drawn. Skills and labor such as dressing-up and making-up are used to display the desire to pass not as working-class…”, writes Skeggs (p.84). Read the full essay…

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The books that inspired Scott Timcke: “Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony remains a central touchpoint of my academic identity”

In 2002, I enrolled to study politics at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. I did so primarily because I had read Tom Lodge’s South African Politics Since 1994 the year before. The quality of scholarship, clarity of thought, and depth of analysis was far superior to the kind of political analysis that appeared in newspapers or on the radio. Importantly it opened me to higher standards for political explanations and insight.

During the course of my undergraduate studies, I poured over The Politics of Race, Class, and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century South Africa, an edited collection compiled by Shula Marks and Stanley Trapido. While all the selections are of high quality, the essays by Deborah Posel and Saul Dubow are exceptional, and likely the best pieces of scholarship on the complexity of South African politics I have yet encountered. Read the full essay…

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The books that inspired Kip Jones: “The 1960s magazine ASPEN continues to shape my use of arts-based tools in disseminating social science”

The peculiar thing about the 1960s is that people think that the decade happened all at once, as though we woke up one morning to some sort of overnight transformation. We did not. Instead, we found ourselves, in transitory increments, participating in life differently, listening to new music, creating our own pastiche of alternative clothes to wear, and going to novel places or old haunts with new agendas.

-K. Jones, The One about Princess Margaret

In the 1960s everything was serendipitous; circumstances collided, and then morphed into new experiences by bringing some old ones along with them. It was the birth of the boutique, the discothèque, and several other hangouts and happenings given Francophile tags just for the sake of it. It was ‘Michelle, ma belle’ and the Beatles, but more; it was Motown and California dreaming.

The 1950s had spawned the first youth generation with money to spare—on records, clubs, cars and clothes. By the 1960s in the USA youth was an industry. We joked that we didn’t trust anyone over thirty… and we didn’t. Young people worked in fashion, advertising, beauty or music; that was where it was happening, and we were “where it’s at”. Read the full essay…

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StuartCorIII

Podcast: The books that inspired Stuart Corbridge: “Edward Said’s Orientalism made a huge impression on geographers”

Stuart Corbridge, Professor of International Development and Provost and Deputy Director at the LSE, focuses on the books that have inspired him throughout his academic career: From the Marxist theory that shaped his undergraduate study, to the many books on India and development studies that have inspired his passion for these areas, and finally through to a very special history of The Beatles.

Presented by Amy Mollett. Produced by Cheryl Brumley. Contributor: Stuart Corbridge. Music courtesy of Podington Bear (Falcon Hood) from the Freemusicarchive.org.
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