Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Plausible fictions and irrational coherence

By Joseph Harris
One of the most intriguing developments in recent psychology, I feel, has been the recognition of the role played by irrationality in human thought. Recent works by Richard Wiseman, Dan Ariely, Daniel Kahneman, and others have highlighted the irrationality that can inform and shape our judgements, decision-making, and thought more generally. But, as the title of Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational reminds us, our ‘irrationality’ is not necessarily random for all that.

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Ovid the naturalist

By Jane Alison
Ovid was born on the 20th of March (two thousand and fifty-some years ago): born on the cusp of spring, as frozen streams in the woods of his Sulmo cracked and melted to runnels of water, as coral-hard buds beaded black stalks of shrubs, as tips of green nudged at clods of earth and rose, and rose, and released tumbles of blooms.

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Selected fables about wolves and fishermen

Jean de La Fontaine’s verse fables turned traditional folktales into some of the greatest, and best-loved, poetic works in the French language. His versions of stories such as ‘The Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing’ and ‘The Lion and the Fly’ are witty and sophisticated, satirizing human nature in miniature dramas in which the outcome is unpredictable.

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Jane Austen and the art of letter writing

By Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade
Letter writing manuals were popular throughout Jane Austen’s lifetime, and it’s possible then that Jane Austen might have had access to one. Letter writing manuals contained “familiar letters on the most common occasions in life”, and showed examples of what a letter might look like to people who needed to learn the art of letter writing.

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“You’ll be mine forever”: A reading of Ovid’s Amores

Amores was Ovid’s first complete work of poetry, and is one of his most famous. The poems in Amores document the shifting passions and emotions of a narrator who shares Ovid’s name, and who is in love with a woman he calls Corinna. In these excerpts, we see two sides of the affair — a declaration of love, and a hot afternoon spent with Corinna. Our poet here is Jane Alison, author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid, a new translation of Ovid’s love poetry.

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William Godwin’s birthday

By Mark Philp
Do people at the end of the eighteenth century celebrate their birthdays? More precisely, what did William Godwin (1756-1836) – philosopher, novelist, husband of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) and father of Mary Shelly (1797-1851) – do on his birthday, which falls on 3 March?

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The great Oxford World’s Classics debate

By Kirsty Doole
Last week the Oxford World’s Classics team were at Blackwell Bookshop in Oxford to witness the first Oxford World’s Classics debate. Over three days we invited seven academics who had each edited and written introductions and notes for books in the series to given a short, free talk in the shop. This then culminated in an evening event in Blackwell’s famous Norrington Room where we held a balloon debated, chaired by writer and academic Alexandra Harris.

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The Black Book: Phillis Wheatley and the information revolution

By Richard Newman
The noble ideal of Black History Month is that by extracting and examining key people and moments in the African American grain, we learn much about black achievement. But it is equally powerful to set black history in the grand swirl of events to see the many ways that African-Americans have impacted the nation’s political and cultural development.

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Book vs movie: Thérèse Raquin and In Secret

In Secret, the new movie adaption of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin starring Jessica Lange, Tom Felton, and Elizabeth Olsen premieres today. The novel tells the scandalous story of adultery in 19th century France. When Thérèse is forced into a loveless marriage, her world is turned upside down upon meeting her husband’s friend. The two enter into an affair that has shocking results.

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Love: First sights in Ovid

By Jane Alison
Among the myriad transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses—transformations of girls to trees or stars, boys to flowers or newts, women to rivers, rocks to men—the most powerful can be those wrought by erotic desire. Woods, beaches, and glades in Ovid’s poem are ecologies of desire and repulsion: one character spots another through the trees, and you can almost see the currents of desire flow as one figure instantly wants what he sees—and the other starts running away.

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Fishing with Izaak Walton

By Marjorie Swann
The Compleat Angler opens with a man seeking companionship on a journey. “You are well overtaken, Gentlemen,” Izaak Walton’s alter-ego Piscator (Fisherman) exclaims as he catches up with Venator (Hunter) and Auceps (Falconer) north of London. “I have stretched my legs up Tottenham-hill to overtake you, hoping your business may occasion you towards Ware whither I am going this fine, fresh May morning.”

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An Oxford Companion to Valentine’s Day

By Daniel Parker
It’s big, it’s red, and it’s here. Valentine’s Day strikes fear into the hearts of men and women around the Western world like nothing else can. But you needn’t run scared of the Hallmark branded teddy bears. Oh no. Follow the sprinkling of rose petals, the sweet aroma of scented candles, and the dulcet tones of Phil Collins up the stairs to the luxury boudoir that is Oxford University Press.

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Scenes of Ovid’s love stories in art

The poet Ovid plays a central role in Roman literary history and culture. Best known for his Metamorphoses, a 15-book mythological epic, and his collections of love poetry, particularly Amores and Ars Amatoria, Ovid’s poetry has greatly influenced Western art, and his works remain some of the most important sources of classical mythology.

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What could you read over and over and over again?

Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow once more, which leaves us with 6 more weeks of winter. As card-carrying bibliophiles we know the only to get through this is to cozy up with a warm blanket, a hot beverage, and your favorite book to read over and over and over again. Some Oxford history authors were kind enough to share the book that is going to get them through the rest of this cold, cold winter.

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