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Very Short Introductions | OUPblog

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Misunderstanding World War II

The Second World War affected me quite directly, when along with the other students of the boarding school in Swanage on the south coast of England I spent lots of time in the air raid shelter in the summer of 1940. A large German bomb dropped into the school grounds fortunately did not explode so that we survived.

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Discovering microbiology

Microbiology should be part of everyone’s educational experience. European students deserve to know something about the influence of microscopic forms of life on their existence, as it is at least as important as the study of the Roman Empire or the Second World War. Knowledge of viruses should be as prominent in American high school curricula as the origin of the Declaration of Independence.

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Druids and nature

How far back in time European communities began to recognize and chart the movements of the sun, moon, and stars it is impossible to say, but for the mobile hunting bands of the Palaeolithic period, following large herds through the forests of Europe and returning to base camps when the hunt was over, the ability to navigate using the stars would have been vital to existence.

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Carols and Catholicism

Carols bring Christians together around the Christ Child lying in the manger. During Advent and at Christmas, Christians everywhere sing more or less the same repertoire. Through our carols we share the same deep delight at the birth of a poor child who was to become the Saviour of all human beings.

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Implications of the past for Scotland’s future

What are the implications of the past for Scotland’s future? First, Scots retain a deeply embedded sense of history, albeit a selective one. Like others in the Anglo-Saxon world, they understandably seek identity, empathy, and meaning for their private present by researching family or local history and they want to know about wars and history’s celebrities.

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The development of peace

The story of peace is as old as the story of humanity itself, and certainly as old as war. It is a story of progress, often in very difficult circumstances. Historically, peace has often been taken, to imply an absence of overt violence or war between or sometimes within states- in other words, a negative peace. War is often thought to be the natural state of humanity, peace of any sort being fragile and fleeting. I would challenges this view.

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9780199922680 - American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction

Slavery, rooted in America’s early history

No one can discuss American history without talking about the prevalence of slavery. When the Europeans attempted to colonize America in its early days, Indians and Africans were enslaved because they were “different from them”. The excerpt below from American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction follows the dark past of colonial America and how slavery proceeded to root itself deeply into history.

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Should we let them play?

Ched Evans was convicted at Caernarfon Crown Court in April 2012 of raping a 19 year old woman, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released from prison in October 2014. Shortly after his release Evans protested his innocence and suggested that his worst offence had been cheating on his fiancée. He also looked to restart his career as a professional soccer player in the third tier of the English league with his former club Sheffield United.

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Why be rational (or payday in Wonderland)?

This little fable illustrates three points. The first is that rationality is a property of patterns of choice rather than of individual choices. As Hume famously noted in 1738, ‘it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger; it is not contrary to reason for me to chuse [sic] my total ruin to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian’. However, it seems irrational to choose chocolate when the menu comprises coffee, tea, and chocolate; and to choose tea when it comprises just tea and chocolate.

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Looking for Tutankhamun

Poor old king Tut has made the news again – for all the wrong reasons, again. In a documentary that aired on the BBC two weeks ago, scientists based at the EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman unveiled a frankly hideous reconstruction of Tutankhamun’s mummy, complete with buck teeth, a sway back, Kardashian-style hips, and a club foot.

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Stem cell therapy for diabetes

This month, it was reported that scientists at Harvard University have successfully made insulin-secreting beta cells from human pluripotent stem cells. This is an important milestone towards a “stem cell therapy” for diabetes, which will have huge effects on human medicine. Diabetes is a group of diseases in which the blood glucose is too high. In type 1 diabetes, the patients have an autoimmune disease that causes destruction of their insulin-producing cells (the beta cells of the pancreas).

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Ripe for retirement?

In 1958, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the US ambassador to the United Nations, summarized the role of the world organization: “The primary, the fundamental, the essential purpose of the United Nations is to keep peace. Everything which does not further that goal, either directly or indirectly, is at best superfluous.” Some 30 years later another ambassador expressed a different view

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African American Religion: A Very Short Introduction

What is African American religion?

What is African American religion? Scholars have written a lot about the difficulties in the study of religion generally. Those difficulties become even messier when we use the words black or African American to describe religion. The adjectives bear the burden of a difficult history that colors the way religion is practiced and understood in the United States. They register the horror of slavery and the terror of Jim Crow as well as the richly textured experiences of a captured people, for whom sorrow stands alongside joy.

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Alexander the Great VSI

How much do you know about Alexander the Great?

Alexander the Great died more than two-thousand years ago, yet his name lives on as a reminder of his innumerable conquests and incredible leadership. Born in 356 bc, Alexander was tutored in his early years by Aristotle before succeeding his father Philip as King of Macedonia and the mainland of Greece. How much do you know about one of history’s greatest leaders?

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Blue LED lighting and the Nobel Prize for Physics

When I wrote Materials: A Very Short Introduction (published later this month) I made a list of all the Nobel Prizes that had been awarded for work on materials. There are lots. The first was the 1905 Chemistry prize to Alfred von Baeyer for dyestuffs (think indigo and denim). Now we can add another, as the 2014 Physics prize has been awarded to the three Japanese scientists who discovered how to make blue light-emitting diodes.

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Are we alone in the Universe?

World Space Week has prompted myself and colleagues at the Open University to discuss the question: ‘Is there life beyond Earth?’ The bottom line is that we are now certain that there are many places in our Solar System and around other stars where simple microbial life could exist, of kinds that we know from various settings, both mundane and exotic, on Earth. What we don’t know is whether any life DOES exist in any of those places.

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