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Very Short Introductions | OUPblog

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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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How to win the 2015 General Election

If you want to win votes and get elected in Britain, at least in general elections, then you had better get a party. The occasional and isolated exceptions only prove the rule. Before the 2010 general election, in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, there was speculation that independent candidates might do unusually well, but in the event this did not happen. Elected politicians have a wonderful capacity for persuading themselves that their electoral success is to be explained by their obvious personal qualities, but the evidence is all against them.

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Why we should read Dante as well as Shakespeare

Dante can seem overwhelming. T.S. Eliot’s peremptory declaration that ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third’ is more likely to be off-putting these days than inspiring. Shakespeare’s plays are constantly being staged and filmed, and in all sorts of ways, with big names in the big parts, and when we see them we can connect with the characters and the issues with not too much effort.

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Psychotherapy now and in the future

The 20th century has been called ‘the century of psychiatry’, and in many ways one could read that as ‘the century of psychotherapy’. A hundred years ago, at the onset of World War I, psychotherapy had touched the lives of only a tiny number of people, and most of the population had simply never heard of it. Since then it has reached into almost every aspect of our lives—how we treat the mentally ill, how we understand our relationships, our appreciation of art and artists, and even how we manage our schools, prisons, and workplaces.

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The King’s genes

On 25 March 2015, 530 years after his death, King Richard III of England will be interred in Leicester Cathedral. This remarkable ceremony is only taking place because of the success of DNA analysis in identifying his skeletal remains. So what sort of genes might a king be expected to have? Or, more prosaically, how do you identify a long dead corpse from its DNA?

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Conscience in the contemporary world

Debates about conscience arise constantly in national and international news. Appropriately so, because these debates provide a vital continuing forum about issues of ethical conduct in our time. A recent and heated debate in the United States concerns the killing of an unarmed African American youth named Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

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The 11 explorers you need to know

The list of explorers that changed the way we see the world is vast, so we asked Stewart A. Weaver, author of Exploration: A Very Short Introduction to highlight some of the most interesting explorers everyone should know more about.

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Immigration in the American west

The headline reads: “Border State Governor Issues Dire Warning about Flood of Undocumented Immigrants.” And here’s the gist of the story: In a letter to national officials, the governor of a border state sounded another alarm about unchecked immigration across a porous boundary with a neighboring country. In the message, one of several from border state officials, the governor acknowledged that his/her nation had once welcomed immigrants from its neighbor, but recent events taught how unwise that policy was.

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‘Persia’ and the western imagination

Iran has long had a difficult relationship with the West. Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 overthrew the monarchy and established an Islamic Republic, Iran has been associated in the popular consciousness with militant Islam and radical anti-Westernism. ‘Persia’ by contrast has long been a source of fascination in the Western imagination eliciting both awe and contempt that only familiarity can bring.

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Minerals, molecules, and microbes

The study of minerals is the most fundamental aspect of the Earth and environmental sciences. Minerals existed long before any forms of life. They have played an important role in the origin and evolution of life and interact with biological systems in ways we are only now beginning to understand. One of the most rapidly developing areas in what is now called ‘geobiology’ concerns the role of microbes in processes both of mineral formation and destruction.

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A very short trivia quiz

In order to celebrate Trivia Day, we have put together a quiz with questions chosen at random from Very Short Introductions online. This is the perfect quiz for those who know a little about a lot. The topics range from Geopolitics to Happiness, and from French Literature to Mathematics. Do you have what it takes to take on this very short trivia quiz and become a trivia master? Take the quiz to find out.

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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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