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Five inconvenient truths about the Antarctic

By Klaus Dodds
When I wrote The Antarctic: A Very Short Introduction, I wanted the book to be something of a provocation. The aim, in short, was to highlight things that often get neglected in the midst of stories and images of past and present explorers, melting ice caps, tourists and the penguin. The reality is rather more disturbing.

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Medical law and ethics: portrait of a partnership

In many textbook titles and university courses, ‘medical law’ and ‘ethics’ are spoken of in the same breath, as one might speak of Darby and Joan. It’s often assumed that there’s a solid, uncomplicated marriage, in which each partner knows his or her function; or at least an efficiently commercial partnership governed by a clearly drafted document. But, like most real relationships, it’s not so simple.

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Bestsellers: a snapshot of an age

To celebrate World Book Day this week, we take a look at what John Sutherland thinks about why we read bestsellers and what they say about the age in which they were published, in his Very Short Introduction to Bestsellers.

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Medical Law: A Very, Very, Very, Very Short Introduction

By Charles Foster
By the standards of most books, the Very Short Introduction to Medical law is indeed very short: 35,000 or so words. As every writer of a VSI knows, it is hard to compress your subject into such a tiny box. But I wonder if I could have been much, much shorter. 88 words, in fact.

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North Korea and the bomb

By Joseph M. Siracusa
It is vital to begin any discussion of North Korea’s nuclear program with an understanding of the limits on available information regarding its development. North Korea has been very effective in denying the outside world any significant information on its nuclear program. As a result, the outside world has had little direct evidence of the North Korean efforts and has mainly relied on indirect inferences, leaving substantial uncertainties.

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The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI

Gerald O’Collins, SJ
“Pope Benedict is 78 years of age. Father O’Collins, do you think he’ll resign at 80?” “Brian,” I said, “give him a chance. He hasn’t even started yet.” It was the afternoon of 19 April 2005, and I was high above St Peter’s Square standing on the BBC World TV platform with Brian Hanrahan. The senior cardinal deacon had just announced from the balcony of St Peter’s to a hundred thousand people gathered in the square: “Habemus Papam.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected pope.

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Appreciating the perspective of Rastafari

By Ennis B. Edmonds
Recently, I was discussing my academic interest with an acquaintance from my elementary school days. On revealing that I have researched and written about the Rastafarian movement, I was greeted with a look of incredulity. He followed this look with a question: “How has Rastafari assisted anyone to progress in life?” My friend assured me he was aware that prominent and accomplished Rastas exist in Jamaica, however he was convinced that Rastafari did not contribute to the social and economic mobility of most of its adherents. Sensing that my friend was espousing a notion of progress based on rising social status and increasing economic resources – reflecting his own journey from a peasant farming family to an elementary school teacher to a highly regarded principal of a number of schools to an educational officer at present – I pointed out that Rastafari rejects this conventional notion of progress, especially when it is for a few at the exclusion of the many. Pointing out that I had no understanding of Rastafari until I started researching it, I left hoping that next time he engages in a conversation on Rastafari, he will do so with greater understanding and appreciation.

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A Very Short Film competition

By Chloe Foster
After more than three months of students carefully planning and creating their entries, the Very Short Film competition has closed and the longlisted submissions have been announced.

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The legacy of the Napoleonic Wars

Mike Rapport
The Duke of Wellington always has a traffic cone on his head. At least, he does when he is in Glasgow. Let me explain: outside the city’s Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street, there is an equestrian statue of the celebrated general of the Napoleonic Wars. It was sculpted in 1840-4 by the Franco-Italian artist, Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867), who in his day was a dominant figure in the world of commemorative sculpture. Amongst his works is the statue of Richard the Lionheart, who has sat on his mount and held aloft his sword outside the Houses of Parliament since 1860.

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Thought Control

Tim Bayne
As a teacher I have sometimes offered to give a million pounds to any student who can form any one of the following beliefs—that they can fly; that they were born on the moon; or that sheep are carnivorous. Needless to say, I have never had to pay up. The Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass might have been able to believe six impossible things before breakfast, but that is a feat few of us can match. In fact, the formation of belief doesn’t seem to be under our voluntary control at all. Coming to adopt a belief seems to be more like digesting or metabolizing than looking or speaking—it seems to be something that happens to one rather than something that one does.

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Autism: a Q&A with Uta Frith

We spoke to Uta Frith, author of Autism: A Very Short Introduction and asked her about diagnosis, the perceived links between autism and genius, and how autism is portrayed in culture.

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Animal evolution: a new view of an old tree

By Peter Holland
The metaphor of the ‘evolutionary tree’ is powerful. Closely related species, such as octopus and squid, can be pictured as twigs sitting near each other on a small branch, in turn connected to larger and larger branches, each representing more distant evolutionary relationships. Every animal species, past and present, is a twig somewhere on the vast tree of life. But what is the shape of this metaphorical tree? Can we find the correct place for all the twigs, or perhaps even just the largest branches? In short, who is related to whom? To solve this would be to reconstruct the history of animal life on our planet.

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Romanticism: a legacy

By Michael Ferber
The Very Short Introductions are indeed very short, so I had to cut a chapter out of my volume that would have discussed the aftermath or legacy of Romanticism today, two hundred years after Romanticism’s days of glory. In that chapter I would have pointed out the obvious fact that those who still love poetry look at the Romantic era as poetry’s high point in every European country. Think of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Pushkin, Mickiewicz, Leopardi, Lamartine, Hugo, and Nerval. Those who still love “classical” music fill the concert halls to listen to Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, and Wagner; and those who still love traditional painting flock to look at Constable, Turner, Friedrich, and Delacroix. These poets and artists are still “alive”: their works are central to the culture from which millions of people still draw nourishment. I can scarcely imagine how miserable I would feel if I knew I could never again listen to Beethoven or read a poem by Keats.

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Jack Kerouac: On and Off the Road

By David Sterritt
Jack Kerouac, the novelist and poet who gave the Beat Generation its name, died 43 years ago on 21 October 1969 at the age of 47. On Friday, the long-delayed movie version of Kerouac’s autobiographical novel about crisscrossing the United States with his hipster friend Neal Cassady in the 1940s, On the Road will be released. When the novel was published in 1957, six years after he finished writing it, Kerouac dreamed up his own screen adaptation, hoping to play himself (called Sal Paradise in the novel) opposite Marlon Brando as Dean Moriarty, the Cassady character.

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Making and mistaking martyrs

By Jolyon Mitchell
It was agonizing, just a few weeks before publication of Martyrdom: A Very Short Introduction, to discover that there was a minor mistake in one of the captions. Especially frustrating, as it was too late to make the necessary correction to the first print run, though it will be repaired when the book is reprinted. New research had revealed the original mistake. The inaccuracy we had been given had circulated the web and had been published by numerous press agencies and journalists too. What precisely was wrong?

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