Away from the stress of schoolwork, the summer holidays are an ideal time to do some wider reading around your chosen subject. In the autumn term, it’s crucial to zone in on your areas of interest and make sure you’re prepared to talk about them. Reading outside of the syllabus is essential to demonstrate interest and commitment to the course to which you’re applying; aside from preparing you for interview and for the course itself, some of the reading you’ve done should be mentioned and reflected on in your personal statement. In this blog post we’ve collected some book recommendations from graduates in different subjects to give you some inspiration for what to read.
The Poetry Handbook by John Lennard
“This became my absolute bible at Cambridge! A great book for reference when analysing poetry, so perfect to have on hand when preparing for the ELAT and interview”
“Amor Mundi” by Christina Rossetti
“one of my favourite poems of all time. A challenging poem to analyse, but really interesting in its use of rhyme and imagery. It’s often misinterpreted so take your time to really get your teeth into it!”
History of Art
Art and Culture: Critical Essays by Clement Greenberg
“This is essential reading for students wishing to learn more about interpretations of art and contemporary art theory”
A World History of Art by H. Honour & J. Fleming
“this is an incredibly comprehensive history of art, including: painting, mosaic, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, architecture and photography. This thoughtful study of cultures and civilisations is framed by the contextualisation of different eras. The newer edition also has some useful material on art history research”.
Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in Its Struggle to Be Understood, by Grayson Perry
“Perry examines the art establishment and Art History through the lens of someone who was once an outsider. This is a short, light read and is very much written in a language for a newcomer, so would be a great starting point”.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
“ This would be a great book for anyone considering Psychology, Biomedical Sciences, or even Medicine. A really interesting book that ties together research into the effects of sleep on cognition, memory and health. Through the research it describes it also gives a good insight into the different methods available to psychologists and neuroscientisits and the limitations of many of these. It also refutes a lot of ‘pseudo-science’ and popular science that surrounds the concepts of sleep and dreams”.
Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
“ An absolute staple of behavioural economics, but with crossovers to Psychology; for example, it discusses the different types of cognitive processing and the implications this has on many facets of human behaviour. One of the most interesting points raised is about regression to the mean, which highlights the problems with much statistical reporting”.
Top tip: both these books are quite popular, and it is likely that other people will mention them in their personal statement. The more obvious books can give you a great grounding in a subject, but are not always the most impressive in a personal statement. If you want to mention one, make sure you approach it from a new and interesting angle; in general, try to reserve your personal statement for the more interesting reads.
Physics or Engineering
The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios
“I read this book when I was applying to Oxford. A really good, approachable read which takes you through some relatively complex physics in quite an enjoyable way. The only issue with it is that it’s American, so all of the units are imperial!”
You might also like to try…
6 Easy Pieces by Richard Feinman
This book collects six of the easiest extracts from Nobel Prize winner Feynman’s famous lectures, and would serve as a good stepping stone to tackling some of the more challenging lectures.
Alison (Head of Oxbridge Applications) recommends…
Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh
“This is an interesting book to read and one which is going to reveal a lot about the nature of post- university mathematics. As an applicant you should definitely read it. However, a caveat—avoid bringing it up in your personal statement, as all of your competitors will have done so!”
The Oxford Bible Commentary, ed. John Barton, John Muddiman
“Commentaries are a crucial way to get to grips with scripture and the scholarship surrounding it, and are widely used by Theology students. This is a hefty one and not the cheapest either, but if you can get your hands on it it’s extremely helpful as it gives you an introduction to every single book of the Bible and a succinct line-by-line commentary. If you’re interested in one biblical book in particular, you can also just pick commentary for that particular book”.
The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann
“This 1972 work poses some really interesting questions about suffering, the problem of evil, and the impassibility of God. A classic of postmodern theology, which you may well come up against in your degree course.”
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
In his 1994 work, Pinker argues that all humans are born with the capacity for language.
A Little Book of Language by David Crystal
Written explicitly for a young audience, this is a charming account of the history of language and a great introduction to linguistics.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Online)
This thoroughly comprehensive and highly-regarded resource is peer-reviewed and can be accessed online for free. Have a browse or search ‘language’ or ‘linguistics’.