Friday, October 23, 2009

The top 30 books you should read before your Oxbridge interview...

The top 30 books you should read before your Oxbridge interview...: "


So, the applications are in, and all those students who applied for Oxford and Cambridge are nervously waiting to see if they get interviews. But is there anything they can do to prepare?

Well, according to Oxbridge Applications(who help students prepare for entrance to Oxford and Cambridge), there is. They have compiled a list of the top 30 subject specific books which they recommend bright would-be Oxbridge applicants to read as they prepare for their interview over the coming weeks. Read on to find out what they are (the explanations are in Oxbridge Applications own words...)

‘"Reading around your subject syllabus is fundamental," says James Uffindell, the graduate who founded the company in his final year at Oxford in 1999. "It gives applicants the chance to display their powers of lateral thinking, develop their own ideas about a subject and show how they can manage their own intelligence confidently. It can form the basis for stimulating intellectual discussion - the key to a good interview.

"Of course there are thousands of books we could have chosen," he adds. ‘This is just a shortlist of our top recommendations."

However, let me just sound a little note of caution. Don't pretend to have read these books if you haven't. I know of numerous students who have been caught out this way. Mind you, I also know one who was caught out having lied on his form (about reading Tom Jones). He's convinced that, because he then relaxed during his interview (he assumed he hadn't got in) the tutor got to see the "real him" and offered him a place! 

Politics & Social Sciences

Machiavelli, The Prince- rarely seen on Personal Statements, a classic book that analyses the use of power. To quote one Oxford PPE graduate, ‘the book possibly has a permanent home on Lord Mandelson’s bedside table.’

David Marquand, Britain Since 1918 – a superb study of post 1918 British political history.

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis – a graphic novel about an ordinary girl’s life in Tehran. Beautifully illustrated and an interesting insight into what life might be like under a religious dictatorship.

Sattareh Farman Farmaian and Dona Munker, Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Revolution - an interesting personal account exploring life as a member of a dynasty important under the old Shah, but who was forced to flee during the Islamic Revolution as a result of her relations and connections.   

Humanities & Arts

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Imperium- Pulling together his journalism from three visits to disparate parts of the Soviet Empire, in the 1960s, mid 1980s and just after the collapse of the USSR, critically acclaimed author and journalist Kapuscinski’s account is easy to read, yet full of terrible but captivating stories.  

Nicholas Stargardt, Witnesses of War– an account of children’s experiences in Germany and the occupied territories of Eastern Europe, Stargardt uses a range of surprising sources such as children’s letters to their parents, diaries and pictures to explore how a whole generation of European children were shaped by the horrors of 1939 – 1945.

Richard Hillary, The Last Enemy – an evocative and highly readable account of Hillary’s own experiences as a fighter pilot in World War II, (he was studying at Trinity College Oxford when he joined up in 1939) in which he was shot down and spent months in hospital, undergoing plastic surgery (then in its infancy) to rebuild his face and hands. 

Henri Barbusse, Le Feu (‘Under Fire,’ in English) – one of the first accounts of the First World War from the perspective of the French trenches.

W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants– four meandering and beautifully written stories of displaced characters. The use of words, the subtlety of the expression and feeling, and the evocation of mood, is Sebald at his best and a classic of our generation.

Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle, An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory – broken down into easy to read chapters which make quite complex ideas manageable. They also have lots of suggestions for further reading. Definitely a saviour for lots of English students all the way through to finals.

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women – one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy, responding to traditional eighteenth century political and educational theory that believed women should not have an education.‘

Philosopy & Theology

J.S Mill, Utilitarianism– essential reading for any budding philosopher.  One of the most important and contentious works of moral philosophy. Its articulation of a ‘hedonic calculus’ and its development of Mill’s mentor’s (Bentham) ideas on what makes mankind ‘happy’ make it a classic.

The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Rousseau argues for the preservation of individual freedom in political society. An individual can only be free under the law, he says, by freely embracing that law as his own.  

John Gray, Straw Dogs – This is a march through the history of philosophy.

Alain de Botton, Consolations of Philosophy– In this, Botton explores different philosophies to cope with the stresses of modern day living. A great introduction to the philosophers he uses, while at the same time being a useful way of feeling better about your life (and not getting in to your chosen university if that is the way it turns out).

Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ– one of the best known books on Christian devotion. An insight into how Catholic devotion was changing in this period in Northern Europe and how far removed it was from common practices today.

Mohsin Hamad, The Reluctant Fundamentalist – A novel exploring how American culture might have fostered Islamic fundamentalism.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge, God is Back, How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World – A new book by Editor in Chief of the Economist and Washington Bureau Chief about the rise of fundamentalism in the West as well as the East.

Maths & Economics

James Gleick, Chaos, Making a New Science - Covering the physical side of maths, this is an accessible introduction to Chaos Theory, which has been quite popular over the last 50 years.

Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money – tells the history of banking, brilliantly written, giving great insights into how globalisation came about.

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, Nudge – how you can get people to do things by making them opt out rather than opt in – a more psychological approach to economics.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Black Swan – Arguably the most pertinent book to read right now on flawed economics.

Science, Medicine & Engineering

Adrian Vaughan, Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the biography of one of the greatest engineers who ever lived.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Emperor of all Maladies – a look at modern day views on cancer as a disease and its various treatments.

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia – Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University looks at the healing effect of music on the brain. An interesting interdisciplinary approach.

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution- Everyone has read The Selfish Gene, but this is the latest offering from Dawkins.  With every book, he continues in his relentless crusade against creationist theories. Like his others, this is well written, but be careful not to adopt too many of his opinions without proper thought and deliberation. Even better…what DON’T you agree with?

Steve Jones, The Single Helix– ‘I read this when I was applying’ says one of Oxbridge Applications’ PPP graduates (Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology) – brilliantly written overview of where research currently stands on genetics. Obviously a few years old now, so not fully up-to-date but still fascinating. 

Also, worth noting, Jones has recently published a book called Darwin’s Island. He is a less well known Dawkins, but with similar values and an excellent scientist.  One Oxbridge Applications’ tutor suggests it may be interesting to put his writing in the context of ‘Everyone reads Dawkins, but does Jones give a much better argument?’

Richard Feynman, several different works - From Six Easy Pieces to Six Not-so-easy Pieces, right through to his imaginative Lecture series. A great read from a prestigious and witty physicist. Some would say legendary within the physics community.

Read School Gate:

Oxbridge - one student explodes the myths

Oxbridge interview questions and how to answer them 

Is Oxbridge now discriminating against private schools?


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