And the Most Influential Academic Book is…

I’ll give you a second to come up with a guess first. I’ll wait.

Got one? Well if you guessed On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, then way to go.

Evidently there’s something called Academic Book Week. It either just ended or it’s just beginning. To kick off the first ever Academic Book Week the the Academic Book of the Future Project came up with 20 finalists to be considered the most influential. Then the public was called in to decide the winner, and Darwin’s work was the overwhelming pick.

I have an interesting story about Darwin and this book. Evolution may not be taught at the elementary level, but it’s definitely taught in middle and high school. I remember learning about evolution during multiple years in school. I remember thinking about how Darwin had managed to open everyone’s eyes to see a little into our past as humans. I was under the impression that everyone else thought the same. Whoops.

One day during my senior year of high school we were having a discussion before class about these sorts of things. So I decided to win the argument by conducting a little poll of those present to see who did and didn’t “believe” in evolution. The quotations are there because it’s fact no matter what you think god did. Anyway, so I just asked who believed it. To my surprise there were only a handful of students raising their hands. I was baffled.

That was likely the first time I realized that my viewpoint on both evolution and religion was not what others thought. That little poll sent me on a path toward atheism that took me years to figure out. But I ultimately did.

All that to say that this book definitely deserves the top spot in this poll. It changed quite a bit for me and countless others.

I won’t ask what you think of evolution or religion because it’s not relevant. But I will ask which academic book has influenced you the most?

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20 thoughts on “And the Most Influential Academic Book is…

  1. Can I pick a top three? “The Space of Literature” Maurice Blanchot, “Civilisation and Its Discontents” Sigmund Freud, and “The History of Sexuality” Michel Foucault.

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  2. Whoa – you know how to prise open that can of worms, don’t you?
    I’m still surprised how many people don’t believe in evolution – I’m not a believer, but I don’t see that it has to rule out the existence of god, just that he chose a biological mechanism by which to make life.

    Anyway, my book of choice would probably be The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Dawkin’s atheism is a bit too aggressive for my liking – I don’t see any point in trying to bully people out of their belief systems, as he seems to. But it has some very interesting passages – especially concerning morality and how it doesn’t have to be informed by religion for people to be decent human beings – that I took very much to heart.

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    • Huh? You’re surprised by how many people don’t believe in evolution, but you don’t believe in evolution? Is that what you just said? And anyone who says evolution was done by god is funny. It’s finding something out that doesn’t really support one’s belief, so they alter it slightly. I haven’t read Dawkins. I’ve definitely heard plenty about him.

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      • Haha! yes, I phrased that badly. I do believe in evolution – don’t believe in God.
        I can see how believing in the Bible can throw up some tricky dilemmas, as much of it (Old vs New Testament) is contradictory.
        There’s an Old Testament story Dawkins quotes (in The God Delusion) where a man takes in a guest who is being hounded by a group who are trying to kill him. When the group come to the door, the host offers them his daughters to ‘do with as they will'(in other words gang rape) because he can’t allow a guest to be harmed.
        That’s a tricky passage to square with peace and love to all men πŸ™‚

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      • Oh. Well I’ve not read the Bible. And I’m near certain I won’t. But that passage doesn’t sound like anything but disgusting to me. I’m glad I’ve never come across it.

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      • Fortunately, I only know of it through Dawkins. We only read the New Testament at school. And Jesus never advocated that sort of behaviour πŸ™‚

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      • Did you attend private school or is everyone required to read that in school?

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      • Well, despite not being a Roman Catholic, I attended Catholic school – so it could just have been us. I think my son (who attends a non-faith school) is due to study lots of religions and philosophies rather than purely Christianity. A more rounded approach, I think – though he seems to be a committed atheist already, at the age of eleven

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      • Hm. I can’t recall studying any religion in school. Only in college when I took two world history classes as electives did I study religions. We went over quite a few.

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      • Obviously none of them converted you, then πŸ™‚

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  3. My favorite academic book. Hmm… there are two, actually.
    One is from high school, called “The SF Writer,” which basically details all writing/grammar/bibliographic, etc information. It’s an amazing resource!
    The second was from grad school. It’s one of my gross anatomy books and I reference it all the time. I even use it to show patients. It has drawn pictures of muscles and nerves and bones and organs and all that other great stuff. But it also has pictures of them in cadaveric form, so you can see how it really looks in a body. Awesome!

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  4. I remember everyone in my high school biology class griping about evolution too. But my teacher did such an excellent job of explaining the true mechanism of it, and how “non threatening” it was to religion, that most kids fully understood and actually accepted it by the end of the year. Really, it’s just a matter of correcting misconceptions like “humans come from monkeys,” etc. She was one of the best teachers I ever had, and the only one from high school who I still keep in contact with.

    I can’t think of any good academic books off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are plenty out there. And The Origin of Species is definitely a good pick.

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    • None of my science or biology teachers was memorable. And I definitely don’t keep in contact. But I thought my teachers did a fine job teaching the subject. I had no idea it was even controversial when I started learning about it.

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