Our incoming students often ask whether there is a reading list for Liberal Arts and Sciences.

There is no compulsory reading list for new students, although you may wish to whet your appetite for interdisciplinary learning by reading one or two of the texts below.

The Two CulturesC.P. Snow: The Two Cultures (1993)

The publication of this book in 1959 defined a controversy that is still disputed today: the perceived separation between the worlds of Science and Arts (Humanities), two different domains of human endeavour, with different languages and approaches. Attempts to bridge these worlds, to clarify the misunderstandings, to bring them together under the unifying umbrella of culture, are the central elements of the ethos of the Liberal Arts and Natural Science education.

The Invention of ScienceD. Wootton: The Invention of Science (2015)

David Wootton was a speaker on our Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences Distinguished Lectures Series and introduced this fantastic new book which provides a fresh understanding of the start of the scientific revolution. Wootton traces that beginning all the way back to the end of the 15th century, when the discovery of the ‘New World’ freed the human mind and allowed the human curiosity to start pursuing the ‘new’.

The Lunar MenJenny Uglow: The Lunar Men: The Inventors of the Modern World 1730-1810  (2003)

One could argue that one of the best examples of what Liberal Arts and Sciences means took place at the start of the Industrial Revolution, right here in the Midlands, when the Modern World was invented. Luminaries of the science and arts of the time, people like James Watt and Joseph Priestly and Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton, were meeting on a regular basis, when the moon was full (to save on lighting) to discuss all. Jenny Uglow examines, through the characters of the Lunar Society, how all the momentous changes at the end of the 18th century came about in sciences as well as in crafts.

And from here we invite you to follow your curiosities. Some further suggestions are below:

The Three CulturesJ. Kagan: The Three Cultures: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Humanities in the 21st Century (2009)

This is ideal if you want to find out how the Two Cultures hypothesis fared through the decades. The subtitle of this book is ‘Revisiting C.P.Snow’ and introduces one glaring omission from Snow’s book: the social sciences. Fifty years on, the situation has changed, but not for the better: the humanities lost some of their appeal, while the natural sciences have lost their hegemony and portents for bright future. Furthermore, a similar negative destiny has befallen the social sciences.

The Unity of KnowledgeE.O. Wilson: Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge (1999)

Wilson is one of the most eminent biologists of our time, but he is also one of the most rounded and knowledgeable intellects of the second half of the 20th century. He uses this wide range of knowledge and wisdom to ‘resolve’ the tension identified by Snow and bring together, in a progressive fashion, all strands of knowledge for the benefit of human condition. The name for this adventure is ‘consilience’, a word he borrows from the early 19th century intellectual Whewell, the same who first proposed the word “scientist’. This is a challenging but rewarding journey through the landscape of human culture.

A Defense of IdealsM. Edmundson: Self and Soul: A defense of Ideals (2015)

This is another strong defence of liberal education, albeit from a contemporary perspective. Edmundson has a look at the value of ideals and asks us, for our benefit, to reacquaint ourselves with them, particularly in a world that concentrates so much on the practical and materialistic achievements in life, attitudes that also drive the career choices of many youngsters.

Seven Brief Lessons on PhysicsC. Rovelli: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (2015)

Rovelli is a top rank theoretical physicist, a founder of the field of loop quantum gravity theory, but he has an artistic mind. His lessons in basic physics, for those “who know little or nothing about modern science,” are like shots of espresso: opening your eyes and making you feel better. A delightful example of how science and its meanings can be revealed by beautiful writing.

The Periodic TablePrimo Levi: The Periodic Table (2000)

Considered by some to be the best science book ever, this collection of short stories written by a chemist is an extraordinary journey that uses chemistry as a metaphor for describing a personal history that invokes Auschwitz, fascism and the devastation of war, while at the same time conveying a certain optimism of being able to transmute all this suffering into something fresh and potent.

SaturdayIan McEwan: Saturday (2006)

This is not a book about science as such. It’s more of a book about why Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences courses are needed. The main character is a scientist, a neurosurgeon, who is ill at ease with literature and arts, but who is forced, through life’s twists and turns to take a wider perspective on the world’s events and his position.

Alternatively, you might want to end your holidays by enjoying some straight science popularisation books. Fortunately, the bookshops’ shelves are full of interesting choices

  • Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – the evolution of our species and of our culture.
  • Brian Cox: The Human Universe – an antropocenic effort looking at the universe through the eyes of the human species.
  • Andrew Wulf: The Invention of Nature – a journey back in time starring adventurer Alexander von Humboldt.

Whatever your choice, enjoy your break and we look forward to seeing you here in September.