Blog post

The Essential Verso Undergraduate Reading List

Molly Osberg, Seán McGovern27 March 2013

If you think the latest tome of Giddens’ Sociology is the one textbook you need to get you through your undergraduate days, think again. Impress your tutor and learn something beyond the lecture theatre with these essential Verso titles.

Bolster any politics, philosophy, economics, literature, sociology or history essay with one of these books and not only score the grade, but begin your lifelong love affair with radical writers.

1.The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.

Top of the list, the second biggest-selling book ever published.  This slim text is required university reading for any left leaning student (and your susceptible right wing chums).  Not only is it a classic, but the basic principles of communism seem like a breath of fresh air compared to modern day-capitalism, even if it was written over a century and a half ago.  The new edition contains an introduction by Eric Hobsbawm. It’s also a great introduction to the writings of Marx. Capital is more approachable after this one.

2. Women's Oppression Today: The Marxist/Feminist Encounter by Michèle Barrett

A classic work of feminist theory, Women's Oppression Today looks at the relationship between female liberation and Marxists ideas. An instant classic since its original publication in the '80s, this book has been called "a school of thought" in itself and, in later editions, does a thorough job on the central debates between second and third wave feminism. Which, now that you're in University, are distinctions you'd do well to know.

3. Meltdown by Paul Mason

Best used as an introduction to contemporary economics, BBC Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason writes with distinct clarity and information about the real causes of global financial crisis.  A great tool to understand the differences between capitalism and neo-liberalism, it’s the guidebook for the age of austerity.

4. Logics of Disintegration by Peter Dews

You may first encounter the topic of post-structuralism in relation to such works as Différance by Derrida, which is quite a dense text to understand at first. A very significant area of critical theory, post-structuralist writers also include authors Fredric Jameson and Judith Butler. This work by Dews examines post-structuralism for what it is - that is, he examines what it actually is, what it means - outside the framework of social and cultural analysis. This text crosses over between disciplines. A very important work on this concept. (Notice how I didn't try explain what post-structuralism is?)

5. Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Fredric Jameson

When the V&A did a recent retrospective about postmodernism, they dated it from 1970-1990. It was astonishing to wonder if a period of art and ideology had come and gone and all could be summed up with pop art and furniture? Fredric Jameson, the "theorist supreme" of postmodernism was one of the first to document the aesthetic change as a very social and political one too. Any reading of postmodernism includes this text, the classic of the cultural turn. It's also a brilliant tool to learn about modernity preceding it, and why a change was brought about. Dense, but extensive and essential.

6. The Origins of Postmodernity by Perry Anderson
This is the book you take out of the library after Jameson's. Anderson brings his own debate and ideas to the age, as well as criticisms of Jameson's original theories. Any rewarding understanding of postmodernism includes this text.

7. Ideology: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton

Students should prepare to encounter the word ideology at every turn. But while we may use it to denote various political/theoretical forms, the word itself is a concept that struggles with its own definition. Before tackling Marxism and post-structuralism, this text is required reading for all politics and literature students. It will prepare you from the start to challenge the subjects as much as they can challenge you.

8. The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat by Steven Lukes

One of those brilliantly unusual creations, The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat is a novel of political philosophy not too dissimilar to the likes of Sophie's World. The book tells the story of Professor Caritat, who wanders through the neighbouring countries of Utilitaria, Communitaria and Libertaria (no prizes for guessing what those places are like) to find the best possible world. Some of the biggest ideas debated in under three hundred pages, it's a work of complete originality and a choice introduction to political philosophy.

9. Mapping Ideology edited by Slavoj Žižek

A perfect companion to Eagleton's Ideology, this comprehensive reader, edited by Slavoj Žižek, is a lengthy collection of works by some of the most influential thinkers on the subject. Classic texts include works by Althusser and Adorno and contemporary writers such as Göran Therborn and Michèle Barrett.

10. A Companion to Marx's Capital by David Harvey

Keep this by your side when you attempt to read Marx's Capital. No good bibliography has Marx without Harvey. David Harvey writes in a factual manner: informative, clear and engaging. This book doesn't just aim to make Capital more accessible, it includes many critical interpretations and only serves to make Capital more relevant than ever.

11. From Marxism to Post-Marxism? by Göran Therborn

Staying on topic, Therborn's work on Marx is suitable for the scholar and the general reader. The concept of Marxism is by no means identical today as it was when first explored. By understanding Marxism's past, one can better understand it's future. Analytical and practical.

12. The Philosophy of Marx by Étienne Balibar

Okay, this may be the last one about Marx and quite possibly the best. Étienne Balibar examines all the key areas all the way from the Manifesto to Capital and the biggest ideas in a slim, concise 139 pages. No politics, economics, literature or philosophy students can go without this title.

13. Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial Edited by Vinayak Chaturvedi

Of all the topics that come under the heading of critical theory, postcolonial theory may be one of the most rewarding and relatable. While there will be times when something like structuralism seems jarring, but postcolonial theory is readily applied to the world today. This work contests the voice of many of the elite Indian nationalists who claimed narrative control of post-colonial history. Inspired by Gramsci's writings of the subaltern classes, this title includes comprehensive works by critics like Ranajit Guha and a familiar undergraduate figure, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

14. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields

Forget "Intro to Black Studies:" the celebrated Fields sisters have written a book to challenge the conventions of racial dialogue in America itself. Tackling the myth of an Obamian post-racial society, they trace the ways in which Americans have fundamentally failed to develop a language to discuss basic inequalities in their country. A groundbreaking work and masterful appraisal of American racial history, Racecraft is the perfect title to muddle your primary school analysis.

15. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity by Marshall Berman

If I may be so bold, I think modernity is one of the most fascinating periods of 20th Century history (or 19th and 20th century, for pedants everywhere). An all-consuming subject, like postmodernism, it reached every aspect of life and art, literature and film. But importantly it was also a sociological movement seen in architecture everywhere, a transformative time in every sense. This work by Berman documents the age through worldwide experience, from the writing of Dostoevsky and Pushkin to the wastelands of New York.

16. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson

Selling over a quarter of a million copies, this is the definitive text on the topic of nationalism and it's relationship with capitalism. But importantly, it examines the reasons and motivations a person has to live, honour, fight and die for their country, a belief we associate with American patriotism but found in many other nations.

17. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict by Norman G. Finkelstein

One of the first works of its kind to bring revisionist history to the accepted truths and literature of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it remains a highly important and provocative work and essential to any bibliography for politics students researching the tumultuous history.

18. Historical Capitalism with Capitalist Civilization by Immanuel Wallerstein

Though we may associate the 20th century with rampant capitalism, Wallerstein's book traces the lineage of capitalism back five hundred years. This is a succinct piece of work of world history and economics. Wallerstein details the reasons for capitalism's longevity and the consequences that result in the continued immiseration of struggling nations.

19. The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View by Ellen Meiksins Wood

For the student especially eager to trace the long tentacles of late capitalism -- and what is University, if not a place to begin to dismantle that beast -- Wood's analytic history is the perfect next step from Wallerstein's short history of the phenomenon. True to its subtitle, the book tackles the big, existential questions underpinning our basic economic assumptions. A whopping, paradigm-shifting book, The Origin of Capitalism looks at the ways in which capitalism has realigned our relationships to nature and to our humanity itself.

20. Pocket Pantheon: Figures of Postwar Philosophy by Alain Badiou

This edition is small enough to fit in your pocket but dense enough to keep you reading for a long time. Badiou is an iconic figure in political theory and philosophy; this volume contains his thoughts on famous post-war thinkers such as Lacan, Sartre and Foucault. His insights into their work will assist any undertaking of his ideas and theirs.

21. Mapping the Nation edited by Gopal Balakrishnan

The last in the Mapping series, this work of investigation into nationalism is motivated by the puzzlement of the concept itself. From the age of Enlightenment to an uncertain future, like capitalism it has endured and divided. It opens with two distinct liberal and socialist positions by Lord Acton and Otto Bauer, respectively and features contributions form Habermas and Gellner, among others. This collection brings many ideas to that module on nationalism.

22. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory by Edward W. Soja

Part of the seven-strong set of the Radical Thinkers collection; this is quite the serious work of theory. It's dense, but any philosophy major should look this way: Marxist geographies, urbanisation, and global development. This ambitious work by Soja brings geography to the postmodern age, completing the book with two postfordist essays on the landscapes of Los Angeles. If this is for you, then take a look at the rest of the set, as well as the Revolutions series.

23. A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium by Chris Harman

The longest on the list: Harman's tome documents human history as a repetition of the same human goals through the reformation of society. But as history repeats, what it produces are consistently deeper wounds of worldwide suffering and inequality. There is much to take from this text, most of all that the current economic hold by capitalism should not and need not continue.   24. The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of the American Empire by Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch   An authoritative and groundbreaking work from Gindin and Panitch masterfully demonstrates the intermingling of modern capitalism and the American state. This is simply an indespensable book for those keen to get to grips with the true nature and role of financial and capitalist forces. The work's lucid and urgent voice masterfully guides you through the complex current state of America's global empire.