What academic book has most shaped Britain?

Voters decided Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money has proved most influential on UK

January 26, 2017
Magic book with shining lights
Source: iStock
The power of the academic book was celebrated in a competition to select the most influential

From Judith Butler to Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking to Eric Hobsbawm, academic books have transformed our understanding of gender, race and class; illuminated the histories of England, Scotland and Ireland; and made accessible findings at the cutting edge of science.

But which has done the most to shape Britain today?

Ahead of Academic Book Week, held around Britain on 23-28 January, leading academics selected 20 crucial titles – and voting was open until 23 January for anyone to express their view on which “has been most influential upon modern Britain”.

The list was as follows: 

 

A Brief History of Time (1988) by Stephen Hawking
Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (2014) by Matthew J. Goodwin and Robert Ford
Ways of Seeing (1972) by John Berger
Gender Trouble (1990) by Judith Butler
The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins
Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885) by A. V. Dicey
Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (1984) by Peter Fryer
The Double Helix (1968) by James Watson
The Invention of Tradition (1983) by Eric Hobsbawm
The Making of the English Working Class (1963) by E. P. Thompson
Purity and Danger (1966) by Mary Douglas
The Uses of Literacy (1957) by Richard Hoggart
Poverty in the United Kingdom (1979) by Peter Townsend
Orientalism (1978) by Edward Said
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) by John Maynard Keynes
The Female Eunuch (1970) by Germaine Greer
Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1990) by R. F. Foster
The English and Their History (2014) by Robert Tombs
The Road to Serfdom (1944) by Friedrich Hayek
The Scottish Nation (1999) by Tom Devine.

In the event, John Maynard Keynes' General Theory came out on top, with 15 per cent of the public vote. It was followed by The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, and then E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

Keynes believed he was writing "a book on economic theory, which will largely revolutionise – not, I suppose, at once but in the course of the next few years – the way the world thinks about economic problems". In this assessment, comments John Kay, visiting professor of economics at the London School of Economics, he proved absolutely correct: "The analysis of the book was the dominant influence on macroeconomic policies in the thirty years that followed the Second World War, and we still debate, and employ, Keynesian policies today.”

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