Very Short Introductions - book recommendations
November 26, 2007 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Which books do you recommend (or not) from the 173 volume series: Very Short Introductions?
posted by stbalbach to Education (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I have read 1 book so far, Postmodernism, and found it to be difficult (as the subject is), but provides clarity of vision for a subject often of muddled origin and meaning. The author certainly makes value judgments, it is not a NPOV wikipedia article thank goodness; he takes a position in what is ultimately a political movement, but provides multiple POVs. Short book but some pages can take a long time to digest, its a "slow read", pithy but never banal.
posted by stbalbach at 8:53 AM on November 26, 2007

The VSI on Classics is awesome.
posted by gsh at 9:00 AM on November 26, 2007

I own a bunch of these. I didn't find them as helpful as I had hoped. With Wikipedia nowadays, I feel like I can get just as much out of Wikipedia in a shorter amount of time. Also picking up an Intro level textbook can be helpful too.

Here's what I do own though:
Social and Cultural Anthropology

All were fine, I suppose. Nationalism was, at the time, the topic that I knew the most about and I found the VSI book to be lacking.
posted by k8t at 9:01 AM on November 26, 2007

posted by grouse at 9:21 AM on November 26, 2007

I've started into the book on Quantum Theory and while the over-worshipful tone of the author seems a bit silly at times, the explanations have been clear and I feel like I'm getting the sort of orientation to the topic that I had hoped for.
posted by tkolar at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2007

The one on Fascism is very good. The one on Atheism is not very convincing to me, though I don't really need to be convinced.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 10:30 AM on November 26, 2007

The book on logic is quite nice.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:52 AM on November 26, 2007

+1 for what stbalbach said about the PoMo title.

The Lit Theory title was "meh" for me, but I can see where it'd be decent for someone who'd had little to no exposure to the topic. Those are the only two I have read.
posted by angry.polymath at 12:31 PM on November 26, 2007

I enjoyed the Anarchism and Atheism ones, but I can't give an expert's opinion on either.
posted by philomathoholic at 1:06 PM on November 26, 2007

The cold war one was good for somebody in their mid-30s who witnessed some of it but didn't have the bigger context.
They only take a couple of days to read so it isn't a huge investment, and my library has quite a few.
posted by bystander at 2:22 AM on November 28, 2007

I cannot judge its general quality in the VSI world, since it is the only one I've read, but I disrecommend Roman Britain. It is not at all a fun read, and what you recall after finishing it (if you do) will not be more than you could have learned in less time from googling the subject. The book is prettier than most of the web sites, though.
posted by fidelity at 10:35 AM on November 28, 2007

Okay, back from the beach vacation....

The Brain: Good stuff, nice survey of what we currently know about what physically occurs in the brain.

Darwin: Actually more of an introduction to Darwin's research for the Origin of Species along with the initial controversy and defense of Natural Selection. Good stuff.

Photography: A survey of the social aspects (how it has been used, how both art and documentaries have changed over the years) of photography from its invention to now, with lots of interesting tidbits embedded in otherwise fairly ponderous academic writing.

Design: Bleah. Starts off with an admission that there is no cohesive theory of design and devolves into a list of designers and what they're known for, at two sentences apiece. This was the only book thus far that I didn't bother finishing, so it may have gotten better in the second half.

Clausewitz: A very short Very Short Introduction, but it gets the salient points across about who he was and how he came to (almost) write the book he did. This book makes an excellent case for reading "On War", and provides the necessary background to do so.

Buddhism: Pretty good as a survey of a major religion goes. Its only drawback is that it simultaneous warns of the danger of thinking about Buddhism in Western terms while using the vocabulary of Western religions to talk about various concepts. I'm not sure there's any way around that really, but it leaves some confusion about when the author is speaking metaphorically or making a direct parallel.

Chaos: Definitely the most technically dense Short Introduction I've read yet (it leaves the Quantum Mechanics book in the dust). I'm only about halfway through, and I already know I'm going to have to read this one three or four more times to really understand what's being said. Still, I certainly know a lot more about the basics of chaotic systems and fractals than I did when I began.
posted by tkolar at 6:20 PM on December 30, 2007

Just finished the French Revolution edition and liked it; unlike some "for beginners" books I've read (Penguin Lives, I'm looking at you), it was well-organized, well-edited and never felt overly rushed. It starts with an overview of how folks like Burke, Dickens, Orczy et al have shaped popular imagination, then goes into Why It Happened (particularly interesting), How It Happened, What It Ended, What It Started and closes with a 10-page section, Where It Stands, that looks at the competing academic schools and the tiff at the 200th anniversary celebration.

I'm wary of claiming to Now Understand The French Revolution, but I do feel like I have a decent beginner's grasp on the important issues and players, and, more importantly, have a clear idea on where to delve deeper if I want to get a better handle on the specifics. Definitely a keeper.
posted by mediareport at 12:34 PM on January 14, 2008

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