On The Essential Verso Undergraduate Reading List

Verso, the left-leaning book publisher, recently came up with an essential undergraduate reading list on politics, philosophy, economics, literature, sociology or history. Most of it are very heavy stuff and would not be read by your ordinary student back in my alma mater (University of the Philippines Visayas). But most of the books listed there, sad to say, can be considered intellectual fads rather than serious inquiries on the world and serve as guide to change it.

Here are some of the books I read (and believe are essential) from The Essential Verso Undergraduate Reading List:

1.The Communist Manifestoby 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.

4. Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Frederic 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? Frederic 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.

11. 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.

Another book in the list that I read but did not appreciate that much is Pocket Pantheon: Figures of Postwar Philosophy by Alain Badiou. Well, there are some pretty good tributes to leading French philosophers that Badiou knew but it is far from the promise of the book’s marketers that it offers “A journey through twentieth-century philosophy with the titan of French thought.” Perhaps I expected too much from Badiou in this book.

There are two other books that I’ve read only sections or chapters of (and perhaps return to in the future): Mapping Ideology edited by Slavoj Žižek and Ideology: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton. Here are some other books in the list that I would love to read in the future:

7. 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. 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.

Most of the books here are academic in nature and are largely for the purposes of churning out impressive papers for fellow academics. But as Marx always emphasizes, we must be more keen on how every theoretical apparatus can either serve or obstruct the concrete practice of liberation, of transforming the present. In this sense, there are other more essential texts that deserve our attention:

And there are many others I can think of by Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Frantz Fanon, and so on. Perhaps that should merit a future post.

5 thoughts on “On The Essential Verso Undergraduate Reading List

  1. Thanks for sharing these, sir. I’m gonna check out the books you shared. And yup you’re right, an ordinary student would probably shudder at the thought of reading all these books on the list but I found some of them very interesting.

  2. As an IR/Political Science major, these don’t turn me off entirely haha. But I have to agree with you on the trend towards intellectual fads in university reading lists.You know, the typical left-wing type texts just because uni students are supposed to be radical, and intellectually hip and progressive and all ;)

    • Well, the youth and students should be left-wing and radical. But most of the books listed in this list by Verso is more about posing to be revolutionary rather than actually being one. :)

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