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Public Chooses Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species as Most Influential Academic Book in History

Public Chooses Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as Most Influential Academic Book in History


Results of public vote revealed during world’s first Academic Book Week 

On the Origin of Species is overwhelming favourite with 26% of vote  

London, 10th November 2015. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species has been voted as the most influential academic book of all time, with over a quarter of the public voting for the revolutionary book in an online poll, commissioned by Academic Book Week. 

The results of the vote, which gave voters a choice of 20 academic books that changed the world* as chosen by leading academic booksellers, librarians and publishers, have been announced today as part of the first ever Academic Book Week (9-16 November 2015). 

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which founded evolutionary biology when it was published in 1859, was the clear favourite in the public vote, followed by Marx & Engels’ Communist Manifesto and The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 

The top five academic books that changed the world as voted for by the public are: 

  1. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  2. The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels
  3. The Complete Works by William Shakespeare
  4. The Republic by Plato
  5. Critique of Pure Reason Immanuel Kant 

Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, said: “Academic books have the ability to profoundly change the way we think about ourselves, whether as a culture, society or – in the case of Charles Darwin’s seminal work – as a species. The publisher’s role is, and always has been, to ensure that these works are disseminated as widely as possible and to help promote learning and understanding.” 

Alan Staton, Head of Marketing at the Booksellers Association, said: “It's not in the least surprising, and completely right, that On the Origin of Species won. No work has so fundamentally changed the way we think about our very being and the world around us. I'm personally very heartened to see Critique of Pure Reason in the top five. We seem to be governed by expediency and doublethink and it's reassuring to know that Kant's Categorical Imperatives are known and thought important.” 

Samantha Rayner, the Principal Investigator on the AHRC/British Library Academic Book of the Future Project, said: "As we investigate what an 'academic book of the future' might be in this AHRC/ British Library Project, this list reminds us of the part evolution, reason, politics and creativity have always played in these discussions. Academic books are ideas captured in text that connect people to each other – and this campaign proves, by the responses it has had, that though definitions of 'academic' may vary wildly, the right of these shortlisted titles to be considered as books that have changed the world is easier to agree with!" 

Professor Andrew Prescott of the University of Glasgow, Theme Leader Fellow for the AHRC’s ‘Digital Transformations’, commented: “Origin of Species is the supreme demonstration of why academic books matter. Darwin used meticulous observation of the world around us combined with protracted and profound reflection to create a book which has changed the way we think about everything – not only the natural world, but religion, history and society. Every researcher, no matter whether they are writing books, creating digital products or producing artworks, aspires to produce something as significant in the history of thought as Origin of Species.” 

Roger Scruton, Philosopher and Fellow of the British Academy, commented: “I am gratified that the Critique of Pure Reason, which must be surely one of the most difficult works of philosophy ever written, should have been chosen as among the most influential of all academic books. Kant set out on an extraordinary task, which was to show the limits of human reasoning, and at the same time to justify the use of our intellectual powers within those limits. The resulting vision, of self-conscious beings enfolded within a one-sided boundary, but always pressing against it, hungry for the inaccessible beyond, has haunted me, as it has haunted many others since Kant first expressed it.” 

Tom Mole, Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh, added: “It’s a special pleasure to see a book by a graduate of the University of Edinburgh acclaimed as the most influential academic book of all time. Darwin conducted years of meticulous research and he refused to rush into print.  But he insisted on publishing his conclusions even when he knew they would be unpalatable to many at the time. The result was a book that made an immediate impact, and yet one that we are still coming to terms with. The fact that this book was written by a man who never held a university position, and that it was not published by a university press, should remind us of the importance of sustaining academic books in all their forms.” 

Kathryn Sutherland, Professor of English, University of Oxford, and Chair of the Advisory Board of the Academic Book of the Future project, said: “The lists, long and short, are interesting not because these really are all academic books, but for the implied public confidence that the academy is the home of big ideas in politics, the arts and sciences, and of books that shape our world. This is a serious responsibility.” 

Dr Audrey McCulloch, Chief Executive, ALPSP, added: “The breadth of topics covered in the top five titles demonstrates how firmly rooted academic books are across disciplines, and that is something that should never be forgotten.” 

Nicola Haden, Books Sales Manager at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “I’m not too surprised by the leader but the current third place is interesting. As a former student of the arts it’s pleasing to know I’m not alone in my appreciation of language and literature. Both have shaped my world and it appears I’m not alone in this sentiment.” 

Neil Smyth, Senior Librarian – Faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham, commented:  

“It is important that the list includes titles that might not be considered by some to be academic. Literary titles are one example. Shakespeare and Orwell are available in academic libraries. They are read by academic staff and students, and influence ideas for the academic books of the future. 

“Academics also write novels and poetry. Many of these books were submitted to the recent Research Excellence Framework, which is one formal, national system for defining academic books.” 


Academic Book Week is a week of celebration of academic books with events taking place throughout the UK – and indeed the world – at bookshops, libraries, universities and publishers. 

This week (9th – 16th November) is the world’s first ever Academic Book Week. Academic Book Week is a week of debate and celebration around the academic book and what its future holds with a series of events, competitions, promotions, and social media activity taking place all over the UK and beyond. 

Events are being hosted by bookshops, libraries, universities, and academic publishers, with debates and panels ranging from questioning the future of the academic book and where it will ‘live’ to the importance of university bookshops to whether or not we can trust Wikipedia. A full list of events during Academic Book Week can be found here. 

Academic Book Week is a key event in The Academic Book of the Future project’s calendar. The Academic Book of the Future project is a two year initiative exploring the future of the academic book, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in collaboration with The British Library..