The Open Syllabus Project wants to make the world of higher education more transparent. Last week they released data on the most frequently assigned books at English-language colleges around the world based on a database of over one million syllabi. The list, which provides fascinating insights into 21st century academia (and some pretty good book recommendations), can be filtered by institution, location, and field.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, English-speaking colleges love the Ancient Greeks. Of the top 20 most frequently assigned books, more than a quarter are by Greek playwrights, poets, and philosophers such as Aristotle, Homer, and Sophocles. Plato’s Republic, meanwhile, is the second most-assigned book after William Strunk’s writing guide, The Elements of Style.
Male writers find ample representation on the list. In fact, only two of the top 20 writers are female: Mary Shelley, whose novel Frankenstein is in fifth place, and Kate L. Turabian, whose A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is in 13th.
Overall, the top 20 list holds few surprises: Many of these books have likely been assigned reading since the earliest days of higher education. There’s Hobbes’ Leviathan in seventh place, Machiavelli’s The Prince in eighth, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet in tenth. But, if you filter the list by institution, location, or discipline, it starts to become more interesting: Yale’s number one book, for instance, is Plato’s Republic, while Oberlin, a liberal arts college known for the alternative spirit of its students, lists Marx’s Communist Manifesto as its most frequently assigned reading.
The reading selection also becomes more varied when filtered by state. The most frequently assigned book in Oregon, for instance, is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, while Colorado loves assigning David Besanko’s Microeconomics, and Connecticut can’t get enough of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations.
Whether you're curious about the state of higher education, a bookworm, or both, the list makes fascinating reading. Check it out here.