Humanities Reading List: Books that changed how we see the world

From seminal works of literature that span the globe to bold ideas that changed the way we teach, discover books that have inspired, invigorated and informed professors across our faculty.

In Cold Blood
Truman Capote

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Capote opened my eyes to how powerfully the past could be written. After a night of horrific murder, neighbours came to view “each other strangely, and as strangers.”   – Jordan Stanger-Ross, Associate Professor, History, Project Director, Landscapes of Injustice

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This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color
Editors, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa

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By refusing to be silenced by white feminists’ racism, by homophobia, by misogyny, radical women of color embody true resistance to the oppressive powers in place, a resistance that is not over-indulgent or complacent in the face of privilege. – Pierre-Luc Landry, Assistant Professor, Department of French  

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Essais, (1572-1592)
Michel de Montaigne

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The essays are a conversation in a library, between Montaigne, his books, himself, you, me, about who we are. Once we enter this ever-changing book, what matters is to be true to ourselves, rather than right. As with a friend. – Hélène Cazes, Professor, French Literature

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The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka

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With its startling, impossible opening, Kafka's The Metamorphosis nevertheless makes it clear that great literature can tell something profound about being human. – Kim Blank, Professor of Literature, English Department

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Consciousness Explained
Daniel Dennett

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This book fundamentally changed my understanding of how the brain constructs our moment-to-moment perceptual experience – Scott Woodcock, Associate Professor of Philosophy

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I, Claudius and The Autobiography of Henry VIII with Notes by His Fool Will Somers. A Novel
Robert Graves, Margaret George, respectively

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I believe that every story, either fiction or not, is a testimonial of our lives and our worlds. These books, in retrospect, were preparing me for my own testimonial in this life. – Mrs. Alicia Ulysses, a member of the UVIC community since 1986

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Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
Silvia Federich

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This book opened my eyes to the historicity of the female body, particularly how the idea of natural(ized) motherhood became instrumental in capitalist development. – Sujin Lee, Assistant professor, Pacific and Asian Studies

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East West Street
Phillippe Sands

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This book interweaves the stories of Raphael Lemkin, Hersh Lauchterpacht, and the author’s own family to illustrate how the east and west streets of Lviv/Lemberg/Lwów sowed the seeds of Jewish intellectual thought around modern human rights and international justice as dramatized in the Nuremberg trials. – Helga Thorson, Germanic and Slavic Studies

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The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination.
John Livingston Lowes

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This book showed me that the brilliant poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was built of images he gleaned from exploration narratives and that even geniuses build on the shoulders of others. – John Lutz, Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History

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There There
Tommy Orange

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It’s an intense and innovative take on the urban Indigenous experience, told from a range of perspectives all bound on a collision course for the Great Oakland Pow-wow. Forget your myths of the authentic Indian learning about identity by returning to the land; this is a gritty update that meets Indigenous modernity where it lives: in the city. – Stephen Ross, Professor, English

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Kindred
Octavia E. Butler

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Butler invented "grim fantasy,” and I’ve taken speculation seriously ever since. – Jentery Sayers, Associate Professor, English

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The Moon of Letting Go
Richard Van Camp

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This story asks us to show each other our baby pictures, see each other in this light, and accordingly treat each other with the gentleness and respect we show children. This story has shaped my interactions since I read it. – Leslie Saxon, Professor, Linguistics

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Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Luminous and grim, the novel gently lays bare the human texture of war, and the daily horror of slowly unfolding famine. Beautiful, tragic. – Elizabeth Vibert, Department of History

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Ways of Seeing
John Berger

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This book provides critical tools enabling readers to see, not what they are told to, but what images in art, advertising and journalism truly express. – Martha McGinnis, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics Secretary, University of Victoria Faculty Association

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The Song of Everlasting Sorrow
Wang Anyi

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This book captures the feeling of everyday life in Shanghai from a young woman's perspective, while also depicting monumental historical changes from the 1930s-1980s. – Angie Chau, Assistant Professor, Pacific and Asian Studies

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Teaching to Transgress
Bell Hooks

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This book helps me think through what it means to be a teacher, and the ways that educational practice can transform our lives. – Audrey Yap, (pronouns: she/her) Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy

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The Round House
Louise Erdrich

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Through the spell of a gripping suspense story, Erdrich exposes the failures of the U.S. justice system and proposes a traditional, more adequate alternative. – Corinne Bancroft, Assistant Professor in English

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Every Man Dies Alone
Hans Fallada

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This book made me rethink not only resistance to Hitler, but also how difficult “standing up” to oppression in any society can be. Based on a real case from the Gestapo files, the novel tells the story of a married, working-class pair of Berliners who begin to leave postcards denouncing the regime throughout the city. The fictionalized response of “ordinary” Germans to these postcards – fear, disgust and anger – is , I realize, chillingly accurate for the times. – Kristin Semmens, Departments of History and Germanic and Slavic Studies

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The World of Odysseus
Moses Finley

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The world of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey is fictional, but it’s also Greek, and Finley viewed it with the eyes of an anthropologist, examining wealth and labour, family and community, morality and values. Fiction is a kind of history. – Gregory Rowe, Greek and Roman Studies

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El Aleph
Jorge Luis Borges

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This collection of short stories opened up new horizons of the imagination for me. A classic of modern Latin American literature, both its literary style and its philosophical ideas inspire me to this today. – Dan Russek, Associate Professor, Hispanic and Italian Studies

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Primero Sueño (First Dream)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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Sor Juana was an intellectual model for me at an early stage. First Dream challenged my views on faith and reason, our capacity to know. – Beatriz de Alba-Koch, Department of History

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The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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When I was seventeen I read Dostoyevsky on the problem of suffering, and my thinking about religion changed in an enduring fashion. – Matthew Koch, Departments of History and Hispanic and Italian Studies

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Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
Hannah Arendt

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Nobody can be involved in administration today without considering the evil of banality and the banality of evil; bureaucracy must serve humanity, not vice versa. – Chris Goto-Jones, DPhil (he/him) Dean of Humanities & Professor in Philosophy, University of Victoria

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A Theory of Justice
John Rawls

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Rawls’ book inspired me to study theories of justice. It helped me to appreciate how those who benefit from injustice often seek to resist reform by denying the existence of injustice or by diminishing the importance of justice. – Colin Macleod, Professor of Philosophy & Law, Chair of Philosophy

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Sentimental Education
Gustave Flaubert

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One of the greatest novels ever about being 20-something, ambitious, self-absorbed, in love with an unattainable woman, and oblivious to the historical events of one’s time. It’s best read in your forties. – Michael Nowlin, Professor and Chair Department of English

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Paulo Freire

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Recommended by an Anishinaabe Professor and ceremonialist in the mid-1990s, this book helped me see the unseen in (de)humanizing relationships allowing me to enact my agency in navigating such dynamics. – waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies

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Iliad
Homer

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A meditation on the unending grief and luminous joy of being human; the meaning of life between birth and death; the resonance of pity and compassion. – Ingrid E. Holmberg, Associate Professor and Chair Department of Greek and Roman Studies

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The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660
Bruce G. Trigger

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First published in 1976, Children placed Wendat (Huron) men and women at the centre of a dramatic reenvisioning of 17th-century eastern North America. – Peter Cook, Associate professor Department of History

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The Tale of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu

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Arguably the world’s oldest novel and one of the greatest, written by a court lady over a thousand years ago, a saga spanning four generations, about love and loss. Multiple translations are available, but I recommend Royall Tyler’s. – Cody Poulton, Professor, Department of Pacific and Asian Studies

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The Tale of Heike
Unknown

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An account of the civil war that raged some two centuries after the peaceful and elegant world described in Genji, a military epic on par with Homer's Iliad. Again, multiple translations are available, but I recommend Royall Tyler’s. An abridged version translated by Burton Watson is also a good introduction to this classic.– Cody Poulton, Professor, Department of Pacific and Asian Studies

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Small Gods
Terry Pratchett

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Small Gods is a novel from Terry Pratchett's Discworld fantasy series - stories set on a flat world that floats through space on the back of a giant turtle. The Discworld is a lot like ours: this is cultural and social satire at its best. And it got me reading aged 10 - I wouldn't be teaching literature today without Pratchett. Small Gods takes a swipe at organised religion. And it’s wonderfully silly. – Joel Hawkes, lecturer in English, UVic

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An Essay on Metaphysics
Collingwood, R.G.

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A clear and precisely worded account of thinking critically about the thought of Others. I read it in grad school and never looked back. – Richard Fox, Professor and Chair of Pacific and Asian Studies

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