What’s the most influential book of the past 20 years?

By Luis Diaz | November 12 2018 | Humanities & Social Sciences

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked scholars that very question.

Each year, more than 15,000 academic books are published in North America. A scant few will reach beyond their core audience of disciplinary specialists. Fewer still will enter the public consciousness.

We invited scholars from across the academy to tell us what they saw as the most influential book published in the past 20 years. (Some respondents named books slightly outside our time frame, but we included them anyway.) We asked them to select books — academic or not, but written by scholars — from within or outside their own fields. It was up to our respondents to define ‘influential,’ but we asked them to explain why they chose the books they did. Here are their answers.

Steven Pinker’s THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE and Dorothy Roberts’ KILLING THE BLACK BODY were among those selected and discussed. 


Better Angels defends, at great length, a controversial claim, which is that violence is declining, both in the short run and the long run — and so, in a very important way, the world is getting better. Pinker is far from the first to make this argument, but he presents the most persuasive case. Better Angels also explores, at equally great length, psychological and social theories for why this is so, and illustrates that an evolutionary-psychology approach to the mind can give us considerable insight into how societies change over time.”





“Killing the Black Body is focused on issues of motherhood and reproductive rights, but Roberts’s method does more than tell that single story. She places poor women who are black at the center of a many-sided cultural conversation. The book is a ‘how to’ manual for productively crossing disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of a rigorous narrative. By the last page, we grasp how and why social panic, cultural beliefs, and government policies led to the forced sterilization of black women in the name of public safety, and forcibly separated black children from their families in the name of national security.”





ORIENTALISM by Edward W. Said is also mentioned as, “A book that many would say inaugurated the field of postcolonial studies.”

Read the full article here

The Better Angels of Our Nature
Why Violence Has Declined
“If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this—the most inspiring book I've ever read." —Bill Gates A provocative history of violence—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, and Enlightenment Now.Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.
$22.00 US
Sep 25, 2012
832 Pages
Penguin Books

Killing the Black Body
Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty
This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years--using a black feminist lens and the issue of  the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's--especially poor black women's--control over their bodies' autonomy and their freedom to bear and raise children with respect and dignity in a society whose white mainstream is determined to demonize, even criminalize their lives.   It gives its readers a cogent legal and historical argument for a radically new , and socially transformative, definition of  "liberty" and "equality" for the American polity from a black feminist perspective.
$19.00 US
Dec 29, 1998
400 Pages

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
$19.00 US
Oct 12, 1979
432 Pages