Applying to University: Reading Lists

One of the major aspects of your university applications will be your personal statement. This is a place for you to explain what draws you to your chosen subject and demonstrate your passion for it.

For some subjects, there are practical ways that this can be done. It might even be expected for some courses, like medicine and veterinary science. However, for every subject, you can also demonstrate your interest in your subject by reading relevant material and discussing them in your personal statement.

Finding relevant books that are unique is quite difficult.

These books are a suggestion of what you could read for common subjects at university. By no means are we suggesting that you should read them all or try to fit them all into your personal statement. If you find one that you like, why not have a quick web search to find similar books that you might enjoy?

English (all disciplines)

  • The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  • My Cousin Rachel, Daphne Du Maurier
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  • milk and honey, Rupi Kaur (poetry)
  • The History Boys, Alan Bennett (play)
  • Venus as a Bear, Vahni Capildeo (poetry)
  • Fen, Daisy Johnson (short stories)
  • An Orchestra of Minorities, Chigozie Obioma

Mathematics (all disciplines)

  • Alex’s Adventures in Numberland, Alex Bellos
  • The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, Simon Singh
  • Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in A World Designed For Men, Caroline Criado Perez
  • Humble Pi, Matt Parker
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem, Simon Singh
  • The Math of Life and Death, Kit Yates

Science – Chemistry

  • The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, Sam Kean
  • Periodic Tales, Hugh Aldersey-Williams
  • Napoleon’s Buttons, Jay Burreson and Penny Le Couteur
  • Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us, Sam Kean
  • Why Chemical Reactions Happen, James Keeler

Science – Physics/engineering

  • The World According to Physics, Jim Al-Khalili
  • Storm in a Teacup, Helen Czerski
  • Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World, Mark Miodownik
  • London is a Forest, Paul Wood
  • In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, John Gribbin

Science – Biology/biochemistry/biomedical science

  • The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, Alice Roberts
  • The Brief History of Everything That Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godfrey-Smith
  • Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Vital Question, Nick Lane


  • This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay
  • Do No Harm, Henry Marsh
  • The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk
  • Bad Science, Bed Goldacre
  • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach
  • Hippocrates’ Shadow: Secrets from the House of Medicine, David H Newman


  • Who Cooked the Last Supper: A Women’s History of the World, Rosalind Miles
  • At The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, John Gimlette
  • The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan
  • The Handshake, Ella al-Shamahi
  • The Crusades, Thomas Asbridge
  • Alexandria, Edmund Richardson
  • A History of Japan, George Bailey Sansom
  • Black and British, David Olusoga
  • A Woman of No Importance, Sonia Purnell

These are clearly only a small handful of the subject offered at universities across the country, but they are some of the most common where you can show your interest in the subject by reading around it.

By no means do you have to read these books. Choose books that relate to your specific interests as this will shine through more easily in your personal statement – and you’ll genuinely enjoy reading them!

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