Philosophy, Politics and Economics

Congratulations on your conditional offer of a place to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford! We are so excited to welcome you to St John’s this autumn, and we have put together this page of resources to help you prepare for the start of your course.

Because Oxford terms are short and busy, we recommend that students familiarize themselves with some of the main texts below before they arrive. We’ve also included some reading of more general interest.

Philosophy Reading List

In the first year, the philosophy branch covers three areas: Logic, Moral Philosophy, and General Philosophy. Logic and Moral Philosophy will be studied in the first term. Later in the year there will be an opportunity to study General Philosophy. General Philosophy includes topics in epistemology (questions about the nature and extent of our knowledge) and metaphysics (questions about reality and what exists).

For Logic, you will need the textbook The Logic Manual by Volker Halbach (Oxford University Press 2010).

For Moral Philosophy, the set text will be J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism. As the course will involve studying this text in detail, it will be useful to have your own copy. The edition published by Oxford University Press (Crisp ed. 1998) is preferred. Other reliable editions are published by Penguin Classics (Ryan ed. 1987), Everyman (Williams ed. 1993), and Hackett Publishing (Sher ed. 2001).

A helpful guide to the set text, which discusses the historical background and the philosophical issues it raises is:

  • CRISP, R. 1997. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. Routledge.

For General Philosophy, there are no set texts. The most useful way to prepare is to spend some time thinking about philosophical questions, considering possible answers to them, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of these answers. There are many good introductory philosophy books, but the following are especially recommended: 

  • NAGEL, T. 1987. What Does it All Mean? Oxford University Press.
  • WARBURTON, N. 1992. Philosophy: The Basics. Routledge.
  • BLACKBURN, S. 1999. Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
  • CONEE, E. & SIDER, T. 2015. Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics. Oxford University Press.

You can look up technical terms and topics of interest on the freely accessible Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at

There are also informative and short podcasts devoted to philosophical issues, (edited by Nigel Warburton and Dave Edmonds) at

If you hold an offer for a joint school with philosophy, you can find the non-philosophy materials via the links below.

Politics Reading List

The following reading list outlines the preparatory reading for the Politics Prelims syllabus that
we will be studying throughout the academic year 2023-2024. The first year politics course,
titled Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Politics, is divided into two sections dealing
with theory (examining modern political thought and key texts) and practice (examining
fundamental aspects of comparative and institutional politics)

Section 1: These are primary texts from the history of modern political thought that compose
a core part of the first year politics syllabus. Don’t be concerned if these books seem a little
difficult at your first attempt

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762 , especially Book 1, chapters 6-8, Book 2, Book 3, chapters 10-18, Book 4 (for example, the Oxford Classics edition, edited by C. Betts, 1994, or the Penguin edition edited by M. Cranston, 1968).
  • Karl Marx, selections from McLellan, David, ed., Karl Marx: Selected Writings (2000): number 14 (The German Ideology), number 18 (The Communist Manifesto), number 25 (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), number 30 (Preface to A Critique of Political Economy), number 37 (The Civil War in France), number 40 (Critique of the Gotha Program).
  • Catriona McKinnon, Robert Jubb, and Patrick Tomlin. 2019. Issues in Political Theory. Fourth edition. Oxford: OUP. Chapters: Introduction, 8, 9, and 11.

Section 2: These are a selection of texts that will introduce you to key aspects of comparative
and institutional politics. It is recommended that you have a look at some of these texts before
coming up in October, as they will give you an introduction to some of the key issues and
themes in the comparative/institutional side of the first year politics syllabus

  • Charles Tilly. 1990. Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990 1990. Cambridge, Mass.: B. Blackwell. Chapters 1, 3, 5 and 6.
  • Theda Skocpol. 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge: CUP. Chapters: Introduction and Conclusion.
  • William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder, and Sona Nadenichek Golder. 2017. Principles of
    Comparative Politics. Third edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE/CQ Press. Chapters:
    2, 3 and 4.
  • Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power,
    Prosperity and Poverty. London: Profile Books. Chapters: be selective, but start with
    Preface, 1 and 15

If you hold an offer for History and Politics, you can find the history materials via the link below

Economics Reading List

All Economics first years will study Microeconomics, Probability & Statistics, and Macroeconomics. 

The recommended first year textbooks are:

While there is no recommended textbook in statistics, you may want to familiarise yourself with the subject by looking at: 

  • Larry Gonick and Woollcott Smith, The Cartoon Guide to Statistics
  • Derek Rowntree, Statistics without Tears – An Introduction for Non-Mathematicians.
  • David Spiegelhalter, The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data

The CORE textbook is available online for free and will be the main reference for microeconomics. At times, we will also make use of Varian, Intermediate Microeconomics: A modern approach. Students who are entirely new to economics may also find it useful to refer to an introductory text such as Economics by Begg, Fischer and Dornbusch. In all cases slightly older editions of textbooks should be fine. 

Whether or not you have studied economics before, there are many excellent books that you might like to read for an informal and stimulating introduction to economic thinking. Here are just a few suggestions from us, but please don’t feel bound by them in any way:

  • Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Good Economics for Hard Times
  • Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics: Rethinking Poverty  
  • John Cassidy, How Markets Fail
  • Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion
  • Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics
  • Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century
  • Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy
  • Linda Yeuh, The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help Us Today

In addition, there are many interesting and worthwhile Economics blogs and podcasts. These are particularly good for keeping you up to date with current issues, including the economic implications of COVID-19. Some suggestions include:

Finally, the very best preparation for your economics studies right now is practicing mathematics. This is particularly true if you have not taken the equivalent of A-level Maths, but all students should refresh their skills before they arrive. Start by working through the below chapters of the Maths Workbook. Much of this material is revision from GCSE maths, but other parts will stretch you more. The applications to economic problems will almost certainly be new. Test yourself on some of the exercises as you go – answers are provided for you. If you find any areas difficult, then don’t worry – refer to one of the textbooks suggested and do as much practice as you can. We particularly recommend Maths for Economics by Renshaw. 

We hope you find something to interest and inspire you here!

Kate Doornik and Severine Toussaert, Economics Tutors, St John’s College.

If you hold an offer for History and Economics, you can find the history materials via the link below.

Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Accommodation OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements