Shelfie: Professor Anna Vignoles

Shelfie: Professor Anna Vignoles

  • Books and Professor Anna Vignoles

REEVE photography

CAM browses the bookshelves of Professor Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education, Director of Research at the Faculty of Education and Fellow of Jesus College.

Inequality: What can be done? by Tony Atkinson

Tony Atkinson died this year. He was an incredibly kind man, as well as an amazing academic. He really cared about income and wealth inequality and wanted to measure and document it carefully, to make reasoned arguments about how we should address it. I didn’t agree with all his proposals, but he was a rare academic in that he was very clear and comprehensive about what he thought we could do to bring about a shift in the distribution of income in developed countries – and that’s what makes this book so important.

Human Capital by Gary Becker

This was the first text I had to read for my PhD. It comes up for criticism for reducing education to an investment – but I think that’s a misreading. What it actually does is highlight the opportunities that come out of education and therefore why equal access (or at least reducing unequal access) to education is critical. Education is such an important pathway to being successful, economically and socially. I saw this for myself, when I was working in HR in South Tyneside recruiting factory workers. I found it incredibly interesting, but also difficult because some people had so few skills that we couldn’t employ them.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

I first read this when I was 16. It sparked my curiosity about how we end up with inequality and massively influenced my decision to do Economics at A level. Looking back, I’m not sure just how much I really understood of the book, but I do remember it impacting my understanding of what it means to be rich or poor and it changed my thinking about how people react to others based on their wealth. That’s the bit that really stayed with me – how the poor were invisible and ignored. I went back to the book when I was older and instantly saw why I’d been so moved by it.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I went to high school in the US and, as an English outsider at a school in Baltimore, I was struck by how incredibly divided America was compared to some other cultures. When we were set this text, it was illuminating not only because it’s amazingly well written, but because even though Steinbeck is writing about the Great Depression, I felt that a lot of what he talked about still had resonance. I think it should be compulsory reading, especially in the era we are entering, where we seem to have forgotten what the past has taught us. I re-read it a couple of years back and my own children have appreciated it too.

Interview by Kate Hilpern

This article first appeared in CAM - the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, edition 81.