There’s no one way to assess the quality of a college. But examining the published works of college professors can provide some real insights into the environments that the colleges are fostering. College professors are expected to do a range of things in addition to teaching students. Some colleges have become experts at balancing professor priorities. This article will highlight 30 colleges that are excelling at this, based on the published works of current professors.
College professors have the opportunity to change the world. Their teaching gives the next generation of scientists, inventors, artists, and specialists in all professions the knowledge to excel and innovate. But researching and writing texts impact the what, how, and why of their teaching. After all, academics are supposed to be experts on their subjects. One of the best ways of gaining and adapting this expertise is through writing books. So the quality of a professor’s published works quite literally has an impact on the strength of the education of their students.
This ranking includes books from a range of disciplines and for a breadth of target audiences. Therefore, it includes works that are intended to be used by the practitioners of specific fields of work, non-fiction that appeals to the wider public, fiction produced by English departments, and much more. Thanks to this approach, a wide range of professors and college cultures have been included in the ranking.
Any one of the 30 colleges below is a fine choice for a student who wants to study at a college with professors who are respected in their fields. However, it’s also possible that none of the colleges below are right for you. If that’s the case, then this ranking can still be a vital resource. Every entry contains a detailed summary of the books that the college professors have produced and how the college has facilitated such good work. These have been included so that you can contrast and compare them with your own college options. If any college that you’re considering has produced books of a similar quality to those below, then that’s a strong sign it’s a college worth attending.
The idea of what can be considered the “best” books by college professors is subjective. Therefore, this ranking has compiled its list from a range of diverse sources. It includes sites that focus solely upon the area of higher education, respected news publications, and lists of top-selling books by volume. Thanks to this method, a wide range of works have been considered and included in our final ranking.
The sources for this ranking are as follows:
The Guardian, Best ‘brainy’ books of this decade: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/29/10-best-brainy-books-last-decade
The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Best Scholarly Books of the Decade: https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-best-scholarly-books-of-the-decade/
The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Canon, What’s the Most Influential Book of the Past 20 Years?: https://www.chronicle.com/article/whats-the-most-influential-book-of-the-past-20-years/?cid2=gen_login_refresh&cid=gen_sign_in
Book Authority, 8 Best New Academic Research Books To Read In 2020: https://bookauthority.org/books/new-academic-research-books
Amazon Best Sellers, Academic & Commercial: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Academic-Commercial-Writing-Reference/zgbs/books/12017
After sourcing the books from these sites, we conducted further research on the colleges that the professors are currently teaching in. This research discovered other books written by professors at the colleges and the cultures that helped the professors research, write and publish those books.
The ranking below is based on the following criteria: acclaim of the published books, number of professors featured on the methodology lists and innovative subject matter of the books.
The final ranking, from 30 to one, is below:
30. Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina
J. Drew Lanham is both an alumnus and a professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University. He wrote The Home Place, which is one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s best scholarly books of the last decade. Additionally, the college’s professor of music Dr. Paul Buyer has co-authored The Art of Vibraphone Playing, and the research professor of German and Russian Jeff Love has published two books regarding Leo Tolstoy. Clemson University gets its diverse community to unite with a simple yet effective goal, to use their unique talents, “to create lasting impact.”
29. University of New Haven
West Haven, Connecticut
Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo is an associate professor at the University of New Haven’s Criminal Justice Program. She is the co-author of Evaluating Research in Academic Journals, which is Bookauthority’s seventh-best academic book for 2020. Other successful professor authors at the college include Declan Hill, whose book The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime has been translated into over 20 languages; and Jon Sideriadis, who spent twenty years making art and writing stories for the book Astromythos. The University of New Haven is a rapidly expanding college, meaning that it is getting a wider range of diverse faculty members every single year. In fact, it has launched 26 new academic programs in the last decade.
28. University of Central Oklahoma
One of the two writers of the 16th bestselling academic and commercial book on Amazon, The Political Science Student Writer’s Manual, Stephen Garrison, is a professor in University of Central Oklahoma’s English department (The book’s other author is the retired professor of the same college Gregory M. Scott.) Other professors who have authored books in this college include Lindsey Churchill, who wrote Becoming the Tupamaros; and Xiaobing Li, who wrote Oil: A Cultural and Geographic Encyclopedia of Black Gold. Part of what attracts successful professors to the University of Central Oklahoma is its dedication to creating a positive place to work. In the last decade, the college has been named one of The Oklahoman’s top workplaces in the state many times.
27. Rollins College
Winter Park, Florida
Ted Gournelos, who has held a range of positions at Rollins College since 2010, is one of the three writers of Doing Academic Research, which is Bookauthority’s third best new academic research book. Joshua Hammonds, one of the other authors of the book, is also an assistant professor at the college. Other successful professor authors of this college are Yudit K. Greenberg, whose Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions was nominated for the American Academy of Religion Book Award; and Julia Maskivker, who published The Duty to Vote. One of the best things about Rollins College’s education is that undergraduate students often partner with faculty on original scholarship and research, which is usually only offered to graduate students.
26. Southern Methodist University
Jo Guldi is a professor of history at Southern Methodist University, who has the distinction of co-authoring The History Manifesto, which is one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s most influential books of the last 20 years. Other successful authors who are professors of this college include Thomas J. Knock, who has written four books on American history and is currently working on a fifth; and Stephanie A. Martin, who has written three books on communications and politics. Southern Methodist University’s appeal to professors is multifaceted. It has an entrepreneurial spirit. It has a strong relationship with Dallas, one of America’s fastest-growing regions. And it has one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country.
25. University of California, Berkeley
Why We Sleep by the University of California, Berkeley Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Matthew Walker features on The Guardian’s list of the best “brainy” books of the last decade. Another notable author professor at the college includes former Bill Clinton Administration Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. University of California, Berkeley is proactive in its efforts to retain its top faculty members. Over the course of 2010 to 2011 alone, other colleges tried to poach 40 of its faculty. Luckily, the college was able to retain 36 of them. The college has even been given a $110 million gift from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation specifically to recruit and retain faculty.
24. San Jose State University
San Jose, California
For decades, Robert Cullen has been a professor of English at San Jose State University. And throughout this time, he has published two books. One of these, Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing, which he wrote with two other professors, has had many new editions. Its ninth edition is currently the fifth best selling academic and commercial book on Amazon. A more recently published book from a professor of San Jose State University is Reproductive Justice and Sexual Rights: Transnational Perspectives, which was released in 2019. San Jose State University is an appealing choice for distinguished professors, as it is a hugely transformative college with strong links to Silicon Valley and California as a whole.
23. Haverford College
In 2009, Andrew Friedman became an assistant professor at Haverford College. Since then, he has become the college’s associate professor and chair of the history department. In this time, he also wrote and published Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, which is one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s best scholarly books of the decade. Other notable author professors of Haverford College include Philip Meneely, whose Networks in Eukaryotes was shortlisted by the Royal Society of London as one of the undergraduate biology textbooks of the year; and Emma Lapsansky-Werner, who has written a number of books, including African American Lives, Struggle for Freedom. Part of Haverford College’s faculty success with authoring books is due to the way that the college structures its education so that all professors work closely with undergraduates.
22. University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Timothy Pachirat is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He also wrote Every Twelve Seconds, one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s best scholarly books of the last decade. Other successful faculty authors at the college include Briankle Chang, who won the award for Edited Book of the Year from the National Communication Association; and Alan Robinson, who wrote The Idea-Driven Organization. And the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s professors are likely to publish many more books in the following years. One of the college’s goals in its strategic plan is to establish itself, “as a community of choice for students, staff, and faculty that exemplifies the power of diverse perspectives and mutual respect.”
21. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Since 2009, Elizabeth Armstrong has been a professor of the University of Michigan. During this time, she has co-written Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, which is one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s most influential books of the last 20 years. Other author professors of the University of Michigan include Don Herzog, who is publishing two books in 2020; and Yuen Yuen Ang, who wrote the award-winning book How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. The University of Michigan believes that its culture makes it have the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts, “More than any other university.”
20. Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Since 2007, Christopher Reed has been a professor of English and visual studies at Pennsylvania State University. In this time, he has also written, translated, and edited a number of books. The most recent book that he authored, Bachelor Japanists: Japanese Aesthetics and Western Masculinities, has both won the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize and been named one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s best scholarly books of the last decade. Other successful recent books by Pennsylvania State University professors include The Modern Language Association 50th James Russell Lowell Prize-winning Outsider Theory: Intellectual Histories of Unorthodox Ideas by Jonathan Eburne, and the bestselling architecture book The Routledge Companion to Modernity, Space and Gender, by Alexandra Staub. Pennsylvania State University’s teaching, research, and engagement mission is, “to bring positive impact to humanity.”
19. Saginaw Valley State University
University Center, Michigan
One of Saginaw Valley State University’s professors, Larry Hatcher, published Advanced Statistics in Research, which is the sixth best selling academic and commercial book on Amazon. Hatcher has been with Saginaw Valley State University since 1996 and has written/co-written four other books during this time. The college is also home to a range of other successful author professors, such as Eric Garnder, a professor of English who has won two book prizes from The Research Society of American Periodicals for his books Black Print Unbound: The Christian Recorder, African American Literature, and Periodic Culture and Unexpected Places: Relocating Nineteenth-Century African American Literature. One of the best things about Saginaw Valley State University’s education is that “every class is taught by a professor.” This means that graduate students or teaching assistants never take charge of classes. Instead, the faculty get to know students personally through their teaching.
18. University of California, Merced
In 2010, Laura Hamilton joined the University of California, Merced. Since then, she has advanced from being an assistant professor to becoming the college’s chair of sociology. She also co-authored Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, which is one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s most influential books of the last 20 years. She has also written two more books. Other successful author professors of University of California, Merced include Manuel M. Martin Rodriguez, whose book With a Book in Their Hands: Chicano/a Readers and Readerships won the Best Latino Focused Nonfiction Book Award from the International Latino Book Award; and Susan Dwyer Amussen who wrote Gender, Culture and Politics in England, 1560-1640: Turning the World Upside Down.” Part of the appeal of the University of California, Merced for faculty is that it is both a new college but a member of a prestigious university system. The college opened in 2005, with the specific purpose of increasing college-going rates of San Joaquin Valley students.
17. University of California Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Bonnie Lisle teaches a course in Approaches to University Writing at the University of California, Los Angeles. Additionally, she is also one of the three writers of Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing, the fourth best selling academic and commercial book on Amazon. However, other faculty members have written award-winning works. For instance, Jared Diamond is a Geography professor who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. The driving principle of the University Of California, Los Angeles is optimism. The college believes that its optimistic approach has “brought us 14 Nobel Prizes, 14 faculty MacArthur Fellows, 118 NCAA titles and more Olympic medals than most nations.”
16. California Institute of Technology
Sean M. Carroll has been a research professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology since 2006. In this time, he has also written The Particle at the End of the Universe, which is one of The Guardian’s best “brainy” books of the last decade. Faculty at departments across the college have published books. For instance, faculty members of social science have published works such as Dark Matter Credit; Large Dams; The Neuroscience of Emotion; Quantal Response Equilibrium, and much more. Faculty members of the California Institute of Technology have praised the way that the college environment takes them out of their comfort zones and gives them the opportunity to talk to scientists of different backgrounds, which spurs creativity.
15. The City University of New York
New York City, New York
The City University of New York Professor David Harvey is an influential and prolific author. The Chronicle of Higher Education names his 2005 book A Brief History of Neoliberalism one of the most influential books of the last 20 years. Other author professors at the college include Vincent DiGirolamo, who won three major awards for his 2019 book Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys; and Juno Morrow, who published Marginalia in 2020. Faculty members are attracted to The City University of New York because it is, “a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City.”
14. University of Pittsburgh
Carlo Rovelli, who wrote Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, one of The Guardian’s best “brainy” books of the last decade, has been involved with The University of Pittsburgh since 1990. He is currently an affiliated professor. Another successful faculty author at the University of Pittsburgh is Anjali Sachdeva, who in 2020 became a creative writing fellow at the National Endowment for the Arts. The University of Pittsburgh encourages every academic unit of its community to foster, “a climate in which faculty can be successful in teaching, research, and service.” The college’s provost office also runs a range of support initiatives to ensure that faculty members can truly thrive.
13. Northeastern University
Among Northeastern University’s faculty is Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, who wrote How Emotions Are Made, one of The Guardian’s best “brainy” books of the last decade. Every year, the college appoints several faculty members to the ranks of its distinguished professors, many of whom have written important books. For instance, in 2020, Martha Davis became a distinguished professor, in part due to writing the pioneering law book Brutal Need and co-editing/contributing writing to the book Bringing Human Rights Home. Part of what attracts and creates so many accomplished professors to Northeastern University is its emphasis on experience. The college’s network is designed to give its community as many different experiences as possible.
12. Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Naomi Klein is the first person to hold the position of the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. She is also the writer of This Changes Everything, which is one of The Guardian’s best “brainy” books of the last decade. And many other faculty members of Rutgers University are proactive in publishing. In fact, the college’s faculty has authored over 40,000 scholarly publications since 2015. Part of Rutgers University’s success with academic publishing is due to the college being over 250 years old. The college predates the American Revolution and has been involved with many innovative firsts. For instance, it published America’s first college newspaper back in 1783.
11. University of Missouri
Of the many books that the University of Missouri’s Associate Professor of English Samuel Cohen has authored, 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology is the most successful. The book’s third edition alone is the fourth best selling academic and commercial book on Amazon’s bestseller list. Additionally, the college has a range of professors who are also members of the National Academy of Sciences who have written important scientific books. For instance, Napoleon Chagnon wrote Yanomamo: The Fierce People, which altered the perceptions of indigenous peoples. Accomplished professors are attracted to the University of Missouri for its groundbreaking spirit. It was the first public university west of the Mississippi, founded the first journalism school, and claims many other notable firsts.
10. University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, California
Current professor and vice-chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Psychiatry Elissa Epel coauthored The Telomere Effect, which is one of The Guardian’s best “brainy” books of the last decade. (This book was co-written by the now-retired professor of the same college, Elizabeth Blackburn.) In addition to Epel, another author faculty member of the college is Stanley Prusiner, who also won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997. Part of the University of California, San Francisco’s success with its faculty comes down to its practical approach of combining “the best research, the best teaching, and the best patient care.”
9. Tufts University
The seventh edition of A Short Guide to Writing about Biology is Amazon’s 12th bestselling academic and commercial book. It was written by Tufts University professor Jan A. Pechenik. In addition to Pechenik, the college’s professors have written a range of other notable books. Examples in include Andrew McClellan, whose book The Art of Curating: Paul J. Sachs and the Museum Course at Harvard won the New England Society’s Best Book in Art and Photography Award; and Freeden Blume Oeur, whose book Black Boys Apart: Racial Uplift and Respectability in All-Male Public Schools won both the 2019 Pierre Bourdieu Book Award and the 2019 Oliver Cromwell Cox Award. Part of Tufts University’s mission is to provide transformative experiences for both students and faculty. It does this by creating an inclusive and collaborative community that encourages the generation of bold ideas and innovations.
8. Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Wendy Laura Belcher holds the position of professor of African Literature at Princeton University. She also published a bestselling book, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, which is Bookauthority’s second-best new academic research book. The Guardian lists the Nobel Prize-winning Princeton University professor Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow in its list of the best brainy books of the last decade (although Kahneman has now retired from the college.) Other successful Princeton University professor books are Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End, which won the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award in 2020, and Leah Boustan’s Competition in the Promised Land, which won the Alice Hanson Jones Award and the Allan Sharlin Award. Princeton University’s education is focused on providing service to others and leading lives of purpose.
7. University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Antonio Damasio is a professor of a wide range of subjects at the University of Southern California. He has been with the college since 2005 and has written two books during this time. The Chronicle of Higher Education names his book, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness as one of the most influential books of the last 20 years. Additionally, Maggie Nelson, a professor of English at the college, also has a book on that list, The Argonauts. More recent professor books include Elizabeth Currid-Kalkett’s The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, and James Owens’s The World is Just a Book Away. The University of Southern California considers itself to be a college that is, “in the right place, at the right time, with the right outlook,” to make a major impact on the 21st century.
6. University of Illinois at Chicago
Yonghong Wu has been a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago since 2004. He recently published America’s Leaning Ivory Tower, which is Bookauthority’s fourth-best academic book of 2020. Additionally, professor Barbara Ransby’s book, Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement, features on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of the most influential books of the last 20 years. A very prolific author professor at the college is Deirdre Nansen McClosky, who has written twenty-four books to date, along with over 400 articles. Part of what makes the University of Illinois at Chicago thrive is its dedication to diversity, accessibility, and sustainability, which creates a great environment for academic exploration.
5. Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
The Guardian’s list of the best ‘brainy’ books of the last decade includes Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Since writing this book, Rankine has become a professor of poetry at Yale University. In addition to teaching at Yale University, Rankine produces a video series and runs The Open Letter Project: Race and the Creative Imagination. Also, Professor Aimee Meredith Cox’s book Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship features on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of the most influential books of the last 20 years. In addition to Rankine and Meredith Cox, other members of Yale University’s faculty are active in publishing books. In 2020, the college’s Department of English faculty members alone had published seven books by the month of July. Yale University is committed to making its college environment, “a place where each of us belongs and where we are free to explore the breadth of our intellectual curiosity, the depth of our humanity, and the potential of our scholarship, research, work, and practice.”
4. University of Pennsylvania
Timothy Corrigan is a professor of English, Cinema, Media Studies, and History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. His wide range of expertise has led to him writing many books. One of these books, Short Guide to Writing about Film has had nine different editions, with the seventh edition alone becoming the ninth bestselling academic and commercial book on Amazon (the sixth edition is also the 14th best selling book on that Amazon list.) Additionally, Dorothy Roberts is a professor at the college’s School of Law and Departments of Africana Studies and sociology, who wrote Killing the Black Body, Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s most influential books of the last 20 years. Other professor authors at the University of Pennsylvania include Buzz Bissinger, who wrote The New York Times bestseller Friday Night Lights; Dorothy Roberts, who wrote Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century; and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who wrote the 2019 Reginald Robert Hawkins Award-winning book Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President.” The University of Pennsylvania was founded, “On the concept of innovation.” The college’s current president, Amy Gutmann, ensures that this founding principle is alive in the college today, and actively encourages the community to discover new and novel solutions for changing the world.
3. Columbia University
New York City, New York
Since 2000, the Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz has held numerous positions at Columbia University. In this time, he has published many books, including The Price of Inequality, which is one of The Guardian’s best “brainy” books of the last decade. The Guardian’s list also includes the Columbia University assistant professor Siddartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies. Every year, Columbia University presents The Lionel Trilling Book Award to honor the best book published by a faculty member. In 2019, this award went to Andrew Delbanco for The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. The college is so successful at producing acclaimed professors due to the way that it links, “its research and teaching to the vast resources,” of New York City while also focusing on global issues and relationships. Additionally, the Columbia University managed Union Theological Seminary employs Michelle Alexander as a visiting professor, who wrote The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s top scholarly books of the last decade and the last 20 years.
2. The University of Chicago
Richard Thaler, who holds the position of distinguished service professor of behavioral science and economics at The University of Chicago, wrote Misbehaving, which features on The Guardian’s list of the best “brainy” books of the last decade. Thaler has taught at The University of Chicago since 1995 and also won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2017. Sianne Ngai is a professor in the college’s Department of English, who wrote Our Aesthetic Categories, one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s best scholarly books of the last decade. Irah Kimhi is the college’s Visiting Professor of Social Thought, who wrote Thinking and Being, another one of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s best scholarly books of the last decade. Also, Jonathan Levy, a professor at the college’s Department of History, wrote Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in Modern America, which is on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s most influential books of the last 20 years list. In addition to Richard Thaler, Sianne Ngai, and Irah Kimhi, the college also includes faculty member authors such as Ada Palmer, Rachel Fulton Brown, Luigi Zingales, and many, many more. The University of Chicago believes that its faculty’s continuing success in publishing important books is due to, “its firm commitment to free and open inquiry.”
1. Harvard University
Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology for Harvard University, wrote Better Angels of Our Nature, which features on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of the most influential books of the last 20 years and The Guardian’s list of the best “brainy” books of the last decade. Also featuring on The Guardian’s list is the professor of Harvard Medical School Atul Gawande for the book Being Mortal. And also featuring on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list is the research Professor of Public Policy Robert D. Putnam, for the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community; and Professor of History David Armitage for co-authoring The History Manifesto. Many of Harvard University professors have written important works that have advanced a range of subjects. In fact, over the last 100 years, 50 faculty members have won Pulitzer Prizes. The most recent Pulitzer Prize-winning professor who still holds a faculty position at Harvard University is the Humanities Professor Stephen Greenblatt, whose 2012 book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern won the Pulitzer Prize in the general nonfiction category. Harvard University is America’s oldest and wealthiest college, meaning that it is uniquely positioned as an institution that can offer, “a vibrant crucible of intellectual activity, research, knowledge creation, learning, and teaching.”
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