Sociology of subculture recommendations.
March 15, 2009 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend some books to me similar to the sociology-of-a-subculture style of Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels, Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day and Bill Buford's Among the Thugs?

While I realize that the three samples I've given share a common theme of exploring a particularly violent subculture, that's not a prerequisite. I'm more interested in the "outsider meets group, befriends and hangs out with group, tells about experiences shared with group for x period of time" aspect. Any group is fine by me, so long as the book is well-written. Thanks.
posted by Ufez Jones to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard good things about A Few Seconds of Panic. 43 Sportswriter goes through training camp of an NFL team. Not precisely my cup of tea, but I've heard the author talk about it and for what it is, it sounds interesting and fits your criteria.
posted by edgeways at 6:12 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

David Greason's I Was A Teenage Fascist may be of interest to you (outsider becomes insider, becomes outsider again).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:18 PM on March 15, 2009

Newjack, by Ted Conover, is a great book about being a prison guard.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:20 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Homicide by David Simon is without doubt the best book of this genre that I have read.
posted by fire&wings at 6:21 PM on March 15, 2009

Vice Lords: Warriors of the Streets

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor

Sorry, these are both Chicago specific, because that's what I study. Dig around for a copy of Vice Lords - you should be able to find a used one for a few dollars. Get it even though though there isn't much info at Amazon as it's an amazing ethnography (which is exactly what most of the books are...)
posted by wfrgms at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Newjack was the first thing that I thought of also. Love the Christmas mattress burnings. Conover's previous book Coyotes fits this idea also.
posted by pianomover at 6:28 PM on March 15, 2009

I haven't read it, but heard good things about Absolutely American:Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky

I really liked Trawler by Redmond O'Hanlon and his other books - No Mercy: A Journey into the Heart of the Congo, Into the Heart of Borneo and In Trouble Again: A Journey Between Orinoco and the Amazon .
I'll try to think of some others.
posted by readery at 6:31 PM on March 15, 2009

In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois
posted by jammy at 6:42 PM on March 15, 2009

Of Two Minds, by Tanya Luhrmann, is a gripping book by an anthropologist who did her fieldwork among psychiatry residents in San Diego.
posted by escabeche at 7:34 PM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by ewiar at 7:43 PM on March 15, 2009

You might like Tracy Kidder's books.
posted by jeb at 7:53 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Indeed, ethnography is the key word here. Two of the classics from sociology, aside from those mentioned, are Sidewalk (centered on street vendors) and Tearoom Trade (anonymous sexin' in the bathroom a la Larry Craig).

Disclaimer: I haven't actually read either of them all the way through - just excerpts. They are definitely classics, but that doesn't mean that they'll be great reads.
posted by McBearclaw at 7:57 PM on March 15, 2009

Lèon Bing's Do or Die.
posted by brujita at 8:53 PM on March 15, 2009

Neil Strauss' The Game fits your bill - NYT writer joins the subculture of Pickup Artists, becomes one of them and gains significant status, and eventually leaves again. It makes for an interesting read, though the occasionally fantastical nature of what is being narrated got to me sometimes.

From a more autobiographical point of view (which doesn't fit your criteria), I've heard good things about The Heroin Diaries about the Mötley Crüe.
posted by Phire at 1:44 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Among Schoolchildren or Old Friends by Tracy Kidder
posted by plinth at 3:28 AM on March 16, 2009

Dexter Filkins - The Forever War.
Ed Hussain - The Islamist.
posted by adamvasco at 5:13 AM on March 16, 2009

I'm tempted to read The Game as I like ethnographies a lot, but am put off by a) not liking the whole PUA thing b) tried reading his Motley Crue book once and god, but he's a bad writer. Should I bother?

Tearoom Trade is great.
posted by mippy at 5:38 AM on March 16, 2009

mippy: The content of The Game is interesting enough that his writing didn't really bother me much, but it's certainly more a guilty pleasure read than an intense examination of the subculture. Any analysis and conclusion you could derive about the culture you'll have to come up with yourself; Strauss certainly isn't a very analytical writer.
posted by Phire at 5:45 AM on March 16, 2009

Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line by Terry Williams is a sociologist-among-urban-drug-culture popular work, similar in style to Venkatesh's book. Williams also wrote The Cocaine Kids: The Inside Story Of A Teenage Drug Ring, which I haven't read, but which appears to be in the same vein.

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover is a journalist's account of a year working as a correctional officer.

Cop in the Hood by Peter Moskos is a sociologist's account of a year as a Baltimore police officer. He has a promotional blog here.
posted by Phlogiston at 6:56 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sidewalk, which follows the routines and rivalries of a group of book-selling street vendors along Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
posted by Tufa at 8:22 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Under and alone, which is about an undercover FBI agent who becomes a made member of the Outlaws, was better than any Hell's Angels books I've read including Thompson's. Probably in my top 10 of all books I've ever read.
posted by qsysopr at 9:02 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Diary of a Drug Feind, by Alister Crowley.
posted by sharkhunt at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2009

I think any Simon Garfield book would be right up your street - he did one on AIDS and one on UK professional wrestling (which I really want to read), but also a book on Radio One, which is fascinating even if you aren't British as this was a time when old, established DJs were being replaced and the culture of the station was changing, and another, Our Hidden Lives, which follows the diaries of ordinary people through WWII. I love diaries and letters and this was fascinating.
posted by mippy at 3:51 AM on March 17, 2009

Adding on to what was said earlier (@fire&wings) about "Homicide."

. . . Excellent book, and, while not necessarily about a violent subculture (the main subject of the book is a small component of the 1988 Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Squad), the book definitely brushes on the ultraviolent subculture of B-more's inner city crime. I'm guessing you probably haven't seen "The Wire," but the TV series (only the greatest of all time) is largely based on the wacky experiences and rich characters from the author's time writing this book. It's well-written, compelling, and heartbreaking.

It made me almost become a police officer. Only my parents and girlfriend stopped me. (Corruption, they said. Haven't they seen Serpico? The good guy wins! Ha.)
posted by the NATURAL at 4:16 AM on March 17, 2009

Kamikaze Biker is an interesting book about motorcycle gangs/street racing in Japan.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:50 AM on March 17, 2009

« Older Would you take this deal?   |   Where do I find a somewhat cheap and well-made... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.