Good Print on People
January 28, 2010 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Help me discover engaging, popular-level sociology books.

I recently finished The Code of the Street, a look at life and the dynamics of poverty and violence in inner-city Philadelphia, and it left me wanting more well-written, accessible sociological studies. In a less serious vein, I enjoyed American Nerd. Please give me your suggestions for other enthralling looks at the way people live their lives.
posted by PunkSoTawny to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: These are written in the genre of journalism, but -- while as well-researched as good academic anthro/sociology -- they are beautifully written page-turners.
1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

2. Brave New World by Wm. Finnegan

3.Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca

This is sociology that's easy to read and fascinating:
Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by ANnette Lareau
Similarly, anything by Jonathan Kozol
posted by fullofragerie at 6:58 AM on January 28, 2010

Oops! Sorry, I meant COLD New World by William Finnegan. Brave New World, of course, is Brave New World.
posted by fullofragerie at 7:00 AM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: Mole People was pretty interesting. Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City
posted by kaizen at 7:07 AM on January 28, 2010

Probably hopelessly outdated, but I enjoyed two of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea's books: A Street in Marrakech and Guests of the Sheik. They are less sociology books and more her experience living in Morocco and Iraq - this, of course, means that they are readable.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:07 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm a big fan of The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed.
posted by fso at 7:14 AM on January 28, 2010

Gangleader For a Day was alright. I didn't read it all at one go, but it's fairly compelling.
posted by electroboy at 7:20 AM on January 28, 2010

I found the The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters a very interesting read that sheds light on a lot of the cultural differences we have around world regarding toilets, waste, and sanitation - fun read.
posted by alrightokay at 7:42 AM on January 28, 2010

Nickel and Dimed - a bit political re the state of being middle class in the US

Forbidden Workers - re the story of Chinese immigration in the US
posted by melissasaurus at 7:44 AM on January 28, 2010

By the way -- if you end up doing Google/Amazon searches for books like these, a very helpful keyword is ethnography.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2010

Seconding Kozol - Amazing Grace is quite good.

It's been a decade since I read it, but I remember Everything in Its Path being fascinating and heartbreaking.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2010

Try Common Ground. I love this book.
posted by jgirl at 8:30 AM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: Why they kill. Kind of grim, but I do want to know why people kill!
posted by foxjacket at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2010

An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (more anthropology, but it rocked my worldview)
The Fourth Turning, by Strauss and Howe
posted by cross_impact at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm shocked that somebody hasn't already mentioned two of my favorite books, Homicide by David Simon and The Corner by Simon and Ed Burns (the creators of The Wire). Both super engrossing.
posted by subclub at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton.
posted by marxchivist at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, by Philippe Bour gets a bit theory-heavy at a few points, but is generally fabulous.

Katherine Newman's No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City is also excellent.

You may also like the work of Dalton Conley, especially Elsewhere, USA.
posted by googly at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2010

I picked up Typecasting a while back at a used shop and it's an engaging look at histories of racist/xenophobic ideas. It's written in an accessible, engaging exploration. Lots of illustrations and history that is almost unbelievable. I paged through another one like this once, Screaming Monkeys, which examined sometimes-overlooked stereotypes of Asian identity in pop culture.

My favorite book in this genre, though, might be Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things or maybe Sagan's Demon-Haunted World.
posted by dervish at 11:25 AM on January 28, 2010

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx is a facinating (and troubling) look at ten years in the lives of several young people. Reads like a novel, but it's all too true.
posted by bookmammal at 3:01 PM on January 28, 2010

Nthing The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Also, Randy Shilts' books And The Band Played On and Conduct Unbecoming.
posted by marsha56 at 11:29 PM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all these wonderful recommendations! I've marked a few favorites, but I like all of the recommendations and look forward to reading as many of them as possible.
posted by PunkSoTawny at 9:29 AM on January 29, 2010

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