What are the best books for a beginner interested in learning about sociology?
March 7, 2012 6:06 AM   Subscribe

What are the best books for a beginner interested in learning about sociology?

My lovely girlfriend is in graduate school for sociology, a subject which she is deeply passionate about. I'd like to be able to understand broadly the subject and the vernacular of the field so that when she goes off on a school-related rant I can at least have a chance of keeping up. Are there any good survey books or papers available that I could pick up? I work full-time and am in graduate school part-time for a different subject so conciseness would be helpful as I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to this.
posted by Loto to Education (14 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Get the syallbus for her department's Intro course for undergrads. It'll be specific to the department and won't require a lot of effort.

And, FWIW, non-academic significant others develop coping skills. You will too.
posted by k8t at 6:17 AM on March 7, 2012

Giddens' Sociology is a classic. It was the textbook in my undergraduate sociology class.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:34 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Very Short Introduction series is often a great way to get a quickly get a good grasp of the basics of an academic or academic-ish field.

They do vary in quality from book to book, but I personally liked the one on Sociology.
posted by philipy at 6:51 AM on March 7, 2012

Honestly, I would choose something fun/compelling so you have a chance of sharing her excitement, rather than aiming to get an overview of all her knowledge.

Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Giddens was my textbook too though, if you want one of those.
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:00 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my college sociology classes, it seemed like the works of Wilson Julius Wilson were important.
posted by bananafish at 7:06 AM on March 7, 2012

The truly disadvantaged is the one everyone reads.
posted by bananafish at 7:06 AM on March 7, 2012

Speaking as someone reasonably aware of sociology's diversity in topics and approaches, I think if you asked her this question and read at least one of her suggestions, she'd be (a) thrilled and (b) giving you resources much, much more relevant to what she's talking about.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:13 AM on March 7, 2012

The Sociological Imagination by C Wright Mills was always a strong recommendation for undergraduates. Maybe a little dated now, but it seems to help people understand what the subject should be working toward. Definitely leaf through a textbook though.

If your partner has a specific area you know of, that could help generate many more "classics" in her subject.
posted by Jehan at 7:22 AM on March 7, 2012

The Gift by Mauss is a fundamental tretise on exchange theory. It's thick, but you'll start seeing it's lessons replay everywhere.

It's a bit dated now, but Bowling Alone is a great look into contemporary America though 2000.
posted by nickrussell at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2012

Seconding the Very Short Introduction to Sociology. I'm reading it now. It's short and inexpensive. Paperback is around $12, Kindle edition about half that.

Some of the intro to sociology courses on my campus use THINK Sociology. It looks like an oversized (and expensive) magazine, meant to visually appeal to freshmen, and you may love or hate that presentation. Other courses use Giddens' Introduction to Sociology, a more traditional textbook.

You could visit your school's library and see what's on reserve for freshman sociology courses.
posted by Boxenmacher at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2012

I second The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. It's by Goffman and it's...great. Just absolutely great. It will change the way you view your interactions with doctors, and coworkers and customers and it will (most likely) strengthen your view of your partnership with your girlfriend. You will solidify as a team, because this book is just as much about how we construct and maintain teams as it is about how individuals comport themselves. It is also, guaranteed to be (even if only tangentially) related to your girlfriends work or interests. Most notably in the difficulties of actually doing Sociology. Subjects very often provide answers that they thing researchers want, or that maintain face, or that protect themselves from incrimination, or a hundred other things that make data hard to collect/rely on.

As for the text I was introduced to Sociology with. I wouldn't suggest it for a million dollars. Ok, maybe for as little as $10,000 I would. But not to you. Sorry.

Another interesting readable bit of sociology is anything you can get your hands on by Sudhir Venkatesh. Gang Leader for a Day was great, so was Off the Books
posted by bilabial at 8:29 AM on March 7, 2012

After Giddens, it wouldn't be a bad idea to go straight to the most influential thinkers: Weber, Durkheim, and Marx, for instance. Weber is very readable (and in my opinion, the most lucid and objective of the three), and has tremendous insight and breadth of discussion. Durkheim is a little more eccentric and theoretical, but also has some unique insights and helps sort of describe the evolution of thought in sociology in an interesting way.

And then there's Marx. For all of these thinkers, but Marx especially, it would be wise to read well-regarded introductions to their work and then read the primary materials, although just diving in can be a good way too.
posted by clockzero at 8:32 AM on March 7, 2012

Zygmant Bauman is a good start IMO.
posted by Lotsofcoffee at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for your fantastic responses. I showed my girlfriend the thread and she pretty much agreed with everything here (and especially loves Goffman) so I think I'm just going to do some reading on Amazon and start off with one or two of those which seem the most interesting to me!

Thank you again for the help.
posted by Loto at 6:48 AM on March 8, 2012

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