The best books to make you wish you joined a sorority or fraternity…or be glad you didn’t

Why am I passionate about this?

In 2011, I was a newly minted college professor who was trying to support my students’ interests (Greek life) in hopes that they would return the favor and support mine (medieval literature). Never in a million years would I have guessed that accepting an invitation to attend a Greek event on campus would snowball into receiving a bid to join a National Panhellenic Conference sorority and serve as its faculty advisor. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my perspective uniquely positioned me to shed new light on the longstanding controversies plaguing these organizations and provide a new lens through which to view their impact not only on campus culture but society at large. 


I wrote...

The Benefits of Friends: Inside the Complicated World of Today's Sororities and Fraternities

By Jana Mathews,

Book cover of The Benefits of Friends: Inside the Complicated World of Today's Sororities and Fraternities

What is my book about?

Combining personal observations with ethnographic field analysis and research culled from the fields of sociology, economics, and cognitive psychology, this thought-provoking book examines how white Greek letter organizations help reshape the conceptual boundaries of society's most foundational relationship categories—including friend, romantic partner, and family.

Specifically, it illuminates how organizations manipulate campus sex ratios to foster hookup culture, broker romantic relationships, transfer intimacy to straight same-sex friends, and create fictive family units that hoard social and economic opportunity for their members. In their idealized form, sororities and fraternities function as familial surrogates that tether their members together in economically and socially productive ways. In their most warped manifestations, however, these fictive familial bonds reinforce insularity, entrench privilege, and—at times—threaten physical safety.


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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Bound By a Mighty Vow: Sisterhood and Women's Fraternities, 1870-1920

Jana Mathews Why did I love this book?

There aren’t a lot of scholarly studies of fraternities and sororities in part because, until recently, academia didn’t see the topic as worthy of serious study.

Turk’s groundbreaking study dives deep into the archives to tell the origin story of the oldest Panhellenic sorority, and in the process, reveals a dramatic shift in organizational culture between its early years and second and third generations.

You’ll have to read the book to find of what happened and why…

By Diana B. Turk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bound By a Mighty Vow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A look at the intricate history of collegiate women's support networks-otherwise known as sororities
Sororities are often thought of as exclusive clubs for socially inclined college students, but Bound by a Mighty Vow, a history of the women's Greek system, demonstrates that these organizations have always served more serious purposes. Diana Turk explores the founding and development of the earliest sororities (then called women's fraternities) and explains how these groups served as support networks to help the first female collegians succeed in the hostile world of nineteenth century higher education.
Turk goes on to look at how and in what…


Book cover of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities

Jana Mathews Why did I love this book?

Often viewed as the fraternity counterpart to Turk’s history of sororities, this book chronicles the rise of white fraternities on college campuses, with a specific focus on the role that these organizations play in the construction of American masculinity.

What do fraternities have in common with freemasonry? What was their role during Prohibition and the Civil Rights Movement? How and why did hazing rituals start—and why are they often sexual?

This book is chock full of lightbulb moments that will make everything about contemporary fraternity culture make so much more sense.

By Nicholas L. Syrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Company He Keeps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tracing the full history of traditionally white college fraternities in America from their days in antebellum all-male schools to the sprawling modern-day college campus, Nicholas Syrett reveals how fraternity brothers have defined masculinity over the course of their 180-year history. Based on extensive research at twelve different schools and analyzing at least twenty national fraternities, The Company He Keeps explores many factors--such as class, religiosity, race, sexuality, athleticism, intelligence, and recklessness--that have contributed to particular versions of fraternal masculinity at different times. Syrett demonstrates the ways that fraternity brothers' masculinity has had consequences for other students on campus as well,…


Book cover of Women of Discriminating Taste: White Sororities and the Making of American Ladyhood

Jana Mathews Why did I love this book?

I’m a self-professed history junkie, and this recent contribution to the history of white Greek life picks up more or less where Turk left off.

The most fascinating and important argument that this book makes is that white southern sororities fundamentally influenced the definition of femininity in the South in the mid-twentieth century.

Understanding how and why southern sororities constructed womanhood before the advent of social media goes a long way in explaining why sorority women at universities in Oregon and Minnesota look and act eerily like sorority women at Ole Miss and the University of Alabama.

By Margaret L. Freeman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women of Discriminating Taste as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Women of Discriminating Taste examines the role of historically white sororities in the shaping of white womanhood in the twentieth century. As national women’s organizations, sororities have long held power on college campuses and in American life. Yet the groups also have always been conservative in nature and inherently discriminatory, selecting new members on the basis of social class, religion, race, or physical attractiveness. In the early twentieth century, sororities filled a niche on campuses as they purported to prepare college women for “ladyhood.” Sorority training led members to comport themselves as hyperfeminine, heterosocially inclined, traditionally minded women following a…


Book cover of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus

Jana Mathews Why did I love this book?

I’ve long had a professional crush on sociologist Lisa Wade as her work is a deadly combination of brilliant and compulsively readable.

Her study was published while I was writing my book and serves as a companion piece to understanding how hookup culture operates on American college campuses. As de facto speakeasies, fraternity houses serve as the campus party and, by extension, hookup headquarters.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not always a good thing either.

By Lisa Wade,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked American Hookup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The hookup is now part of college life. Yet the drunken encounter we always hear about tells only a fraction of the story. Lisa Wade offers the definitive account of this new sexual culture and demonstrates that the truth is both more heartening and disturbing than we thought. Offering invaluable insights for parents, educators and students, Wade situates hookup culture within the history of sexuality, the evolution of higher education and the unfinished feminist revolution. Using new research, she maps out a challenging emotional landscape marked by unequal pleasures, competition for status and sexual violence. Accessible and open-minded, compassionate and…


Book cover of Rush

Jana Mathews Why did I love this book?

The ‘sorority girl’ is a stock character in most novels set on American college campuses, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one who isn’t portrayed as beautiful but vapid and one misstep away from the twin horrors of having a bad hair day and witnessing their ex leave a party with their best friend.

Patton’s novel self-consciously leans into the stereotypes of white Greek culture at a big southern university, which makes its critique of that culture and its broader cast of characters both funny in their exaggeration and horrifying in their appeal.

This is exactly the kind of sorority-themed novel you would expect from the genre but also, because of a couple of unexpected twists, the one you never saw coming.

By Lisa Patton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rush as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bestselling author Lisa Patton digs into exciting new territory with Rush, a story about mothers and daughters, sisterhood, tradition, and doing the right thing, now in trade paperback with a new epilogue!

Experience the phenomenon from a front row seat...

It’s move-in day for college freshmen on the Ole Miss campus. Nobody wants to fit in more than Cali, a bright, small town girl with family secrets too scandalous for the well-to-do to imagine. Sorority rush is weeks away and without a pedigree, Cali doesn’t have much of a chance at membership. Her dorm room alone is as plain as…


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The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief as they reconcile and decide to live together again. She steps in to become her parents' eldercare manager when her mother’s condition worsens, facing old family dynamics and disappointing limitations to available services. Throughout, she attempts to help her parents maintain their humanity in their final years.

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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