The best books about the changing nature of our everyday lives

Who am I?

I’m a criminologist who is increasingly at least as interested in social order as I am in crime. In part I think this can be expressed as a concern with what glues us together rather than what pulls us apart. What particularly makes me smile, and draws me in, is the ability that some writers and researchers have to find the fascinating and the remarkable in the everyday. Whether it be what we wear, how we speak, or when we sleep, there is just as much to learn about our contemporary society from such matters as there is from who’s in parliament or how our financial institutions are behaving. 


I wrote...

Orderly Britain: How Britain has resolved everyday problems, from dog fouling to double parking

By Tim Newburn, Andrew Ward,

Book cover of Orderly Britain: How Britain has resolved everyday problems, from dog fouling to double parking

What is my book about?

Orderly Britain examines daily life, looking at shifting customs and practices, and people’s expectations of each other. Taking the reader on a journey that encompasses such as everyday activities as queuing, parking, drinking, smoking, and clearing up after pet dogs, it asks how and why the patterns of everyday life have altered in the past half-century or so. What are the rules of everyday life, where did they come from, and are we generally compliant and uncomplaining or rebellious and defiant? Asking whether it is the proliferation of rules and regulations or something else that keeps people in line, Orderly Britain offers a unique insight into what creates orderly Britons. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

By Erving Goffman,

Book cover of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Why this book?

Although Goffman’s book was originally published in 1956 it remains stunningly relevant and hugely important. If I were forced to recommend one piece of sociology to someone unfamiliar with the subject this would be it. Using drama as a metaphor for understanding everyday behaviour, Goffman illustrates how we present ourselves to others, how we communicate, use props, and have both ‘front stage’ (the bits people see) and ‘back stage’ (those places where we rehearse) in our lives. One often reads in blurbs that ‘this book will change the way you see the world’ – well, it happens to be true in this case. I’m not a big one for re-reading books, but this is one I go back to again and again.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

By Erving Goffman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the defining works of twentieth-century sociology: a revelatory analysis of how we present ourselves to others

'The self, then, as a performed character, is not an organic thing ... it is a dramatic effect'

How do we communicate who we are to other people? This landmark work by one of the twentieth century's most influential sociologists argues that our behaviour in social situations is defined by how we wish to be perceived - resulting in displays startlingly similar to those of actors in a theatrical performance. From the houses and clothes that we use as 'fixed props' to…


Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Daily Life From Breakfast to Bedtime

By Joe Moran,

Book cover of Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Daily Life From Breakfast to Bedtime

Why this book?

I think Joe Moran is one of the most interesting authors writing about modern life. He is interested in the ordinary and the mundane, those things you might (probably would) miss if they weren’t drawn to your attention. This beautifully written book has sixteen chapters which begin with breakfast (do you know where the idea of a ‘full English’ came from?), and takes us on a journey that includes the morning commute, the changing status of the working lunch (increasingly now experienced as ‘dining al desko’) our evening eating and viewing habits, all the way through to turning in at the end of the day (when did we switch to duvets?). An easy read which in its own way is also quite profound.

Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Daily Life From Breakfast to Bedtime

By Joe Moran,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Radio 4 Book of the Week from 28th May. We spend our days catching buses and trains, tapping away at computers, shopping, queuing, lying on sofas... But we know almost nothing about these activities. Exploring the history of these subjects as they come up during a typical day, starting with breakfast and ending with bedtime, Joe Moran shows that they conceal all kinds of hidden histories and meanings. By looking closely at the normally unobserved, he tells a story about social and cultural change in Britain and the Western world, in particular since the Second World War. And along the…


Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

By Georges Perec,

Book cover of Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

Why this book?

I first came across Georges Perec via his novels. Many (most) of these are experimental – a word that often puts me off – but their cleverness is additional to great writing and storytelling. One of his novels, for example – La Disparition (A Void) is written entirely without the letter ‘e’ as, remarkably, is the English translation! Species of Spaces is a collection of non-fiction essays in which he encourages us to look, to observe what is around us, to become anthropologists of the everyday. What might we find? Yes, we lie on beds. But, as Perec observes, this is highly unusual as they’re one of the very few places where we adopt a horizontal posture, and the only general one (the others are things like operating tables, beaches, psychiatrists’ couches. Perec focuses on what he calls the ‘infra-ordinary’ (as opposed to extraordinary)  and offers something remarkable on almost every page.  

Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

By Georges Perec,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Species of Spaces and Other Pieces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Georges Perec produced some of the most entertaining and spirited essays of his age. His literary output was amazingly varied in form and style and this generous selection of Perec's non-fictional work also demonstrates his characteristic lightness of touch, wry humour and accessibility.


The Civilizing Process

By Norbert Elias,

Book cover of The Civilizing Process

Why this book?

This is a remarkable book (the first of two volumes), taking in a huge sweep of history, making bold claims about social change over the centuries, yet focusing as much on manners, civility, and such everyday matters as how we eat at table as much as it does on the changing nature of medieval society and the rise of the modern nation-state. A deeply serious book, but one with chapter titles that include ‘On blowing one’s nose’, ‘On spitting,’ and ‘On behaviour in the bedroom’. Elias has had a huge impact on modern understanding of social change, not least in documenting and analysing the centuries-long trend toward diminishing violence and increasing shame and ‘civility’ in daily life. 

The Civilizing Process

By Norbert Elias,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Civilizing Process stands out as Norbert Elias' greatest work, tracing the "civilizing" of manners and personality in Western Europe since the late Middle Ages by demonstrating how the formation of states and the monopolization of power within them changed Western society forever.


Housewife

By Ann Oakley,

Book cover of Housewife

Why this book?

I read this book as a student in my teenage years. To say it was an eye-opener is both to underestimate its impact on me and to reveal just how little I understood, or simply took for granted, about women’s lives (including my mother’s). Oakley’s book, published in 1974, explores the role of the ‘housewife’ and the nature of ‘housework’ and places both in their historical and social context. At heart, it helped puncture such male-oriented myths as the idea that there was something intrinsic to such activity that made it “women’s work” and that it wasn’t the equivalent of real work. In short, using in-depth interviews with young mothers (four of which are used as case studies here) it made housework visible as something to be considered alongside, and in some respects in the same way, as we might think about other forms of labour.  

Housewife

By Ann Oakley,

Why should I read it?

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


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in social psychology, philosophy, and psychology?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about social psychology, philosophy, and psychology.

Social Psychology Explore 30 books about social psychology
Philosophy Explore 392 books about philosophy
Psychology Explore 303 books about psychology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like About Looking, Females, and Why We Buy if you like this list.