100 books like Practical Reason

By Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Johnson (translator),

Here are 100 books that Practical Reason fans have personally recommended if you like Practical Reason. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Human Condition

Jennifer Banks Author Of Natality: Toward a Philosophy of Birth

From my list on birth, one of our greatest underexplored subjects.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a family that was focused on people, poetry, and politics. My parents both worked with children with disabilities in Massachusetts and my mother ran a daycare center in our house. As a reader, student, poet, and then editor, I’ve drawn on those experiences and expectations, and have searched through books looking for their echoes. Since 2007, I've edited books at Yale University Press where I'm currently Senior Executive Editor. I have a BA from Cornell University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I've also worked in various publishing roles at ICM, Continuum, and Harvard University Press.

Jennifer's book list on birth, one of our greatest underexplored subjects

Jennifer Banks Why did Jennifer love this book?

First published in 1958, this is one of Hannah Arendt’s most influential books and in it she attempts to define the human condition in the aftermath of World War II, developing her concept “natality.” 

It’s a challenging book that I’ve wrestled with and argued with and never forgotten. It includes some of her most powerful and frequently cited passages about birth. Lately, I’ve been returning to its opening pages, in which she discusses the launch of Sputnik into space. 

She saw this launch not as an exciting technological breakthrough, but as a fateful repudiation of our earthly existence, an existence that was defined by birth with possibilities and limitations.

By Hannah Arendt,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Human Condition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The past year has seen a resurgence of interest in the political thinker Hannah Arendt, "the theorist of beginnings," whose work probes the logics underlying unexpected transformations-from totalitarianism to revolution.

A work of striking originality, The Human Condition is in many respects more relevant now than when it first appeared in 1958. In her study of the state of modern humanity, Hannah Arendt considers humankind from the perspective of the actions of which it is capable. The problems Arendt identified then-diminishing human agency and political freedom, the paradox that as human powers increase through technological and humanistic inquiry, we are…


Book cover of In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West

Jacqueline Kennelly Author Of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

From my list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

Jacqueline's book list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Jacqueline Kennelly Why did Jacqueline love this book?

I’ve loved Wendy Brown’s work since I started reading it while I was doing my PhD back in 2003. I cite her stuff in almost everything I’ve written. This recent book pulls together her vast expertise and insights about political theory, inequality, and democratic practices to explain how neoliberalism has always been anti-democratic, and how it continues to prop up authoritarian styles of leadership, like that of Donald Trump in the US. Key to this, she argues, is how neoliberalism has always made an appeal to ‘tradition,’ which smuggles in patriarchal, classist, and heterosexist notions of the nuclear family, the supremacy of Christian ideals, and a sort of rugged individualism that denies the necessity of a welfare state.

By Wendy Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Ruins of Neoliberalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Across the West, hard-right leaders are surging to power on platforms of ethno-economic nationalism, Christianity, and traditional family values. Is this phenomenon the end of neoliberalism or its monstrous offspring?

In the Ruins of Neoliberalism casts the hard-right turn as animated by socioeconomically aggrieved white working- and middle-class populations but contoured by neoliberalism's multipronged assault on democratic values. From its inception, neoliberalism flirted with authoritarian liberalism as it warred against robust democracy. It repelled social-justice claims through appeals to market freedom and morality. It sought to de-democratize the state, economy, and society and re-secure the patriarchal family. In key works…


Book cover of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity

Jacqueline Kennelly Author Of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

From my list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

Jacqueline's book list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Jacqueline Kennelly Why did Jacqueline love this book?

Wacquant was educated in France, under Pierre Bourdieu. He brings his French sensibilities and training to the United States, asking fundamental questions about the massive inequality there, how it came to be, and who it is serving. This is one of the books he has written in answer to those questions. I started teaching chapters from this book in a graduate seminar on Urban Inequality. No other scholar does such a precise job of tracing the connections between neoliberalism and inequality in the USA, which pushes poor Black men into prison and poor Black women into the welfare office. It is a sobering but powerful read that really helps you understand how neoliberalism is lived by those who suffer the most under its auspices.

By Loïc Wacquant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The punitive turn of penal policy in the United States after the acme of the Civil Rights movement responds not to rising criminal insecurity but to the social insecurity spawned by the fragmentation of wage labor and the shakeup of the ethnoracial hierarchy. It partakes of a broader reconstruction of the state wedding restrictive "workfare" and expansive "prisonfare" under a philosophy of moral behaviorism. This paternalist program of penalization of poverty aims to curb the urban disorders wrought by economic deregulation and to impose precarious employment on the postindustrial proletariat. It also erects a garish theater of civic morality on…


Book cover of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

Jacqueline Kennelly Author Of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

From my list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

Jacqueline's book list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Jacqueline Kennelly Why did Jacqueline love this book?

The important argument lying at the heart of this beautifully written book is that the trajectory of the current global economy, driven by neoliberal logics, is fundamentally one of expulsions: that is, expelling the poor, the biosphere, democracy, and anything else that gets in the way of maximizing profit. This book takes massive case studiesfrom palm oil production in Malaysia and Indonesia to water bottling by large corporations in the USand demonstrates how they are ultimately about pushing people out instead of inviting people in. It raises important questions about who the economy is for, and what ends we are ultimately building toward as a global society. I don’t have a pithy personal story about this book; I just think you should read it.

By Saskia Sassen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Soaring income inequality and unemployment, expanding populations of the displaced and imprisoned, accelerating destruction of land and water bodies: today's socioeconomic and environmental dislocations cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice, according to Saskia Sassen. They are more accurately understood as a type of expulsion-from professional livelihood, from living space, even from the very biosphere that makes life possible.

This hard-headed critique updates our understanding of economics for the twenty-first century, exposing a system with devastating consequences even for those who think they are not vulnerable. From finance to mining, the complex types of knowledge…


Book cover of Language and Symbolic Power

Will Kitchen Author Of Film, Negation and Freedom: Capitalism and Romantic Critique

From my list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

My background is in academic film analysis, although this has opened doors to many subjects: literature, music, philosophy, political economy… My students are always encouraged to think beyond their "home" discipline when they come to university. I believe that if you study a subject deep enough, it will lead to all the others. So far, my research has led me from classical music through Hollywood biopics and Romanic philosophy to some of the most fundamental questions about the construction and social organisation of creative labour in the modern world. I find that the most enjoyable books explain the world to us whilst reflecting upon what that act of explanation means. 

Will's book list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom

Will Kitchen Why did Will love this book?

Capital requires agreement. This was Bourdieu’s fundamental lesson, and he reveals how it can apply to everything: money, authority, language, prestige, leadership, education, and even knowledge itself. Bourdieu was not alone in subjecting the social field to market analysis, but in books like this one, he attained a level of analytical rigour and sociological imagination which has rarely been equalled.

Throughout my education, I have found (and still find) that the best books will expose the reader to completely new ideas that seem like the kind of thing you always already knew. That could almost be a definition of ‘philosophy’–one that empowers the reader. Bourdieu writes that way. 

By Pierre Bourdieu, Gino Raymond (translator), Matthew Adamson (translator) , John Thompson (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This volume brings together Pierre Bourdieu's highly original writings on language and on the relations among language, power, and politics. Bourdieu develops a forceful critique of traditional approaches to language, including the linguistic theories of Saussure and Chomsky and the theory of speech-acts elaborated by Austin and others. He argues that language should be viewed not only as a means of communication but also as a medium of power through which individuals pursue their own interests and display their practical competence.

Drawing on the concepts that are part of his distinctive theoretical approach, Bourdieu maintains that linguistic utterances or expressions…


Book cover of Mute Compulsion: A Marxist Theory of the Economic Power of Capital

Drew Pendergrass Author Of Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics

From my list on environmental crisis and how to solve it.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a climate scientist at Harvard and an environmental activist. In my day job, I use satellite, aircraft, and surface observations of the environment to correct supercomputer models of the atmosphere. What I’ve learned has made me feel that I can’t just stay in the lab—I need to get out in the world and fight for a future that’s just and ecologically stable for everyone. My writing and activism imagines how humanity can democratically govern itself in an age of environmental crisis.

Drew's book list on environmental crisis and how to solve it

Drew Pendergrass Why did Drew love this book?

This is the book I wish I could have given my younger self when I first noticed that the ecological world around me was deteriorating. Species were going extinct as the world heated up. In my education as a scientist, I learned that the physical causes of the environmental crisis are simple (burning fossil fuels, converting land to pasture, and so on), but no one seemed to have the power to do anything to fix it.

In this book, Mau brilliantly shows why we feel so unable to change the world. Everyone, including CEOs, are constrained by capitalism. People might personally care about the environment, but if the money doesn’t work out, they are forced to act otherwise. This isn’t an exclusively environmental book, but it offers a powerful perspective on the forces behind the crisis.

By Soren Mau,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Despite insoluble contradictions, intense volatility and fierce resistance, the crisis-ridden capitalism of the 21st century lingers on. To understand capital's paradoxical expansion and entrenchment amidst crisis and unrest, Mute Compulsionoffers a novel theory of the historically unique forms of abstract and impersonal power set in motion by the subjection of social life to the profit imperative. Building on a critical reconstruction of Karl Marx's unfinished critique of political economy and a wide range of contemporary Marxist theory, philosopher Soren Mau sets out to explain how the logic of capital tightens its stranglehold on the life of society by constantly remoulding…


Book cover of Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture

Joseph A. Scimecca Author Of The Not So Outrageous Idea of a Christian Sociology

From my list on scholarship on sociology and the Christian religion.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am currently a Professor of Sociology at George Mason University, a Research I Institution, and have now published 9 books. Until I wrote the book Christianity and Sociological Theory, I was a traditional sociologist, one who abided by the tenet of the discipline to profess neutrality in one’s scholarly work. My book, The Not So Outrageous Idea of a Christian Sociology, is not only my most controversial book, given its criticism of contemporary sociology, but also my most personal book.

Joseph's book list on scholarship on sociology and the Christian religion

Joseph A. Scimecca Why did Joseph love this book?

Since the recent passing of Peter Berger, Christian Smith is arguably the most well-known and influential sociologist working in the field of religion. 

In this book, Smith lays the groundwork for his vision of what it means to be a person, something so often overlooked in the social sciences. Smith claims that humans have a particular set of capacities and proclivities that distinguish them from animals. Despite the vast differences in humanity across cultures and historical eras, Smith offers the possibility that human beings have a universal human personhood. Humans, who, though part of the animal kingdom, are spiritual beings that have a moral and spiritual dimension.

This is something that I have been struggling with for years, and Smith simplified it.

By Christian Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What kind of animals are human beings? And how do our visions of the human shape our theories of social action and institutions? In Moral, Believing Animals, Christian Smith advances a creative theory of human persons and culture that offers innovative, challenging answers to these and other fundamental questions in sociological, cultural, and religious theory.

Smith suggests that human beings have a peculiar set of capacities and proclivities that distinguishes them significantly from other animals on this planet. Despite the vast differences in humanity between cultures and across history, no matter how differently people narrate their lives and histories, there…


Book cover of Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice

Deirdre N. McCloskey Author Of The Rhetoric of Economics

From my list on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor).

Why am I passionate about this?

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, and Professor Emerita of English and of Communication, adjunct in classics and philosophy, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained at Harvard in the 1960s as an economist, she has written twenty-four books and some four hundred academic and popular articles on economic history, rhetoric, philosophy, statistical theory, economic theory, feminism, queer studies, liberalism, ethics, and law.

Deirdre's book list on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor)

Deirdre N. McCloskey Why did Deirdre love this book?

Collins is a brilliant and lucid exponent of the (mainly British) “strong programme” in the sociology of science. He is one of the numerous “children of Kuhn,” in the sense that like Kuhn he understands scientists to be (usually) honest and serious human beings, not machines implementing an alleged Scientific Method.

By Harry Collins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This fascinating study in the sociology of science explores the way scientists conduct, and draw conclusions from, their experiments. The book is organized around three case studies: replication of the TEA-laser, detecting gravitational rotation, and some experiments in the paranormal. "In his superb book, Collins shows why the quest for certainty is disappointed. He shows that standards of replication are, of course, social, and that there is consequently no outside standard, no Archimedean point beyond society from which we can lever the intellects of our fellows."--Donald M. McCloskey, Journal of Economic Psychology


Book cover of The Routledge Guidebook to Smith's Wealth of Nations

Christopher J. Berry Author Of Adam Smith: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on who Adam Smith was and why he's still important.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve studied Smith and his Scottish contemporaries, off and on, for over fifty years. My whole professional career has been spent at Glasgow University where Smith was both a student and later professor. I thus have a personal affinity to him and his work, all the more so because his published writings were all trailed in his professorial classroom. While I have published extensively on Smith, the particular book of mine that I’ve selected was chosen because I wanted to distill all my scholarship into a volume that would be accessible to non-academics. 

Christopher's book list on who Adam Smith was and why he's still important

Christopher J. Berry Why did Christopher love this book?

The title of this book unambiguously states its purpose. What, above all, impressed me was how Paganelli, an academic economist, fulfilled this purpose so splendidly. The Wealth of Nations is one of the great books in the history of economics, but it is a large and somewhat intimidating volume, which has meant it has usually been cited without ever being read.

This book systematically and carefully explains the book chapter by chapter but never misses ‘the wood for the trees’. While ideal for students, with guides for future reading, for anyone who just wants to discover what this great book says beyond headline summaries, and why it is important, this is the text to read.

By Maria Pia Paganelli,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Routledge Guidebook to Smith's Wealth of Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Adam Smith (1723-1790) is famous around the world as the founding father of economics, and his ideas are regularly quoted and invoked by politicians, business leaders, economists, and philosophers. However, considering his fame, few people have actually read the whole of his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations - the first book to describe and lay out many of the concepts that are crucial to modern economic thinking. The Routledge Guidebook to Smith's Wealth of Nations provides an accessible, clear, and concise introduction to the arguments of this most notorious and influential of economic texts. The Guidebook examines:

the historical…


Book cover of "There She Is, Miss America": The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant

Margot Mifflin Author Of Looking for Miss America: A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

From my list on how the Miss America pageant was born.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write about pop culture and women’s history, often as it relates to the body and beauty. I’m intrigued by the ways women claim unconventional means of expression for their own beautification (such as tattooing) and how they harness beauty in the service of social and economic mobility (as in pageant culture). These books offer insight into the varied ways pageantry, from campus pageants to the Miss America stage, inform American identity and ratify the historian Rosalyn Baxandall’s belief that “every day in a woman’s life is a walking Miss America contest.”

Margot's book list on how the Miss America pageant was born

Margot Mifflin Why did Margot love this book?

This anthology spans a remarkable and surprising range of topics including first-hand accounts by pageant winnersand losers—along with rich historical context. Historian Kimberly Hamlin documents the first Miss America Pageant (launched a year after women won the vote), showing how it both appropriated the format of suffrage pageants and defined itself in opposition to them. Feminist scholar Donelle Ruwe explains why becoming Miss Meridian [Miss.] in 1985 had an unexpectedly positive impact on her life, even though she considers beauty pageants to be “oppressive” and “degrading.” And the African-American scholar Gerald Early’s riveting “Waiting for Miss America” weighs the racial implications of Vanessa Williams’ 1983 crowning as the first Black Miss America. “[S]he was the most loved and most suspect woman in America,” he writes. Suspect, because “some blacks don’t trust her motives and some whites don’t trust her abilities.”  

By Elwood Watson (editor), Darcy Martin (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked "There She Is, Miss America" as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While some see the Miss American Pageant as hokey vestige of another era, many remain enthralled by the annual Atlantic City event. And whether you love it or hate it, no one can deny the impact the contest has had on American popular culture-indeed, many reality television shows seem to have taken cues from the pageant. Founded in 1921, the Miss America Pageant has provided a fascinating glimpse into how American standards of femininity have been defined, projected, maintained, and challenged. At various times, it has been praised as a positive role model for young American women, protested as degrading…


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