100 books like The Interpretation of Cultures

By Clifford Geertz,

Here are 100 books that The Interpretation of Cultures fans have personally recommended if you like The Interpretation of Cultures. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo

Monica Black Author Of A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany

From my list on for historians who wish they were anthropologists.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated by the things people do and the reasons they give for doing them. That people also do things in culturally specific ways and that their culturally specific ways of doing things are related to their culturally specific ideas about what makes sense and what does not inspires in me a sense of awe. As a professor and historian, thinking anthropologically has always been an important tool, because it helps me look for the hidden, cultural logics that guided the behavior of people in history. It helps me ask different questions. And it sharpens my sense of humility for the fundamental unknowability of this world we call home.

Monica's book list on for historians who wish they were anthropologists

Monica Black Why did Monica love this book?

For me, the power of both history and anthropology as disciplines of knowledge is their shared capacity for taking a thing you thought you knew and showing you that you didn’t actually know anything about it at all—in fact, you didn’t even know what questions to ask about it. I would be seriously remiss in a list like this if I did not mention the book that first fascinated me, as a historian, with the anthropologist’s way of posing questions. In this towering classic of British social anthropology, Professor Douglas forces us completely to rethink something we actually never think about at all: dirt. But trust me, once you pose the question, “what is dirt?” you can never think about filth (and its structural counterpart, purity) in the same way again.

By Mary Douglas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Is cleanliness next to godliness? What does such a concept really mean? Why does it recur as a universal theme across all societies? And what are the implications for the unclean?

In Purity and Danger Mary Douglas identifies the concern for purity as a key theme at the heart of every society. In lively and lucid prose she explains its relevance for every reader by revealing its wide-ranging impact on our attitudes to society, values, cosmology and knowledge. This book has been hugely influential in many areas of debate - from religion to social theory. With a specially commissioned preface…


Book cover of Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande

Robert Darnton Author Of Pirating and Publishing: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment

From my list on anthropology for lovers of history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an emeritus professor from Harvard and have spent decades trying to develop an anthropological mode of understanding history. Far from being “one damned thing after another,” as Henry Ford allegedly put it, history is an attempt to understand the human condition. It brings us into contact with people in the past, showing us how they thought, felt, and acted. For many decades, anthropologists have endeavored to do the same thing, concentrating on people separated from us by space rather than time. By applying anthropological insights to historical research, I think it is possible to make the past come alive to modern readers, while at the same time making it interesting and even amusing.

Robert's book list on anthropology for lovers of history

Robert Darnton Why did Robert love this book?

In translucent prose, Evans-Pritchard shows how the belief in witchcraft and oracles held together with the world-view of the Azande people of the former Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. They reinforced each other, so that if a prophecy failed to identify a witch, it was attributed to a fault in the performance of a ritual, and the power of ritual was reinforced rather than undermined. The Azande were empiricists and discussed the evidence of witchcraft in rational exchanges with Evans-Pritchard. He recreates their dialogue convincingly, often giving them the upper hand. When they asked him to explain why a granary collapsed on a particular person at a particular time, he said, “bad luck.” They replied that “luck” was a shallow concept in comparison with witchcraft, which could be identified with certain individuals and traced in the body.

By E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Eva Gillies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This acknowledged masterpiece has been abridged to make it more accessible to students. In her introduction, Eva Gillies presents the case for the relevance of the book to modern anthropologists.


Book cover of The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual

Gillian Gillison Author Of Between Culture and Fantasy: A New Guinea Highlands Mythology

From my list on the anthropology of myth and ritual.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a family of beautiful, accomplished women at a time when most women stayed home. But the spectacular women in my mother's family also suffered spectacularly, and I was determined to understand family life at its very roots. I studied anthropology and, over a 15-year period, lived in a remote part of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea among a group of Gimi women who spent most of their time apart from men. I shared women's difficult daily lives, participated in their separate rites, learned their myths, and, through my writing, have devoted myself to giving them voices of their own.

Gillian's book list on the anthropology of myth and ritual

Gillian Gillison Why did Gillian love this book?

A classic of ethnographic description and symbolic analysis based upon fieldwork among the Ndembu of Zambia—a must read for anyone interested in sociological and psychological implications of ritual belief and practice in a small-scale, non-literate, kinship-based society. 

A stellar example of what is lost by cancelling "colonialist" literature and discarding the very concepts of "culture" and "religion" as relics of Western intellectual imperialism. 

In 10 essays on color symbolism, circumcision rites, rites of passage, social dynamics, and more, Turner lays the groundwork for his proposition that ritual is the key to religion and religion is the key to culture. 

By Victor Turner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Forest of Symbols as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A pioneering work of high quality, this collection of anthropological studies provides one of the most detailed records available for an African society-or indeed for any group-of the semantics of ritual symbolism. It combines unusually detailed ethnographic description, based upon field work among the Ndembu of Zambia, with remarkable theoretical sophistication. Professor Turner describes the ritual phenomena in terms both of practice and of their sociological and psychological implications within a preliterate society.

Case histories illustrate the function of ritual in creating community harmony. Data on circumcision rites and medical practices and an essay on color classification have wide implications…


Book cover of Islands of History

Robert Darnton Author Of Pirating and Publishing: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment

From my list on anthropology for lovers of history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an emeritus professor from Harvard and have spent decades trying to develop an anthropological mode of understanding history. Far from being “one damned thing after another,” as Henry Ford allegedly put it, history is an attempt to understand the human condition. It brings us into contact with people in the past, showing us how they thought, felt, and acted. For many decades, anthropologists have endeavored to do the same thing, concentrating on people separated from us by space rather than time. By applying anthropological insights to historical research, I think it is possible to make the past come alive to modern readers, while at the same time making it interesting and even amusing.

Robert's book list on anthropology for lovers of history

Robert Darnton Why did Robert love this book?

Like the anthropologists mentioned above, Sahlins is a superb writer, and succeeds in making esoteric ideas come alive for the non-academic reader. In this work, he shows how Cook’s exploration of the Pacific islands, especially Hawaii, became incorporated in the cosmologies of the indigenous peoples.  Because of the time and the way Cook arrived in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaiians took him to be the god Lono. And his death at their hands fit in with their ritual of sacrificing the god to restore the power of the king. It was congruent with local power struggles as well as the cosmological calendar. This book as well as the others will sharpen the reader’s awareness of how events are made to be meaningful in alien cultures, and they can provoke reflections about how we make sense of happenings close to home.

By Marshall Sahlins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Marshall Sahlins centers these essays on islands—Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand—whose histories have intersected with European history. But he is also concerned with the insular thinking in Western scholarship that creates false dichotomies between past and present, between structure and event, between the individual and society. Sahlins's provocative reflections form a powerful critique of Western history and anthropology.


Book cover of Discourses of the Vanishing: Modernity, Phantasm, Japan

Jilly Traganou Author Of The Tôkaidô Road: Travelling and Representation in EDO and Meiji Japan

From my list on travel in premodern and modern Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an architect from Greece who traveled to Japan in the 1990s as an exchange student. Visiting Japan in the early 1990s was a transformative experience. It led me to a career at the intersection of Japanese studies and spatial inquiry and expanded my architectural professional background. I did my PhD on the Tokaido road and published it as a book in 2004. Since then I have written several other books on subjects that vary from the Olympic Games to social movements. In the last 16 years, I've taught at Parsons School of Design in New York where I am a professor of architecture and urbanism. My current project is researching the role of space and design in prefigurative political movements.

Jilly's book list on travel in premodern and modern Japan

Jilly Traganou Why did Jilly love this book?

I was extremely lucky to conduct my PhD research on Tokaido road in the 1990s. Books by scholars of Japanese Studies like Marily Ivy were extremely influential and opened my eyes to aspects that would not have been visible to me otherwise. 

The Discourses of the Vanishing was one such book that dispelled deeply rooted myths of Japan, especially the belief that Japan is a fully modernized country, that Japanese society is monolithic, and that Japan’s most noteworthy locales are its highly urbanized areas. What brought me to the book was Ivy’s examination of the Exotic Japan campaign of Japan’s railways in the late 1980s. This campaign was woven with powerful notions of furusato (nostalgia for one’s native place), neo-Japonesque exoticism, and other imaginary references of post-bubble Japan meant to appeal to women as new targets of Japan’s consumption campaigns.

Across the book’s six chapters, Ivy also takes us to…

By Marilyn Ivy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Deep anxieties about the potential loss of national identity and continuity disturb many in Japan, despite widespread insistence that it has remained culturally intact. In this conjoining of ethnography, history and cultural criticism, Marilyn Ivy discloses these anxieties, as she tracks what she calls the vanishing: marginalized events, sites and cultural practices suspended at moments of impending disappearance. Ivy shows how a fascination with cultural margins accompanied the emergence of Japan as a modern nation-state. This fascination culminated in the early 20th-century establishment of Japanese folklore studies and its attempts to record the spectral, sometimes violent, narratives of those margins.…


Book cover of The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet

Sowon Kim Author Of A Gleaming Shard of Glass

From my list on laughing on one page and crying on the next.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a dystopian author who loves using writing to spread awareness about different social issues in society. As an avid reader, I feel like nowadays, the quality of literature has decreased. Authors have been focusing more on how close to trending topics and easy-to-read a book is than on its depth, themes, or any kind of element that is crucial in storytelling. This is why many recently published books have been difficult for me to connect with. As an author myself, I want that to change. Here’s a list of books that are so well written that it’ll feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster—of emotions.

Sowon's book list on laughing on one page and crying on the next

Sowon Kim Why did Sowon love this book?

I’m not lying when I say that this book saved my life. I was going through a particularly difficult moment when I read it, and let’s say that it made me find the beauty in life once again. After reading The Anthropocene Reviewed, my once monochrome world burst with colors. This essay collection points out ideas about things in daily life that an average person would never notice. It makes you smile dumbly at the ceiling and say, “this world is beautiful.”

By John Green,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Anthropocene Reviewed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Goodreads Choice winner for Nonfiction 2021 and instant #1 bestseller! A deeply moving collection of personal essays from John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down.

“The perfect book for right now.” –People

“The Anthropocene Reviewed is essential to the human conversation.” –Library Journal, starred review

The Anthropocene is the current geologic age, in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his groundbreaking podcast, bestselling author John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale—from…


Book cover of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Author Of The Two Moralities: Conservatives, Liberals, and the Roots of Our Political Divide

From my list on the psychology behind our politics.

Why am I passionate about this?

A university professor for 40 years (now emerita), I focused my most recent research on moral psychology. I am also a political junkie, so perhaps it is no surprise that I have combined these two interests. As both a social psychologist and political psychologist, I have conducted numerous studies on the moral underpinnings of our political ideologies. In addition to two books, I have published over 90 papers, many devoted to morality and/or politics, and I was awarded a generous three-year National Science Foundation grant to study the two moralities that are discussed in my book.   

Ronnie's book list on the psychology behind our politics

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Why did Ronnie love this book?

Michele Gelfand is an outstanding cultural psychologist who has studied societies across the globe.

In this fascinating book she draws on her own cross-cultural research to distinguish between what she labels “tight” and “loose” societies. Although the book does not focus on politics, Gelfand’s distinction between cultures that loosely versus tightly adhere to social norms nevertheless provides important insights into differences between the political left and right within our own society.   

By Michele Gelfand,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A groundbreaking analysis of what used to be an impenetrable mystery: how and why do cultures differ? ... Anyone interested in our cultural divides will find tremendous insight in Rule Makers, Rule Breakers' - Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now

Why are clocks in Germany always correct, while those in Brazil are frequently wrong? Why are Singaporeans jailed for selling gum? Why do women in New Zealand have three times the sex of females worldwide? Why was the Daimler-Chrysler merger ill-fated from the start? And why does each generation of Americans give their…


Book cover of Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It

Shaun Chamberlin Author Of Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy

From my list on navigating the unfolding collapse of civilisation.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 2005 I realised that society was gradually, inexorably, headed off a cliff. So I quit a job I loved – a great decision! – and followed John Michael Greer's advice to “collapse now and avoid the rush”. Through that I’ve written a film, books, and peer-reviewed articles, co-founded organisations and movements, been arrested for direct action, advised governments, and come to live at a money-free pub! And now lead the ‘Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time’ online program, through Vermont’s Sterling College. I haven’t learned to change the course of history, but have discovered the ‘dark optimism’ of meaningful – even joyous – paths through such times, with eyes wide open.

Shaun's book list on navigating the unfolding collapse of civilisation

Shaun Chamberlin Why did Shaun love this book?

This list could only end with the book that changed everything for me, yet which I only discovered, incomplete, on the desk of my suddenly-deceased mentor David Fleming…

Delving, I was absolutely captivated by its insight, humour, and startlingly realistic vision, to the extent of devoting my next couple of years to bringing it through to posthumous publication, alongside the paperback Surviving the Future that I drew out from it.

I’m deeply proud of that book, but the indescribable, multi-award-winning Lean Logic is where the rarest magic lies, with its remarkable structure of interlinked dictionary entries reflecting perfectly the holism at the heart of its radical post-collapse paradigm.

And now there’s LeanLogic.online, the wonderful fan-built website presenting the full contents for free, in a format perfectly suited to that structure. May they reshape your life as they have mine!

By David Fleming, Shaun Chamberlin (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lean Logic is David Fleming's masterpiece, the product of more than thirty years' work and a testament to the creative brilliance of one of Britain's most important intellectuals.

A dictionary unlike any other, it leads readers through Fleming's stimulating exploration of fields as diverse as culture, history, science, art, logic, ethics, myth, economics, and anthropology, being made up of four hundred and four engaging essay-entries covering topics such as Boredom, Community, Debt, Growth, Harmless Lunatics, Land, Lean Thinking, Nanotechnology, Play, Religion, Spirit, Trust, and Utopia.

The threads running through every entry are Fleming's deft and original analysis of how our…


Book cover of The People: No Different Flesh

Sally Ember Author Of This Changes Everything

From my list on speculative fiction authors every sci fi author needs to read.

Why am I passionate about this?

I started reading sci-fi in 1962 with 1957's Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and have loved it ever since. I became a sci-fi writer with my first three books in utopian speculative fiction, The Spanner Series. Unfortunately, I stalled out due to a TBI, a cross-country move, and other distractions, but I do plan to continue with the other 7 volumes in my utopian speculative fiction series some day. The writers in my “best of” list are some of my lifelong inspirations, so I hope newer readers can enjoy and learn from their works as much as I have.

Sally's book list on speculative fiction authors every sci fi author needs to read

Sally Ember Why did Sally love this book?

Zenna Henderson's entire The People series is worth reading, including the original short stories. These were all published at a time when very few female sci-fi authors were published. There is also a film that is fairly faithful to the books. Her creativity, her understanding the experience of immigrants and those who are “different,” and her depictions of the ways humans and immigrants are likely to re/act are timeless, offering stellar insights into our modern-day experiences. Sci-fi authors would do well to read all her books to learn how to do world-building, draw parallels between non-human species and humans, and analogize modern dilemmas as speculative fiction plots.

By Zenna Henderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Avon No. S328


Book cover of Essential Essays, Volume 2: Identity and Diaspora

Radhika Natarajan Author Of Hear Our Voices: A Powerful Retelling of the British Empire Through 20 True Stories

From my list on why imperial history matters today.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first became interested in the history of the British Empire as an undergraduate. Understanding this history helped me relate my parents’ experiences growing up in a postcolonial nation with the history of the United States, where I grew up. As an academic historian, my research and teaching emphasize connections—between disparate places, between the past and present, and between our personal experiences and those of people born in distant times and places. My first children’s book allowed me to translate my scholarly work for a young audience. I hope this list of books that inspire my approach to history encourages your own investigations of imperialism and its pasts!

Radhika's book list on why imperial history matters today

Radhika Natarajan Why did Radhika love this book?

My parents were born in India and migrated to the US. Postcolonial thinkers have helped me understand how imperial history continues to shape contemporary identities, not only in Britain but for those of us located all over the world whose family histories are intertwined with it.

More than anyone else, Stuart Hall has made the relationship between the imperial past and the present visible. In this collection of essays, Hall examines identity, showing how our understandings of ourselves are not absolute and intrinsic but shaped by history and politics.

Hall gives us the tools to locate ourselves in history, rethink our identity and relation to community, and contest dominant structures of race and power.

By Stuart Hall, David Morley (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Essential Essays, Volume 2 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From his arrival in Britain in the 1950s and involvement in the New Left, to founding the field of cultural studies and examining race and identity in the 1990s and early 2000s, Stuart Hall has been central to shaping many of the cultural and political debates of our time. Essential Essays-a landmark two-volume set-brings together Stuart Hall's most influential and foundational works. Spanning the whole of his career, these volumes reflect the breadth and depth of his intellectual and political projects while demonstrating their continued vitality and importance.

Volume 2: Identity and Diaspora draws from Hall's later essays, in which…


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