The most recommended social science books

Who picked these books? Meet our 102 experts.

102 authors created a book list connected to social science, and here are their favorite social science books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of social science book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of Crafting Luxury: Craftsmanship, Manufacture, Technology and the Retail Environment

Christopher J. Berry Author Of The Idea of Luxury: A Conceptual and Historical Investigation

From my list on answering the question, what is ‘luxury’?.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an academic my work is in the area of political theory and my interest in ‘luxury’ came from the awareness that it involved questions of history (why was it seen as a threat to the Roman republic) and socio-political issues around inequality and consumerism. I was awarded a grant to start the investigation and my university (Glasgow) published it along with other awards and it got picked up by the media with the consequence I had my ‘ten minutes of fame’ as I was interviewed by newspapers and on the radio.  My book is the eventual fruit of that study which has, in the words of more than one author, been judged ‘seminal’. 

Christopher's book list on answering the question, what is ‘luxury’?

Christopher J. Berry Why did Christopher love this book?

What is especially good about this book and what I found stimulating was the diversity of both its contents and the differing backgrounds of the authors. It succeeds in bringing together the perspectives of both academics and practitioners which together provide a book that is not only readable, informative, and up-to-date but which also puts forward a point of view. Its very breadth and occasionally provocative arguments will excite anyone with an interest in luxury whether producer, consumer, or critic. References to my book recur in acknowledgment of its benchmark status. 

By Mark Bloomfield, Shaun Borstrock, Silvio Carta , Veronica Manlow

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The idea of luxury has secured a place in contemporary western culture, and the term is now part of common parlance in both established and emerging economies. This book explores the many issues and debates surrounding the idea of luxury.

This new research addresses contentious issues surrounding perceptions of luxury, its relationship to contemporary branding as created by the marketers, and the impact this has on the consumer and their purchasing habits.

Crafting Luxury considers work within the field of luxury and luxury brands, encompassing established companies with a long heritage: from conglomerates and small independents to 'new' luxury and…


Book cover of Psychiatry Under the Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform

Peter A. Swenson Author Of Disorder: A History of Reform, Reaction, and Money in American Medicine

From my list on the entanglement of medicine, politics, and pharmaceuticals.

Why am I passionate about this?

In my younger days, as the son of a medical professor and a public health nurse, I was more interested in healing society than patients. But my political interests and research agenda as a professor of political science ultimately led back to medicine. I found that profit-maximizing market competition in health care failed miserably to promote value in therapeutics and economize on society’s scarce resources. I became aware of the neglect of public health to prevent disease for vulnerable groups in society and save money as well as lives. Pervasive and enduring economic conflicts of interest in the medical-industrial complex bear primary responsibility for severe deficits in quality, equality, and economy in American health care.

Peter's book list on the entanglement of medicine, politics, and pharmaceuticals

Peter A. Swenson Why did Peter love this book?

I was deeply impressed by how Psychiatry Under the Influence combines medical history, clinical knowledge, and investigative journalism about pervasive institutional conflicts of interest in medicine.

In Whitaker’s and Cosgrove’s case study of “institutional corruption” they trace the development over time of an alignment of the psychiatric profession’s “guild interests” in turf maximization and scientific legitimation with drug companies’ drive to market a widening array of drugs massively profitable drugs.

It is a fascinating illustration of the medicalization of life resulting from what I would call the “commercial construction of disease.”

Particularly eye-opening was the role of the American Psychiatric Association in constructing pseudo-scientific diagnostic categories of psychoses, panics, anxieties, depressive states, and the like for drug companies to capitalize on—and concealing, distorting, and fabricating research results that facilitate mass overprescribing of potentially harm-causing drugs.

By Robert Whitaker, Robert Whitaker, Lisa Cosgrove

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Psychiatry Under the Influence investigates the actions and practices of the American Psychiatric Association and academic psychiatry in the United States, and presents it as a case study of institutional corruption.


Book cover of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools

Aubrey Fox Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father advised me that to be a good writer, I should first learn a trade and particular subject matter from the inside out. As a working criminal justice practitioner for the last two decades, I’ve been lucky to work with some of the smartest people and best run organizations in the country. I’ve always been a big reader and someone who likes to link the sometimes brutally practical, day-to-day work of running an organization (I lead New York City’s main pretrial services agency) to larger philosophical issues. My life’s goal is to show how big ideas play themselves out in the day-to-day practice of public policy. 

Aubrey's book list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t

Aubrey Fox Why did Aubrey love this book?

We don’t have enough books that celebrate how thoughtful and patient reform strategies can pay big dividends over time.

Journalist and Public Policy Professor David Kirp embedded himself in the community of Union City, New Jersey and documented how the school district has worked to improve educational outcomes in decidedly non-flashy ways.

As Kirp writes, all too often education reform has a “flavor of the month” and faddish quality to it, trapped in seemingly endless cycles of unrealistic big bang-style reforms and inevitable disappointments.

Improbable Scholars provides a hopeful counternarrative, showing that large-scale change is possible beyond a single stand-out school or teacher.

By David L. Kirp,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The conventional wisdom, voiced by everyone from Bill Gates to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is that public schools are so terrible that simply reforming them won't do the trick. Instead, they must be "transformed," blown up and then rebuilt, if they're going to offer students a good education. We relish stories about electrifying teachers like Jaime Escalante, who made math whizzes out of no-hoper teenagers in East LA, or inner city charter schools like the KIPP
academies. But success in the public schools of an entire city-a poor, crowded city, with more than its share of immigrant Latino youngsters, the…


Book cover of Triumph of Emptiness: Consumption, Higher Education, and Work Organization

Yiannis Gabriel Author Of Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say

From my list on reigniting meaningful social sciences.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Greek social psychologist and have spent much of my academic career studying myths and stories in social life - stories, even when inaccurate or wrong, serve to create meaning, a fragile and valuable resource, especially in these post-truth times. At the same time, I believe that we must not lose sight of the distinctions between story and fact, fantasy and reality, truth and fiction. I am greatly concerned that the social sciences today, as shaped by the academic publishing game, are preoccupied with trivia and act as black holes into which meaning disappears. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to restore the meaningfulness of academic research.

Yiannis' book list on reigniting meaningful social sciences

Yiannis Gabriel Why did Yiannis love this book?

This magisterial book punctures the grandiosity and narcissism of our times when we succumb to the illusions that image, hype, and empty talk create value, when everyone must claim to be cutting edge and a world leader. Alvesson demonstrates that behind such grandiosity lurks an emptiness of meaning, of value, and of imagination. His powerful critical discussions of modern consumption, higher education, professionalism, and leadership insinuate that our current malaise goes far deeper than the economic crisis in which we find ourselves. This is a book that shows how we can recover meaning in the work we do as social scientists.

By Mats Alvesson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this book, Mats Alvesson aims to demystify some popular and upbeat claims about a range of phenomena, including the knowledge society, consumption, branding, higher education, organizational change, professionalization, and leadership. He contends that a culture of grandiosity is leading to numerous inflated claims. We no longer talk about plans but strategies. Supervisors have been replaced by managers. Goods have become brands. Wealthy countries try to show that they are knowledge
societies through mass higher education but with limited effect on real qualifications or qualified job opportunities for graduates. The book views the contemporary economy as an economy of persuasion,…


Book cover of Introduction to Economics: Social Issues and Economic Thinking

Paul Grimes Author Of Economics of Social Issues

From my list on how economics shapes our world and your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for economics began during my first semester of college when I enrolled in a principles of macroeconomics course only because the professor was my father’s friend. The power of economic reasoning to explain the world around me has held my fascination every since. After graduate school, my interests turned to encourage others to use the economic way of thinking to better their lives. My life as an economic educator spans more than 40 years, having taught thousands of college students across several universities, from first-semester freshmen to matriculating doctoral candidates. My work has taken me around the world and back to my undergraduate alma mater in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Paul's book list on how economics shapes our world and your life

Paul Grimes Why did Paul love this book?

This book provides a thorough treatment of all the basic economic tools that everyone needs to survive and thrive in today’s world. 

Stock is a natural teacher who uses her gift for taking the complex and making it simple. The topics are wide-ranging and the analysis is clear and convincing. Even those who think they are not interested in economics will find something to take with them after pursuing this well-written volume.

By Wendy A. Stock,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book presents a realistic picture of current economic thought through an understanding of theory and the application of issues. It discusses concepts in economics and how they relate to real issues in life. It delves into economics by looking at Crime, Labor Markets, Drug Use, Population etc, using the "tools" of economics.


Book cover of Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

Sergey Gorbatov Author Of Move Up or Move On: 10 Secrets to Develop your Career

From my list on your boss won’t tell you this stuff.

Why am I passionate about this?

Throughout my corporate experience, I’ve been frustrated with how access to good career advice has been reserved for the elite few. Careers aren’t always fair—who usually wins? Those with parents with successful corporate or professional careers, who went to an elite school, parents with a degree, and who were not a first generation at university or college, had access to a coach or sponsor, etc. Furthermore, I am still stunned with untrue or half-true advice like “good work speaks for itself” or “be your authentic self”. I like reading evidence-based books and not being lied to by “experts.”

Sergey's book list on your boss won’t tell you this stuff

Sergey Gorbatov Why did Sergey love this book?

Pfeffer’s no-bullshit “let’s see what’s really happening” accounts of organizational reality left me wanting more. We all want positive messages (myself included), but the truth is more important.

This book taught me to learn from effective mid-level leaders and not from inspirational but anecdotal tops. I like his critical and, at times, cynical style, as Pfeffer eschews the toxic misrepresentations of how leadership and personal development happen, opting for pragmatic, science-proven solutions.

By Jeffrey Pfeffer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Finalist for the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Best business book of the week from Inc.com The author of Power, Stanford business school professor, and a leading management thinker offers a hard-hitting dissection of the leadership industry and ways to make workplaces and careers work better. The leadership enterprise is enormous, with billions of dollars, thousands of books, and hundreds of thousands of blogs and talks focused on improving leaders. But what we see worldwide is employee disengagement, high levels of leader turnover and career derailment, and failed leadership development efforts. In Leadership BS, Jeffrey…


Book cover of Learn to Write Badly

Yiannis Gabriel Author Of Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say

From my list on reigniting meaningful social sciences.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Greek social psychologist and have spent much of my academic career studying myths and stories in social life - stories, even when inaccurate or wrong, serve to create meaning, a fragile and valuable resource, especially in these post-truth times. At the same time, I believe that we must not lose sight of the distinctions between story and fact, fantasy and reality, truth and fiction. I am greatly concerned that the social sciences today, as shaped by the academic publishing game, are preoccupied with trivia and act as black holes into which meaning disappears. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to restore the meaningfulness of academic research.

Yiannis' book list on reigniting meaningful social sciences

Yiannis Gabriel Why did Yiannis love this book?

This is a must for any aspiring social scientist. Ironically entitled, the book offers a brilliant account of how many researchers in the social sciences resort to esoteric jargon and abstruse arguments to promote themselves in their academic micro-fiefdoms, defend their areas of expertise from outsiders but also to obfuscate and conceal their own ignorance. The book, however, can also be read on how to write well and get published in the social sciences.

By Michael Billig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learn to Write Badly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Modern academia is increasingly competitive yet the writing style of social scientists is routinely poor and continues to deteriorate. Are social science postgraduates being taught to write poorly? What conditions adversely affect the way they write? And which linguistic features contribute towards this bad writing? Michael Billig's witty and entertaining book analyses these questions in a quest to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong with the way social scientists write. Using examples from diverse fields such as linguistics, sociology and experimental social psychology, Billig shows how technical terminology is regularly less precise than simpler language. He demonstrates that there are…


Book cover of Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Author Of Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

From my list on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always wondered why people choose and act in particular ways, from heroism and altruism to selfishness and greed. Human society is a kaleidoscope of changing actions and fortunes. Social science tries to explain why. But I was dissatisfied with its answers. Then I discovered writers who used evolutionary ideas to help explain social and economic change. I realized that evolution did not mean reducing everything to biology. I became fascinated by Darwin’s deeper and wider ideas about human society, cooperation, and motivation. I read widely and joined with others of similar mind. It is an exciting and rewarding intellectual landscape to explore. I strongly recommend a long visit.

Geoffrey's book list on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Why did Geoffrey love this book?

This clearly written and well-researched book shows that human evolution is as much about culture as it is about genes. Both evolve. And both involve the Darwinian principles of variation, selection, and replication of key bits of information. Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson are among the leading contributors to our understanding of how genes and culture co-evolve. The work rebuts exclusively gene-based accounts, and it shows how human evolution operates on multiple levels. Darwinian ideas remain paramount because they provide the over-arching framework in which both genetic and cultural evolution interact and guide human behavior. This book shows how a Darwinian evolutionary approach can rescue the theory of culture in social science from its many vagaries and past wrong turns.

By Peter J. Richerson, Robert Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not by Genes Alone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Humans are a striking anomaly in the natural world. While we are similar to other mammals in many ways, our behavior sets us apart. Our unparalleled ability to adapt has allowed us to occupy virtually every habitat on earth, and our societies are larger, more complex, and more cooperative than any other mammal's. In "Not by Genes Alone", Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd argue that only a Darwinian theory of cultural evolution can explain these unique characteristics. "Not by Genes Alone" offers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem…


Book cover of Aspects of Violence: A Critical Theory

Andrew Hiscock Author Of Shakespeare, Violence and Early Modern Europe

From my list on thinking about how violence can shape our lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am Professor of Early Modern Literature at Bangor University, Wales UK and Research Fellow at the Institut de Recherche sur la Renaissance, l'Âge Classique et les Lumières, Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier 3, France. I am someone who has been interested throughout his career in all aspects of what used to be called the European Renaissance and especially in establishing a dialogue between cultural debates raging four hundred years ago and those which dominate our own everyday lives in the twenty-first century. In the past, my work has addressed ideas, for example, concerned with social theory, the construction of cultural space, and the significance of memory.

Andrew's book list on thinking about how violence can shape our lives

Andrew Hiscock Why did Andrew love this book?

This is an immensely readable book and a wonderful introduction to the very different ways in which violence might be interpreted from a dizzying range of perspectives.

Schinkel urges us to reflect on our appetites for violence in our reading matter, our cinema and theatre-going, and our hunger for news. He also poses thorny questions about the ‘productive’ potential of violent action.

By W. Schinkel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book provides a novel approach to the social scientific study of violence. It argues for an 'extended' definition of violence in order to avoid subscribing to commonsensical or state propagated definitions of violence, and pays specific attention to 'autotelic violence' (violence for the sake of itself), as well as to terrorism.


Book cover of The Norton History of the Human Sciences

Brian J. McVeigh Author Of The 'Other' Psychology of Julian Jaynes: Ancient Languages, Sacred Visions, and Forgotten Mentalities

From my list on the bicameral mind, mentality, and consciousness.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by how the human mind adapts, both individually and through history. Julian Jaynes, who taught me while pursuing my PhD in anthropology from Princeton University, provided me with a theoretical framework to explore how the personal and cultural configure each other. Jaynes inspired me to publish on psychotherapeutics, the history of Japanese psychology, linguistics, education, nationalism, the origin of religion, the Bible, ancient Egypt, popular culture, and changing definitions of self, time, and space. My interests have taken me to China and Japan, where I lived for many years. I taught at the University of Arizona and currently work as a licensed mental health counselor. 

Brian's book list on the bicameral mind, mentality, and consciousness

Brian J. McVeigh Why did Brian love this book?

According to Julian Jaynes, the mentality predating consciousness was bicameral. To appreciate the subtlety of his arguments, a grand historical sweep is needed.

At over a thousand pages, this magisterial tour through the origins and impact of anthropology, sociology, linguistics, economics, and psychology affords context by showing how, from the sixteenth century to the present day, the emergence of a post-bicameral, introspective language of the self-played out in modern times.

By Professor of Social Work Roger Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Norton History of the Human Sciences as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A comprehensive history of the human sciences-psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science-from their precursors in early human culture to the present.

This erudite yet accessible volume in Norton's highly praised History of Science series tracks the long and circuitous path by which human beings came to see themselves and their societies as scientific subjects like any other. Beginning with the Renaissance's rediscovery of Greek psychology, political philosophy, and ethics, Roger Smith recounts how the human sciences gradually organized themselves around a scientific conception of psychology, and how this trend has continued to the present day in a circle of…