29 books directly related to social science 📚

All 29 social science books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Limits of Organization

Limits of Organization

By Kenneth J. Arrow,

Why this book?

The core question in social science may well be this: markets or central planning? This short book contains one person’s take on that big question. That person, Ken Arrow, many believe to be the greatest economic theorist of the past hundred years. His clarity, constraint, and curiosity inspire awe. Arrow, who derived the fundamental welfare theorems of economics,  describes the advantages markets as only he can without being blind to their shortcomings; markets reward selfishness and fail to include any defensible distribution of income. His rich, prescient analysis of formal organizations goes far beyond the standard transaction costs logic and…

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The best books for an aspiring or inspiring social scientist

Book cover of Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die

Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die

By Eric Siegel,

Why this book?

As a data scientist in the industry, it is very helpful to understand the business context behind the problems that you are solving. In many cases, you are trying to predict behavior—who is likely to buy an item, who is likely to click on a link, who is likely to repay a loan, etc.

This book by Eric Siegel is a great introduction to predictive analytics as used in real-life. It will help you frame data science problems in standard ways. For example, suppose you are asked to score sales leads so that salespeople can prioritize their efforts. How would…

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The best books if you want to become a data scientist

Book cover of Learn to Write Badly

Learn to Write Badly

By Michael Billig,

Why 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.

From the list:

The best books for reigniting meaningful social sciences

Book cover of Empty Labor: Idleness and Workplace Resistance

Empty Labor: Idleness and Workplace Resistance

By Roland Paulsen,

Why this book?

This is an old-fashioned sociology book that shows what can be done with some sociological imagination. Many of us do entirely meaningless work and get paid for it, and what is more, we know that we do. And yet, we pay a high price for it. How to avoid doing empty labour and rediscover the meaning of serious academic work.

From the list:

The best books for reigniting meaningful social sciences

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

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

By Mats Alvesson,

Why 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…
From the list:

The best books for reigniting meaningful social sciences

Book cover of Social Sciences as Sorcery

Social Sciences as Sorcery

By Stanislav Andreski,

Why this book?

This book is now 50 years old, but its message is as relevant and important now as when it was written. In a series of witty essays that border on rants, Andreski attacks much of social science as fluff obscured by technical jargon and methodology. In particular, he laments the growth of quantitative methods as an attempt to add objectivity to social science and make it appear “harder.” True objectivity is about more than mechanical number-crunching, he says; it’s about a commitment to fairness and resisting the temptations of wishful thinking – a challenge anyone who works with data concerning…

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The best books for data scientists trying to be ethical people

Book cover of Queenship in Medieval Europe

Queenship in Medieval Europe

By Theresa Earenfight,

Why this book?

Theresa Earenfight is a renowned queenship scholar whose ideas about queens and queenship inspired me when I was a graduate student and continue to excite me today. This is a book that I recommend to my own students as the perfect place to start with medieval queenship. Earenfight’s book moves chronologically across the Middle Ages, drawing together examples of queens from all across Europe to illustrate key ideas about queenship and demonstrate how different women exercised the queen’s office. An engaging read which is underpinned by years of research and deep expertise in the field.

From the list:

The best books on queens and queenship

Book cover of Slavery as an Industrial System: Ethnological Researches

Slavery as an Industrial System: Ethnological Researches

By H.J. Nieboer,

Why this book?

Nieboer did groundbreaking research on slavery outside the Atlantic world, and not the least on Southeast Asia. He was the first to propose a universal economic theory for the occurrence of slavery, namely that its existence was the result of a scarcity of labour in relation to the availability of land. After Evsey Domar expanded this argument to serfdom, it became known as the Nieboer-Domar hypothesis and has been widely cited both by historians and economic historians. In any talk about slavery and bondage in Southeast Asia I refer to this thesis to explain why slavery had practically disappeared in…

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The best books about slavery in Asia

Book cover of The Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination

By C. Wright Mills,

Why this book?

This sociological classic is a stinging critique of much academic sociology as amounting to little more than verbose platitudes and cliches that hardly reach beyond common sense. But the book is also an eloquent advocacy of an often neglect academic virtue – imagination. Mills argues that social science can bring dazzling insights to the world we inhabit if it reaches beyond data and observations to identify underlying patterns and truths.

From the list:

The best books for reigniting meaningful social sciences

Book cover of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez,

Why this book?

One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is identifying and questioning faulty assumptions, and Invisible Women is one of the most brilliant recent examples I’ve seen of this in action. Criado Perez offers a rich and meticulously researched account of the ways in which women’s experiences, bodies, needs, and histories have been systematically effaced in countless settings; how, for example, the “normal” human measurements used to design everything from car safety features to phone handsets are based on male rather than female bodies. This is a devastatingly eye-opening book and a call to action against complacency of all…

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The best books about critical thinking

Book cover of The Human Condition

The Human Condition

By Hannah Arendt,

Why this book?

Hannah Arendt is one of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century. I love her ability to weave together continental philosophy, in which she was trained, with the dilemmas of the modern world. Arendt grapples with the origins of our actions, which belong to us but also precede us, as we are all embedded in the march of history. This is fundamentally a critique of both liberalism and neoliberalism, which celebrate the individual at the expense of the relational. Arendt makes the case for why humans can only express their ‘who-ness’—their identity and humanityby participating in the…

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The best books about how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Book cover of The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

By Jean O'Malley Halley,

Why this book?

Weaving together a social history of the American beef industry with her own account of growing up in the shadow of her grandfather's cattle business, Halley juxtaposes the two worlds and creates a link between the meat industry and her own experience of the formation of gender through family violence.

From the list:

The best books about human relationships with other animals

Book cover of A Relational Theory of World Politics

A Relational Theory of World Politics

By Yaqing Qin,

Why this book?

Qin is the former president of China Foreign Affairs University and China’s foremost thinker on international relationships. This book is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort because Qin presents an original perspective on world affairs that is rooted in Chinese intellectual traditions. In contrast to current theories of international relations, Qin emphasizes the importance of relationships over transactions—attention to managing long-term, particular connections rather than “the art of the deal.” In addition, he describes a dialectic based on the mutual transformation of opposites—a yin-yang relationship—rather than the usual Western assumption of separate categories. Qin is a…

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The best books on China perspectives

Book cover of Always Coming Home

Always Coming Home

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why this book?

This book, by one of the greatest American authors of all time, is an “archaeology of the future”: a record of the daily life, the customs, the beliefs, the poetry and stories, and the spirit of a people who live in a far-future California that is at the same time deeply connected to the past of its original inhabitants. Of all the utopias that are on offer in world literature, this is the one that makes the most sense to the social scientist in me, and also the one that I would like the most to wake up in someday.…
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The best books that explore the human condition

Book cover of The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society

The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society

By Gerald Gaus,

Why this book?

This book challenges the notion that we should rely on the ideal as a guidepost. Set aside whether we could decide on an ideal; Gaus, a philosopher, makes a four-part argument against pursuing it. First, how could we contemplate the incomprehensible number of possible institutional, legal, and organizational configurations? We couldn’t. Second, the components of those configurations interact, resulting in a rugged landscape: the path to the ideal would not be entirely uphill, that is, it would require sacrifices. Hence, the book’s title. Third, owing to the interactions among choices, we cannot evaluate collective well-being in alternative configurations with…

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The best books for an aspiring or inspiring social scientist

Book cover of A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

By Christopher Alexander,

Why this book?

Christopher Alexander was arguably the greatest genius of the twentieth century. This, his most famous book, is a guide to the way the human mind and body relate to the spaces around it. If you are making games that involve rooms, terrain, or locations, this book will provide a wealth of insights, especially if your games are social. Will Wright read this book, and it inspired him to create Sim City. I read it and suddenly understood how to layout Toontown. What will happen when you read it? 

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The best books for game designers

Book cover of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

By Chip Heath, Dan Heath,

Why this book?

The Heath brothers have done it again. From the authors of the best-seller, Made to Stick, comes this book about how to make tough decisions. They offer wildly entertaining stories combined with the most important conclusions from social science research. As you read the book, you will come away with a practical framework and useful techniques for improving how you analyze complex situations, evaluate multiple alternatives, and make challenging choices.  

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The best books on decision making

Book cover of Fundamentals of Data Visualization: A Primer on Making Informative and Compelling Figures

Fundamentals of Data Visualization: A Primer on Making Informative and Compelling Figures

By Claus O. Wilke,

Why this book?

It is not enough for a data scientist to be able to analyze data and build ML models. You have to be able to communicate the insights to decision-makers concisely and accurately. This book shows you bad and good visualizations — you’ll be surprised by how often you would have defaulted to the bad way without the guidance provided by this book!

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The best books if you want to become a data scientist

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

Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution

By Peter J. Richerson, Robert Boyd,

Why 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…

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The best books on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science

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

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

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

Why 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…

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The best books for understanding how the Miss America pageant was born, what it means, and why it matters

Book cover of Dreams and Healing: A Succinct and Lively Interpretation of Dreams

Dreams and Healing: A Succinct and Lively Interpretation of Dreams

By John A. Sanford,

Why this book?

This book establishes that throughout history and cultures, dreams have been seen as essential tools in healing mental, physical, and social problems. While many dreams may be “housekeeping” or processing the day’s events, the author persuades that dreams come for a purpose. The author provides in-depth case studies of dreams that transform the lives of dreamers. Dreams offer direction toward finding your own path against collective expectations. One of the case studies in the book shows how dreams guide a 20-year-old college student to make decisions his parents didn’t approve of. Another is a case study of a woman whose…

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Book cover of The Collapse of Complex Societies

The Collapse of Complex Societies

By Joseph Tainter,

Why this book?

Tainter makes a powerful and almost irrefutable case for complexity as the key to understanding both the rise and the fall of civilizations. In essence, complexity builds and builds until it is no longer manageable, so collapse ensues. That Tainter does not sufficiently appreciate the role that ecological limits, physical constraints, moral decline, and practical bungling can also play in the process does not detract from the power and utility of his argument. For these latter factors, see my own Immoderate Greatness.

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The best books on the grim ecological-political future

Book cover of Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader

Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader

By Tanya Titchkosky (editor), Rod Michalko (editor),

Why this book?

As a person with a disability, this collection spoke to my direct experience of exclusion in Canadian society. Because every chapter is written by a different scholar in the field of disability studies, this edited collection is able to present a diverse range of perspectives that really resonate with the reader, and provocatively question the concept of ‘normalcy’ that is at the root of the discrimination against those of us who do not fit in.

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The best books on belonging and exclusion in Canada

Book cover of On Bullshit

On Bullshit

By Harry G. Frankfurt,

Why this book?

This book describes how meaningless talk has conquered the world. It explains why so much written text is entirely meaningless and yet it gets published. But bullshit is not just meaningless – it is speech directly or indirectly intended to mislead or obfuscate. Its very acceptance as false reveals a collusion between the writer or the speaker and their audience – a collusion which precludes the audience from challenging what they hear. Bullshit is not just fashionable babble, it is a serious threat to democratic values and to meaningful public discourse.

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Book cover of Thinking in Systems: International Bestseller

Thinking in Systems: International Bestseller

By Donella Meadows,

Why this book?

Systems are everywhere. They are an inescapable part of life. One of the best things we can do to improve ourselves and the world is develop our understanding of them.

Thinking in Systems is my go-to start point for everything systems. The writing is clear, and the stories are meaningful. Donella Meadows does an amazing job of breaking down systems, exposing their connections, and building them back up to show us how we can solve the problems that are important to us.

This book opened my eyes in so many ways, by showing me connections between what I do and…

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Book cover of Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People

Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People

By G. Richard Shell,

Why this book?

This book outlines several important orientations to negotiations—game/poker players (who play by the rules but still want to “win”); idealists who believe in almost always treating people honestly and fairly, even if that might mean less personal advantage and instrumental pragmatists who know—“what goes around, comes around” or “your word is your bond”—reputation is everything. In the context of reporting for laypeople a lot of social science research and practical tips, this book helps orient all negotiators to think about what ethical stance they should consider in different contexts. I have taught excerpts of this book for over 20 years.

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The best books for ethical negotiators

Book cover of Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior

Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior

By Elliot Sober, David Sloan Wilson,

Why this book?

In his bestselling book on The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins saw genes as the key drivers of evolution. Dawkins rejected the idea that groups were objects of selection in human evolution. Instead, his focus was on the “selfish” struggle of the gene to survive and replicate. Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson show clearly and convincingly where Dawkins went wrong. In human societies, evolutionary selection operates on multiple levels, including groups and individuals. Human groups are adaptive units. Individuals depend on themselves and on others to survive. Consequently, group adaptations such as altruism, morality, and cooperation can bestow survival…

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The best books on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science

Book cover of Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge

Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge

By Henry Plotkin,

Why this book?

Plotkin’s brilliant book is about the nature and evolution of human knowledge. How do people gain and develop useful knowledge in a complex, uncertain, and changing world? Behaviorist theories of stimulus and response are inadequate. The mind must be primed to deal with complexity and uncertainty. Models from behaviorist psychology are unable to account for the acquisition of knowledge in such circumstances. Darwinian evolutionary theory helps to explain how the mind uses inherited instincts and culturally acquired habits to guide and enhance intelligence. As with the earlier work of the Darwinian psychologist and pragmatist, William James, instinct and habit are…

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The best books on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science

Book cover of How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking

How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking

By Sonke Ahrens,

Why this book?

Ahrens opened up my eyes to a method of building on, diving into, and creating notes without them getting lost. I love feeling productive whether I agree or disagree with something. I now have a way to connect my ideas together and gather them when creating articles, books, and courses. It didn't use to be fun to take notes, but now it is since I know I can get back to and update things for however long I like without ever feeling obligated to them.

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The best books for people who want to do and enjoy work they find meaningful