The best social theory books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about social theory and why they recommend each book.

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Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution

By Raya Dunayevskaya,

Book cover of Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution

Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. This book contained the first-ever analysis of Luxemburg as feminist, the first widely disseminated analysis of gender in Marx’s late Ethnological Notebooks, and a hard-hitting discussion of feminism, race, and revolution that pulled no punches in terms of critiquing dominant forms of feminism, especially in the U.S. The treatment of the late Marx featured a searing critique of Engels’s economistic reductionism on women’s liberation, and this was followed up by unstinting critiques of Lenin and Trotsky as well as Luxemburg herself on the failures of what Dunayevskaya termed “post-Marx Marxism” to fulfill the profound legacies left to them by Marx.  


Who am I?

All of the books I recommend offer both a very deep reading of our socio-economic situation in all its oppressiveness and alienation, and the possibility of an alternative. Only with such philosophical digging and reappropriation of dialectical thinkers of the past, beginning with Hegel and Marx, can we construct a humanist future. These books speak to my own life as a 1960s activist in the USA who has yearned ever since for a real, humanist social transformation in the face of so many setbacks for our cause, some of them self-inflicted.


I wrote...

Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

By Kevin B. Anderson,

Book cover of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

What is my book about?

Still, the only full-length study of the achievements and limitations of Lenin's extensive writings on Hegel, Hegel, Lenin, and Western Marxism has become a minor classic. In a full critical account, Anderson's book connects Lenin's 'dialectics' to his renowned writings on imperialism, anti-colonial movements, and the state. It takes up as well the debate over Lenin's writings on Hegel among Marxists such as Georg Lukács, Henri Lefebvre, C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Lucio Colletti, and Louis Althusser. With a comprehensive new introduction by the author.

Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism

By Peter Hudis,

Book cover of Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism

This is the first study ever of Marx on communism/socialism, a topic that is often considered something he refrained from writing about. Hudis ingeniously marshals a huge body of writings – on Proudhon, Lassalle, and others – where Marx elaborates his own concept of socialism/communism in the course of critiquing what he sees as vastly inadequate concepts. In so doing, Hudis connects these issues to dialectics and to economics, and above all to the critique of both capital and the state, here not even sparing Lenin’s classic work, State and Revolution.


Who am I?

All of the books I recommend offer both a very deep reading of our socio-economic situation in all its oppressiveness and alienation, and the possibility of an alternative. Only with such philosophical digging and reappropriation of dialectical thinkers of the past, beginning with Hegel and Marx, can we construct a humanist future. These books speak to my own life as a 1960s activist in the USA who has yearned ever since for a real, humanist social transformation in the face of so many setbacks for our cause, some of them self-inflicted.


I wrote...

Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

By Kevin B. Anderson,

Book cover of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

What is my book about?

Still, the only full-length study of the achievements and limitations of Lenin's extensive writings on Hegel, Hegel, Lenin, and Western Marxism has become a minor classic. In a full critical account, Anderson's book connects Lenin's 'dialectics' to his renowned writings on imperialism, anti-colonial movements, and the state. It takes up as well the debate over Lenin's writings on Hegel among Marxists such as Georg Lukács, Henri Lefebvre, C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Lucio Colletti, and Louis Althusser. With a comprehensive new introduction by the author.

Clear Bright Future

By Paul Mason,

Book cover of Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being

Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future (the title is drawn from a declaration by Leon Trotsky), stands out as a manifesto of socialist humanism that takes on neoliberal ideology and the cyberworld of contemporary capitalism. The book also delivers a withering critique not only of their basic anti-humanism but also the anti-humanism of the academic left, still too much in the shadow of postmodernism, which Mason charges with helping to open the road toward the present state of affairs.


Who am I?

All of the books I recommend offer both a very deep reading of our socio-economic situation in all its oppressiveness and alienation, and the possibility of an alternative. Only with such philosophical digging and reappropriation of dialectical thinkers of the past, beginning with Hegel and Marx, can we construct a humanist future. These books speak to my own life as a 1960s activist in the USA who has yearned ever since for a real, humanist social transformation in the face of so many setbacks for our cause, some of them self-inflicted.


I wrote...

Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

By Kevin B. Anderson,

Book cover of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

What is my book about?

Still, the only full-length study of the achievements and limitations of Lenin's extensive writings on Hegel, Hegel, Lenin, and Western Marxism has become a minor classic. In a full critical account, Anderson's book connects Lenin's 'dialectics' to his renowned writings on imperialism, anti-colonial movements, and the state. It takes up as well the debate over Lenin's writings on Hegel among Marxists such as Georg Lukács, Henri Lefebvre, C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Lucio Colletti, and Louis Althusser. With a comprehensive new introduction by the author.

The Utopia of Rules

By David Graeber,

Book cover of The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

Everyone hates bureaucracy. But no one hated it quite like the late David Graeber. Amongst all of Graeber’s intoxicating books, this is my favourite. Utopia of Rules finally made me understand what exactly was so pernicious about bureaucracy. (Short version: it does the opposite of what it promises.) Graeber also sets out, with typical lucid prose, how new technologies, particularly digital technologies, are making everything even worse.


Who am I?

I grew up with digital technologies. It was the 1990s. Things could only get better. Or so we were told… I went to study computer science at Cambridge in the 2000s. Switched subjects a few times, and ended up with a degree in the history and philosophy of science. By the time I graduated, life had changed. The world economy was on the brink of collapse, China was on its way to becoming a superpower, and right-wing nationalism was on the rise. That experience absolutely shaped me as a historian and writer. The world of science and technology suddenly seemed a lot more politically fraught.


I wrote...

Horizons: A Global History of Science

By James Poskett,

Book cover of Horizons: A Global History of Science

What is my book about?

We are told that modern science was invented in Europe, the product of great minds like Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. But this is wrong. Science is not, and has never been, a uniquely European endeavour.

Horizons pushes the history of science beyond Europe, exploring the ways in which scientists from Africa, America, Asia, and the Pacific fit into the story. Challenging both the existing narrative and our perceptions of revered individuals, above all this is a celebration of the work of scientists neglected by history.

How Modernity Forgets

By Paul Connerton,

Book cover of How Modernity Forgets

A concise and lucid sociological treatise that relates forgetting to the transitions and rapid changes of contemporary urban life, which has eroded the ways in which societies traditionally remembered the past.


Who am I?

Guy Beiner specializes in the history of social remembering in the late modern era. An interest in Irish folklore and oral traditions as historical sources led him to explore folk memory, which in turn aroused an interest in forgetting. He examines the many ways in which communities recall their past, as well as how they struggle with the urge to supress troublesome memories of discomfiting episodes.


I wrote...

Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster

By Guy Beiner,

Book cover of Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster

What is my book about?

Forgetful Remembrance examines the paradoxes of what actually happens when communities persistently endeavour to forget inconvenient events. The question of how a society attempts to obscure problematic historical episodes is addressed through a detailed case study grounded in the north-eastern counties of the Irish province of Ulster, where loyalist and unionist Protestants--and in particular Presbyterians--repeatedly tried to repress over two centuries discomfiting recollections of participation, alongside Catholics, in a republican rebellion in 1798.

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