Many students find themselves compelled to learn more about the social sciences because of their broad, interdisciplinary nature. In that spirit, this list also pulls from a spectrum of perspectives, providing a small sample of highlights from a few different topics relevant to sociologists. Because of space constraints, some subjects and titles had to be left out. But this doesn’t mean that exclusions have nothing to offer! For the widest scope possible on one of the most in-depth fields around, try and track them down as well.

Classics

  1. On Behalf of the Insane Poor (1843) by Dorothea Dix: While individuals with mental health conditions (especially those in lower tax brackets) still grapple against marginalization today, the absolutely nauseating acts nurse Dorothea Dix witnessed at asylums were even more dehumanizing.
  2. Rules of the Sociological Method (1895) by Emile Durkheim: Almost anything by the heavily influential sociologist Emile Durkheim should be considered essential reading, but this one in particular is notable for outlining research strategies and models.
  3. The Communist Manifesto (1848) by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx: Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the core tenets and practices of communism, the most controversial economic treatise ever published still impacted humanity (and, of course, its social structure) in a major way.
  4. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) by Max Weber: In spite of the title, Max Weber did not intend for his book to be read as an in-depth inquiry into Protestantism. Rather, one of his most famous works explores the relationship between society and religion.
  5. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) by Margaret Mead: Anthropologist Margaret Mead found some valuable sociological, historical and psychological lessons in her studies of indigenous peoples, precipitating a greater understanding of the adolescent and female experiences.
  6. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell: For sociology buffs who love literature and anthropology, this undeniable classic dissects commonalities in religious and folk narratives and characters from various eras and geographic locales.
  7. The Lonely Crowd (1950) by Reuel Denney, Nathan Glazer and David Riesman: Although some of the research has changed over the decades along with shifts in American culture, this landmark read brought up some revolutionary, provocative ideas about self and social interaction.
  8. The Sociological Imagination (1959) by C. Wright Mills: C. Wright Mills delves deeply into sociology’s structure, function and ultimate goals, providing practitioners with some amazing insight into their field — offering up some intellectual challenges about the nature of reality along the way.
  9. Madness and Civilization (1961) by Michel Foucault: This incredibly illuminating book begins in the Middle Ages and traces the complex history of what society does and does not deem mentally imbalanced, its marginalization of various groups and how it justifies such intolerant behavior.
  10. Stigma (1963) by Erving Goffman: In almost every society, anyone who does not fit into a specifically dictated norm ends up sent to the margins, regardless of whether or not they truly deserve it. One of sociology’s seminal works makes sense of the whys and how behind this phenomenon.
  11. The Social Construction of Reality (1966) by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann: The concept of social construction remains a core component of sociological studies, and any students wanting to learn more about the influential relationship between individuals, groups and their perceptions of reality would do well to pick up Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s ruminations on the subjects.
  1. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) by William James: Although more a work of psychology and philosophy than sociology, students concerned with researching interplay between religion, the individual and the congregations and denominations in question should still consider this book essential.
  2. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) by Emile Durkheim: The religious beliefs and rituals all over the world receive skillful dissection and analysis regarding how they influence the societies surrounding them.
  3. The Sociology of Religion (c. 1921) by Max Weber: As one can easily glean from the title, The Sociology of Religion concerns itself with understanding the role of faith in shaping human society for better or for worse.
  4. The World’s Religions (1958) by Huston Smith: Originally titled The Religions of Man, Huston Smith’s classic work is oftentimes cited as one of the most adroit introductions to comparative religion around.
  5. Our Religions (1994) by Arvind Sharma: Significant scholars representing seven of the world’s most heavily populated religions describe the core tenets that attract followers to their respective faiths.
  6. The World’s Wisdom (1995) by Philip Novak: Sociology students with a keen interest in writing about interplay between religion and society should make an effort to read sacred texts from around the world.
  7. The Good Heart (1998) by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: In his lecture from 1994, the Dalai Lama offers up his own interpretations of Jesus’ teachings, resulting in a fascinating interfaith comparison between Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism.
  8. The Battle for God (2000) by Karen Armstrong: Explore the three Abrahamic faiths, and the patterns they share when fringe groups hold the rest of the faith hostage with fundamentalism and violence.
  9. When Religion Becomes Evil (2002) by Charles Kimball: Wake Forest professor and reverend Charles Kimball outlines the five major warning signs of a religion (or a segment of a religion) giving in to violent fundamentalist urges.
  10. God is Not One (2010) by Stephen Prothero: Using both academics and personal experience, this Boston University professor delves into the eight largest religions in the world and highlights the major differences that nurture heavy conflict.

Contemporary Classics

  1. Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) by Jared Diamond: Sociology aficionados, students and professionals who also enjoy reading about history, ethnography, geography and politics (among other topics) will probably find this critically lauded Pulitzer winner a thoroughly engaging read.
  2. Bowling Alone (2000) by Robert D. Putnam: Though time has witnessed a movement away from some of Robert D. Putnam’s studies and observations, his frank discussions of why so many Americans migrate away from civil and neighborly engagement still ring true in many aspects.
  3. Culture Jam (2000) by Kalle Lasn: Subcultures are just as important to sociologists as the prevailing hegemonies surrounding them. Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn introduces readers to the old art of culture jamming in response to conspicuous consumption and manipulative advertising.
  4. Sexing the Body (2000) by Anne Fausto-Sterling: Contemporary sexologists make some very compelling scientific cases for gender being based more on sociological paradigms rather than something inherently biological. Many, such as Anne Fausto-Sterling, hope to dispel many of the myths surrounding those who don’t fit into the confining cultural binary.
  5. The Blank Slate (2002) by Steven Pinker: All social science students are familiar with the concept of tabula rasa, but Steven Pinker believes that using it as a model will yield erroneous results and thinking.
  6. The Wisdom of Crowds (2004) by James Surowiecki: Though the “crowd mentality” has a tendency to devolve into madness, this journalist argues that there are some very valuable lessons in productivity to be learned from it.
  7. Freakonomics (2005) by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt: In spite of its merging of economics and pop culture, some sociologists looking for something a little bit lighter than Durkheim, Foucault and Weber find Freakonomics a neat read.
  8. The Lucifer Effect (2007) by Philip Zimbardo: Psychologist Philip Zimbardo explores the highly complex sociological and psychological factors that send previously stable, good-hearted people over the edge and compel them to commit violent crimes.
  9. Guyland (2008) by Michael Kimmel: Adolescent boys in America grow up with some potentially damaging social norms regarding acceptable, arbitrarily “masculine” behavior foisted upon them. This controversial read explores the sociology behind some of these hazardous mindsets and what needs to be done to curb them.

Ethnic Studies

  1. Tally’s Corner (1967) by Elliott Liebow: This groundbreaking study of African-American poverty, ethnography and urbanism should be placed on the syllabi and personal reading lists of sociology students and professionals alike.
  2. Coming to America (1990) by Roger Daniels: Now in its second edition, Coming to America explores the unique experiences of immigrants fleeing to the United States in search of new opportunities — many of whom tragically never really find what they’re seeking.
  3. A Different Mirror (1993) by Ronald Tataki: History, sociology and anthropology lessons merge together through stories and perspectives shining light on the nation’s rich, multicultural heritage.
  4. Other People’s Children (1995) by Lisa Delpit: Learn about the myriad ways in which the public school system tends to marginalize minority and impoverished children based more on stereotypes rather than personal aptitude, and how these practices compromise their futures.
  5. Race Rules (1996) by Michael Eric Dyson: This essay collection explores the difficult but absolutely necessary questions behind racial divides in America, which persisted even into the succeeding millennium.
  6. The Earth Shall Weep (1998) by James Wilson: The grim reality of Native American history after the Europeans ravaged their culture and land provides ethnographers and ethnic studies students plenty to ponder.
  7. Asian American Dreams (2001) by Helen Zia: Part memoir, part journalistic inquiry, Asian American Dreams opens readers up to the marginalizing experiences of the eponymous demographic both in school and mainstream society.
  8. Harvest of Empire (2001) by Juan Gonzales: This history book delves deeply into the complex past, present and possible futures of the Latin American peoples, serving as an excellent introduction to this particular corner of ethnic studies.
  9. Unequal Childhoods (2003) by Annette Lareau: For examples of class and race divides still present in the United States, one need only look at the public school system. From there, these gulfs only widen and cause distress in the surrounding societies.
  10. “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” (2003) by Beverly Daniel Tatum: One psychologist dissects how younger generations form and come to terms with their racial identity, paying especially close attention to African-Americans receiving an education in predominantly Caucasian schools.

Women’s Studies

  1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecroft: One of the earliest feminist treatises ever written laid the groundwork for later movements — all it asked was that women enjoy perfectly equal social standing as men.
  2. The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir: Before the women’s movement gained considerable momentum in America, this French existentialist pointed out the marginalization and “otherness” oftentimes foisted upon females.
  3. The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan: In the book that almost single-handedly launched the Second Wave of the feminist movement, Betty Friedan explored the plight of American housewives and pleaded for social justice.
  4. The Female Eunuch (1970) by Germaine Greer: Though not everyone will necessarily agree with the fiery, radical takes on feminism by writers such as Germaine Greer and Angela Y. Davis, sociologists with a love of studying sociopolitical movements and subcultures will find them absolutely fascinating.
  5. Women Race & Class (1983) by Angela Y. Davis: This incredibly controversial activist offers up her take on the eponymous subjects, based on experiences gained during one of the nation’s most volatile eras.
  6. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) by bell hooks: bell hooks delivers an incredibly powerful message about how even movements meant to combat marginalization still end up kicking some members to the fringe.
  7. The Beauty Myth (1991) by Naomi Wolf: One of feminism’s core complaints revolves around the objectification and obsession with female beauty and body shape, which receives a thorough history and dissection here.
  8. ManifestA (2000) by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards: Young feminists looking to lead the next generation of empowered women — as well as sociologists studying them — will find plenty of useful information and inspiration between ManifestA‘s covers.
  9. Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005) by Ariel Levy: Explore one of the more nebulous corners of the women’s movement, where some ladies deliberately exploit their sexuality to impress men, yet still label such actions empowerment.
  10. The Purity Myth (2009) by Jessica Valenti: Savvy Jessica Valenti analyzes how social and media perceptions and stigmatizations of female sexuality actively hold back — if not outright endanger — young women.