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Best Sociology Books
(Updated 2023)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
Last update: November 27, 2023

In this article you will find short reviews and recommendations of some books on sociology and social psychology that are very worth reading.

Likewise, as a contrast to reference books, I can recommend you some interesting history books.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell

by Malcolm Gladwell

Link to the book at Amazon

Why do some ideas and trends – whether in fashion, technology, or social behavior – catch on and others do not? Why do some books become bestsellers while others remain slow sellers? What is the secret of Sesame Street's success?

Malcolm Gladwell gets to the bottom of these questions and describes the phenomenon of the so-called "tipping point" – the point at which behavioral changes of a few people spill over to a critical mass ... and can change the world.

The trigger for the tipping point is usually the interaction of a few but well-connected people, a sticky message, and the right environment and timing.

I have to criticize that many of the author's arguments are primarily based on observations and are hardly scientifically substantiated, such as the reasons for lower crime rates.

Nevertheless, the book is interesting, entertaining, and well worth reading.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

Blink Malcolm Gladwell

by Malcolm Gladwell

Link to the book at Amazon

Blink is about intuition – about how we trust our gut and make split-second decisions without being aware or able to explain how and why we made them.

How reliable are intuitive decisions compared to those we make consciously and deliberately – based on careful collection and analysis of data and conclusions drawn from it?

According to best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, extremely reliable. And he provides a convincing explanation and numerous entertaining examples.

There is, for example, the art expert who recognizes at first glance that a sculpture costing millions of dollars and scientifically examined is a fake. The firefighter who suddenly orders his crew out of a house seconds before it collapses. And the marriage counselor who needs to observe a couple for only a few minutes to accurately predict how long their marriage will last.

All of these people cannot explain their actions. According to Gladwell, however, this is by no means because they have not processed information. They merely did so unconsciously.

Decades of experience are stored widely in their brains and are processed unconsciously almost instantaneously. Thus, the brain arrives at the same – or an even better – result in seconds than after hours or days of conscious deliberation.

But caution is advised. The subconscious can also be deceived. Warren G. Harding, for example, was elected U.S. president primarily because of his statesmanlike appearance – and turned out to be one of the worst presidents in American history.

Another example is "racial bias": Many people tend to assign negative terms to black people and positive terms to white people. Depending on cultural conditioning, even black people are subject to this bias.

The book is easy to read and highly entertaining, thanks to the many compelling stories. It makes you aware of unconscious choices and makes you think about when to trust your intuitions and when not to.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers - MAlcolm Gladwell

by Malcolm Gladwell

Link to the book at Amazon

Countless books have been written about why some people are successful, and others are not. The answers always go the same direction: talent, intelligence, diligence, passion, perseverance.

All of these points are important; there's no question about that. But one topic is almost always left out – and that is exactly what this book is about: chance!

Malcolm Gladwell shows (as always) with numerous entertaining stories supported by studies, which fortunate circumstances paved the (career) path for successful people.

For example, professional athletes born in January, February, and March: Within their cohort, they have physical advantages over younger players. These advantages don't equalize throughout their careers but grow stronger and stronger through a feedback loop of success and encouragement.

There are Asian students who are a year ahead of their European counterparts in math simply because Asian languages pronounce numbers in a way that makes them easier to calculate with.

There's Bill Gates, who was at the right school at the right time – namely, one of the few that had a computer at the time and allowed him regular access to it.

Of course, not these external factors alone make for success. To be successful, you also have to seize the opportunities that come your way. And that's where diligence, passion, and perseverance (also known as "grit") come into play again.

This Gladwell bestseller is again a very entertaining and enjoyable read and allows us to look at the success of outliers from a different angle.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

David and Goliath - Malcolm Gladwell

by Malcolm Gladwell

Link to the book at Amazon

Using numerous David-versus-Goliath stories, Gladwell's book of the same title shows how underdogs can prevail against seemingly superior opponents by turning supposed disadvantages into advantages – and, conversely, how supposed advantages become disadvantages at a certain point.

The stories of underdogs come from a wide variety of backgrounds: dyslexics who compensate for their reading deficiencies with an excellent memory; basketball teams that make up for their physical inferiority with unconventional strategies; civil rights activists who, rather than being intimidated by failed assassination attempts, have their aspirations strengthened; people who have survived wars and other tragedies.

They all have in common that they use seemingly hopeless situations against all odds to develop unconventional strategies and alternative skills, especially resilience, risk-taking, and tenacity, which later become the foundations of their success.

On the other side are the supposed winners: children of rich parents, students in ever-smaller classes, and students at elite universities.

Gladwell describes how the "law of the inverted parabola" applies in all these areas, i.e., that the advantages of certain traits increase up to a certain point but then tilt away.

For example, extreme wealth makes it difficult to instill values such as diligence, ambition, and self-reliance in the next generation. School classes that are too small lack diversity and dynamism. And students at mediocre schools are shown to have a higher chance of success than those at elite universities such as Harvard.

Gladwell has once again written an entertaining, exciting, instructive, and highly recommended book. He shows us that we are not helpless to our weaknesses and should never overestimate our strengths, as reality is often much more complex than we think.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes! And, like all Gladwell audiobooks, the author reads it himself.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

Talking to Strangers - Malcolm Gladwell

by Malcolm Gladwell

Link to the book at Amazon

In "Talking to Strangers", Malcolm Gladwell explores why communication with strangers often leads to misunderstandings.

He tells stories of traffic stops that end in suicide, of false suspicions in murder cases, of asset managers who cheat investors out of billions, and of successful deceptions in the world of intelligence agencies.

People usually assume that they can make a sound judgment about their counterparts in a face-to-face encounter. That's why we meet babysitters and job applicants in person before we hire them. And why judges have defendants appear in person to decide bail applications.

However, numerous studies show that decisions based on facts are often better than those based on face-to-face encounters.

For example, our ability to detect lies is remarkably poor. Our society is based on honest interaction, and therefore, we usually assume that our counterpart is telling the truth ("default to truth" theory). Consequently, it can take years or decades for spies to be unmasked or fraud and abuse cases to be uncovered.

Like any Gladwell book, "Talking to Strangers" combines scientific findings and well-researched, richly detailed interwoven stories, making it a delightful read.

It helps us understand why misunderstandings happen all the time. We can accept our limitations, not blame strangers for unintentional misunderstandings, and show understanding for our fellow human beings when they have been duped into "default-to-truth" mode by malicious strangers.

The German title, by the way, is not a particularly good translation. Gladwell alerts readers to a problem - he doesn't have a solution to it. The English title "Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know" is much more appropriate.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, very: Like all Gladwell books, it is read aloud by the author himself. Interviews are included in the original audio rather than being read by the author.

Nudge: The Final Edition

nudge the final edition richard thaler cass sunstein

by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

Link to the book at Amazon

People often make decisions to their disadvantage - whether through laziness, bias, lack of knowledge, or other reasons. People do little sports, eat unhealthy food and destroy the environment.

To make better decisions, a little "nudge" in the right direction is often enough. For example, the food arrangement in a canteen significantly influences whether diners are more likely to reach for the salad or the french fries.

A form of society in which such nudges come from the state is what the authors call "libertarian paternalism." By intelligently presenting options, the state ensures that people make sensible choices for themselves and society without restricting citizens' freedom of choice.

The authors discuss the pros and cons of "libertarian paternalism" using numerous illustrative examples from education, the environment, retirement planning, finance, insurance, and health - and ethical issues are also addressed, such as opt-in vs. opt-out rules for organ donation (a surprisingly complex topic).

The book is highly interesting, entertaining, and very easy to read - a recommendation for those who want to impact others positively and those who want to see the world with slightly more open eyes and recognize "nudges" in their environment.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.