10 Best Sociology Books for Beginners – Must Read

Many sociologists and social thinkers studied society from a sociological point of view, and we could read about it in the books they have written. Here is a list of 10 sociology books that students must read

1. Das Kapital

Das Kapital or Capital is a famous book by the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx, who wrote about the nature of capitalism in the economy and how the capitalist economy work. Marx wrote about the exploitative nature of capitalism, where the capitalist class or the bourgeoisie exploited the working class or the proletariat for the creation of surplus value to gain  profit. The continuous exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie deprived them of their basic needs. Because of  such exploitation, class consciousness grew among the proletariat, and their class solidarity crystallized. This class solidarity intensified the class conflict between them.  Marx in this book, shows his desire for a revolution so that all forms of exploitation get eliminated and dreams of a classless society where, after the victory of the proletariat, a classless society will be established and private property will cease to exist. This book is recommended for sociology students to understand the history of society as well as the impact of social relations on the economy and vice versa. Moreover, this book sees an overlap of society, economy, and history, which proves the fact that society can’t be studied in isolation but rather that there are a myriad of aspects that come along with the study of society.

2. The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism

The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism written by Max Weber is undoubtedly the most influential book of all time. This book is important to read if we want to understand Weber’s idea of religion. In this book, Weber tried to find the answer to the question of how religious ideas influence economic actions. Weber found that the religious beliefs of Protestantism had the potential to infuse the spirit of capitalism, and he elaborated in detail on how the beliefs of Protestantism led to the growth of the economy.  This book is essential reading for both Economic Sociology and Sociology of Religion.

3. The Division of Labour in Society

The Division Of Labour in Society is one of the major contributions to sociology by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, published in 1893.  Durkheim tried to explain the notion of solidarity in this book through the division of labour. Durkheim traced the evolution of the pattern of solidarity from pre-industrial times, when society was cohesive and people were bound together by social norms and sentiments, to modern times, when social structures became incoherent. Durkheim mentioned how earlier societies were based on sameness or resemblance and characterized by mechanical solidarity on the basis of collective consciousness. Durkheim believed that because of rapid population growth, people take on specialized roles, and society operates on the interdependence of people. He called this type of solidarity “organic solidarity,” referring to a lack of collective consciousness. Durkheim warned that division of labour if carried to the extreme, can lead to chaos or normlessness that he termed “anomie.” Durkheim explained this theory in great detail in his book, which is one of the important sociological theories that sociology students should read because the society we live in still draws relevance from Durkheim’s theory.

4. The Sociology of Economic Life

This book written by Neil J Smelser is recommended for Economic Sociology. The author deal with the economic aspect of society in this book and describes how society plays a crucial role in economic activities. However, the book doesn’t completely lean on economics but explains the interconnection of economic and non-economic aspects and how they influence each other. Smelser also used classical sociologists’ theories to explain the foundation of economic sociology and to carry his explanation of economic sociology through the changes that society has been undergoing and how they have influenced the economy. The book is written in a simplistic way, and reading this book will provide an idea that although social and economic are two separate aspects, they both influence each other.

5. The Social System

The Social System is a book written by Talcott Parsons from a structural functionalist point of view where he called a system to be a collection of interrelated parts of the society. He takes social actions into account while describing social system. Parsons maintained that for a smooth functioning of society, each and every unit or part of the system should be interdependent. The social system is maintained through roles, status, sentiments, bonds, faith, norms, power, and sanctions. This book is recommended to understand the structural functionalist school of thought and study the execution of social processes.

6. Mind , Self And Society

Written by George Herbert Mead, this book is a very good representation of social behaviourism. Mead gives a detailed understanding of the notions of ‘self’ and ‘others’ in this book. Mead explains what role the society plays in developing the ‘self’ of an individual. Mead describes how an individual becomes aware of his ‘self’ when he plays the role of others and views himself in an objective way through the eyes of the ‘others’. Mead prioritized society, or the social, and believed that it is society that fosters self-consciousness. This book is recommended to understand the symbolic interactionism school of thought.

7. The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life

Authored by Erving Goffman, this book is a marvelous explanation of how human beings behave in a social setting. Goffman explained human behaviour in society by metaphorically making use of theatrical performance. This theory is named dramaturgy and explains how individuals, when interacting with someone, try to show their best selves by engaging in impression management just like actors on stage. Social performance is very necessary for a person to save oneself from public embarrassment. Goffman also mentioned something called ‘back region’ where individuals need not impress anyone and can be their own selves and prepare for subsequent social interactions. In this book, Goffman sees a resemblance between life and a drama where individuals play their roles as per expectations. This is a landmark book in social psychology or in understanding human behavior, and this book is a very interesting read for people to analyze how individuals prepare themselves to confront society.

8. The Social Construction Of Reality

Social Construction Of Reality book authored in 1966 by Peter L Berger and Thomas Luckman  is one of the most important books for students of sociology. This book explains how the realities of everyday life are socially constructed, which means society does not have one concrete reality but it can be perceived in multiple ways. The authors of this book drew inspiration from phenomenology, as the book describes how we understand society when we interact with it or how our perception of society depends upon our socialization. Such an understanding of society differentiates a person trained in sociology from a layman and helps them better understand the dynamics of society and its perception. This book is a must-read for students of sociology.

9. The Elementary Structures Of Kinship

Kinship is a universal social institution, and it is a complex system to be understood, but Claude Levi Strauss attempted to explain this institution of kinship with this book, ‘ The Elementary Structures Of Kinship ‘ published in 1949. He began with the foundation of the kinship system which he theorized to be based on a process of exchange under the conditions of reciprocity and incest taboo.  Strauss mentioned that reciprocity would bring mutual obligations between two groups of people and observed how many primitive societies exchanged women for their unique ability to reproduce to solve the problem of incest. Strauss also mentioned the shift of humankind from a state of ‘nature’ to ‘culture’ when  they practiced reciprocity and declared incest as a taboo. Levi Strauss supported his observation with ethnographic evidence and developed numerous kinship theories. Kinship Studies looks at the kinship system through these theories and ethnographic accounts, and students of sociology are recommended to go through this book to grasp the idea of kinship.

10. Kinship And Marriage : An Anthropological Perspective

This book, written by Robin Fox, is a rich piece of work that has made kinship studies easy to understand. With concepts like descent and lineage, Fox explained the kinship system and marriage alliances in great detail by establishing the universal premises on which kinship relations are based. This book is highly recommended to students of sociology who want to know about kinship, and it is a classic in kinship studies.

Also Read these sociology books too! 

  1. A Dictionary of Sociology (very useful)
  2. The Sociology Book (Big Ideas) 
  4. Sociology by Anthony Gidden
  5. Sociological Theory
  6. The Sociological Imagination
  7. Essential Sociology –
  8. Introducing Sociology: A Graphic Guide. ( very useful for conceptual clarity)
  9. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge
  10. On Suicide (Penguin Classics)