Contexts

sociology for the public

Books

Sociological takes on recent news and research.

From The Music Man to Methland

Methland, a journalist’s portrait of what ails small-town Iowa reveals that rural problems are not so different from those of the big city. Meth in Iowa, reviewer Maria Kefalas says, is linked to larger issues of joblessness and downward mobility in middle America. Read More

The Moslems Are Here—Be Afraid!

Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West argues that Muslim immigrant resistance to assimilation poses a threat to European culture and politics. Reviewer Syed Ali criticizes this analysis as the book as over-simplified rhetoric lacking in counter-interpretations. Read More

Empire of the Games

Two books offer balanced ideas of how video games deliver messages about empire and militarism, but also allow space for resistance. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games, by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games, edited by Nina B. Huntemann and Matthew Thomas Payne. Read More

Carceral Nation

The dramatic expansion of prisons in the United States receives serious sociological investigation in two books that reflect on the decivilizing force of mass incarceration: Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration, edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, and The Prisoners’ World: Portraits of Convicts Caught in the Incarceration Binge, by William Tregea and Marjorie Larmour. Read More

Dissonance and Discovery

Brooke Harrington talks with economic sociologist David Stark about his new book, The Sense of Dissonance, and its reflection on his 30 years of ethnographic field work. Stark advocates the study of situations (rather than institutions) to learn how people understand their worlds and the issues that are most important to them. Read More

Saintly Mission or Sins of Commission?

Rodney Stark’s The Case for the Crusades argues that the Crusades were a justified defense against Muslim aggression, rather than purely brutal colonialism at work. Reviewer Evelyn Bush addresses this analysis and concludes that the book raises good questions that make it a good read. Read More

Pills and the Pursuit of Normalcy

Whether happiness or height, what constitutes normal has been increasingly defined in medical terms. Two books, Happy Pills in America and Normal At Any Cost, trace how pills such as Prozac and human growth hormone have reshaped our health and cultural definitions of pathology. Read More

Happiness and the Social Sciences

Happiness has long been a popular subject but increasingly social scientists are weighing in. The two books reviewed here---Happiness: A Revolution in Economics and The Psychology of Happiness: A Good Human Life ---broaden our collective understanding of this sought-after state of being. Read More

Rethinking German Genocide

One of the enduring questions following World War II is how so many ordinary German citizens could support or tolerate genocide. The books reviewed here shed light on how Germans have come to terms (or not) with this dark past. Read More

Intellectual Icons

Margaret Mead and Buckminster Fuller are two examples of intellectuals who had influence beyond the ivory tower. Recent books chronicling each icon's career demonstrate diverse means to achieving influence and renown in the public realm. Read More