Top 10 Must-Read Books for Sociology Students

Just as a History student must read Plutarch and a Literature student must read Tolstoy, so too are there must-reads for Sociology students. While sociology — that is, the study of social behavior or society — is by nature constantly changing, there have been some works that have proven timeless. To this day, those seminal works continue to inspire and influence the writers and researchers making modern sociological advancements.

The books on this list are ten of those must-read books for Sociology students. They were chosen based on a variety of factors, most notable of which include their overall influence on their field, sales and readers reviews, awards, and general recognizability.

1. The Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills

Sociology students will know that most modern sociology connects the social, personal, and historical dimensions of our everyday lives as humans. But believe it or not, this seemingly obvious process wasn’t considered obvious until C. Wright Mills published his classic The Sociological Imagination. Hailed upon publication as “cogent,” The Sociological Imagination was a “hard-biting critique” of the ascendant schools of sociology in the United States. While most of what Mills called for has become the standard, The Sociological Imagination remains an important read for its groundbreaking vision of a world where the apparently private problems of the individual link to important social issues. In other words, Mills’ writings serve as a good reminder about why it is sociologists do what they do.

2. On Suicide: A Study in Sociology

Emile Durkheim

Suicide is hardly a new phenomenon, though few people understood it back in 1897, when Emile Durkheim published On Suicide: A Study in Sociology. One of the most influential sociologists in history, Durkheim’s argument that suicide primarily results from a lack of integration of the individual into society went a long way in changing the public’s views of this formerly taboo topic. Durkheim’s well-written and often sympathetic explanation of suicide’s psychological impact on the victim, family, and society is shockingly timeless, making it an important and worthwhile read for any modern day sociology student.

3. Rules of Sociological Method

Emile Durkheim

Rules of Sociological Method, another seminal work by Emile Durkheim, discusses the nature and scope of sociology at a time when it was still a relatively new discipline. The book is really a collection of letters, arguments, and commentaries written by Durkheim to confront his critics, clarify his own position, and defend the objective scientific method he applied to his study of humans. The result forms an important groundwork for studying sociology from Durkheim’s time to the modern day. Many of Durkheim’s ideas are still being debated by scholars today, making Rules of Sociological Method a timeless read for any budding sociologist.

4. The Portable Jung

Carl Jung

Necessary to sociology is psychology, and few people have had more influence on psychology than Carl Jung. While any of Jung’s many writings could have been included on this list, sociology students will love that his most famous works can all be read in The Portable Jung. This massive book is a compendium of Jung’s most important teachings on psychology, psychoanalysis, and the then budding discipline of sociology. A wonderfully useful primer, The Portable Jung includes pieces on the unconscious, spirituality and creativity, and the influential essay “On Synchronicity.”

5. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

Eric Hoffer

Published in 1951, shortly after the atrocities of World War II had started to become clear, The True Believer breaks down the European populations during the 1930s and 1940s in order to explain the ways in which an individual becomes a fanatic, and how this fanaticism drives the dynamics of mass movements. Written by Eric Hoffer, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for psychology, The True Beliver has been called “a genuine contribution to our social thought” and “one of the most provocative books of our immediate day.” As history is always destined to repeat itself, Hoffer’s The True Believer remains an important read that a sociology student may perhaps find alarmingly timeless.

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

Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point may be newer than the other books on this list, but this massive bestseller became an instant classic upon its release. In it, author Malcolm Gladwell weaves a fascinating commentary about that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads throughout the world. Just as a single sneeze can cause a cold epidemic, this “tipping point” can set off a new fashion trend, the popularity of a product, or a drop in the crime rate. Sociology students reading The Tipping Point are bound to love the ways in which they can personally relate, as Gladwell discusses such modern phenomena as Sesame Street, current smoking trends, e-mail, and New York City around the Millennium.

7. The Freud Reader

Sigmund Freud and Peter Gay (editor)

Thanks to editor Peter Gay, one of the foremost scholars on Freud and his work, sociology students can access in one volume the fifty-one most influential texts by Sigmund Freud, one of the most important names in social science. Topics included range from dreams, to sexuality, to the theory of the mind, and the basic techniques of psychoanalysis. Gay’s Freud Reader is the only English translation for which Freud gave approval, so English-speaking sociology students can be sure they are getting the most accurate and noteworthy writings by Freud.

8. On Individuality and Social Forms

Georg Simmel

Considered to be one of the founding fathers of sociology as a scientific discipline, Georg Simmel is a must-read because his early writings have helped to establish what it means to be a sociologist. On Individuality and Social Forms, his most famous work, offers sociology students unique commentary on contemporary sociology as social distance, marginality, urbanism as a way of life, role-playing, social behavior as exchange, conflict as an integrating process, dyadic encounter, circular interaction, reference groups as perspectives, and sociological ambivalence — in short, Simmel’s writings offer an early look at just about every major aspect of sociology.

9. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology

Max Weber

Called “the greatest sociological treatise written in this century,” Max Weber’s Economy and Society has become a fundamental part of the modern sociological movement. First published in Germany in the early 1920s, Economy and Society compared social structures and normative orders in light of various world history events. Weber’s definitions are precise, while the wealth of information he provides can make for a challenging, but worthwhile, read. Included are Weber’s now-famous treaties on social action, religion, law, bureaucracy, charisma, the city, status and power, and the community with its class systems.

10. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

Pierre Bourdieu

Published in 1979 by Pierre Bourdieu, France’s leading sociologist, Distinction remains a timely look at the situation of the middle class in the modern world, specifically when it comes to taste. At once an ethnography of modern France and a dissection of the bourgeois mind, Distinction surveys a French person’s choice of clothing, furniture, pastimes, dinner choices, and various other day-to-day choices in order to analyze the idea of choice. The result is a fascinating commentary about how social meaning can stem from seemingly mundane decisions. Despite its age, and despite being thoroughly French, Distinction has been one of the foremost contributors to current debates on the theory of culture and is therefore a must-read for any student of Sociology.

For more great books about Sociology, many of which were directly inspired by the ten books here, head over to to read about 30 Great Books About Sociology and Social Sciences.