A Social Science Holiday Book List 2010

The List 2010

A selection of new (and a few not so new) books that a student of the social sciences might want to have on her holiday list this year. Compiled from suggestions by Mills faculty, perusal of recent best of the year lists, and a few personal favorites.

Enjoy. And happy reading holidays.


The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris (Free Press 2010).

"Sam Harris heads the youth wing of the New Atheists. The End of Faith, his blistering take-no-­prisoners attack on the irrationality of religions, found him many fans and, not surprisingly, a great body of detractors. … His new book, The Moral Landscape, aims to meet head-on a claim he has often encountered when speaking out against religion: that the scientific worldview he favors has nothing to say on moral questions." Read the rest of Anthony Appiah's review in the NYT.

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely (Harper 2010, 27.99/18.47)

Reviewed last summer in NYT "What We Misunderstand" by Kyla Dunn (June 4, 2010): "The mind may be more Homer Simpson than Mr. Spock, Dan Ariely argues. And that’s O.K. …"

Read the announcment on Dan Ariely's blog.

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins (Free Press 2009, 8.99).

Reviewed in the Sunday Book Review October 11, 2009 by Nicholas Wadeunder the title "Evolution All Around":
"To biologists and others, it is a source of amazement and embarrassment that many Americans repudiate Darwin’s theory and that some even espouse counter­theories like creationism or intelligent design. How can such willful ignorance thrive in today’s seas of knowledge? In the hope of diminishing such obscurantism, the prolific English biology writer Richard Dawkins has devoted his latest book to demonstrating the explanatory power of evolutionary ideas while hammering the creationists at every turn."

Putnam, Robert & David Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. (Simon & Schuster 2010)

"In recent controversy over the national motto, In God we trust, Putnam and Campbell see a symptom of profound change in the national character. Using data drawn from two large surveys, the authors plumb these changes. The data show that the tempestuous sixties shook faith in religion and that the seventies and eighties incubated a strong resurgence of devotion. But the two most recent decades add another twist, as young Americans have abandoned the pews in record numbers. Still, despite recent erosion of religious commitment, Americans remain a distinctively devout people" (Amazon).

Tina Seelig, What I Wish I Knew When I Was Twenty: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World. Harper Collins 2009.

Jacket blurb: "Tina Seelig is one of the most creative and inspiring teachers at Stanford. Her book ought to be required reading." — Robert Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule.

Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nicholas Phillipson (Yale 2010, 32.50)

"How the man of feeling became the god of finance." (New Yorker)

Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory by Patrick Wilcken (Penguin 2010, 29.95)

"Antihumanist, polymath, and autodidact." (New Yorker)

The Thousand Autumns of Jacod de Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell (Random House 2010, $26)

"A formidable historical novel" (New Yorker).

"Mitchell’s historical novel about a young Dutchman in Edo-era Japan is an achingly romantic story of forbidden love and something of an adventurous rescue tale" (NYT).

Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet by Ian F. McNeely and Lisa Wolverton (Norton 2009, $25.95)

"Jumping through the computer screen" (NYRB)

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books 2009, $26 (paper coming 1/11).

A small book about a small but powerful idea: organizational (and individual) performance can be markedly improved with the mundane device called a "check list." Much of the case material is from medicine (millions of dollars and hundreds of lives saved by consistent following of five steps when doing central line insertions), but the book also takes you into the cockpit of jetliners. Hardback available for as low as $12 and the paperback comes out in January.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Random House 2007, $26).

This book is a few years old but I think it's better than the "sequel" that came out last year. The subtitle tells you what its about — lots of excellent, research based insights into how to make your ideas good ones. A short read with good idea-density. Cheaper than list on Amazon and as low as $10 used/paper. I was surprised by how much I learned (or had confirmed) by this book. — DJR

40: A Doonesbury Retrospectiveby by G.B. Trudeau (Andrews McMeel 2010, $100.00).

A review by Garry Wills in the November 25, 2010 NYRB : "Outstripping the News".

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. By Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House 2010, $30.)

"This consummate account of the exodus of blacks from the South between 1915 and 1970 explores parallels with earlier European immigration" (NYT).

On some "top 5" lists for 2010.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (Crown 2010, $26.)

"Skloot untangles the ethical issues in the case of a woman who unknowingly donated cancer cells that have been the basis for a vast amount of research" (NYT).

The moral conundrums posed by wikileaks might make this book about bad acts for good causes a timely read. AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE. By David Goodwillie. (Scribner, $25.) "A bombing unites a blogger and a beautiful eco-terrorist in this literary thriller, an exploration of what motivates radicalism in an age of disillusion" (NYT).

James T. Fisher, On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York. (Cornell U. Press, 2010)

"For anyone who has ever been moved by Marlon Brando delivering the immortal line, 'I coulda been a contender,' this book is a must. Through state-of-the-art research, James T. Fisher recreates the tough, corrupt universe of the waterfront, a huge commercial and criminal bounty where careers were built, noses broken, dissenters murdered, riches gained and lostand it all became the basis for one of the most cherished American movies of all time. On the Irish Waterfront is a major act of historical restoration and a fascinating yarn told by a skilled literary maestro." T. J. English, New York Times bestselling author of Paddy Whacked, The Westies, and Havana Nocturne.

William Issel, For Both Cross and Flag: Catholic Action, Anti-Catholicism, and National Security Politics in World War II San Francisco (Temple U. Press, 2010).

"Issel's splendid book… is a sad and tragic tale…. [that] illustrates the wisdom of the Greek tragedian Aeschylus, who said, 'In war the first casualty is truth.'"
—Charles Fracchia, The Institute for Historical Study Newsletter

Issel recounts the civil right abuses suffered by Sylvester Andriano, an Italian American Catholic civil leader whose religious and political activism in San Francisco provoked an Anti-Catholic campaign against him. … Issel presents a cast of characters that includes archbishops, radicals, the Kremlin, J. Edgar Hoover, and more to examine the significant role faith-based political activism played in the political culture that violated Andriano's constitutional rights. … interesting implications for contemporary events and issues relating to urban politics, ethnic groups, and religion in a time of war" (Amazon).
Kindle edition: http://www.amazon.com/Both-Cross-Flag-Anti-Catholicism-ebook/dp/B0030EH8K8

A New Human by Morwood and Van Oosterzee (Left Coast, 2009)

"In October 2004, a team of Australian and Indonesian anthropologists led by Mike Morwood and Raden Pandji Soejono stunned the world with their announcement of the discovery of the first example of a new species of human, Homo floresiensis, which they nicknamed the "Hobbit." This was no creation of Tolkien's fantasy, however, but a tool-using, fire-making, cooperatively hunting person. The more Morwood and his colleagues revealed about the find, the more astonishing it became: standing only three feet tall with brains a little larger than a can of cola, the Hobbits forced anthropologists and everyone to reconsider what it means to be human." (Amazon)

The Hobbit Trap: How New Species Are Invented by Maciej Henneberg, Robert B Eckhardt, John Schofield, and Phillip Vallentine Tobias (Left Coast, 2010)

"When scientists found the remains of a tiny hominid on an Indonesian in 2004, they claimed they found a totally new species of human ancestor (homo floresiensis), and called it a Hobbit. Film crews rolled in and the little creature took the world by storm, but a group of prominent scientists, including Maciej Henneberg and Robert Eckhardt, smelled a rat" ( Amazon).

The Bone Readers: Science and Politics in Human Origins Research by Claudio Tuniz, Richard Gillespie, and Cheryl Jones (Left Coast)

Deals with the political and academic fights over human origins research more generally. Just won a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Book Award.

“This excellent book not only clearly presents the science behind research on human origins, but also the personalities and the politics.” –Professor Chris Stringer FRS, The Natural History Museum, London

Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America by Jonathan Rauch (Holt Paperbacks 2004)

"Marriage, when it's right (and usually when it's wrong), is a subject that stirs strong feelings. Gay marriage inspires its own set of passions, with opponents decrying it as a step that will undermine the very fabric of society while supporters posit it as an inevitable next stage in step-by-step acceptance of homosexuality by mainstream America. Appearing as the issue heats ups following President George W. Bush's call for a constitutional amendment that would block the gathering tide of gay nuptials, this polemic by Atlantic Monthly/National Journal writer Jonathan Rauch deftly walks a fine line, both personalizing the subject (Rauch is a gay man with a longtime lover and a lifelong wistful attitude about marriage) and addressing it with an intellectual poise informed by historical and philosophical perspectives" (Amazon).

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