The purpose of this blog is to provide a collection of key works of political science. It’s not meant for the experienced academic. I cannot pretend to offer advice for those who already have their doctorate in political science. But for those just getting started there are not many places to discover the key works that have defined the study of politics. A typical list of political works focuses on popular books that are easily accessible. The truth is the most important books are not easily accessible for the rest of us.
The other weekend I was at a party where I mentioned my family reads quite a bit. Somebody asked me what I was reading. I explained I was almost finished with Sheri Berman’s Dictatorship and Democracy in Europe. I was very excited about this book because I had read a few articles from her previously in the Journal of Democracy. Her article “The Pipedream of Undemocratic Liberalism” truly captured my imagination. Surprisingly, the group was not bored as I went through some of her ideas and how they are relevant to how we think about democracy.
One of the guys mentioned he’d like to read the book. It sounded quite interesting. Unfortunately, the book was not available at our local library. In fact, my copy came from some library in Illinois thanks to our Interlibrary Loan program. That’s when I was asked, “How do you find these books?”
I cannot pretend I am an academic. I have a Master’s but it is an MBA. My formal coursework in political science ended with my Bachelor’s Degree back at Truman State University. Yes. I also went to a State University. So, I’m not someone you’d expect to take the time to read dense works from professors who died when I was in High School.
But I recognize it is a challenge to discover the right books. Politics is a genre full of junk. My blog will focus on the key works that represent the classics of politic thought alongside the newest titles that have caught my attention. It is not meant to represent a definitive collection. Nor is it meant to represent a ranking. It is simply designed to help new students or the casual reader to find books relevant to their own personal studies.
I have a lot of responsibilities so I cannot read as much as I wish. My wife and I both work full-time. We have two young children and share in the childcare responsibilities. So, I rely quite a bit on audiobooks. Thankfully, Audible offers a wide range of political science works from Fukuyama, Huntington and Dahl along with many recent titles. Librivox offers free public domain works. This is a great resource for classics of political philosophy. My goal is to make these titles easier to find for aspiring political scientists in the hope that an increase in demand will lead to an increase in supply.
I do not intend to keep a complete reading diary. My focus is simply on books relevant to political science. I will include classic works of political theory from writers like Locke and Rousseau, but I am not planning to include popular works from Malcolm Gladwell or any novels that belong to The Song of Ice and Fire series. Nor do I plan to include articles. Too often an article is based on a large research project. A large project that leads to a book. Or the article is written upon completion of a book. Or after many similar articles an academic finally begins a book.
I do not mean to diminish the role of journal articles in academic research. Look over the footnotes and you’ll find articles outnumber books. They allow writers to examine a wide variety of viewpoints. Books require a major commitment. It’s best to find a balance between a few journals relevant to your academic interests while taking the time to read books to learn about some topics in greater depth. But it’s helpful to realize the ideas found in many classic articles were long ago expanded into books. For example, Seymour Martin Lipset is most often cited for an article called, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” It’s an article from 1959 from The American Political Science Review. But the article was included as a chapter later that year in his best-known work Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. My point is academics will often rely on the article rather than the book. There is nothing wrong with reading an article even if it is simply a condensed version of a book. But for those who have the time or interest, it’s worth the time to read the entire book.
The posts are designed to give my thoughts on books relevant to political science scholarship. They are not meant to be a synopsis nor a critique of the work. Rather my goal is to explain their relevance and importance to help people decide which works they will read for their own research. I will include links to Audible or Librivox where applicable. My hope is some future political science scholars will find it more accessible to find relevant sources for papers. Sources that will not just impress their professors but provide real insights to develop their own ideas.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
jmk, carmel, indiana