Political Science

5 Great Books on Political Science - Selected by Choice Reviewer James A. Stever

Anxious to prepare themselves for careers in political science, my graduate students would regularly ask me to recommend books that defined the boundaries of the discipline. It was an awesome burden: i.e., to tell them what books exemplified great political science versus substandard garbage. As a rule, I routinely recommended books with great theory and philosophy, books that I had relied on not only in graduate school, but throughout my career, and that helped me form patterns of thought that sustained me. If the graduate students could master the principles, they could work out the details for themselves. They never knew that my book recommendations were also a key indicator of their success. The intellectually tenacious, curious students always returned seeking further discussion and clarification. Some had the temerity to ask why I chose certain books and rejected others. Those who took the list and never came back usually did not make it.

Essays in Radical Empiricism, by William James. Longmans, Green 1912. This great Harvard philosopher had advice relevant to political science. Study human experience. Let subsequent, ongoing empirical investigation settle ideological disputes.

Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, by Erving Goffman. Harvard, 1974. Goffman understood that all human action occurs within a preexisting framework. Individuals mold their behavior to fit the dictates of the frame. Hence, human behavior varies from the framework governing religious ritual versus the framework that governs behavior during a political campaign.

Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, by Karl Mannheim. Harcourt, 1936. Mannheim’s message to political science is that the ideas that fuel political action are either forward looking (utopian) or conversely, backward looking (ideological). This thing that we call “reality” is constantly being influenced by conflicts between those pursuing a utopia versus those who cling to a preexisting ideology.

The Intellectual Crisis in American Public Administration, by Vincent Ostrom. 3rd ed. University of Alabama Press, 2008. This book is not just about public administration. It outlines the tensions created in American politics and government by the protracted struggles between Progressives and Constitutional Conservatives.

The Nature and Limits of Authority, by Richard T. DeGeorge. University Press of Kansas, 1985. This book addresses an enduring question for political scientists: why do people obey and conform? DeGeorge clearly elaborates the various types of authority to which people routinely submit: e.g., charismatic, executive, and the authority of experts. I recommend this book out of kindness. Max Weber makes the same point in more elaborate fashion in Economy and Society. But that book is 1,500 pages.

About the author:

James A. Stever james.stever@uc.edu is Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of Cincinnati.