Michèle Lamont is a professor at Harvard University and an extremely influential sociologist. Much of her work has looked at class boundaries, and how different people from different class backgrounds think. It is one of the most important topics for our divided society today. Yet it's not widely understood, mostly because not enough people read Professor Lamont's books.
As we discuss in our conversation on Cognitive Revolution, Michèle made her name with a book called "Money, Morals, and Manners." One of the things that is supremely interesting about her trajectory as a thinker was that she built out a platform of ideas based on those three topics that her first book explored. In this reading list, she named a few of the thinkers who most strongly influenced her on this topics as a young scholars -- thinking about these perennial topics in the deepest possible way. Then I pick a selection of books in this space of ideas that I find really compelling and -- hey, what do you know? -- they all happen to be by Professor Lamont.
"Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste" by Pierre Bourdieu
A lot of Michèle's early work began as a critique of Bourdieu, who become one an extremely influential sociologists. This book is his most well-known, voted by the International Sociological Society as one of the 10 most important works of the 20th century. In it, Bourdieu explores the idea of cultural capital and how those who have it influences the tastes that we share as a society.
"La Comédie humaine" by Honoré de Balzac
Michèle described Balzac as one of the "writers who provide us with a full description of human life in all of its complexity. The psychological aspect, the human drama was very, very central to what I was reading when I was grow up." La Comédie is generally considered his magnum opus.
"History and Class Consciousness" by György Lukács
Lukács was a Hungarian historian and literary critic. While Michèle warns that he is "not an easy author," going through his work for her was well worth it. It was extremely influential in bringing Marxist philosophy to the west.
"Das Kapital" by Karl Marx
There is perhaps no book that has more influenced the way we think about economics, history, morality, and the mechanisms by which society turns. Michèle's work is in important, in part, because it touches on many of the themes laid out by Marx in a way that usefully extends them for the world we live in today. The "money" in Money, Morals, and Manners is an obvious example, and her exploration of morality and the working class is a truly unique and value addition to this line of thought pioneered by Marx.
"Money, Morals, and Manners" by Michèle Lamont
This was Professor Lamont's first work, which laid the groundwork for her future ideas. It was written in direct dissent of Bourdieu, and Michèle's argument that he had insufficiently valued the role morality plays in society.
"The Dignity of Working Men" by Michèle Lamont
This is one of my favorite academic books of all time. It is both an insightful exploration of the beliefs and values of working class men, as well as a brilliant analysis of the factors and trends that drive those beliefs. It's required reading in our current society divided along class boundaries.
"How to Professors Think" by Michèle Lamont
Academics makes up their own -- exceedingly strange -- sort of class. This book gives an inside look into how the society of professors works, especially in contrast to how it's supposed to work. A fascinating work for anyone trying to get a job at a university, or hoping that someone with a university job might be able to train them for their future career!
"Getting Respect" by Michèle Lamont et al
This book is about one of the fundamental topics of society: respect, and how we go about earning it from those around us. It is a hugely valuable look, coauthored by six different professors, on racist across group boundaries in the US, Brazil, and Israel.