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Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $45.00
  • February 2015
  • ISBN: 978-0-393-93885-2
  • 592 pages
  • Territory Rights: Worldwide

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  1. Sociology

American Society

How It Really Works

Second Edition


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Erik Olin Wright (Author, University of Wisconsin, Madison), Joel Rogers (Author, University of Wisconsin, Madison)


The definitive critical introduction to American society.

In American Society: How It Really Works, Erik Olin Wright and Joel Rogers ask several key questions: What kind of society is America? How does it really work and why is it the way it is? In what ways does it need changing, and how can those changes be brought about? To answer these questions, Wright and Rogers identify five core social values that most Americans affirm in one way or another: freedom, prosperity, efficiency, fairness, and democracy. The authors then challenge readers to question to what degree contemporary American society actually lives up to these values and suggest how we might make progress in solving some of the social problems that confront America today.


Endorsements & Reviews

American Society: How It Really Works is sociology at its best, theoretically grounded, empirically based, and tightly argued. Wright and Rogers provide a unique introduction to the sociological perspective by focusing on four core American social values—efficiency, freedom, fairness, and democracy—and show the ways that American society does not measure up to its potential, give sociological reasons why this is the case, and use the sociological imagination to suggest possible futures for a more just and equitable society. The perfect book not only to introduce students to sociological analysis, but to engage them in the major issues of our time.” — Rhonda F. Levine, Colgate University

“There can be no better introduction to American society than one written by these two brilliant commentators.” — Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley

“I used Wright and Rogers’s American Society for an introductory sociology course. The text provided an accessible entrance into the fundamentals of sociological analysis, from economic principles and social inequality to mass consumption to participatory democracy. The work is clearly theoretically informed, but the most impressive contribution lies in the wealth of empirical studies, statistics, tables, and figures provided throughout the text. My students were particularly drawn to the empirical evidence and the consistent reference to contemporary debates about social issues, such as health care and campaign financing. The authors’ suggestions for ways to reduce social inequality ignited class discussions about the limits and potential of social change at the personal and structural level. I would recommend this text for any introductory sociology course focused on alternative understandings of social inequality in American society.” — Robyn Autry, Wesleyan University

“Imagine a book about American social dynamics written by a pair of public intellectuals who are also eminent academics, aimed at beginners. Imagine a book that gives equal weight to facts and ideas, treating each with lucidity and grace. This is that book.” — David Smith, University of Kansas

Provocative, critical analysis of America’s social institutions

The Second Edition offers a critical introduction to American society grounded in theory and empirical data. Wright and Rogers focus on core American social values—freedom, prosperity, efficiency, fairness, and democracy—then discuss the ways that American society does not measure up to its potential, give sociological reasons why this is the case, and use the sociological imagination to suggest possible futures for a more just and equitable society. The text is divided into three parts: capitalism, inequality, and democracy. Within each of these sections, short chapters address topics such as health care, the environment, militarism and empire, corporate control of the media, labor unions, and finance. 

Up-to-date coverage of the major issues of our time

A new chapter on finance discusses the 2008 financial crisis, the pathologies of a market-based finance system when regulations are primarily geared to the interests of wealthy investors and financiers, and the challenges inherent in making finance more consistent with the core values explored throughout the book, especially democracy and fairness. New material on climate change illustrates social processes that bear on the environment: collective action failures, negative externalities, “not in my backyard” movements, hyperconsumerism, and concentrations of power, as well as the social and political forces behind climate change denial. The health care chapter has been updated with a discussion of the Affordable Care Act that explores the problems the ACA is trying to solve and also the ways in which it still relies heavily on a market-driven view of how health care should be provided. 

Blends sociological analysis with practical strategies for reform

This text is the product of a decades-long friendship and the shared values and concerns that animate it. Wright and Rogers jointly created a course on contemporary American society that remains one of the most popular undergraduate sociology classes to date and, since no other book covers the content that they teach in their course, they developed American Society: How It Really Works. The book reflects their different academic backgrounds, expertise, and practical experience. 

An affordable book with a portable design

With its sleek design, short chapters, and low price, American Society: How It Really Works, Second Edition, is the ideal book for the reading list of an introduction to sociology or social problems course, political sociology class, or a course on social inequality/social stratification. 

    1: Prologue: Perspectives and Values
    2: What Kind of Society Is American Society?

    Part I: Capitalism
    3: The Capitalist Market: How It Is Supposed to Work
    4: The Capitalist Market: How It Actually Works
    5: The Environment
    6: Transportation
    7: Consumerism
    8: Health Care
    9: Finance
    10: High-Road Capitalism

    Part II: Inequality
    11: Thinking about Fairness and Inequality
    12: Class
    13: Persistent Poverty and Rising Inequality
    14: Ending Poverty in America
    15: Racial Inequality
    16: Gender Inequality

    Part III: Democracy
    17: Democracy: How It Works
    18: Elections and Voting
    19: Taxation and the Attack on the Affirmative State
    20: Corporate Control of the Media
    21: Militarism and Empire
    22: Labor Unions
    23: Democracy from Below
    24: Possible Futures

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