Ordinary Men is one of the most influential works on the Holocaust. Before US historian Browning's 1992 book, most Holocaust scholarship focused either on the experience of the victims or on the Nazi political ideology driving the slaughter. Browning investigates the stories of some who carried out acts of extreme violence, those who literally had blood on their hands. Who were they? What were their backgrounds? And how could they end up committing such unspeakable acts?
Philosopher Judith Butler's 1990 work, Gender Trouble, shook the foundations of feminist theory and changed the conversation about gender. While many thinkers already accepted that "gender" was a category constructed by society rather than defined by one's genitalia, Butler went further and argued that gender is performative - it exists only in the acts that express it. Society determines that wearing makeup is "feminine" - but some men wear makeup. Are they "women"?
US psychologist Abraham Maslow's 1943 essay "A Theory of Human Motivation" established his idea of humanistic psychology as a "third force" in the field. He outlined a new approach to understanding the mind, saying humans are motivated by their need to satisfy a series of hierarchical needs, starting with the most essential first. He thought it important for the advancement of psychology to identify, group, and rank them in terms of priority.
A self-educated man, Eric Hoffer was most likely born in 1898. He wrote in his spare time after doing shifts on the San Francisco docks, where he continued to work, even after becoming a successful author. Hoffer began writing The True Believer in the 1940s, as Nazism and fascism spread across Europe. Most analysts who were trying to work out how these movements became so powerful focused on their leaders and the ideas they trumpeted.
"Hoffer not analyzed"
In his 1936 book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Keynes argued that traditional economics has misunderstood the causes of unemployment. Employment is not determined by the price of labor; it is directly linked to demand in the economy. Keynes believed market economies are by nature unstable and so require government intervention. Spurred on by the social catastrophe of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Keynes set out to change the way the world thinks about economics.
Michel Foucault had already written extensively about medicine, madness, and prisons. But in the latter days of his career, he turned to the subject of sexuality, planning six volumes on the subject. He completed three before dying of an AIDS-related illness in 1984. Foucault's History of Sexuality Vol. 1 is a study of the evolution of cultural ideas about sex in the West since the end of the 17th century. Volume two looked at attitudes toward sex in ancient Greece; volume three investigated sex in ancient Rome.
How do those in power exercise that power over a state's citizens? French thinker Michel Foucault's 1975 work Discipline and Punish looks to answer this question by investigating the prison system. Foucault does not believe that the modern-day system developed out of reformers' humanitarian concerns. He argues that prison both created and then became part of a bigger system of surveillance that extends throughout society.
Arguing first that what might be termed a morally good action is one that increases the general sum of happiness in the world, Mill then says that general principles of justice should be based on this idea. Therefore, in life, there is no conflict between what is just and what is morally right. Mill published Utilitarianism toward the end of a lifetime spent as a moral philosopher, political activist, and social reformer.
Stanley Milgram was a young researcher at Yale in the 1960s when he recruited volunteers to help in a psychology experiment. These volunteers were asked to give electric shocks to "learners" whenever they got an answer to a question wrong. The "learners" were in on the deception, and were not actually receiving shocks, but the volunteers were unaware of this. To widespread surprise, Milgram reported that 40 to 65 percent of his volunteers did what the researcher told them, and gave the maximum shock to the "learners" even when they screamed in pain.
"A bad set of Cliff notes"
Published in 1961, the year of Frantz Fanon's death, The Wretched of the Earth is both a powerful analysis of the psychological effects of colonization and a rallying cry for violent uprising and independence. The book rejects colonial assumptions that the people of colonized countries need to be guided by their European colonizers because they are somehow less evolved or civilized. Fanon argues that violence is justified to purge colonialism not just from the countries themselves, but from the very souls of their inhabitants.
Since the 19th century, people have claimed that the prosperity enjoyed by the First World was the result of its devotion to unconstrained economic freedoms. In his 2003 book Kicking Away the Ladder, South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang claims this was not the case and that, in fact, First World economic success was due to exactly the kinds of state intervention that traditional economic thinking consistently opposes today.
What is the nature of our personal relationship with God? That's the core question of Fear and Trembling. If God asks us to do something we instinctively feel is unethical, must we obey and have faith that he knows best? Examining this question, Danish philosopher Kierkegaard considers the biblical story in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. His unique reading of the story breaks new ground, focusing on our relationship with God at an individual level.
Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks offers a radical analysis of the psychological effects of colonization on the colonized. Born in 1925 on the island of Martinique - at the time a French colony - Fanon witnessed firsthand the abuses of white colonizers and the system's effects on his country. His revulsion was only confirmed later in life when he worked as a psychiatrist in Algeria, another French colony. Fanon's work played a pivotal role in the civil rights movements of the 1960s and was later taken up by scholars of postcolonialist studies.
American sociologist and priest Jay MacLeod's 1987 work Ain't No Makin' It is groundbreaking for the novel way it combines field research with theory. The book follows the lives of two groups of young men from a low-income housing project in the greater Boston area. In it, MacLeod shows how poor people who aspire to live the American dream face many more obstacles than their middle-class counterparts.
De Beauvoir's book charted the oppression of "the second sex" in terms never before seen in the academic world. Her most startling theory became a rallying cry for the feminist movement: "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." She argued that gender identity was shaped by upbringing in a world ruled by men. A leading light in the existentialist movement, de Beauvoir applied the radical philosophy of personal choice and freedom to argue that women were subjugated in every area of life.
Friedman did not just demonstrate that monetary policy plays a vital role in broader economic stability. He also argued that economists got their monetary policy wrong in the 1950s and 1960s by misunderstanding the relationship between inflation and unemployment. In Friedman's view, previous generations of economists had no justification for believing that governments could permanently decrease unemployment by allowing inflation - and vice versa.
In his best-selling 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Piketty takes issue with the idea that, despite the odd bump along the way (not least the 2007-08 global financial crisis), inequality tends to decline as capitalism matures. Piketty spent 15 years building an unparalleled database on wealth and income in France, the United States, and a number of other countries. He uses this data to argue that the opposite is true. Capitalism's natural tendency is, he says, to move toward ever-greater inequality.
When Charles P. Kindleberger's Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises was first published in 1978, the world was entering a new period of global economic turbulence. Established economists based their analyses on the assumption that investors act rationally, and these economists often communicated their ideas with dry, technical language. Kindleberger rebelled against convention. Using a more literary and descriptive style, he came up with a new view.
"Doesn't go into analysis"
Written more than 2,000 years ago, this earliest surviving work on how to wage war successfully - and above all, rationally - argues that winning requires careful advance planning, better sources of information than your opponent, and a strategy that's flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions. Sun Tzu concludes that in the end, a decision not to take military action can be every bit as sensible and effective as being able to triumph on the battlefield.
Distinguished British historian Geoffrey Parker spent 15 years writing this ambitious history of the tumultuous 17th century, when nations were in the grip of what was known as the General Crisis. First published in 2013, Global Crisis reveals that freak weather was a key reason why the people of the 1600s lurched between droughts, famines, and countless wars. Plunging temperatures in the Little Ice Age combined with bad political decisions spelled disaster for people, places, and societies worldwide.