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(Basic) textbooks a pol sci student should have in his shelf


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I have never taken any political science class in college or in graduate school before. Now that I got admitted to a good Pol Sci PhD program, I want to make sure that I have read, say, the five essential textbooks a political science student should know. I imagine my first semester will be pretty intense in terms of reading lists, so I would like to take some load off as much as I can now that I still have time to read.

Do you guys have your own list of basic but essential (text)books that you don't mind sharing?

Thanks!!

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I have never taken any political science class in college or in graduate school before. Now that I got admitted to a good Pol Sci PhD program, I want to make sure that I have read, say, the five essential textbooks a political science student should know. I imagine my first semester will be pretty intense in terms of reading lists, so I would like to take some load off as much as I can now that I still have time to read.

Do you guys have your own list of basic but essential (text)books that you don't mind sharing?

Thanks!!

This really depends on your field of interest. And in some cases, you would be hard pressed to come up with a list of the essential text books for a given subfield....I asked professors a similar undergrad (and I was a poli sci major), and they all told me there was no core set of books they could recommend to me. Although this may be more true of comparative politics than other fields. My impression is that fields like IR have a slightly more defined core literature...and courses such as great books in IR are offered at many schools, both at the undergrad and graduate level, so you could try looking up those syllabi if IR is your field.. I have no idea how this goes for theory or american . I guess for methods, and perhaps this could apply to political science in general, the two books that come to mind would be Rethinking Social Inquiry and Designing Social Inquiry. Although depending on who you ask, one of those books may be strongly recommended over the other.

Edited by Cicero
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I have never taken any political science class in college or in graduate school before. Now that I got admitted to a good Pol Sci PhD program, I want to make sure that I have read, say, the five essential textbooks a political science student should know. I imagine my first semester will be pretty intense in terms of reading lists, so I would like to take some load off as much as I can now that I still have time to read.

Do you guys have your own list of basic but essential (text)books that you don't mind sharing?

Thanks!!

If you don't mind me asking, what discipline is your academic experience in? I find it perplexing that one could be admitted to a PhD program without ever having taken even, say, an intro course in the field. That's not to take anything away from you, I'm just curious.

I think Cicero is right that there really isn't any set list of 'essential' texts that everyone could agree on, and it also depends, as stated, on your area. If you're in the field of political theory/philosophy (I'm not), there is a basic set of texts which are, I think, almost universally taught in intro courses: Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Machiavelli's The Prince, Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke (Second Treatise), perhaps Rousseau, Mill, Rawls, Nozick?

But if you really have never taken a poli sci course, I would recommend just picking up a textbook used in intro courses and peruse it.

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Thanks for your replies, Cicero and wtncffts. I guess I should have qualified my first statement. I really meant I have never taken any [strictly] political science class before. I have, however, taken a couple of political economy courses at the economics department, both of which exposed me to specialized books in comp pol and pol econ (e.g. Drazen, Acemoglu&Robinson, BDM2S2, Persson&Tabellini), but not to the really basic, introductory books that I would think any PhD student should at least know. (I did my undergrad and MA in economics, to answer your question wtncffts.)

The list that you gave wtncffts, is the kind of list that I am looking for - not field specific, but gives any student good grounding on the works/thoughts that are presumed to be part of the stock knowledge of a first year PhD Pol Sci student. I was wondering, if maybe, apart from reading these classics that you mentioned, (which I still need to do by the way!), there are a couple of textbooks out there that nicely survey the field in general.

I'll definitely look into the two books you suggested, Cicero.

If you don't mind me asking, what discipline is your academic experience in? I find it perplexing that one could be admitted to a PhD program without ever having taken even, say, an intro course in the field. That's not to take anything away from you, I'm just curious.

I think Cicero is right that there really isn't any set list of 'essential' texts that everyone could agree on, and it also depends, as stated, on your area. If you're in the field of political theory/philosophy (I'm not), there is a basic set of texts which are, I think, almost universally taught in intro courses: Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Machiavelli's The Prince, Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke (Second Treatise), perhaps Rousseau, Mill, Rawls, Nozick?

But if you really have never taken a poli sci course, I would recommend just picking up a textbook used in intro courses and peruse it.

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If you don't mind me asking, what discipline is your academic experience in? I find it perplexing that one could be admitted to a PhD program without ever having taken even, say, an intro course in the field. That's not to take anything away from you, I'm just curious.

I think Cicero is right that there really isn't any set list of 'essential' texts that everyone could agree on, and it also depends, as stated, on your area. If you're in the field of political theory/philosophy (I'm not), there is a basic set of texts which are, I think, almost universally taught in intro courses: Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Machiavelli's The Prince, Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke (Second Treatise), perhaps Rousseau, Mill, Rawls, Nozick?

But if you really have never taken a poli sci course, I would recommend just picking up a textbook used in intro courses and peruse it.

Here's a good list for comparative politics, although I'm afraid I couldn't boil it down to 4-5 books:

http://www.publicaffairs.virginia.edu/drupal/politics/readinglist_cp

What you might want to do is look at a MIT's open courseware to see what textbooks are being used in some of their intro classes.

For the record, I've never taken a poli sci course either, but so far, I've gotten offers from Northwestern and Madison and am waiting to hear from another 8 schools. I think I've got a somewhat unorthodox background, but I've also got a couple relevant languages under my belt and considerable experience abroad. Also, as regards the political theory literature, with perhaps the exception of Nozick, anyone who's taken a few undergrad philosophy courses should be familiar with all of those.

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I recognize the desire to read foundational literature. However, it really does depend on your field. If you do political economy, The Republic is never going to be directly relevant to your research. While books like The Prince and Politics certainly help one understand the development of political thought, I would not call them foundational for an understanding of modern political economy. They are good reads and I heartily recommend them but you don't need them.

If you want to do some fun reading, by all means, knock that stuff out. If you're trying to make up for an academic record that lacks political science, I recommend going through the syllabi for courses relevant to your area and reading the required and suggested texts. That will get you much farther.

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Oxford publishes a series called Handbooks of Political Science. There's a different collection for each of the major subfields. They provide good overviews.

I second this suggestion. I never used textbooks in college or graduate school (and wasn't a polisci major either) but find these handbooks immensely helpful in quickly bringing you up to date on the debates in various subfields. They're also useful because they're addressed at a higher level of competence than your average intended-for-undergrads-or-high-schoolers textbook, and they're compilations of legitimate articles with actual footnotes for follow-up on the areas you're most interested in.

Edited by Rose
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I recognize the desire to read foundational literature. However, it really does depend on your field. If you do political economy, The Republic is never going to be directly relevant to your research. While books like The Prince and Politics certainly help one understand the development of political thought, I would not call them foundational for an understanding of modern political economy. They are good reads and I heartily recommend them but you don't need them.

That's certainly true, though I'd think to be a well-rounded academic who can seriously be called an 'expert' on politics and political science one would need to at least be generally familiar with these works. This is one of the fears I have: that my knowledge in one major area of poli sci is sorely lacking (IR), and that I probably couldn't answer even relatively elementary questions.

Oxford publishes a series called Handbooks of Political Science. There's a different collection for each of the major subfields. They provide good overviews.

It's funny you mention it, because I was trying to find online sources for these as I was searching for 'academic' responses to SOG25's posts. No such luck, though.

For comparative, I took the core seminar when I did my MA. As I said, there's no set list, especially if you're doing area studies, but here's some of the authors/works that are 'foundational' or I would otherwise recommend:

Gabriel Almond, "Comparative Political Systems" and Comparative Politics: A Developmental Approach, also, with Sidney Verba, Civic Culture

Anything by Adam Przeworski

Arend Lijphart, "Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method"

Giovanni Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering

Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, ed. Mahoney and Rueschemeyer - discusses many of the recurring methodological issues

Theda Skocpol, esp. States and Social Revolutions

A few more:

Downs' An Economic Theory of Democracy - perhaps you've already read this

Duverger's work on political parties

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone and Making Democracy Work

Tsebelis on veto players/points

I think those should give you a pretty good foundation for comparative. I don't know if you have access to some of the articles; I can probably e-mail them to you if you like.

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That's certainly true, though I'd think to be a well-rounded academic who can seriously be called an 'expert' on politics and political science one would need to at least be generally familiar with these works. This is one of the fears I have: that my knowledge in one major area of poli sci is sorely lacking (IR), and that I probably couldn't answer even relatively elementary questions.

I couldn't agree more.

However, the OP does not intend to read all the works necessary in order to be an "expert" on politics prior to the start of grad school. That would be impossible. I didn't read "essential books" to mean "essential for expertise in political science" but instead to mean "essential for competently beginning grad school." And I do hold that Politics is simply not essential for a political economist prior to grad school.

I can think of texts and articles in my field that everyone is expected to know. None are more than one century old and the vast majority are less than 50 years old. In my mind, those are more pressing prior to grad school than Machiavelli.

Edited by Tufnel
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If you're worried about keeping up with the reading load in your first year, the answer is easy enough. Once you decide where you're going, get the syllabi for the classes you're going to be taking and do some pre-reading over the summer.

But really, don't sweat it too much. Getting familiar with the literature is what your field seminars in grad school are for. If they didn't think your background gave you sufficient preparation to succeed in their program, they wouldn't have admitted you.

Edited by expatbayern
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If you're worried about keeping up with the reading load in your first year, the answer is easy enough. Once you decide where you're going, get the syllabi for the classes you're going to be taking and do some pre-reading over the summer.

But really, don't sweat it too much. Getting familiar with the literature is what your field seminars in grad school are for. If they didn't think your background gave you sufficient preparation to succeed in their program, they wouldn't have admitted you.

Agreed. I also haven't taken any political science courses but was admitted to 2 top-25 programs. The general consensus from professors I've talked to is that a ) graduate school curriculum is vastly different from undergrad and b ) if you're committed you'll have no trouble adapting.

Edited by foosh
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Agreed. I also haven't taken any political science courses but was admitted to 2 top-25 programs. The general consensus from professors I've talked to is that a ) graduate school curriculum is vastly different from undergrad and b ) if you're committed you'll have no trouble adapting.

Oh, I certainly agree. The OP wanted to get a 'head start', though, so that's what I tried to do. The list of 'essential' comparative readings I posted is mostly taken straight from the syllabus of the graduate comparative course I took.

Edited by wtncffts
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What field and what type of program are you going into? I could give you a few core IPE or CP articles and books to check out just based on your mention of econ, but it would be easier if I knew exactly what you were going in for. Also, most of my recommendations would be quantitative "classics" versus those true political classics (such as Plato, Machiavelli, all of which are no-nos to talk about at my school since we don't have a political thought emphasis) so if you're going into a more qualitative program, any suggestions might not be as helpful.

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At the risk of being ornery, I would encourage anybody to go back and read Arrow's Social Choice and Individual Values. In it, you will find numerous allusions to classical political philosophers of the past. So too with lots of other good formal theory. By all means, do not pre-empt your graduate training the summer before! Rather, dig into some stuff that's fun to read and that can help you build a big bank of ideas to draw from when you actually do engage more modern scholarship.

In terms of essentials, I can only speak for my little world in IR/conflict. I would recommend Schelling's Strategy of Conflict, Blainey's The Causes of War, Keohane and Nye's Power and Interdependence. There's more than enough to chew on for a few weeks there. Also, you may want to prepare for the methodological training that is ahead, and jumping into a probability book like Degroot and Schervish, a purer math book like Simon and Blume, or a very low-level econometrics book like Wooldridge's might be a good idea. I would start with Simon and Blume, accompanied by a healthy dose of something more fun like, say, Jack Knight's Institutions and Social Conflict.

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A few recommendations:

Game Theory:

Games of Strategy

Game Theory for Political Scientists

A Course In Game Theory

(note that these are listed in ascending order of difficulty; Osbourne's CIGT is very technical)

Political Behavior:

Democratic Phoenix

Citizen Politics

The American Voter (also, the American Voter Revisited)

An Economic Theory of Voting

Political philosophy (American)

Dahl's On Democracy is a good broad overview

Democracy In America

The Road to Serfdom and/or the Constitution of Liberty

One of Ayn Rand's books

Edited by firefly28
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I'm no Objectivist but I do think that her philosophy is pretty notable and significant for American political thought.

It's fairly notable as an internally inconsistent, reactionary trainwreck around which a strange cult formed. Referencing Rand's body of literature in any serious manner is also a good way to tarnish one's reputation among political theorists. If there's one thing that most political theorists/philosophers today hate more than a Straussian, it's a Randroid.

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It's fairly notable as an internally inconsistent, reactionary trainwreck around which a strange cult formed. Referencing Rand's body of literature in any serious manner is also a good way to tarnish one's reputation among political theorists. If there's one thing that most political theorists/philosophers today hate more than a Straussian, it's a Randroid.

I think both are right; (unfortunately) Rand's work has sizable influence on a significant element of the American political scene. I haven't read more than a few pages, but I've read enough from the philosophical commentariat to know the philosophy is overwhelmingly regarded as amateurish and Rand as a philosophical hack.

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I think both are right; (unfortunately) Rand's work has sizable influence on a significant element of the American political scene. I haven't read more than a few pages, but I've read enough from the philosophical commentariat to know the philosophy is overwhelmingly regarded as amateurish and Rand as a philosophical hack.

I have more problems with Rand the novelist than Rand the philosopher. Rand the novelist is utterly awful--if her books were to stand merely as works of fiction they would be among the poorest written ever to reach a wide audience. Rand the philosopher I'll give a bit more credit. I think she's as flawed as Marx (ironically, in some of the same ways, namely in deterministic thought), but like Marx, the flaws don't negate her significance.

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I have more problems with Rand the novelist than Rand the philosopher. Rand the novelist is utterly awful--if her books were to stand merely as works of fiction they would be among the poorest written ever to reach a wide audience. Rand the philosopher I'll give a bit more credit. I think she's as flawed as Marx (ironically, in some of the same ways, namely in deterministic thought), but like Marx, the flaws don't negate her significance.

Amazing, amazing.

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Well, let's not jump on and start a flame war. I think firefly28 was merely reiterating the point about Rand's significance, for good or for ill, in American political thought. Saying that one is giving "a bit more credit" when the baseline is "among the poorest written ever to reach a wide audience" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. The comparison to Marx, it seems to me, was only that the significant flaws in argument don't detract from the political/cultural significance of the work, not that Rand and Marx are equal as social or political theorists. Firefly can correct me if this is a misinterpretation.

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