These are three of the better textbooks among the many available to sociology students. Their wide coverage is particularly appropriate for undergraduate programmes as back-up for further study. They are all up to date, at the right academic level and quite comprehensive. Each has most of the increasingly routine extras such as critical questions and suggestions for further study. Each has a website link and the books by Tony Bilton et al and John Macionis and Ken Plummer have glossaries. But there are significant differences.
Bilton's is a long-established text, still recognisable in character. It is as solidly and uncompromisingly academic as ever and remains strong on theory. It conveys a sense of social engagement without being biased. Anthony Giddens' work casts a long shadow on this text. The third edition was reframed, reflecting Giddens' tradition/ modernity/late modernity model and his emphasis on globalisation. This remains in place.
But some things have changed. The fourth edition is undoubtedly the best-illustrated one. Feminist perspectives are widely presented, although I would have appreciated a fuller treatment of masculinities. The chapter on race and ethnicity benefits from a cross-stratification perspective.
Robert Brym and John Lie's Sociology: Your Compass for a New World is the surprise package of the three. Like many US textbooks, this is a plush production. The style is lucid and the diagrams and illustrations useful and well thought out. This is the boldest of the three in relation to content. There are chapters on collective action and social movements and technology and the global environment. The authors claim, among the unique features of the text "drawing connections between one's self and the social world". They splice elements of their biographies throughout. In one chapter, the youthful Brym appears as a challenger to a giant industrial polluter. Lie cites his experience as a much-travelled immigrant to the US.
They just about pull off this high-risk strategy, which nevertheless may not appeal to a more prosaic British readership.
The distinctive feature of Macionis and Plummer's text is its thematic emphasis on globalisation, which provides a platform for the authors to deal with issues such as inequality, human rights and cultural difference.
Like Bilton, they cite much British empirical material.
Each of these texts deserves recommendation.
Mike O'Donnell is senior lecturer in sociology, Westminster University.
Sociology: A Global Introduction. Second edition
Author - John J. Macionis and Ken Plummer
ISBN - 0 13 040737 2
Publisher - Prentice Hall
Price - £22.99
Pages - 766