Will a Kindle Edition be available any time soon?
My review of Accidental Sociologist at Amazon.com
This might be called an accidental review of eminent sociologist Peter Berger’s memoir of the background events to his life work, which he has entitled “Adventures of Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Being Boring.” This review is accidental because in some respects I believe I have been Berger’s accidental sociological doppelganger at times: having done graduate work in sociology, like Berger serving as a psychiatric social worker in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, having read nearly all of his works including his “blockbuster” novels, writing several favorably rated Amazon.com reviews of his books, and even having a stray female cat I adopted that my friends have named Felicia Bastian after the pseudonym used by Berger for one of his comic novels.
Berger’s memoir is a serious but often humorously self-critical account of his life work as America’s most respected sociologist. Berger takes us back stage to meet his fellow actors, financiers, prop men, and stage hands that co-produced the drama of his sociological life work. Berger’s book takes us on an adventure to the New School for Social Research in New York, Puerto Rican churches in the East Bronx, meetings with Bahai faith believers, short-lived relationships with Communist girlfriends, work for the American Bible Society, Fort Benning, Georgia, the Bad Boll Academy in Germany, the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, Mexico, South Africa, the United Nations, Boston College, Boston University, and the European University in Budapest, and the stories and jokes he tells along the way are anything but boring.
There is an amusing story about the “15% sex club.” And there is another hilarious story of how he entered into the U.S. Army classified as a fake psychotherapist and was honorably discharged as a fake peanut farmer. There’s the story of how he met his wife and fellow sociologist Brigitte Berger while he accompanied her on a date with another guy. Then there is the story about how two revolutionaries came all the way from Latin America to his office in New York City to ask him advice on behalf of their leader who was in hiding. Oh, and don’t miss the story about how Berger ended up on a Texas dude ranch in a meeting of American businessmen who unbeknownst to him may have wanted to clandestinely discuss undermining the Sandinista regime during the Reagan administration using the meeting with Berger as a cover! Like a good novel I’m not going to spoil these stories by telling them to you. Berger says his two novels were failures but the vignettes of his life in this book are novellas of sorts.
My only disappointment was the Berger never told us what happened when he went on a double date with Aglaia Holt and Chelsea Rabinowitz-Hikamoto in his satire “The Other Face of Gaia” and a “Satiricist’s Lament” both found online.
Berger’s adventure stories have provoked me to re-read his little-known 1972 book “The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness,” which I believe in retrospect is his greatest empirical work of sociology despite Professor Berger’s admission of error’s of omission in not discussing Capitalism. An extensive Amazon.com review is needed to hopefully revive the book in electronic form.
Some excerpts from the book:
1. “It is impossible to play chamber music at a rock festival.”
2. “As to the most radical formulation of this `postmodernism’ – that nothing really exists but the various `narratives’ – this corresponds very neatly with the definition of schizophrenia, when one can no longer distinguish between reality and one’s fantasies.”
3. “…a capitalist model of development in uniquely capable of fundamentally improving the material conditions of life for huge numbers of people and that it can do so without destroying indigenous culture and traditions…No socialist case exists outside the utopian imagination.”
4. Referring to his book with Michael Hsaio “Toward an East Asian Development Model.” – “Neither Hsaio or I are culturalists.”
5. “Sociological finding: Contrary to Marxist theory, the wealthier the locale is, the more left-leaning it will be.”
6. “When people are shooting at each other it is not a career enhancing move to be in the middle.”
7. “But human nature being what it is, people more easily deceive themselves about morality than about the self interest of their actions. Therefore, an intelligent Machiavellian will try to achieve the morally desirable outcome by working with people’s selfish motives rather than with their putative values. It is a question of a safer bet.”
8. “A morally sensitive social scientist will, I think, instinctively move toward middle positions (middle between radical changes and stubborn preservation) on most issues.”
To tantalize you all the more the last chapter of Berger’s book is sort of a distillation of his best jokes. Berger aptly closes the book with this story:
“I cannot remember this incident – my parents told me about it. I must have been four or five years old. For my birthday or for Christmas I was given the present of a very sophisticated electric toy train. One could control its movements through multiple tracks and tunnels across a miniature landscape. I had no interest in the mechanical wonders of this toy. I did not even turn on the electricity. Instead I lay flat on the ground and talked with imaginary passengers on the train. One might say that I have continued this conversation ever since. I never regretted it. It has been a lot of fun. It still is.”
And I might add that for all those who have been carrying an imaginary return conversation with Prof. Berger from inside those passenger cars on the train of life we haven’t regretted it either.